A Beginner's Guide To Intermittent Fasting and Unconventional Dieting

Dieting to lose weight sucks.  Period.  There are plenty of explanations for why sticking to an effective weight loss diet is so difficult, but the most obvious is that it’s very hard to stay satisfied while you’re eating fewer calories than your body wants.  In other words, it's very hard to enjoy the process of the maintaining a calorie deficit.  But, by thinking outside the box and creatively constructing a unique approach, you have the power to make the process of losing weight an enjoyable one.  If you’re enjoying every day on the path to your goals, then the battle to get lean is as good as won.  Whether you need to maintain your calorie deficit for 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years, if you’re enjoying the process, there’s never a reason to jump off the wagon. 

A Lens Through Which To Read This Article

Before we dive into my approach, Intermittent Fasting, I want to highlight the importance of customization when it comes to dieting for weight loss.  While my approach works great for me, it might not work as well for you.  Notice though, that when I say that my approach 'works', I'm referring to the fact that intermittent fasting 'works' to make me feel satisfied with my diet, even at a calorie deficit.  I'm not using the word 'works' to indicate how effective it is for weight loss itself.  

The fact of the matter is that any approach that keeps calories in, consistently less than calories out will cause weight loss, but it only 'works' if you can stick to it

I encourage you to take on the role of an experimenter while crafting your approach.  Finding your perfect protocol is just as much an art as it is a science.  If you're truly committed to finding a sustainable and enjoyable way to eat, it's critical that you stay attentive to how your habits affect the way you feel with respect to food.  This process of trial and error may be frustrating at first, but with practice, it becomes incredibly rewarding.  

One last thing.  As you read this article, notice how unconventional my approach is.  It goes against much of what we've been conditioned to believe is the right way to eat, but it's a scientifically sound approach and it 'works' for me.  To be an effective experimenter while in the process of trial and error, you have to be willing to question your beliefs.  Always ask yourself "why?"

  • Why was I told that this the right way to do things? 
  • Why is this effective? 
  • Why does this habit make me feel this way? 
  • Why do we need to eat? 
  • Why is the timing of our food intake important? 

When an approach isn't working, you must find the reasons for its failure.  Oftentimes, the reasons lie in places that you wouldn't think to call into question.  The goal of this article is to help you find those questions.

I also need to point out that, in the interest of being concise and easy to understand, many of the scientific explanations in this article are abbreviated versions of more in depth explanations from other articles.  If you're hungry for answers to your scientific questions, I encourage you to check out the other articles on this website.   

Intermittent Fasting: My Unconventional Approach

A quick Google search for “Intermittent fasting” will leave you with a confusing array of results.  You'll read about different protocols, meal patterns and philosophies, but the principle is always the same:

Delay your first meal of the day as long as comfortably possible so that you save most of your calories for later in the day. 

This delaying of the first meal leaves you in a “fasted state” for significantly longer than you usually are each day.  You might think that you’ll be miserable and hungry if you skip breakfast, but over time, you’ll actually find yourself in a very pleasant and energetic state while you fast.  There’s some very cool biology to explain why the fasted state is actually supportive of energy and focus but, I’ll talk more about that in a minute.  First, I want to explain the most appealing quality of the intermittent fasting lifestyle:

You don’t have to give up the foods you love and, if you want to, you can eat huge, delicious, and satisfying meals every single day while still losing weight

It’s simple, if you’re not eating until later in the day, say your first meal is at 3pm, you only have time for 1 or 2 big meals and a couple of snacks before you go to bed.  It’s very easy (and satisfying) to stay under your calorie limit with those parameters.  For example, say you need to stay within a 2000-calorie limit to maintain weight loss and you're able to delay your first meal until 3pm.  You could choose to break your fast with a smaller, say 500-calorie meal, then eat a huge dinner of 1200 calories and you’d still have room for a 300 calorie snack before bed.   By allowing yourself to eat big, satisfying meals on a daily basis, you’ll find that maintaining a calorie deficit can actually be extremely enjoyable. 

It gets even better.  Maintaining the fasted state for the first part of your day imposes a unique set of stimuli upon your biology.  In response, you’ll burn more fat for energy, feel very alert, and potentiate the satisfaction response from your first meal.  Let’s take a look at the biology that makes all of this possible.

Harnessing The Cyclical Power of Your Hormones

            Intermittent fasting works so well because it creates two distinct metabolic states over the course of the day, the fasted state and the fed state.  These two opposing states are both uniquely appropriate for activities that are specific to different times of the day.  Since our bodies are inseparably tied to the daily cycle between day and night, we’ve developed systems over thousands of years of evolution to support daytime alertness and nighttime restfulness.  The fasted state enhances that daytime alertness and the fed state enhances that nighttime relaxation.  Think of these states like a pendulum swinging or a ball bouncing; the further it swings or bounces in one direction, the further it can swing in the opposite direction.   

Hormones are the chemical messengers that race through our blood stream every hour of every day to mediate virtually all of our biological processes.  The varying hormonal profile of our blood throughout the day determines our subjective energy levels, hunger, sleepiness and so much more.  To compliment this hormonal level of control, we also have an electrical system composed of millions of neurons that connect every part of our body to our brain.  Specifically, our autonomic, or involuntary nervous system, controls all of our bodily processes that we don’t consciously control.  These processes include heart rate, digestion, metabolism, pupillary dilation, etc.  This autonomic nervous system is broken down into two counteracting branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic.  Each branch's activation, as you’ll soon see, matches up perfectly with either the fasted or fed state.  

These two levels of biological control, hormonal and neuronal, are the twin powerhouses behind the effectiveness of intermittent fasting.  Let’s take a look at each state individually so it becomes clear how alternating between a prolonged fasting period and a potentiated, restful, feeding period optimizes our hormonal profile for burning fat, conserving muscle, and being satisfied with the food you eat every single day.

The Biological Basis of The Fasted State

 It seems counterintuitive but, once you've adapted to intermittent fasting, when you delay your first meal of the day, you’ll find yourself in the energetic, mentally clear, and metabolically efficient fasted state.  Most of us have been culturally conditioned to think that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  If you need immediate convincing of why breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day, skip down to the second to last section of the article, then come back.  The bottom line is that science has uncovered the neural and chemical basis for the energetic properties of the fasted state, and here they are:

In the morning, increasing concentrations of the hormone cortisol and the neurotransmitter nor-epinephrine (among others) prompt you to transition from sleep to wakefulness.  Cortisol is classified as a catabolic hormone, which means that it’s involved in processes that break down stored energy in the body.  White adipose tissue, or body fat, is one of those energy stores.  So, during the morning hours of the day, cortisol keeps your body primed to get its energy from energy stores, not food.

The fasted state also promotes activation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.  This activation manifests itself in the increased activity of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.  Norepinephrine is associated with attention, alertness, and physical stimulation.  Like cortisol, increased levels of norepinephrine have also been shown to increase energy expenditure (more calorie burning) by stimulating the mobilization of fat stores via noradrenergic Beta-receptors.  Norepinephrine is also commonly called noradrenaline and the Beta class of noradrenergic receptors is one of the primary receptor types expressed on adipose tissue, or fat. 

By taking advantage of elevated cortisol levels and enhancing norepinephrine release by prolonging the fasted state, you create the perfect neurochemical profile for a productive morning.  You’ll coast into the afternoon hours of the day, but then genuine hunger will set in and the real fun begins…

The Fed State: Genuine Satisfaction with a Calorie Deficit

            Most diets create a sense of deprivation, which leaves you with cravings for big quantities of very satisfying foods.  The thing that sets intermittent fasting apart from other weight loss techniques is the fact that you can still eat those satisfying foods in large quantities every day.  When you spend the first four, six or even eight hours of your day fasting, you’re effectively saving all of your daily calories for a small window of time later in your day.  This means you get to eat big, calorically dense meals to compensate for your fasting.   You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite foods, you don’t have to eat tiny plates of meat and veggies throughout the day, and you definitely won’t feel deprived.  

Don’t get me wrong, you can’t just eat doughnuts and cookies until you reach your calorie target, but there will be room for some of that after you fill up on nutritious whole foods.  In fact, I routinely eat chocolate or ice cream, sometimes even both, at the end of the day while maintaining a caloric deficit and staying very lean at or under 10% body fat.  Don’t worry, we’ll come back to topic of satisfying eating, but first I want to explain the biological basis of dietary satisfaction and how intermittent fasting works to enhance that satisfaction response.

The Biological Basis of Dietary Satisfaction

 Your hormones and nervous system control your hunger and appetite, but they also control your subjective measure of satisfaction with your food and your mood.  When we eat a meal and the food passes through our GI tract, a number of chemical signals are released to tell your brain that you’re eating and you don't have to eat for much longer. 

The first stop your food makes is the stomach.  Upon reaching the stomach, your food inhibits the secretion of a hormone called Ghrelin from the G-cells in the stomach.  You’re probably very familiar with the feeling ghrelin give you.  It’s that empty, grumbling feeling that makes you want to eat.  It makes perfect sense then, for the presence of food in your stomach to stop the secretion of ghrelin.  In fact, researchers have pinpointed ghrelin as potent "meal initiator".  That is, when your stomach continues to release this hormone, you're more and more likely to respond by eating a meal.  

Likewise, there are stretch receptors on the lining of your stomach that sense the stretching of your stomach to accommodate the volume of your meal.  These stretch receptors relay electrical signals to the brain that serve to encode the sensation of fullness. 

The next stop for your food is the small intestine.  Once your small intestine senses the presence of food, specifically dietary fat, it releases cholecystokinin (abbreviated CCK).  CCK is another satiation signal that races through your bloodstream and up to your brain with the encoded message that you’re full and you can stop eating.  When the carbohydrates from your meal are absorbed in the small intestine, insulin is released from the pancreas in large quantities.  As you now know, insulin works to bring blood sugar levels down but it also acts in the appetite center of your brain as a satiation signal. 

The last place your food goes before it lands in the toilet is your large intestine.  Here, food presence triggers the release of two more satiety signaling hormones, GLP-1 and peptide YY (PYY).  All of these satiety signals, CCK, insulin, GLP-1 and PYY, and a host of others, make there way to the brain, to give you a feeling of fullness and satisfaction after a meal.  This happens every time you eat, regardless of whether or not you were fasting beforehand.   However, intermittent fasting is so satisfying because fasting potentiates these satiety signals.  Here’s how...

Potentiated Satisfaction

First, when you fast, your stomach has time to shrink down to a smaller size.  This decreases its capacity for food volume.  It also means that your stretch receptors will sense a more intense and rapid distension of your stomach when you break your fast.  This translates to an enhanced signal of fullness, or satiety, from your gut to your brain

Likewise, fasting has been well studied as a method to sensitize your body to the insulin response.  When you fast and go about your day, you’re draining your body of its energy stores.  The lower these energy stores get, the more your body wants to refill them.  The chemical translation of this phenomenon is insulin sensitivity.  So when you eat your first meal, your body responds with a potentiated insulin response that works to refill your energy stores and signal to your brain that you’re full.  Increased insulin sensitivity has a myriad of other health and performance benefits, but I’ll spare you those explanations. 

Eating a majority of your food later in the day also affects neurotransmitters that promote positive mood and relaxation.  For example, serotonin levels are given a boost.  Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most associated with calmness, good mood, and relaxation.  Eating carbohydrate and protein rich meals enhances the synthesis of serotonin which helps explain the subjective bliss of the fed state.  Likewise, melatonin, a chemical cousin to serotonin, is also given a synthesis boost when you eat those carbohydrate rich meals later in the day.  As you may know, melatonin is released from the brain at night to initiate the process of falling asleep.  Melatonin release is inhibited by the presence of light, so you won’t be sleepy right after you eat.  But once you’re in bed and the lights are off, you can rest assured you’ll get a night of quality sleep. 

Summing Up the Fed State

To translate all that biology I just explained into simpler terms: who doesn’t feel satisfied after eating a grilled chicken salad, a Chipotle burrito bowl, a chocolate bar and two scoops of ice cream?  That’s the kind of eating you can do with intermittent fasting on only a 2000 calorie budget.  You don’t have to remember the names of the hormones or the satiation circuitry of the brain, all you have to know is that intermittent fasting lets you eat big, satisfying meals later in the day while preserving a state of energetic clarity early in the day, and there's science to back it up.  It’s as simple as that.   

Why Does This Still Seem Crazy?  

There’s no simple answer to this question but a lot of the resistance to intermittent fasting stems from cultural convention.  You’ve probably always been taught to eat the traditional three meals a day.  Your parents were taught the same, and their parents were too.  Just because it seems like everyone does something a certain way, it doesn’t mean that their way is the best way.  In fact, how many people do you know who have tried and failed to lose weight over and over again on the traditional small meals approach?  I certainly know a lot, myself included. 

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  So if you want to be like everyone else, do what everyone else is doing.  Keep in mind that over two thirds of Americans are now considered overweight or obese and our country’s standards for physical fitness are constantly declining.  I really don't think it's a stretch to say that it would be insane to strive for optimal health by eating and exercising “the normal way”.  So it’s time to try a new approach.  By no means is it “normal” in 21st century America to engage in intermittent fasting, but that’s a horrible reason to think that it won’t work for you. 

Where to Start

The first thing you need to know if you’re serious about getting started with intermittent fasting is that there’s an adjustment.  This adjustment period is your body adapting to the new rhythm you’ve set for it by delaying your first meal and eating a majority of your calories later in the day.  During the adjustment period, you’ll feel noticeably hungry in the morning, your stomach will grumble throughout the fasting phase, and you might be a little more irritable than usual. 

It’s not the most pleasant couple of weeks, but, like all things in life worth doing, getting through that first week is completely worth the temporary discomfort.  To make things easier, there are a bunch of tricks you can use to make your adjustment phase much more comfortable.  

Now, let’s go through what a day of intermittent fasting looks like and some tricks that you can use to block hunger to prolong the fasting period:

The Daily Routine of Intermittent Fasting

            If you Google “Intermittent Fasting”, you’ll get hundreds of different protocols and standards for how you should do it.  I’ve tried almost all of them and I’ve found that following a strict “eating window” or meal schedule can be very overwhelming and restrictive.  The whole point of this is to make maintaining a calorie deficit enjoyable, so lets ditch the dogma.  

All you have to do is delay that first meal as long as you can into the day, then hit your calorie target in as satisfying a way as you can.  Finding the most enjoyable way to do this becomes something of an art form, and once you’ve found your rhythm, every day becomes incredibly satisfying.  Here’s what a typical day of intermittent fasting looks like for me:

My Day Of Intermittent Fasting

I wake up around 8:00am; I wash my face, brush my teeth, and get my backpack ready to go to the library, class or work.  I drink at least 16oz of water right when I wake up just to put something in my stomach and stay hydrated.  About an hour after I wake up, I’ll have a cup of black coffee.  No sugar, no cream, no milk, nothing, just black coffee.  The coffee does two things.  First, it blunts my hunger and gets me going with my day without thinking about eating, and second, the stimulant effect compliments the fasted state of mental clarity so I can be productive in the morning. 

After a couple hours of getting work done, I implement trick number two for blunting hunger; I drink sparkling water.  Again, zero calories, just sparkling water.  The carbonation helps sooth my stomach and keeps the fasted state manageably pleasant as the afternoon hours approach.

In the afternoon I start feeling genuinely hungry.  It takes some getting used to, but once you’ve adjusted to intermittent fasting, it’ll be easy to discern the feeling of genuine hunger from the more benign stomach grumbles.  Usually around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’ll break my fast with a piece of fruit.  This is another trick to prolong the fasting period.  The genuine feeling of hunger you’ll experience about four or five hours into fasting is the result of your liver’s glycogen stores being depleted.  I’ll go into more detail in a minute, but the piece of fruit allows for a quick refill of that liver glycogen that’ll give you a few more hours of comfort before your first real meal. 

 After my piece of fruit, I usually go work out.  Whether it’s a lifting day, a cardio day, or just a recovery/mobility day, I’ll spend somewhere between one and two hours at the gym.  Yes, I workout fasted.  After my workout is when I start eating the majority of my calories.  Around 5 or 6pm I’ll have my first real meal.  I like to start with a big salad with some type of meat on it.   By the time I finish that meal, I’m at around 700 calories of total intake and it’s already almost 7pm. 

After a couple more hours, usually around 9pm, I’ll go out to eat with some friends.  I’ll eat a huge meal of anywhere between 1000 and 1500 calories.  I make sure that this meal is satisfying on multiple levels.  I always get a portion of starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, or even French fries with a decent serving of protein (usually meat) and a moderate amount of fat to create a balanced texture and taste experience. 

 After this relaxing meal with my friends, we’ll either hang out for a little while or I’ll go back to my place to get ready for the next day.  Once I have everything squared away and I’m ready to go to bed, I’ll have my last meal of the day.  I love chocolate and ice cream, so I’ll have some yogurt or a protein bar and then a chocolate bar, some ice cream, or even both.  That leaves me feeling full, relaxed, happy, and most importantly, completely satisfied after eating less than 2500 calories

This is just an example of a typical day in my life with intermittent fasting as a weight loss protocol.  The key thing to remember is that you’re trying to find the most enjoyable way to maintain a calorie deficit so you can reach your fitness goals.  Dieting doesn’t have to be miserable.  If you genuinely enjoy the process, your goals are as good as conquered. 

Tricks For Prolonging the Fast

            As you could see from my example day of intermittent fasting, I use a couple of tricks during the fasted phase to blunt hunger and comfortably prolong my fast.  Here are the tricks:

·      Use Coffee/Caffeine Strategically:  Caffeine is well known for it’s appetite suppressing and stimulant qualities.  Drinking caffeine during your fast will blunt your hunger, give you an energy boost and mimic the comforting routine of having breakfast.  I find that I look forward to my first cup of coffee in a very similar to how I used to look forward to breakfast when I’d have breakfast every morning.  Just remember, the whole point of fasting is to delay your calorie intake for later in the day so you shouldn’t be adding anything caloric to your coffee.  Zero calorie sweeteners are fine, but no sugar or whiteners.

·      Drink Sparkling Water: The carbonation of the sparkling water will soothe the stomach grumbles that can accompany the fasted state.  Likewise, the fizziness will activate some of those stretch receptors on your stomach to send a signal to your hypothalamus that you’re full.  Just like the coffee, zero calories is the goal here.  I like to drink lemon Perrier, but there are plenty of other great options.

·      Chew Gum: The simple act of chewing actually stimulates the secretion of stomach soothing fluids.  By chewing gum, you temporarily trick your body into thinking that you’re eating so it preps the stomach for the food it thinks you’re about to swallow.  Chewing gum is another way to sooth the stomach grumbles and to keep food cravings at bay. 

·      Use Fruit to Refill Liver Glycogen:  Our bodies have two primary ways to store and use energy.  The preferred method is by converting glucose into a glycogen, a starchy, storage form of carbohydrates that can be stored in your liver and muscle tissue. Your muscles convert these glycogen stores back into glucose for energy generation specific to each muscle.  So if you do 4 sets of biceps curls, you’ll be using up the glycogen stored within the biceps muscle tissue.   Your liver glycogen on the other hand, is converted back to glucose in the same way, but this glucose is used to fuel more general, widespread energetic processes like breathing, walking, thinking, etc.  Your liver glycogen stores start running low about four to six hours into wakeful fasting.  This triggers an intense and genuine hunger signal because your body desperately wants more glucose to use as fuel.  You can tame that hunger by eating a piece of fruit.  Fruits are rich in simple sugars that your body will immediately use to refill its liver glycogen stores.  The result is another couple hours of comfortable fasting without the return of intense hunger. 

All of these tricks will help a ton as you’re adjusting to intermittent fasting.  As you go, you’ll also learn how to time your implementation of each trick to optimize your lifestyle.  The process of trial and error to find the most enjoyable and satisfying way to structure your days becomes truly a beautiful thing.

A Quick Note On Dietary Composition

While intermittent fasting makes it possible to enjoy your favorite foods and big meals while maintaining a calorie deficit, it doesn’t make you immune to the necessity of eating primarily nutrient dense, whole foods.  You’ll lose weight with a calorie deficit no matter what, but your health will suffer if your diet isn’t balanced and rich in all the essential nutrients.  Even though I eat a chocolate bar or ice cream almost every day, I make sure I’m getting plenty of vegetables, the right amount of protein, and good serving of healthy fats.  That’s why I like my first meal to be a big, protein rich salad.  Not only does that big salad take longer to eat which boosts meal satisfaction, it also contains a lot of the micronutrients our bodies need to function at the optimal level of health.

Another critical mistake most dieters make when trying to lose weight is to dramatically change their macronutrient ratios.  Cutting out carbs or dietary fat will simply make you miserable.  As long as you’re getting at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of goal bodyweight, the rest of your calories should be coming from fats and carbs.  Carbohydrates are crucial for the production of neurotransmitters that support positive mood and deep sleep.  Likewise, low carbohydrate diets will leave your muscle glycogen stores virtually empty, which can be devastating for muscle gene expression and workout performance.  You shouldn’t eliminate the fats either.  Dietary fat represents the building blocks for your hormones and cell membranes.  Low fat diets have repeatedly been shown to decrease the production of hormones that are critical to healthy functioning. 

On top of all that, low carb or low fat diets are always going to be less satisfying than balanced diets because dietary fats and carbs make food enjoyable to eat.  Fats and carbs are also crucial to satiation signal functioning.  You’ll remember that insulin and CCK act as satiety signals.  If you don’t eat carbs, your insulin responses will be out of whack.  Likewise, if you don’t eat fats, you won’t trigger the same release of CCK from the small intestine.  Low fat and low carb diets put you on the fastest track to feeling deprived and miserable. So get enough protein, then reach your calorie target with fats and carbs.  This will insure you’re staying healthy while enjoying the process of getting leaner. 

Common Questions and Concerns 

Concern 1: Won’t I Lose Muscle While Fasting? 

But wait! Won’t my body start breaking down my muscle tissue for energy while I’m fasting?  The short answer is no.  As an avid lifter and competitive athlete, I too was worried that if I wasn’t constantly eating, my body would turn to my hard earned muscle tissue for energy.  However, the fasted state promotes a hormonal profile that spares muscle tissue at the expense of fat tissue.   

The key to the hormonal puzzle of muscle preservation in the fasted state is the interaction between insulin and growth hormone.  As you may know, insulin is released in response to the increased blood sugar concentrations that immediately follow eating food, specifically carbohydrates.  When insulin is released from your pancreas, it acts on muscle cells, liver cells, and fat cells to make them able to take up glucose from the blood in order to bring blood sugar levels back down.  Insulin release has been shown to attenuate the activity of growth hormone.  So keeping your bloodstream relatively clear of insulin for hours on end by fasting dramatically increase growth hormone levels throughout the day.  This increase in growth hormone insures that your muscle tissue is preserved during the fast. 

This is a beautifully logical and life preserving evolutionary adaptation.  To demonstrate this, imagine you’re a Mongolian tribesperson living in the 1100s.  Since evolutionary changes to human biology occur on the timescale of tens of thousands of years, your hypothetical biology in this imaginary situation is virtually identical to your current biology.  Now, say you’ve been out on a hunt with members of your tribe for the past 3 days.  You haven’t eaten since you left camp but you still need the physical power and mental alertness to hunt down and kill your tribes’ next meal.  None of us would be here today if our ancestors’ bodies hadn’t been evolved to handle the stress of prolonged fasting.  If our bodies were constantly breaking down our muscle tissue while fasted, our ancestors wouldn’t have had the strength to hunt and gather their food. 

To come back to the present, a 1988 study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrated the biological mechanism for this phenomenon by showing a four-fold increase in growth hormone release on a 24 hour fast and a ten-fold increase by day four.  The authors of this paper concluded:

“… growth hormone secretion provides two levels of defense against starvation.  The first relates to the maintenance of glucose supply through an increase in hepatic (liver) glucose production and the second, the provision of alternative energy sources by increasing fat mobilization and oxidation, thereby indirectly sparing body protein.” (Ho et. al 1988) 

Insulin’s storage promoting properties also push cellular metabolism away from breaking down fats and towards synthesizing them.  This fact translates into the realization that constantly eating during the day will actually prevent maximum fat loss because insulin will be more present in the bloodstream.  The bottom line is that fasting is an efficient way to cause fat burning, while sparing muscle tissue and keeping you energized.

Concern 2: Won’t People Think I’m Crazy For Skipping Breakfast?      

The simple answer is yes.  Cultural conditioning is a powerful force.  Going against the convention of eating breakfast might be the hardest part about intermittent fasting.  It’s physically easy to push your first meal back by skipping breakfast, but it’s socially difficult to deal with your friends and family thinking you’re crazy for it.  Here’s a simple explanation for why the notion of needing to eat breakfast is so prevalent and why it’s not true:

If we look back through human history, it’s abundantly clear that the whole idea of starting the day with a meal can only be the product of cultural construction, an abundant food supply, and the technology to keep that food fresh for extended periods of time.  However, an overwhelming majority of human history played out in an environments where this was not the case.  Even your ancestors who lived in the 1700s probably didn’t live in a society where an abundant and well-preserved food supply allowed them to eat breakfast everyday. 

Keep in mind that evolutionary changes to our biology happen on the time scale of tens of thousands of years, not hundreds.  As a result, your biology is virtually identical to that of your ancestors who lived in the 1700s and even to that of your ancestors who lived in the time of ancient civilizations.  This means that your body is hardwired to handle prolonged periods without food.  In fact, we’re designed to operate optimally and efficiently in the fasted state because that’s the state our ancestors (and our imaginary Mongolian tribesperson) were in when they were hunting and gathering their food.  

However, if you’re reading this, you and everyone you know probably live in a society where you do have access to an abundant and well-preserved food supply.  Odds are your parents live in such a society, and odds are their parents did too.  So your parents, your parent’s parents, your friends, your friends’ parents, and even your friends’ parents’ parents were all raised to think that eating breakfast is just what you do.  But always remember how relatively recent the development of the ability to always eat breakfast was.  Remember that you’re biologically identical to the Mongolian tribesperson in our example.  And most importantly, remember this: The food environment in which humans evolved created the necessity to be mentally sharp, physically energetic, and metabolically efficient for prolonged periods of fasting.  If our biologically identical ancestors could fast for three, four, even ten days at a time, we can all certainly handle it for four to six hours after we wake up.  

You Got This!  A Quick Summary:

 Intermittent fasting is an amazingly powerful way to get lean and stay lean for two complimentary reasons.  The first is that the fasted state promotes for efficient fat loss.  The second, and more important reason is that the intermittent fasting lifestyle lets you truly enjoy the process of losing weight.  The enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with intermittent fasting is what sets it apart from traditional dieting.  So here’s a quick summary of how to go about your day, intermittent fasting style: 

·      Delay Your First Meal:  Skip breakfast and don’t consume calories for as long as comfortably possible while enjoying the energetic qualities of the fasted state.

·      Use The Tricks to Prolong Your Fast: Drink sparkling water, chew gum, use caffeine strategically, and eat a piece of fruit to prolong your fast.

·      Break Your Fast: Hit your calorie target by eating big, satisfying meals of the foods you love with the people you love.  Just make sure to stay within your calorie limits.

·      Enjoy the Fed State: Enjoy the relaxing properties of the fed state and the satisfaction that comes with eating the foods you love. 

I hope this article has shown you that dieting to lose weight doesn’t have to be miserable.  I encourage you to try intermittent fasting and discover for yourself all the benefits, both physical and psychological, that come with it.  You don't have to jump in head first though.  Start by taking bits and pieces of the approach and combining them with things you already do. If you're serious about your health and fitness goals, the most important thing to do is to start making changes.  

Piece by piece, your perfect approach will take shape.  It might not be the same as my approach, in fact, it might be completely different.  Regardless, I hope that reading this article has helped you identify some of the questions you need to be asking of your diet and lifestyle.  In the process of pursuing those questions, new questions will arise.  Those new questions are the proof that progress is being made.  The questions never stop popping up, but that's only because your potential is just as limitless as the questions.