If you’re reading this, then you’re probably on the fence about whether to try intermittent fasting. And you want to know what to expect.
More importantly, you want to know if intermittent fasting works. Or is it just another fad diet?
Well you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to give you a balanced assessment of intermittent fasting pros and cons. Then you can decide if it’s right for you.
First, let me start with intermittent fasting 101. For those just starting out, I’ll answer some of the most common questions. Even if you’re more advanced, this will be a good refresher.
Intermittent Fasting 101
Intermittent fasting is the practice of alternating between periods of feast and famine. It can take many forms including alternate day fasting and fasting mimicking. But when used with an exercise program, the fasting and feeding is a usually a daily cycle.
How Long is Intermittent Fasting?
The most common regimen is 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating. But there’s no right or wrong duration, it all depends on your goals and your schedule.
What Does Intermittent Fasting Do?
Intermittent fasting is a significant factor for increasing insulin sensitivity1. In other words, your body releases very little insulin when you fast. Then, when you eat, your body is more sensitive to insulin.
Increased insulin sensitivity is the main benefit of intermittent fasting.
What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting?
Some people choose to eat nothing during the fasting period. Since all foods result in a small release of insulin.
However, you can manage your insulin levels by eating small, low carb meals. Such as vegetables, oils, nuts, and seeds.
During the eating window, it’s important to eat healthy whole foods to get the most from intermittent fasting.
What Can You Drink During Intermittent Fasting?
As with eating, you can drink low carb beverages during fasting. You shouldn’t drink milk, juices, or soda.
Of course, the best thing you can drink is water. Since drinking a lot of water prevents hunger while keeping you hydrated.
In addition, you can drink other low-calorie beverages like tea and coffee.
Can You Drink Coffee While Intermittent Fasting?
Yes. You can drink black coffee while intermittent fasting since it has no sugar and almost no calories. You could even add MCT oil for a keto kick. But it should go without saying that you can’t drink that Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino from Starbucks!
Now that we’ve covered the basic concepts and common questions, lets get into the intermittent fasting pros and cons.
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons
Easy to understand concept
Burn more fat
Less meal prep
Feel full more often
Adjustable to schedule & goals
Difficult first week
Awkward social situations
Requires a lot of discipline
Not a cure all
Pros of Intermittent Fasting
Easy to Understand Concept
The idea of intermittent fasting is easy to grasp. Simply don’t eat, or eat very little for part of the day. Then eat the bulk of your calories in a set timeframe.
Of course, it can get more complicated than that in terms of calroies and macros. But the general concept is easy for people to wrap their head around and take action on.
Burn More Fat
Clinical studies show that intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity. And that results in more fat loss compared to standard calorie restiction2.
Less Meal Prep
Fewer meals during the day means less time spent prepping meals. Even if you choose to eat low calorie snacks during the day, they’re usually raw foods you can carry with you. As a result, you’re liberated from cooking 3 times a day and carrying around meal prep containers.
Feel Full More Often
While you will feel hungry at times during the fasting window, you will also get to feel full during the feeding window. In contrast to feeling hungry all the time on typical calorie restriction diets.
Adjustable to Your Schedule
You can change the time and duration of your fasting window. For example, most days I fast from bedtime until the following afternoon.
However, when I travel later in the day, I fast in the evening. That way I can workout and eat while I’m home. And fast while I’m bustling around the airport and flying cross country.
Adjustable to Your Goals
You can also change your intermittent fasting windows based on your goals. Making the fasting period longer when you want to burn more fat. And gradually increasing the eating period when you want to gain more muscle.
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
Difficult First Week
The first time I tried intermittent fasting I was two weeks out from a bodybuilding contest. So I was already tired and hungry.
As a result, the first couple of days were very hard. I felt weak in the legs and a little foggy in the brain. But, by day 3, I was feeling better than ever and seeing results.
Fatigue and foggy headedness aren’t uncommon if you’ve never fasted before. Although it’s not as bad if you’re eating enough calories during your feeding window.
Awkward Social Situations
Intermittent fasting can be difficult at work, school, or other social functions. When everyone else is eating as a group, you’re seen as antisocial when you don’t participate.
Even if you clearly explain the purpose of intermittent fasting, some people think it’s weird. And peer pressure can temp you to give in.
Requires a lot of Discipline
Even when you’re not in social situations, intermittent fasting requires discipline.
For example, you face tempting smells, enticing ads, and easy access to food. Some days you’ll feel strong urges to break the fast.
While it’s not the end of the world, the more times you give in to your desires, the less likely you are to see the results you want.
Undereating is the biggest problem with intermittent fasting, and any diet for that matter. With intermittent fasting, it’s easy to eat fewer calories than you burn in a day.
While a calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, eating too little for too long causes metabolic disorders. That’s another reason I recommend eating a few small low carb meals during the fasting window. It ensures you’re overall calorie deficit isn’t too large and keeps your metabolism in check.
Related Article: Why Calorie Deficit Diets Don’t Work
Not a Cure All
Finally, intermittent fasting is not a one and done solution. You can’t expect to fast for 16 hours, then eat junk food for 8 hours and get good results. That’s just not how it works.
Instead, you must be willing to pay attention to calories and macros. As well as make healthy food choices in order to get the full benefits of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent Fasting Results
“I lost 4 inches off my waistline using intermittent fasting.”
My results with intermittent fasting
I must admit that I’m somewhat biased towards intermittent fasting because I’ve seen good results using it for myself and my clients. Although, keep in mind your results may vary. I used intermittent fasting for about 12 weeks, but I started out relatively lean.
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1. Halberg, Nils, et al. “Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men.” Journal of applied physiology6 (2005): 2128-2136.
2. Gotthardt, Juliet D., et al. “Intermittent fasting promotes fat loss with lean mass retention, increased hypothalamic norepinephrine content, and increased neuropeptide Y gene expression in diet-induced obese male mice.” Endocrinology2 (2015): 679-691.