Six Ways You Screwed Up Intermittent Fasting

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Increased metabolism and fat burning.

Better muscle retention.

Eating huge, satisfying meals while still dropping fat at impressive rates.

These are just a few of the benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) – a style of eating that is a complete game changer in the fitness game.

And there’s a TON of other super cool stuff that happens when you start fasting for 16 hours each day, followed by an 8-hour eating window.*

Stuff like:

  • A huge boost in Growth Hormone and Testosterone
  • Increased focus and attention during the fast
  • Better sleep
  • Possible life extension

And the list goes on and on…

*This method is considered the “LeanGains” method, based on Martin Berkhan’s approach. There is also a version called “Eat Stop Eat” by Brad Pilon, where you fast for a full 24 hours once or twice per week. For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to DAILY fasting ala LeanGains.

Thing is, this style of eating actually DOESN’T come with much of a cost – all you gotta do is take a little time off from eating.

And yet some people hate it. Can’t stand it. Publicly claim a whole bunch of nonsense about it, just because they don’t think it works for them.

But the truth is, intermittent fasting (IF) is a tool in our toolbox.

If you were to hit your thumb when trying to hammer a nail, would you blame the hammer? Of course not.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is the same way. If misused or taken out of context, you might experience some negative effects you weren’t expecting.

And that’s precisely why some people are against it.

Below are the 6 most common ways that people screw up IF. These are surefire ways to misuse the tool and miss out on the insane advantages it provides.

Be honest and objective with yourself, and see if you need to give it another try. And if you’ve never tried IF before and are considering giving it a go, make sure you don’t make these mistakes.

Huge Mistake

1) Not Allowing Enough Time To Adjust

When you first learned about IF, you were probably super excited to try it out.

I know I was.

I remember reading about it in the summer of 2008 as I was about to start my sophomore year of college, and being extremely excited about not having to plan out my meal times (I literally used iCalendar to map out when I would eat according to my class schedule).

I took the plunge and decide to – God forbid – not eat all day.

And I was HUNGRY.

The first day left me so famished and weak that I wondered how anyone could do this on a regular basis.

But here’s the catch: Your body adapts to your normal meal times.

You’ve probably heard of the Circadian Rhythm – your body’s natural “clock” that is always running in the background, shifting hormones based on the time of day and telling you when it’s time to go to sleep and wake up.

Well eating follows this rhythm, too.

One of the primary hunger hormones, Ghrelin, gets accustomed to rising at your normal meal times.

Eat breakfast at 8 AM? Guess what, Ghrelin will rise around that time.

So when you first tried IF, you were feeling these effects of raised Ghrelin during your fasting window because your body hadn’t gotten used to the new style of eating yet.

HOWEVER, if you had held out for a few days (or even a week + in some cases), your Ghrelin response would have adapted to your new pattern. It would stay low all day during the fast, and begin to rise at that start of your eating window.

So when you first give IF a go, make sure you keep this in mind.

Several Ways to Adapt to IF:

When I first tried IF, as described above, I used the “cold turkey” approach. I just shifted my eating to the new plan immediately and dealt with the consequences.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are two other options you can take to ease you into this style of eating.

A) Expand Your Fasting Window

Each of us already fasts during the night while we sleep – usually somewhere around 7-9 hours depending on how much sleep you get, when your last meal of the night was, and what time you eat breakfast.

So instead of expanding your 7-9 hours fasting window straight to the full fledged 16 hour window, you would gradually expand it over the course of several days.

On Day 1, you might aim for a 10-hour fast by pushing breakfast back an hour.

Then on Day 2, you might aim for an 11-hour fast by pushing it back another hour, or even stay at 10 hours until you feel comfortable.

By gradually pushing your breakfast back, you’re never eating much later than you did the day before, allowing Ghrelin to slowly shift to this new pattern.

B) Shrink Your Early Meals

Another way you gradually adjust to an IF style of eating is to start reducing the amount of food you eat during the day, during the time that will later be your fasting window.

So for example, if you normally eat a 600-Calorie breakfast and a 300-Calorie mid-morning snack, you could start by dropping to a 400-Calorie breakfast and a 100-Calorie snack while adding those Calories to your evening meals.

After a few more days, drop the mid-morning snack and make your breakfast just a quick bite of 100-200 Calories, and from there it’s an easy shift to full fasting.

 

If you’re hesitant to jump right in, give one of these a try, or even use both if you want. They’ll make the adjustment period far more tolerable.

2) Cutting Calories Too Hard

One of the greatest advantages of IF is the fact that you can stay so full while still eating at a Calorie deficit.

Unfortunately this can also be a huge PROBLEM if you’re not careful.

The hunger blunting effect can be so strong that on busy days, I’ve found myself clocking in at fewer than 1000 Calories come bedtime.

Huge Calorie deficit, sure, but not without consequences.

By cutting Calories so low, you risk muscle and strength loss, hormonal abnormalities, metabolism decline, nutrient deficiencies, and negative side effects like headaches, dizziness and weakness.

You’ll also probably experience excessive hunger during the following day’s fast, even if you took the time to adapt (as mentioned in point #1).

But none of these problems have anything to do with IF specifically. They’re all consequences of cutting Calories too low.

In fact, if you were to cut Calories that low while NOT following an IF style of eating, these effects would all be MUCH worse. IF is actually protective of the negative effects of very low Calorie dieting.

If you’re having a hard time fitting all your Calories in to the eating window, consider two options:

  • Expanding the eating window slightly – a 14-hour fast and a 10-hour eating window is still very effective in terms of the benefits of IF (and women in general seem to do better with this set up anyway)
  • Choose more Calorie-dense foods – Foods that have more Calories for less volume will allow you to eat more before getting full. The bonus is that these foods are usually of the delicious variety that you’re normally banned from while on a diet (win-win)

Over time, your stomach will adapt to larger meals, and you’ll find a balance where you can comfortably enjoy yourself while landing within your appropriate Calorie range.

These can be yours and more... Damn it now I want a donut

These can be yours and more… Damn it now I want a donut

3) Fasting Too Long

By taking a break from eating, you allow your body a chance to divert energy away from digestion and in to other tasks.

The fasting window is when most of the awesome advantages take place, but extending it too far can throw your body out of balance and shorten your time in the “fed” state beyond what is helpful.

Fasting is a stress to your body. Mild stresses like this are good for you, as long as you can recover from them.

This is the same thing as saying “If weightlifting is good, then more is better”. But we know that’s not true.

If you push the volume of your weight training sessions beyond what you can recover from, you’ll never make progress. You’ll burn out and feel like crap.

But that’s not because weightlifting is bad for you, it’s because too much weightlifting is bad for you, just like too much fasting can be bad for you.

Generally, the 8-hour eating window has shown to be a proven formula.

As I discussed in the last point, you can extend this to 10 hours if you want (and this appears to be better for women). Likewise, you can also shorten the eating window down to 6 hours if you’d like, as long as you keep an eye on any signs of stress, like reduced recovery or feelings of general discomfort like shakiness and uneasiness.

Part of this has to do with the fact that certain bodily processes like muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis can only happen so fast. IF generally speeds up these processes so that they work effectively in a 6-10 hour eating window.

But if you cut it shorter than the 6 hours, these processes can’t keep up. Your blood sugar may rise, you might get a headache or feel hot, and you’ll store whatever can’t be used as fat.

Obviously not good for nutrient partitioning.

Stick to the 8-hour window. If you must alter it, only change it 2 hours either way.

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4) Not Drinking Enough Water

Just because you can’t consume food during the fast does NOT mean you shouldn’t consume anything.

I’m a huge fan of drinking coffee or green tea in the morning (the fasted state actually amplifies the effect of certain stimulatory substances like this), but even that isn’t enough.

You NEED to drink water during the fast, preferably sipping it throughout.

Spongebob Thirst

When your body doesn’t have to digest food, it diverts energy to “cleaning house”. That is, getting rid of dead or broken cells.

This is a process called “apoptosis” and it’s accelerated during fasting (just another one of the health benefits!). Without enough water, your body is unable to transport and excrete what it needs to.

On top of that, the majority of your energy needs are being supplied by breaking down fat stores during the fast (again, another benefit!).

However, fat is the storage site for most toxins your body encounters, and releasing a bunch of this fat will also release a bunch of toxins in your bloodstream.

Again, without enough water, your body has a harder time transporting and excreting these toxins and they can build up or get restored elsewhere in your body. Oftentimes you’ll get headaches or feel light-headed and dizzy if this happens.

Water is also extremely useful for quelling the occasional “empty stomach” feeling that can creep in during the fast. Drink a nice glass of water and what you thought was hunger will usually go away within 10-15 minutes (usually much less).

Add the fact that staying hydrated is crucial, and it’s easy to see why drinking enough water during the fast is important.

5) Eating Too Much Before Bedtime

While myths about food eaten before bed turning into fat aren’t true, some people notice issues when going to sleep on a full stomach.

Part of this is simply a comfort issue. If you’re stomach is filled to the brim, relaxing and falling asleep might become much harder.

But it also may have to do with the fact that eating carbs immediately before bed causes insulin to be high during the first half of sleep, which can blunt the growth hormone burst that comes at this time.

Still other people may notice they get hot and start to sweat after huge meals, which can also disrupt your body’s natural temperature drop that happens as a part of falling asleep.

Disrupted, poor-quality sleep has a ton of negative effects on the body, like increased hunger, drowsiness, light-headedness, and weakness.

As with the other issues, this has nothing to do with IF and everything to do with lack of good sleep.

And the truth is, IF will actually improve sleep if you take care not to push the eating window right up to when you go to bed. In fact, eating a bunch of carbs about 3-4 hours before bed has been shown to greatly enhance sleep through increased serotonin production.

And related, the insulin response would have subsided by the time the growth hormone burst comes on, making this the ideal situation.

Just because you eat most of your food in the evening doesn’t mean you have to eat a ton of food right before bed – an error that can make IF seem like quite an uncomfortable change to your lifestyle.

Ben Stiller sleep

6) Expecting Magic

While the numerous benefits of IF might seem like magic, we’re still just manipulating basic human biology to our advantage. There’s no magic involved.

Some people start IF thinking it will cure cancer, feed the hungry, and bring world peace.

Spoiler alert: It won’t.

What it will do is:

  • Improve muscle and strength maintenance during a fat loss diet (and possibly allow some gains, but don’t go into it expecting that)
  • Keep you full while eating at a Calorie deficit
  • Slightly boost metabolism during the fast
  • Improve stubborn fat mobilization, making the last few pounds a little easier to lose
  • Improve focus and attention during the fast
  • Improve relaxation and rest during the eating window
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost growth hormone and testosterone
  • Improve insulin sensitivity allowing you to eat slightly more carbs
  • Boost supplement effectiveness
  • Increase apoptosis and cell cleaning
  • Probably some others I’m forgetting right now

All VERY great benefits.

But at the same time, here’s what IF won’t change:

  • Calorie balance will still determine weight change
  • Protein is still important for maintaining/growing muscle mass
  • Training intensity, volume, and frequency still must be appropriate
  • Getting incredibly lean will still probably make you hungry
  • Junk food still isn’t as healthy as whole food and won’t fill you up as much either
  • You still need adequate, good quality sleep
  • You are still human and can still die, get sick, or whatever

If you keep all of that in mind and don’t expect miracles, you’ll be on the right path to getting the most out of IF.

The magic land of Intermittent Fasting

The magic land of Intermittent Fasting

Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?

IF is the perfect blend of controversy, effectiveness, and convenience, with enough social currency to spread like wildfire.

I know a lot of people who are avid IF’ers. I also know a decent amount of people who’ve tried it and hated it.

Unfortunately, some of the people who hate it may not have given it the opportunity it deserved.

Where do you fit into all of this?

If you screwed up your first attempt at it, you might be quick to jump on the anti-IF bandwagon. Maybe you just say that it’s not right for you and move on.

But IF offers some amazing benefits that you may be missing out on. It would truly be a shame to miss them simply because you unknowingly made one of these mistakes.

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About The Author

berzinator

Tim Berzins (Berzinator) owns and operates Berzinator Fitness Designs, a training and online coaching company based just outside of Philadelphia. With a focus on breaking down the mental barriers to fitness, Tim is never satisfied with the status quo. He works with many different types of clients to show them how to lose fat, gain muscle, and most importantly, conquer their world. Tim Berzins’ Website: http://berzinatorfitnessdesigns.com/ Tim Berzins’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BerzinatorFitnessDesigns Tim Berzins’ Twitter: https://twitter.com/Berzinator

8 Comments

  • Adam Trainor

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    A fair review of this diet. My consideration of it always hinges on the paradigm that any form of eating a user cannot maintain for life may have long-stand repercussions, as we find is the case with many dieters. Of course there is value in learning how to eat for results when motivation is on the line. The question we can’t answer without simply “going for it,” is if the dieter can realign with a healthy maintenance program afterwards. Many IFers I talk to believe it’s “nutrition for life” eating… Thanks for the read.

    • Carla

      Reply Reply August 31, 2015

      Just wondering why you think this cannot sustained for life I’ve been doing for over four years and I’ve lost over 73 pounds have not never felt better in my entire life I’ve always struggled with my hormones to me this is really no different than what we’ve been hearing from decades about not eating after 6 o’clock the only really differences not eating your breakfast till later in the morning for me who is always been insulin resistant borderline diabetic this is been actually a really good change for me so I think it is a very healthy way to shift eating and can be done as a life changer and kept up I have over 4 yrs.

    • berzinator

      Reply Reply August 31, 2015

      Hey Adam, thanks for the comment. I actually do believe IF can be a style of eating for life. I’ve been doing it consistently for 6-7 years at this point and have no plans of stopping (I even tried to stop for a week or so and HATED it). As long as you’re getting enough nutrients, there’s no reason you can’t do it forever.

  • Debi Stuber

    Reply Reply April 8, 2016

    I’m a little confused. I’m excited about trying this, but I am wondering is this something I do everyday or intermittently?

    • berzinator

      Reply Reply May 31, 2016

      Intermittent fasting would be something you do everyday if you’re following the 16/8 style.

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