You wouldn’t know it from the hundreds of “trendy” diet and weight loss books listed on Amazon, but improving your health doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a moment to push aside the clutter in your brain — Keto this, gluten-free that. You don’t need a 400-page diet guide to turn your health around.
Whether you’re overweight, diabetic, or too busy for optimal self-care, intermittent fasting can bring your body back into physiological harmony. In fact, intermittent fasting is surging in popularity as more people realize its role as a secret weapon for weight loss and wellness.
Zane Griggs and I had so much more to explore after our first conversation about intermittent fasting, so he’s back to dig deeper into this rich topic. If you’re intrigued by intermittent fasting, but not sure how to adopt it into your daily routine, Zane is here to offer his insights as a professional fitness, weight loss coach, and intermittent fasting pioneer.
What Defines Successful Fasting?
Is fasting just skipping meals? Not exactly.
As Zane explains, “There’s more than one way to fast…. Generally speaking, our dependence on body fat for fuel starts to be elevated after about 12 hours of not taking in any sort of calories.”
At its core, intermittent fasting is putting at least a 12-hour window between meals.
After 12 hours, your body is mobilizing excess fat to burn energy. This means that an extended period without caloric intake jumpstarts weight loss and creates a healthy gap that gives your body a chance to regain homeostasis.
So what exactly defines successful fasting? Put simply, a successful fast means staying out of your body’s way for 12 hours or more. Rather than overloading with food every few hours, successful fasting gives your body the opportunity to reset, recalibrate, and burn fat.
The most effective intermittent fasting uses a 14 to 18-hour window of no-calorie intake followed by a 10 to 6-hour window of healthy eating.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Some people can flip a switch and jump right into intermittent fasting, but others need to modify their eating behaviors gradually. I count myself in that group! It took me six months to adopt intermittent fasting habits; I was addicted to food, stumbling to the pantry for breakfast each morning before I was even awake.
We’re an overfed nation. It’s ingrained in our psyche to eat a huge breakfast and snack throughout the day, so it may take time to acclimate to eating less. Maybe you start intermittent fasting Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or just on the weekend. Whatever works for you to get the ball rolling.
I talk to patients every day who practice commitment and discipline in their careers, finances, faith, and relationships, but food is the one obstacle they struggle to control. Intermittent fasting strips away the complexities and questions that surround most other popular weight loss and wellness strategies.
Without the mask of confusion, it’s easy to identify exactly how to master intermittent fasting and achieve your goals.
Step 1: Cut Out Breakfast
Zane and I might have left your jaw hanging on the floor during our last conversation when we explained that a Grape Nuts commercial invented the “advice” that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
The best and easiest way to begin intermittent fasting is to cut breakfast out of your routine. Your body works its own magic in the morning. Food only interrupts it. Cortisol hormones and adrenals surge in the morning to help you wake up, become alert, and generate energy.
Why not take advantage of your body’s natural rhythm to maximize the benefits of fasting?
Step 2: Find the Best Time to Work Out
Many people make the mistake of thinking they can’t work out while they’re fasting, but the opposite is true. The morning is the best time for a vigorous workout! You’re fresh and have hormonal optimization on your side.
Afternoon and evening workouts aren’t always as effective as they could be; you’re fatigued from the day, consumed with whatever new stressors landed in your lap at work, and are fighting the urge to slip off your shoes and unwind.
I was loyal to my afternoon workout routine for more than a decade, but switching to an early morning gym schedule has been a game-changer. If I don’t work out first thing in the morning, I can practically see the sliding scale as I lose my opportunity throughout the day for a quality workout. Life gets busy, and the body gets drained!
Step 3: Can You Drink Coffee While Fasting? (Relax — You Can!)
I know what you’re about to ask with a hint of panic in your voice: “Can you still drink coffee while you fast?!”
Yes! Luckily for coffee drinkers everywhere, our favorite morning ritual doesn’t boost our blood sugar or disrupt our fast.
If you can’t stomach the idea of black coffee, then yes, it’s okay to add some creamer… but not too much! Keep in mind that your body will have to burn through the fat in the creamer before it can get back to burning your stored fat.
What about coffee drinkers who need to mask its bitterness with a sweetener? Zane warns against all-natural sweeteners, including cane sugar, honey, and agave. It’s true that they’re “natural” sugars, but they immediately send blood sugar and insulin levels surging. This in turn kicks your body out of its fasting period altogether.
If you need a hint of sweetness in your coffee, stick to a small dash of Stevia. Most artificial sugars are dangerous because they stimulate cravings and trick your digestive system into preparing for sugar that isn’t coming. This is highly disruptive to the fat-burning process that fasting is meant to achieve.
Overall, the question of coffee boils down to your goals. If you’re on a mission to lose 50 pounds, adding cream to your morning brew could slow your progress. But a sweetened cup of coffee is much better than a slice of cheesecake! It’s all about balance.
Step 4. Diabetics, Fasting Is for You, Too!
Zane works regularly with diabetic clients who believe intermittent fasting poses too much of a risk.
But as he explains, “I don’t know of a better way to control diabetes or reverse those symptoms than finding some way to introduce fasting.”
Type 2 diabetes is a disease of elevated blood sugar, and intermittent fasting is an efficient way to lower and balance blood sugar levels through better eating strategies.
In my practice, I believe fasting might just be the greatest tool my patients have to improve their glycemic control. As long as it’s accomplished using a strategic, doctor-guided plan, diabetics may be able to use fasting to eliminate their reliance on medication and reduce the effects of diabetes.
Step 5: Use the Rhythms of Fasting to Schedule Lunch and Dinner
You’ve heard enough; you’re ready to dive head-first into the wonderful world of intermittent fasting. So when, exactly, can you eat?
“The simplest approach… is skipping breakfast, (and) having coffee or tea,” Zane outlines. “If your goal is weight loss, eat a low-carb lunch and dinner.”
Your first meal of the day takes place after your fasting period ends, which means all of your eating occurs in a compressed window of about six to eight hours.
“That’s give or take. Make it work with your schedule…. If it’s six hours, great. If it has to be nine one day, don’t beat yourself up,” Zane emphasizes.
That’s the beauty of intermittent fasting: there’s no right or wrong. It’s one tool to improve your health in whatever way makes sense with your routine.
If Zane could recommend an ideal intermittent fasting schedule, here’s what he’d suggest:
- Stop eating after dinner (8 p.m. at the latest).
- Skip breakfast, enjoy your black coffee or tea, and fast until noon.
- Break your fast with a low-carb lunch.
- If you need a snack, make it light.
- Enjoy a healthy dinner, then start the fast again.
Once you feel comfortable with the rhythm of intermittent fasting, you can experiment with extending your fast until 1, 2, or even 3 p.m. instead.
Step 6: Embrace Dinnertime Community
There’s a good reason most people skip breakfast instead of dinner. Our evening meals are intimately social and interpersonal. It’s been that way throughout history! We use dinner as an opportunity to recover from our activities, reconnect with family, and celebrate the end of another day. You don’t need to deprive yourself of that rich experience.
Instead, take the opportunity to practice mindfulness as you eat. You’ll appreciate every bite of your food so much more than you would have if you’d been snacking your way through the day. Zane sees this frequently with his clients: Fasting is most successful when we keep dinner as our core food connection.
Step 7: Eat Toward Your Purpose
We’ve established when to open your mouth during intermittent fasting. But once you open your mouth, what exactly should you eat? There’s no one correct answer; it all depends on your goals.
If You Want to Lose Weight…
If you’re fasting to lose weight, Zane recommends limiting the amount of carbohydrates and sugars you eat. Make this as easy as possible by planning the meal you’ll use each day to break your fast. Eliminate your ability for impulsive decisions by prepping a satisfying, low-carb lunch. Don’t break your fast when the only thing around is Burger King.
Dinner should include a lean protein and veggie, but it’s okay to add a healthy starch or fat. Remember: You’re rewarding — not punishing — yourself with nourishing, satisfying foods!
If Weight Loss Isn’t Your Main Goal…
If you’re fasting for the sake of health and longevity, focus on eating real foods. If it wasn’t food 100 years ago, it’s not food today! So steer clear of processed, packaged foods, and read labels to avoid the hidden trap of added sugars. It’s all about a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and veggies. When you indulge in these real foods, you’ll automatically control your intake of those sneaky carbohydrates.
Step 8: Try 24-Hour Fasting One Day a Week
Don’t psych yourself out over the 24-hour fast. Once you’re comfortable with intermittent fasting, 24-hour fasting one day a week isn’t such a big leap.
24-hour fasting is the easiest to start after dinner. Instead of breaking your fast with lunch at 1 p.m., push on for a few more hours to break your fast with dinner and celebration.
I can tell you from personal experience from adding this one day a week that the first meal after a 24-hour fast is so satisfying. There’s nothing else like it — not to mention the fat-burning and biochemical benefits of giving your body a 24-hour reset.
Step 9: Say ‘No’ to an Intermittent Fasting Cheat Day
Zane doesn’t pull any punches on the topic of intermittent fasting cheat days: “I’m not even sure what the point is.”
A cheat day is equivalent to a binge day for most people, but the effects of the binge don’t disappear after 24 hours. It can take three or four days to recover from the effects of a cheat day, reign in your cravings, regain your energy and focus, and get back on track.
“If your goal is weight loss and you’re trying to get somewhere effectively, why throw it all off with an entire meal of something like pizza or a bunch of pancakes?” Zane asks. A surge of 1,500 calories of junk during an intermittent fasting cheat day will drive you in the opposite direction of your goals.
Indulge, Don’t Cheat
Indulging is different from cheating. A small slice of pie or a couple of cookies every once in a while can help you scratch an itch before you turn into a full-blown dessert monster.
For best results, plan your indulgences ahead of time. This will keep you from caving and giving in every time you have a craving. These indulgences can help keep you motivated and give you a mood boost.
Be Realistic With Yourself
To make intermittent fasting part of your lifestyle to reach your long-term goals, commit to a schedule and eating pattern that are sustainable for you. If fasting for 18 hours a day and eating low-carb for the remaining six is going to cause you to take a bunch of cheat days, then maybe that isn’t the schedule for you.
Find what works for your life and commit to it for the long haul.
Fasting for Longevity: It’s About More Than Weight Loss
One of fasting’s greatest health benefits is prolonging the period of time in which your body lacks immediate sources of energy. When you go 16 or 18 hours without raising your blood glucose levels, you don’t have release any insulin. Once you finally do eat and trigger an insulin response, the insulin shows up, does its job, and disappears.
This process fosters insulin sensitivity — the opposite of diabetes and so many other metabolic problems. If you want to eat for longevity, fasting is a great way to get started!
Fasting isn’t food deprivation; it’s food appreciation. You eat real foods when your body actually needs them, rather than snacking mindlessly on junk and suffering through your days in an overfed trance.
In Zane’s experience and my own, intermittent fasting is the gateway to applying discipline to the art of eating. Since it involves defined goals and clear planning, intermediate fasting is a realistic and attainable strategy for busy, highly successful people.
What Are the Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting?
When some people think about intermittent fasting, they worry they’ll be hungry and grumpy all the time. For some people, that may be true for the first couple of days. But your body adjusts quickly as long as you don’t give in to those initial hunger pangs.
On the positive side, people often report having better focus and mental clarity after they start intermittent fasting. This is because when you’re in a fasting state, your body breaks down stored fat into ketones to use as fuel. The brain actually operates better when it’s fueled by ketones instead of sugar. Studies have shown potential long-term benefits for the brain as well, such as a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
As I mentioned above, intermittent fasting also causes your body to become more sensitive to insulin. In fact, a commitment to intermittent fasting can reverse the effects of prediabetes and help you avoid type 2 diabetes.
Intermittent fasting can also help with weight loss. Most Americans could stand to lose a few pounds, so this is great news for most of us. However, if you’re not trying to lose weight or if you’re underweight, talk with a dietitian to determine a healthy intermittent fasting plan for your body and goals.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
Yes, intermittent fasting is safe for nearly everyone. You can maintain 16-hour intermittent fasting on a daily basis, and all you’ll do is make yourself healthier. Zane is living proof.
“I’ve done it daily for years! I look at fasting as a way to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle into those years of my 60s, 70s, and 80s.”
I couldn’t agree more.
That being said, there are some situations where you should talk to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting:
- Women with a history of amenorrhea.
- Women who are trying to conceive.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People who are underweight or have a history of eating disorders.
- People who have diabetes or who have trouble regulating their blood sugar.
- People who are on certain types of medication.
It’s also generally advised that children under the age of 18 should not fast.
When you unpack it, fasting is a way to map your short-term goals, like losing weight and gaining more energy, with your long-term goals, such as delaying the onset of chronic diseases.
The Bottom Line
Zane has forever transformed the way I approach eating and fasting for health, and I hope he helped you discover a new, valuable perspective as well. If you want to learn more about Zane Griggs and his impressive intermittent fasting expertise, you can find him here.
Dr. Aaron Wenzel is a concierge physician specializing in the care of fast-moving entrepreneurs, executives, and public figures in the Nashville, TN area. Dr. Wenzel’s diverse life experience and extensive training in family medicine, emergency care, nutrition, and hormone replacement therapies give him the unique platform to provide unmatched care for his patients.