There’s a reason why there’s a zillion diet and nutrition books out there… and new ones coming out every day.
Everyone’s caught up in what to eat and what to avoid. And that’s important. Your food choices—and the quality of food you eat—are key for optimal health.
But there’s another way you can lose weight, keep your muscle, and improve your health:
Just…not eating at certain times.
The idea is so obvious most of us don’t even consider it. We’re so focused on what to eat, we forget to think about how to eat it.
Intermittent fasting has gotten trendy over the past few years, but it’s far from a fad. Our Paleo ancestors ate this way for thousands of years. Long periods of low (or no) calorie consumption were just part of life.
It worked well for them, and it can work for you too.
The key? Figuring out the best way to implement intermittent fasting in your life—and making it a long-term habit so you reap the full benefits.
Let’s get started…
What Is Intermittent Fasting (and How Can It Help)?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet. That’s a common misconception. Intermittent fasting (or “IF”) is actually much simpler than that.
Intermittent fasting is just an eating pattern or lifestyle that’s become extremely popular over the past few years.
There are numerous ways to apply it in your life (more on those in just a second). But the basic idea is to incorporate regular periods of non-eating within your lifestyle.
If you’re hesitant to jump on the intermittent fasting bandwagon, here’s a quick rundown of all the awesome benefits:
- Simplicity. When you have fewer meals, you spend less time planning, preparing, eating, and cleaning up after them. You end up with more time for work (or play).
- Increased insulin sensitivity. Entering a fasted state makes your body more sensitive to insulin. And insulin sensitivity makes it easier to lose weight and keep it off (1).
- Increased growth hormone secretion. Fasting also makes your body secrete more growth hormone, a key driver of muscle growth (2). So if you’re trying to get stronger (or keep muscle you already built), fasting can help.
- Psychological freedom. Most of us are used to eating every few hours. Constantly worrying about your next meal is distracting and mentally exhausting. Fasting helps you gain a new perspective: you stop being a slave to a rigid eating schedule and find freedom and flexibility.
- Living longer. I saved the most powerful benefit for last. Scientific studies have shown that fasting increases the average lifespan (3).
Intermittent fasting integrates nicely within a Paleo lifestyle. It will help you accelerate fat loss, build and maintain lean muscle mass, and simplify your life.
Mental Barriers and an Overwhelming Amount of Info Hold People Back
Two major barriers keep people from trying intermittent fasting.
The first barrier is mental. You’ve probably been overwhelmed by decides of advice to “eat breakfast in the morning to fire up your metabolism” or “have small, frequent meals or your body will go into starvation mode.”
We all have deeply ingrained eating patterns—and strong emotional attachments to them. Just try explaining why you’re Paleo to someone who follows a typical modern diet and see how far you get!
Then there’s the second barrier. Once you overcome any mental hang-ups, it can be tough to figure out how to apply intermittent fasting to your life.
This stuff is a lot like dieting and exercising. There’s just so much information out there about the “best” way and the “wrong” way. It can get overwhelming quickly, and it’s easy to fall into analysis paralysis and never get started.
Want to simplify things? Let’s take care of that now.
Popular Intermittent Fasting Methods
It’s amazing how complicated and nuanced the idea of simply “not eating for a while” has gotten.
Over the years, different leaders and methods have emerged. Here are some of the most popular intermittent fasting methods so you could try them.
Creator: Brad Pilon
Method in a Nutshell: Eat Stop Eat is ridiculously simple.
One day a week (2 days a week max), just take a break from eating for 24 hours. When it’s time to break your fast, just eat a normal-sized meal like you usually would (don’t gorge on a gigantic meal).
You can have zero-calorie drinks like water, black coffee, and tea during your fast.
Pros: One thing that sold me on Eat Stop Eat right away is its simplicity. There aren’t a ton of rules to follow, and it’s a perfect way to make up for a big eating day (holidays, birthdays, etc.)
Eat Stop Eat is a great way to lose weight without even thinking about it. And it can help you maintain your weight by giving you caloric “wiggle room” you can use on non-fasting days.
Eat Stop Eat is also flexible. If you start a fast, but something important (like a client lunch) comes up, it’s easy to just reschedule your fast for another day.
Cons: For me, the biggest downside to Eat Stop Eat is its longer duration. I chug along just fine until about hour 18 of the fast. Then I feel like I hit a wall.
Doing any serious mental work—or going to a jiu jitsu class—is out of the question for me at those times. It’s rough enough just to finish the full 24 hours (though it does get easier with time).
I’ve also found I have a tendency to binge when breaking Eat Stop Eat fasts. Your mileage may vary.
Verdict: Eat Stop Eat is tough to jump into if you’re just starting with intermittent fasting. But it’s a great option if you have the discipline to not overeat at the end of your fasting periods.
Another thought: I’d schedule your physical activity so it doesn’t overlap with the tail end of your fasts. It’s always a great option to do longer duration fasts on rest days as well.
Creator: Martin Berkhan
Method in a Nutshell: The Leangains protocol can get complicated quickly, but here are the basics. This style of intermittent fasting happens daily. You eat your meals in a compressed “feeding period” (usually between 8 and 10 hours), but don’t eat anything during your “fasting period” (the remainder of the 24-hour day).
As with Eat Stop Eat, zero-calorie drinks during your fasts are ok in Leangains. Berkhan suggests eating more healthy fats on days you don’t work out, and eating more carbs on days you do.
He goes into a lot of detail on his website about his method and how to integrate resistance training into it effectively. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested.
Pros: The biggest advantage—at least to me—of Leangains is the shorter fasting times. This style of fasting is much less a willpower test than longer fasts like Eat Stop Eat.
If you sleep during your fasting window, you only have to get through a few waking hours before you can eat again. It’s also easy to stick with this fasting method because you do it every day; it becomes part of your lifestyle.
Finally, it’s a lot easier to work out during a fasted state because your fasting windows are shorter. There are plenty of success stories on Berkhan’s website showing how people built a lot of muscle and did a body recomposition following his program. If those are your priorities, check this method out.
Cons: The biggest difference between Leangains and Eat Stop Eat? A lot more rules and subtle nuances.
On the Leangains protocol—if you follow it closely—you have to think about when to eat, when not to eat, how to fit in your training, and even the macronutrients of your food when you are eating.
It’s more structured than Eat Stop Eat, and you have to do it every day to see the best results.
Verdict: I think the Leangains method—or at least a simplified version of it—is the most sustainable way for most people to start intermittent fasting and make it a regular part of their lives.
You get to experience all the benefits of fasting without the more negative drawbacks. And you don’t have to take it to Berkhan’s level of rigidity unless you’re going for peak athletic performance.
Creator: Ori Hofmekler
Method in a Nutshell: The Warrior Diet is kind of a mix between Eat Stop Eat and Leangains. You do it every day (like Leangains), but your fasting durations are much longer (like Eat Stop Eat).
Basically, you divide your day into an overeating phase and an undereating phase. Your underfeeding phase lasts for about 20 hours; your overfeeding phase lasts the remaining 4.
Notice how it’s called an “undereating” phase instead of a “fasting” phase? That’s because the Warrior Diet allows small snacks during your 20-hour window: raw fruits and vegetables, soups, and light protein like poached eggs.
When you do break your fast, you focus on fat and protein first. Then add carbohydrates if you’re still feeling hungry afterwards.
Pros: The Warrior Diet lets you eat small snacks during your underfeeding period, so it can be helpful if you’re worried about making it to the end of fasts without food.
It’s also incredibly simple—at least in concept. You save a lot of time you would’ve spent on meal prep, eating, and cleaning up by compressing your daily meals from 3 (or more) into just 1.
Cons: Limiting yourself to such a short overfeeding window is taxing on your willpower. You feel hungry often with such a long fast every day—even if you eat a few small snacks throughout the day.
The Warrior Diet is also inflexible and hard on your social life. The daily 20-hour underfeeding period means you’ll be missing at least 2 meals a day you could’ve enjoyed with other people.
Verdict: The Warrior Diet just didn’t work for me. It’s the most “hard-core” intermittent fasting method I’ve tried, and I found it too restrictive to make it a regular part of my life.
I had a tendency to binge after such a long fast every day. Also, the snacks I ate during my underfeeding periods just seemed to get larger and larger. I wasn’t doing it consciously, but I found myself fighting my grumbling stomach with small meals—when I should’ve been fasting.
Choosing the Best Intermittent Fasting Method for You
The best intermittent fasting option for you might not be any of the ones listed above.
I’ve done intermittent fasting for about 4 years now. During that time, I’ve made plenty of tweaks and changes to different methods to fit my lifestyle.
I went from East Stop Eat-style fasts to more of a Leangains protocol with daily feeding and fasting windows. The shorter fasts are easier for me to deal with, and working out during the fasted period was less of an ordeal than it was with Eat Stop Eat.
Sometimes I throw in random fasts just because they make sense at the time. If I’m traveling and can’t find decent food at the airport, the answer is simple: fast!
You can do this kind of experimentation too. It’s the best way I know of to find something you can stick with for the long haul.
Here are just a few important factors to keep in mind:
- Physical activity level. If you’re active, it can be tough to give it your all during workouts at the end of long fasts (like Eat Stop Eat and the Warrior Diet). But if you can work out in a fasted state, do it! It increases your insulin sensitivity even more (4). You just might have an easier time doing it at the end of shorter fasts (Leangains style) than the others.
- Work schedule. Intense, demanding jobs are perfect opportunities to fast. Your cognitive performance won’t decline if you don’t eat for 24 hours (5). Instead of taking a lunch, you could fast and leave work earlier or rack up extra time off. If you don’t know when you’ll come home each night, you could set your feeding time between breakfast and lunch—then just roll dinner into your fasts instead of worrying about cooking a meal when you get home late.
- Social/family obligations. You probably don’t want to be sitting at the table twiddling your thumbs while your family and friends eat. Avoid this by aligning your fasting times with: 1) when you sleep, and 2) when you eat alone. I found skipping breakfast works perfectly for me; I tended to have that meal alone anyway. A daily intermittent fast like Leangains (with longer feeding periods) might be better if you eat a lot of meals with coworkers and family.
- Self-discipline. It’s much easier to justify a binge at the end of a 24-hour fast than a 16-hour one. So if you have the tendency to go that route, you could potentially wipe out the important benefits you get from fasting. Be honest with yourself. If you’re straining your willpower to avoid binging, consider shorter fasts.
Finally, don’t stress over following any of the methods above (or the one you create) perfectly. That will just stress you out; it does more harm than good.
Finding Something You Can Stick with
There isn’t a “best” way to do intermittent fasting.
The only thing that matters?
Finding a method you can stick to.
If you’re starting from scratch, try out one of the methods above and see how it goes. You can track your results (weight loss, muscle, energy levels, etc.). Then you can make tweaks to make your life easier as you go.
But there’s no time to start like today. Fasting has made a huge difference in my energy levels and fat loss, and it’s made eating simple again. I genuinely look forward to eating… instead of worrying about when my next meal will be.
It can do the same for you.
Have you tried intermittent fasting? What did you struggle with? Which method worked best for you? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!