Intermittent Fasting 101

Story by Jeff Howard

Photo by Jillian Clark

Jeff Howard is a world-renowned fitness presenter who resides in Louisville. He has starred in numerous fitness videos, educated fitness professionals at conventions worldwide for more than a decade and trained countless celebrities as the pioneer instructor at the Golden Door Spa and has appeared on several national TV shows. Along his journey, he has managed award-winning fitness programs from Equinox in Chicago to Virgin Active in South Africa. Jeff is currently the promotional director of fitness for Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center.

As a fitness professional, I get asked a lot of questions about dieting. Everyone seems to ask the same thing: ”What’s the quick fix?” or “What’s the secret to being fit?” However, the question I’ve been asked the most lately is about fasting; specifically the term “intermittent fasting (IF).” This is not only happening here in Louisville, but all over the United States. Since I am the kind of person who is intrigued by the body and how it reacts, I set out to find out if IF works and if it’s safe. I wanted to know about the pros and cons, so I asked fitness professionals who specialize in nutrition and science, as well as individuals who tried it to lose weight in preparation of a wedding.

The Basics:

1. IF is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It is currently very popular in the health and fitness community.

2. The three most common types are:

(a) The 16/8 Method: Also called the Leangains protocol, this involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to eight hours; for example, from 1 to 9 p.m. Then you “fast” for 16 hours in between.

(b) Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week; for example, by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.

(c) The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other five days.

I reached out to my good friend Jim Karas from Jim Karas Intelligent Fitness & Wellness in Chicago. He said: “Intermittent fasting is one of the simplest ways to lose weight (don’t count calories; just don’t eat), reduce inflammation (the gateway to disease), increase immunity, reset the insulin response (gateway number two to preventing diabetes) and boost human growth hormone (the gateway to youth). It’s so simple. First, stop snacking. Second, cut down to two meals a day with no snacking in-between. Third, go 18 to 24 hours between eating or drinking anything with calories to see and feel the results.

“Humans weren’t created to eat 24/7,” he continued. “Intermittent fasting gets the job done, and once again, no counting and no deprivation (FYI – you can eat pure junk food and still derive the benefits, though that’s not my recommendation). Just stop and give your body a chance to reboot, like your computer, after you’ve downloaded (eaten) too many viruses and need a clean up.”

Still intrigued, I called upon Dominique Adair, MS, RD, CLS and director of Adair Fitness and Nutrition. When I asked her if IF works, she replied, “It depends on what you mean by work. For weight loss, by making you eat fewer calories, all of these methods may help you lose weight as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more during the eating periods. There are also hypotheses about manipulating hormones (i.e. insulin and HgH) and metabolic rate, but there is debate around these mechanisms.”

I’ll be honest with you – I was still skeptical. How could depriving yourself of food or only eating at a certain time be healthy, let alone effective? So, I sat down with two young ladies who have been on an IF program for six weeks. One of them has lost 10 pounds and the other has lost 13. The program they are on allows them to eat from noon until 8 p.m. (They are allowed fluids during the fasting portion, but the fluids cannot exceed 40 calories). They are given a program to count their calories that also included a six-day workout regimen.

When I asked why IF had been successful for them, they both informed me that they have tried every other diet out there but did not see great results. They found that with the time duration and directions regarding calories spelled out clearly, the program was essentially foolproof. They also had to log in to a Facebook page each night to log their food and workout numbers, which held them accountable.

I then thought about my own diet. I realized that I wake up around 6 a.m. and have a cup of coffee. I normally take my breakfast with me on-the-go because I’m not hungry right away, and I eat probably around 10 o’clock every day. I eat lunch at 2 p.m. and my last meal is normally at 7 p.m. Essentially, I have been doing IF my entire adult life without realizing it.

I’m still not sure of the outcome or the long-term effects, but the bottom line is that with any restriction of your diet, you will see results. If you exercise along with it, the results will appear quicker. VT

To assess where you are at diet wise, ask yourself these simple questions:

Do I…

Eat simple, whole foods most of the time?

Think ahead and plan how I’ll eat well when outside of my home or my typical environment?

Exercise vigorously (i.e. you could speak in short sentences while exercising but you could not sing) 250 to 500 minutes* or more per week REGULARLY?

Enjoy healthy meals with friends and family?

Think of foods on a continuum from disease preventing to disease promoting and choose prevention most of the time?

Overeat on a regular basis (i.e. more than once a week)?

Drink too much alcohol on a regular basis (i.e. more than once a month)?

Abandon healthy eating principles because I am out to dinner, on vacation or it’s a weekend, and say things like, “I’ll start tomorrow?”

Manage stress and problems by eating them rather than meditating or utilizing other healthy coping methods?

Eat less than 75% of my diet from plant foods?

If you answered numbers one through five with “yes” and numbers six through ten with “no,” that’s terrific. Your diet is in good shape and you should keep up the good work.

If you answered any of numbers one through five with “no” or numbers six through ten with “yes,” simply go back to that question and work on that behavior.

Is it that simple? Yes. Does simple mean easy? No. But I believe in you!

*Before you start any diet or exercise program always consult with your doctor.