Conventional wisdom says that you should eat 5-6 small meals per day. Conventional wisdom also says that you can’t cheat on your diet. Well, call me unconventional then because I’ve managed to lose a significant amount of weight and get to my lowest body fat level ever by skipping breakfast and lunch twice a week and eating whatever I want once per week. Even better, I’m not an outlier when it comes to the successfulness of these approaches. In fact, scientific research actually supports intermittent fasting and cheat days. If you’ve struggled with calorie-restrictive diets, maybe it’s time to take a more unconventional approach...the only thing you have to lose is weight!
Intermittent Fasting Overview
Fasting is a word that people fear. The associations include starvation mode, metabolism slowdown, and muscle loss. These may be true if you go too long without eating or stop resistance training, but research has shown that short-term intermittent fasting is highly effective for fat burning. There are a number of popular intermittent fasting approaches but I think the method laid out by Brad Pilon in Eat Stop Eat is the most lifestyle-friendly.
The general approach is to fast for a 24 hour period 1-2 times per week. For example, I stop eating after dinner on Sunday around 6pm and fast until 6pm on Monday by skipping breakfast and lunch. I drink plenty of water though.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Even if fasting doesn’t have any negative connotations, why would anyone want to skip a couple meals? Because fasting offers several distinct benefits:
- Weight loss: by skipping two meals twice per week, you cut out a significant number of calories. If you normally eat 3 meals per day, 7 days per week, you are cutting out 4 of 21 meals…almost 20% of your weekly calories!
- Fat loss: Brad goes into all the scientific details but fasting helps your body release more fatty acids and burn those fatty acids significantly faster than normal.
- Reduced insulin levels: high insulin levels result in fat storage; by controlling these levels, you can keep your body in fat burning mode.
- Increased growth hormone (HGH) levels: HGH is a hormone that burns fat while preserving muscle. Fasting offers increased levels without illegal injections that some celebrities and athletes have been caught using.
Intermittent Fasting Approach
I hope this list of benefits has at offered a glimpse into how effective intermittent fasting can be. That being said, you still may not think you could possibly skip any meals, let alone 2 in a row. I’d recommend a phased approach on the days you plan to fast:
Week 1: Eliminate eating after dinner. Assuming 6pm dinner and 6am breakfast, you’re already halfway home!
Week 2: Eliminate eating between meals. Just eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on your fasting days.
Week 3: Eliminate lunch.
Week 4: Eliminate breakfast, including coffee (or make it black).
The first 3-4 times you fast will be challenging, but once you succeed, you’ll know it’s worthwhile. You won’t be as dependent on food either.
Intermittent Fasting Flexibility
You don’t necessarily need to make dinner your one daily meal either. You could easily eat breakfast while skipping lunch and dinner. The key is to avoid calories for 24 hours. Don’t compensate by overeating before or after the fast either. By employing this method, you have much more freedom to eat whatever you like during the rest of the week. When I first started fasting, I still ate dessert every night and had meals like pizza and hamburgers. I successfully lost a lot of fat just by fasting twice per week. The great thing is that I could keep this up forever since I’m not sacrificing my favorite foods. Calorie restrictive diets may work in the short term, but they’ve been shown to fail in the long term. Intermittent fasting works for the long term.
Despite the success of intermittent fasting, once I really leaned out, I had to take a more restrictive, healthier approach during the week to lose more body fat. I eliminated saturated fat and refined sugar. However, with a wife and family, it was too hard to maintain that discipline during weekends. I had to incorporate one cheat day per week on Saturday or Sunday. As counterintuitive as it may seem, this actually helped boost fat burning.
Joel Marion, author of Cheat Your Way Thin, offers the scientific rationale for why cheat days accelerate fat loss. Our body contains a hormone called leptin that is responsible for regulating hunger and burning fat. By eating a restrictive diet, leptin levels fall making it more difficult to burn fat. This can happen in as little as a week. The solution is to create a spike in leptin levels by purposely eating foods high in fat and carbs one day per week. This one cheat day can restore leptin levels to normal allowing fat burning to continue.
Combining Intermittent Fasting and Cheat Days
Overall, losing weight is about expending more calories than you take in. By following a cheat day with a fasting day, you can still create a weekly caloric deficit. If you eat healthy at a slight caloric deficit for the remainder of the week and throw in a fasting day at the end of the week, you should see a huge drop in weight and body fat. I’d highly recommend giving intermittent fasting a try. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, Cheat Your Way Thin offers a carb cycling approach while still allowing you one cheat day per week. Ultimately, doing both approaches together makes for a great fat loss combo.
About the Author: Dave is author of Not Your Average Fitness Tips where he offers no-nonsense diet and exercise tips to get a lean, defined look without spending hours in the gym. You don’t need to sacrifice your lifestyle to look your best.
1. Get enough sleep - This seems pretty obvious but how many of us actually get 8 hours of sleep per night? Several restorative processes occur while we are sleeping and lack of enough sleep night after night will cause you to feel sluggish during the day. When we sleep is also a factor. Getting to bed before 10 pm is ideal as growth hormone which is needed for lean muscle and immune function is secreted between 11 pm and 1 am. [Source: About.com]
2. Don't skip meals - Particularly breakfast as it gives that initial boost of energy we need to get the day started.
3. Learn to breathe better - Many adults spend their day chest breathing (shallow breathing.) Diaphragmatic breathing (deep belly breathing) gets us to take in more oxygen and it also helps to reduce stress.
4. Drink more water - It is so easy to become dehydrated during the day. Lack of water can also cause fatigue. Cut back on the coffee and other soft drinks by swapping them out with water instead.
5. Cut back on the sugar - Eating refined sugar can give you a jolt in energy but it is also followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar which leaves you feeling like you need a nap.
6. Take a walk - If you feel a drop in energy during your day, stop and take a walk outside. A quick 10-minute walk can boost energy and the effects can last up to two hours. [Source: WebMD.com]
7. Consider a multivitamin - B-vitamins are known to increase energy. A good multivitamin should have the daily recommended dose of B-vitamins.
8. Make plans - Working all day is draining, especially if you are under stress to get projects done. Plan fun things during the week so that you have something to look forward to. Make after-work time your fun time. Leave work at work. You'll feel more energetic knowing you have something exciting to look forward to after the work day.
9. Exercise - Getting enough exercise not only increases energy levels, it also is a great way to relieve stress. Balance your workout with enough cardio as well as resistance training.
10. Power nap - Most of us aren't able to take a nap during our day but if you can fit one in, a short nap can bring relief from a hectic day and energize you to finish out the rest of it.
I'm an action movie junkie. I like watching the heroes of the films do incredible things to escape a dangerous situation. Whether it is fighting off the bad guys in hand-to-hand combat or scaling walls, it is all fun to watch. Although it is all set-up for the movie, the actors still often train hard for their roles.
Even though a majority of us would never encounter the crazy stunts portrayed in the movies, there is always a possibility that we may find ourselves in an emergency that would require us to run or swim fast and far enough to find safety.
I stumbled across an interesting article today titled: "Can you save your own life?".
In it, it quotes Earle E. Liederman, (a fitness pioneer and well-known vaudeville strongman) whose philosophy was that a man should be able to swim far enough, run fast and long enough to save their life in case of emergency and necessity.
How Fit Do We Have to Be?
So what were Liederman's requirements for being able to save yourself in an emergency situation? As quoted from the article:
- Be able to swim at least half a mile or more
- Be able to run at top speed two hundred yards or more
- Be able to jump over obstacles higher than your waist
- Be in condition to pull your body upward by the strength of your arms, until your chin touches your hands, at least 15 to 20 times
- Be able to dip between parallel bars or between two chairs at least 25 times or more
I think having the strength and stamina to accomplish the things on the list above is a sign that you are in pretty good shape. Would you add anything to the list?
Read the complete article here: Can You Save Your Own Life?
Who knew sit-ups and crunches could be so controversial? I've done plenty of both during my workouts but apparently, they are both bad for your back. I remember reading years ago that doing the full sit-up was bad for the back so I started doing crunches. I've also heard opinion from a personal trainer that crunches are terrible for the back so how are we supposed to work our abs?
Why Crunches and Sit-ups are Bad for the Back
First, let's go over why crunches are getting such a bad rap. Plenty of people are dealing with back pain. A friend of mine had to have back surgery in order to replace a bad disk and I witnessed her pain before her surgery. She couldn't step off a sidewalk without feeling terrible pain. There is no telling what caused her damaged disk, but the point is, back pain is quite an ordeal.
Protecting our back is important in daily activity. Have you ever been told to lift with your legs and not your back when attempting to pick something up? Our spinal disks can be damaged when under an unhealthy strain. When strain is placed on the back of our spines there is risk of disk bulge or herniation which can cause constant back pain and leg pain.
Performing crunches or sit-ups causes bends at the weakest point of your back. What makes it even more dangerous is that this movement is typically done repeatedly, sometimes for hundreds of reps.
Then How the Heck are We Supposed to Work Our Abs?
Whether or not you are after six-pack abs, having a strong core is important. Your core muscles help to support your spine and provides stability as well as balance. We can still work out our abs without crunches. Rather than doing isolation movements like crunches or sit-ups, we can do exercises that cause our muscles to work the way they were meant to perform.
Find exercises that challenge your core muscles such as:
- The plank
- Leg drops
Do you think crunches are useless? Do you do them as part of your regular exercise routine?