Fasting, i.e. cyclic eating, was quite popular a couple of years ago and now it is gaining momentum again. I have personally tried all fasting protocols and if you read my older posts, you will see my various experiments. For about a year and a half I followed the 16/8 protocol where you fast for 16 hours and then you have an 8-hour eating window. Then I tried the fasting protocol developed by Nate Miyaki, with whom I also did a podcast. At a later stage I did 24-36 hour fasts – once or several times a week. I acquired a lot of experience and observations and I experimented with various protocols and discovered how my body, my mind and my workouts were affected by them. It is too long to explain, but let me give you a hint that you will read everything in detail in my second book which is scheduled to be published in October.
Time is one of our most valuable possessions. You gain experience and you manage to see something you once did from many different perspectives. Every time we embark on something new, we have a very narrow idea and concept of things. We can get fooled into believing that there is only one side to things, but in reality there are many sides to everything and only time and experience can allow us to see it this way. I see that many people try to follow the 16/8 fasting protocol. Many of them run into difficulties or have no idea how different things happen and why. In this post I am going to share some of my observations and recommendations.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We are very similar and the things our bodies need are quite similar, but everyone has to do some fine-tuning, which is the difficult part and the thing that sets us apart from one another.
Below I will organize the observations I want to share with you in a couple of sections:
1.Fasting, the circadian rhythm and the biological clock
This is one of the most important things I have found out and the thing I hadn’t figured out when I was following the 16/8 fasting protocol. According to its most frequently applied version, the fasting period is in the morning, while the eating window falls in the afternoon and evening. That was exactly how I did it. At the beginning everything was great, but then a time came when it got difficult. I was not very energetic in the mornings and started having more cups of coffee or experimenting with adding coconut oil to my coffee (read more about it here). I did not have enough energy to work out and needed a lot of motivation and willpower to bring myself to train, but my results were worse than those I had accomplished when I had been having breakfast in the mornings.
The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour day-and-night cycle. Each and every living organism synchronizes its functioning with nature and with this cycle. People are the only living organisms that try to go against it, which is why they often suffer and ruin their health. In nature most living organisms are active in the daytime and more passive in the nighttime.
Also, all hormones in our body follow this cycle. In The IFS Gene I wrote about which hormones peaks during which parts of the day and what their roles are. When this secretion pattern is disrupted for whatever reason, hormone imbalances occur which are accompanied by health issues.
From a biological point of view cortisol levels (cortisol is a so-called stress hormone) are highest in the morning. The role of cortisol is to wake us up and bring us out of our drowsy state. Food is one of the tools to lower cortisol.
However, when we skip breakfast in the morning, there is usually nothing that lowers cortisol levels. Add a workout in the fasted state, as many people do, and then wait for the 16 hours of fasting to be over – this increases cortisol levels even further.
Many people complain they can’t lose the fat around their midsection. If you read my post about the metabolic analysis, you know that fat gain around your midsection points to increased cortisol levels in the body. You can make the connection yourselves.
On the other hand, I have also written in other posts about the biorhythm diet which is related to this very circadian rhythm. The main principle is that you have to eat the bulk of your food in the daytime and have a smaller meal in the evening. Naturally, this depends on your way of life and when you work out, but the best thing we can do is eat before the sun sets. (I don’t do it all the time, because my schedule prevents me from doing it and I wouldn’t encourage you to become obsessed with this, but if we consider the best strategy, this would be it.)
Also, the digestive system slows down in the evening. This is also one of the reasons why, when you eat very late in the evening, you feel like the food stays in your stomach too long.
So, from the point of view of the circadian rhythm and the biological clock, the 16/8 protocol should be reversed – you should stop eating at about 4-5 pm and start eating at 8-9 am on the next morning. You will see that this strategy is a lot easier to apply and you will feel much better.
Also, when it is light outside, we are much more physically active. We expend more energy and if we don’t eat in the morning, it makes us feel tired. In the evening we are more passive and need less energy.
2.Fasting and energy drinks
One of the main signs that fasting is not right for you or that you are not doing it right is that you are trying to keep up your energy by drinking multiple cups of coffee. I have been through this phase and I remember I used to have three cups of coffee before noon. The need for coffee shows that the body lacks energy. What you can do is try to increase your food intake during your eating window, because you are probably not getting enough food. If this does not do the trick either, think again if fasting is right for you. Another strategy is to reverse your fasting period by scheduling it in the afternoon and evening – something which is a lot more natural for the body – and eating in the morning. This will allow you to skip many cups of coffee.
3.Fasting and lack of appetite in the morning
One of the main things a lot of people say is: “I have no appetite in the morning… A cup of coffee with milk is enough for me.”
Lack of appetite in the morning shows that stress levels in the body are very high. Stress can kill your appetite. This is like when you feel are not hungry in the evening. At the same time you are very tired. But you sit down at the table and you suddenly feel like you can’t get enough to eat. Quite often you don’t have to be starving to need energy. I would even say that when you are starving, you are already too late.
So, if you have been following the 16/8 protocol for a while by not eating in the morning, try to reverse it. At first you will find it difficult to have breakfast, but this is a habit. Start with something you perceive as lighter food. You can even try some kind of smoothie, but make sure it contains enough protein and fat. This way it will be easier for you to get used to having breakfast, because the digestive system can also be trained and if it has lost the habit of activating in the morning, it is normal for you to feel like you can’t eat at that time.
4.Fasting, men and women
There is a difference in this respect too. I have noticed that fasting affects men in a much more positive way than women. I think this has to do with a psychological factor as well – men have no problem eating bigger amounts of food in a shorter period of time. On the other hand, most women who follow a fasting protocol make the mistake of not eating enough within their eating window and when this continues long-term, they create a large calorie and macronutrient deficit and hormone imbalance occurs.
I have also noticed that fasting with skipping breakfast works better for men, while it is definitely not the best solution for women long-term. There are some exceptions to this rule, but this is not the best choice for most.
5.Fasting and workouts
The 16/8 protocol has been designed with the intention that the workout should be done right before the eating window starts. This is so that the body can get the fuel it needs to recover after a workout in the fasted state. I have noticed a mistake most women make with fasting protocols.
If their eating window starts at 1-2 pm, they usually work out at about 9-10 am. This way they have 3-4 more hours after the workout when they consume no food. This is not a good strategy. It means you put in efforts at the gym which produce no return, because the workout is the stimulus, but food is the building material that helps you obtain results from your workout. Also, by fasting after a workout you raise your cortisol levels, and as I mentioned, this does not have a positive impact on the way fat is partitioned in the body.
Another important thing is that energy and food are sort of like the chicken and the egg. When you don’t eat in the morning, your desire for spontaneous physical activity usually decreases. This decreases our physical activity in general, because our body makes us save energy. When we eat enough, our body pushes us to move and we unconsciously increase our movement, because it all comes down to balance – when we take in more, we expend more, and vice versa. (naturally, things are different in obesity, but this is about disrupted functioning of the body system and the two things cannot be compared).
In conclusion let me say that for me fasting in the afternoon and night is the better option. Not everyone needs to follow a fasting protocol to achieve good results. There are various meal timing options. Fasting is right for people who can eat a larger amount of food at one sitting and people whose schedule does not allow them to eat more frequently. For example, I have been practicing this fasting protocol, but only twice a week, when I stay at the gym till 9 pm. I find it much easier to have my last meal for the day at about 3.30 – 4 pm and then have enough energy for all workouts, go home and go to bed than to have supper at about 9.30 pm.
The important thing is for you to be flexible and listen to your body. If you fast, but notice you are hungrier today, don’t torture yourselves, but have an earlier or a later meal. Your body will thank you.