I am often asked what particular intermittent fasting protocol I prefer – and why.
The truth is I have used them all and they all appear to be equally effective – when used correctly and appropriately.
So my main considerations when choosing a routine relate to preference, convenience and circumstance. I tend to prefer daily fasting protocols, rather than alternate day fasting protocols – really because I am quite lean and I follow a weight maintenance programme rather than a weight loss programme.
I think alternate day fasting (ADF) is great for weight loss and is probably more likely to be successful for serious weight loss programmes than a daily fasting regime (using a condensed eating window period).
That’s because it’s very difficult to double the amount of food you eat in a day (which is what you’d need to do in order to stay at the same weight when using an ADF approach).
However, I generally prefer daily fasting (using a condensed eating window of between three and five hours) because it just suits my preferences better. I do change between protocols as well, for variety – or to suit different situations.
For instance, when I go on holiday I tend to use an alternate day fasting approach so I can enjoy more food, more often, without getting fatter. Using ADF in this way I can ‘pig out’ on one day – eating pretty much whenever I feel like it – and I then go on a full fast for the following day, in order to compensate.
Following the holiday theme outlined above, I will often use two types of fasting for ADF. I will tend to alternate between fruit fasting on the fasting day and water fasting on the fasting day – just for variety and for metabolic confusion.
The shocking thing I’ve found, whenever I do this, is that I actually seem to get leaner and more muscular! I think the most logical explanation for this is metabolic confusion – my metabolism (already adapted to switching between fasting and fed states) loses its rhythm and seems to speed up the fat burning process when confronted unexpectedly with higher numbers of calories than it’s used to (and in different sequences) while the fat burning system is still stimulated by regular (although different) fasting periods.
I am not sure this approach would be sustainable over the long term – unless the eating days were not excessive – because, over the long term, calorie amounts may become more pertinent to whether or not weight is gained.
Metabolic acceleration needs to be carefully managed. I also don’t think this would work for someone whose system is not already well adapted to fasting.
Fasting does require physiological adaptation. Most of this adaptation seems to happen over a three to four week period – and it can be likened to getting fitter by adapting to exercise. If you take up running, as an example, your cellular mitochondria will actually proliferate more and will adapt in such a way that your energy utilisation becomes better (and so that your body is able to sustain exercise for longer and longer).
Fitness is a biochemical as well as biological and physiological adaptation. So is fasting. Your body needs to change at cellular level before it starts to benefit from fasting and this happens in much the same way as is promoted by exercise – with very similar benefits.
So if you are not seasoned at intermittent fasting don’t bother trying to switch between the different modes. I’d go as far as to say do not start changing between different fasting modes before you have lost all your excess weight and reached your ideal weight (unless the method you have chosen is not working well for you because it doesn’t suit your preferences).
Note that all valid intermittent fasting and calorie restriction programmes will work. The diets which don’t work are usually the ones which you fail to implement correctly. Most diets can work – theoretically (it’s just that they may not be practical).
The main reason why you may fail to implement a diet is because that diet does not suit your preferences or temperament and you will not have complied with the diet for this reason. The fact is that if you operate at a calorie deficit (taking in more calories than you expend) you will lose weight – that fact is unavoidable.
However, dietary set-up is crucial. You must use a dietary approach or strategy which will support your body’s natural tendencies as well as your personal preferences, rather than constantly fight against them. Intermittent fasting diets do just that, although it may not seem to be obvious to many people in today’s society (who are ‘brainwashed’ into thinking the philosophy of fasting is physiologically unworkable).
Intermittent fasting actually plays to our natural tendencies, which (although suppressed by culture) still exist and are hard-wired into our DNA. Every healthy person is capable of adapting comfortably to an intermittent fasting protocol.
The main hurdles to overcome will be the cultural and psychological ones. The physical hurdles are not as challenging as our minds may make them seem. I witness this on a daily basis when I review queries that come through my website from people who have read my intermittent fasting book. There are some people drawn to the concept by a natural awakening of their inner hidden instincts.
They have found out about intermittent fasting because they somehow developed a drive to want to learn more about fasting. Because such people are already open to the concept and want to do it, it always works for them.
However, when you try to get someone to follow intermittent fasting because they see the results on someone else and like the results (but they are sceptical of fasting), you’ll find that the experience is often so negative for them that half of them will quit within just a few days.
I don’t believe this phenomenon is physical or physiological in any way – it is purely psychological – or mental. Your expectations at the outset are very likely to determine your results with any diet – and especially when it comes to using an intermittent fasting diet.
However, various formats will suit different people so I do urge you to experiment. By simply learning about all the fasting protocols and then choosing to use the one which appeals to you the most you will set yourself up for success – because your mind will be in the right place already.
I hope this perspective is of use for readers considering trying intermittent fasting, or considering changing between the different regimes.