Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You? Part 1


There is a technique called IF (intermittent fasting) that for some, may be seen as controversial. It isn’t for everyone, whether because of their individual metabolism, the sort of training they’re undergoing or a simple lack of willpower. For others, however, it can be effective, so we’re going to address some of the positives and negatives of IF in this two part article, so that each of you can make your own decision as to whether you want to try it. We’ll also outline some of the most effective ways to employ intermittent fasting if you should decide it’s the right approach for you.

A Definition of Intermittent Fasting (IF)
We all fast periodically, if you think about it. We may have our meals 4 or 5 hours apart during the day, and then fast for 12 hours or more during the night. This is the schedule we’ve become accustomed to and it suits our normal activity level. That would be considered a 12/12 fast. If you choose to eat normally for three days and then fast for one day, that would be referred to as a 72/24 fasting program. The length of the fasting period and the spacing of those periods can have a great deal to do with how effective, if at all, it is for you.
But when we’re involved in a comprehensive training program, our activity level isn’t what would be considered “normal”. We’re trying to burn fat, build muscle, maintain optimum body chemistry or any of a number of other goals that ask more of our system than what is “normal”.

For some people, IF may be an additional tool to help achieve the body you’re seeking. Each of us has to test the process to see if it will be a help or hindrance to our plans. 

Fasting, whether it’s for body building or for religious reasons, can be beneficial for our systems, when done properly. But if done improperly, it can also counteract some of the benefits of the rest of our program, so it’s important to approach the issue from an informed standpoint and use moderation in everything we do. The old adage “if a little bit’s good, then a lot must be better” is wrong more often than not, and more so where IF is concerned.

Some Supposed Benefits of IF
Let’s take a look at some of the supposed benefits of intermittent fasting and see which are accepted as fact and which ones are no more than opinions.

On his website, Dr. John Berardi offers this from his informed perspective:
“Data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more.
“Rather than something we’re forced to endure – a result of poor food availability or cultural expectations – IF is becoming something that health and physique-oriented people are seeking out in order to keep their bodies in top shape.”

Dr. Berardi outlines the following possible benefits.
May reduce:
1.      blood lipids
2.      blood pressure
3.      markers of inflammation
4.      oxidative stress
5.      risk of cancer
May increase:
1.      cellular turnover and repair
2.      fat burning
3.      growth hormone release later in the fast
4.      metabolic rate later in the fast
May improve:
1.      appetite control
2.      blood sugar control
3.      cardiovascular function
4.      effectiveness of chemotherapy
5.      neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity
Dr. Berardi goes on to point out that current research shows that many of these benefits may be realized only after longer fasting periods – say, 20 to 24 hours (depending, of course, upon activity levels. More demanding activity may accelerate the process). He also stresses that with or without IF, exercise should be part of any trainee’s program, and that it’s possible that in combination, the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts.

Some Possible Stumbling Blocks to Watch out for -
1.      Don’t use fast days as an excuse to splurge.
Knowing that you’ll be fasting tomorrow may tempt you to justify an extra helping or a heavy dessert today. Don’t do it - it can become habit-forming. Once in a while won’t hurt, but repeated use of fast days as a band-aid for bad behavior will do you no good.
2.      Don’t be intimidated by a 24 hour break from eating.
When you first begin your fast days, you may feel like you’ll starve to death if you don’t eat something, ANYTHING… right NOW! You won’t. The fact is, we’re conditioned to eat a certain number of times per day at prescribed hours… most hunger is in our heads.
3.      Enjoy the additional rest your body gets.
About 70% of the energy your body expends each day is in digestion and conversion of food into energy. When you’re fasting, that energy is salvaged, and you’ll find you sleep better and will awaken earlier, fully rested and ready for the day ahead of you.
4.      Enjoy the sense of satisfaction.
There is definitely something to be said for the self-satisfaction you’ll feel after mastering your desire to eat. It makes you mentally tougher and gives you the knowledge that you have the self-control to manage your caloric intake, whether you’re talking about the right food every day or no food on fasting days. You’ll find the added self-confidence will give you a big boost in your entire training program.
5.      You’ll learn a lot about your food conditioning.
A lot of our eating habits are tied to our activities. Whether your associations are movies & popcorn, yard work & beer or workouts & protein shakes, you will find that you become conditioned to associating certain activities with certain foods. Pay attention to your automatic cravings. Once you identify them, you’ll find they’re easier to control. Then when you got to the movies, skip that giant tub of buttered popcorn and the foot-long hotdog.
6.      Use your fast days to break bad habits.
When you backslide (and we all do, now and then), use your fast days to recondition yourself. If you overdid the desserts at that family reunion, retrain yourself to control your urges and sweet-tooth and regain control of your urges. If you can do without food for 24 hours, you can certainly do without that slab of chocolate cake, right?
7.      Watch your body fat melt away.
When you eat, your body burns the sugar first, then the fat. If you’re not eating, then stored body fat is the only fuel available to burn. Of course, fasting isn’t the only way to accomplish this. The question you should ask yourself is whether you can achieve the necessary caloric deficit without fasting. Eating six days a week instead of seven is just one of the ways of accomplishing that.

In Part Two, we’ll share some more ways to make effective use of IF and discuss some of the methods you can use to determine if intermittent fasting is right for you. Until then, eat right, live right and look right!

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