Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you have likely heard about the benefits of intermittent fasting.  

Weight loss, fat loss, mental clarity, cellular cleansing, improved blood cholesterol profiles, and possible reversal of type 2 diabetes are among the benefits many people have experienced.  

While it’s true there are tremendous benefits to intermittent fasting, there are right and wrong ways to get started with an intermittent fasting lifestyle. 

Time-Restricted Feeding

First and foremost, the phrase intermittent fasting can mean different things to different people and there are multiple types of intermittent fasting protocols. In this article, we’ll focus on an intermittent fasting protocol known as time-restricted feeding (TRF). 

TRF is one of the most popular forms of intermittent fasting. It involves a period of time where no calories are consumed each day, typically around 16 hours, leaving you an 8 hour feeding window to consume all your daily calories. If you’re still into calories, but that’s a conversation for another article.

For now, let’s talk about two keys to help you adapt to the time-restricted feeding plan. The first key can allow your body sufficient time to adapt to the fasting process.

A little bit at a time

If you’re like most people, running a mile would provide a healthy level of stress and with a little recovery time that stress would result in a positive adaptation. This, in theory, means that the next time you ran the same mile your body would handle it easier. 

This is similar to a medical concept called Hormesis, which is our first key to ease into the intermittent fasting world. Hormesis states that a mild dose of a stressor can be good, whereas a higher dose of the same stressor can be very detrimental. 

Imagine this, an untrained person tries to run a full marathon. This would be a terrible idea because the demands placed on the person’s body would greatly exceed their capacity to adapt during the race. This, essentially, overwhelms the person’s ability to recover and can lead to a host of unhealthy physiological changes. Reduced immune function, elevated inflammation, and joint pain just to name a few. 

Similar to exercising too much in too short a period of time, fasting too long before your body has become fat-adapted can put too much stress on the body. 

Fat vs. Sugar

Have you ever been around a fire? You might start with small twigs and dry leaves, or kindling, which catches fire quickly and burns off just as fast. This is similar to your body running on sugar for fuel. 

Now, when I say sugar I’m not just talking about candy bars and soda. Carbohydrates in all forms turn into glucose, sugar, in your body. If you rely on carbohydrates as your main form of energy, it’s as if you’re trying to keep the fire going with just kindling. 

Fat, on the other hand, is more like burning giant logs or even coal in your fire. And, when you become fat-adapted it means your body can use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The more adapted your body is to using fat for energy the longer you’ll be able to fast. The longer you can fast the more of the fasting benefits you can receive. 

Here’s a key point to think about, our ancestors were likely very fat adapted since the environment was always feast or famine. Today, however, very few people are metabolically flexible and so it is difficult for most of us to tap into our fat stores as a source of energy, at first. What many of us need is a way to help flip, what I call, the metabolic switch.

What we can learn from corporate Japan

Back in 1986, a Japanese business consultant named Masaaki Imai founded the Kaizen Institute, to bring the concepts of Kaizen to western companies. Kaizen roughly translates to change is good, and the Kaizen principle translates to major change through small, daily improvements over time. 

If we apply this concept to fasting, it means we can quickly start to see the benefits of fasting by gradually increasing our fasting time each day. For example, if you currently eat breakfast at 8 am, you would wait until 8:15 am the next day. The day after that you would wait until maybe 8:30, 8:45 or even 9 am, and so on.

As long as you are feeling good and in, what I’ll call, the Healthy Fasting Zone, you can continue extending your fasting time period.  So, you may be wondering what is a Healthy Fasting State and how do you know if you’re experiencing it. Below is a list of key indicators you can go by that to help guide you in this process.

Signs of a Healthy Fasting Zone:

  • You’re very comfortable going at least 8-12 hours between meals
  • None or only minor feelings of hunger
  • Great focus and mental clarity
  • Energized yet calm feeling
  • Happy and enthusiastic feelings about life
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Absence of headache, dizziness, and light-headed feelings
  • Capable of working at a high-level

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started. If, during, your fasting time you have the above feelings you’re most likely fine and you can even go further. 

By the way, an obstacle you might face in your fasting journey is the criticism of armchair “experts” who think you’re crazy for not eating 3, 5, 7 or more meals a day. It’s not uncommon for people to feel great going 24, 36, 48 hours or more in between meals once they’ve become sufficiently adapted to using both dietary and stored body fat as their main fuel source.  

So, if weight loss, fat loss, mental clarity, cellular cleansing, improved blood cholesterol profiles, and the possible reversal of type 2 diabetes are benefits you’re interested in then start using the hormetic and Kaizen concepts to expand your time-restricted feeding windows. And, when those armchair “experts” tell you how crazy you are, feel free to smile and thank them for their concern.