If you want to know how to get a six-pack without dieting or exercise, I have a secret to share: you buy it.. at the store, then you go home drink it and realize full piece swimmer is in super style right now- sigh of relief. Well I have another way you can flaunt your abs, but, full disclosure: while it won’t be quite as easy or fun, intermittent fasting does offer promising results.
Have you heard of intermittent fasting (IF)? It’s definitely trending, as do most diets, but IF is actually more of an eating pattern than a diet. It doesn’t put limits on the foods you CAN eat; rather, it places restrictions on the time frame within which you are allowed to eat. For example, you can eat from 2:00 p.m. to 2:05 p.m.––so, hurry up, girl, cram that food in. Just kidding! Sort of. With IF, you choose a window of time in which to eat. The most common one is an eight-hour window, which leaves the remaining 16 hours as your fasting period. This is referred to as the 16:8 formula, or the 16:8 pattern. During the eight-hour window, most people consume two meals. If you time it properly, you can fast through the night while sleeping and, typically, skip breakfast in favour of lunch and dinner. Disputes exist as to whether or not you should consume the same number of calories in the two meals that you would have eaten in three, but I prefer to reduce my caloric intake.
Now comes the question of what to eat during your eight-hour eating window. Technically, you can go bananas with it (figuratively and literally), but I think it’s important to eat well rounded meals, which means protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats. If you’re going to throw your body into starvation mode, you might as well make it worth your while and get as much benefit from it as you can. Feel free to snack between meals if you need to, as long as it’s within that eight-hour window. For me, because my intention with this “diet” is to reduce my caloric intake, I try to limit my snacking and keep it healthy.
Now, let’s talk about the fasting state, the 16-hour window in which you don’t consume any food. This is when your body enters ketosis, which means it starts to burn stored fats for energy instead of food (more on this later). This doesn’t mean that you should just breathe air, of course; water is always permitted (in fact, it’s encouraged). You can also sneak in a few other things without “breaking the fast,” like black coffee and most teas. A little cream or sweetener is allowed as long as you don’t go over the permitted 50-calorie limit, but again, I’m not willing to risk it. If you’re going to go for it, I say go hard and do it right.
How many of you are getting “hangry” reading this? I’ve had a lot of people tell me that this is too extreme for them; that they get hangry if they don’t eat every four hours. Yes, your body has been trained to “need” food every few hours, but we can retrain the body by starting slow. To reach a fasting state, your body needs a minimum of 12 hours without food. So, let’s start with a 12:12 pattern, fasting for 12 hours and eating for the next 12 hours. It won’t be the most effective pattern, but it’s definitely a great starting point. Once your body is used to 12:12, you can then move to 16:8.
A lot of people who practice intermittent fasting, fast only certain days a week and change their pattern per day. For example, you could fast on a 16:8 pattern on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or fast on an 18:6 Monday through Thursday, and a 16:8 Friday through Sunday. This gives you the flexibility to tailor your fast to your needs and routine. Never feel guilty about breaking the fast to enjoy a night of food and drinks with great friends! That’s really what keeps me going.
It’s important to mention that, of course (of course, OF COURSE!), we should be accompanying intermittent fasting with EXERCISE. Yep, I had to break it to ya: it’s unlikely that we can sit on our butts and lose weight. I mean, a few people can, but who wants to be friends with those people anyway? Ha! The best time to exercise is during the fasting state, as you’ll see more weight loss, muscle building and performance enhancement.
Are you wondering how this all works, scientifically speaking?
Here’s the nitty gritty:
When our bodies are in the fasting state (the aforementioned ketosis), the way we create and use energy changes. In ketosis, rather than pulling from the carbohydrates and sugars in your most recent meal, the body starts to pull from its fat stores to create energy. Our glucose and glycogen levels are at their lowest during the fasting period, so your body must use fat cells to create the energy you need for your daily activities and exercise.
When we’re more sensitive to insulin, the better our body is at burning fat cells.
It’s important to note that insulin sensitivity plays a role in weight loss and intermittent fasting. When we fast, our bodies don’t produce insulin, which results in increased insulin sensitivity. When we’re more sensitive to insulin, the better our body is at burning fat cells. A decrease in glycogen (the body’s stored glucose) also means increased insulin sensitivity––another way that fat-burning is increased. Your growth hormone levels also increase during a fast, which means that working out will lead to more muscle growth and weight loss, and a better performance.
Okay: your workout is over and now you’re hungry.
The first meal you have after your fast plays a major role in benefitting from intermittent fasting. Typically, your post-fast or post-workout meal is stored much more efficiently than the rest of your meals and the calories are immediately burned as energy needed for recovery. So, this meal tends to result in the least amount of fat stored in the body. Since my fast ends around 11 a.m. (yep, that means I finish dinner at 6:00 p.m., like my 4- and 6-year-old children), I usually like to have a brunch–like meal, such as scrambled eggs, greens and avocado on rye toast, fruit salad, or a large bowl of soup with tofu, veggies simmered in chicken broth, and hot sauce. The protein keeps me feeling full and the fruit and veggies help me reach my daily serving.
Post-fast, or during your eating window, the body stores most of the food we eat as fat. It recognizes that your glycogen stores are full and that a higher level of glucose is present in the bloodstream, so it takes that meal you just ate and turns it into fat cells. Some of which we will hopefully burn off during our next IF workout.
- The most common intermittent fasting formula is 16:8, but feel free to start with 12:12 if you need to, and work your way up to 16:8, then a more intense 18:6. If you’re really loving it, throw in a 24-hour fast here and there. Changing your pattern or only fasting on certain days means that you can choose what fits your schedule and lifestyle. It will be much easier to stay on track that way.
- Drink plenty of water during your fasting period. You can also have black coffee and plain tea. If you accidentally have a bite of bacon, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
- Try to work out during your fasting period and have a meal post–workout, as long as it falls within your eating window. Be cognizant of the type of foods you consume and try not to go overboard if you’re starving. Give your stomach time to tell your brain that “food has cometh.”
Please note that intermittent fasting IS NOT for everyone. If you have health concerns or questions, or are taking medications that require the consumption of food, please consult your medical provider.