Intermittent fasting is essentially delayed food gratification. And for personality-based reasons that’ll become clear later in this article, I’m a fan. If you haven’t yet heard (you must have, right?), the goal is to delay calorie consumption for 16 to 24 hours as a way to moderate your diet. Forced hunger has helped improve my health and focus, all while strengthening my discipline muscles.
Other people use intermittent fasting to help regulate certain metabolic disorders or lose weight. Harvard researchers reviewed dozens of studies and found that intermittent fasting typically led to weight loss of up to 11 pounds in only a few months.
I’m not shaped like an hourglass. In fact, quite the opposite. But as I engaged a career, two busy toddlers, travel, and a multitude of hobbies (some athletic, some not), I knew the importance of finding a sustainable nutrition routine.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve tried just about every diet and regimen under the sun: paleo, Atkins, South Beach (remember that?), several cleanses and detoxes, and more meal replacement programs and supplements than I could ever hope to recall. I even went vegetarian for a time, which I think is wonderful but did not work out well for me. I would try each of these nutrition plans for at least three to six months before they ultimately failed. After, I’d lament my lack of willpower and go back to three square meals a day (or four … or six) before I jumped on the next recommendation from a book, app, or friend.
The power of intermittent fasting, for me, is that it alters only when you eat not how you eat.
Your health affects your work
Everybody knows that your mental and emotional health acts as a bottleneck for your productivity. As the World Health Organization says, “There is no health without mental health.” To be a successful business leader, you need to be healthy at work. Our energy, attitude, and clarity are affected by how well we take care of ourselves. I learned this early in my career when I realized workaholism was destroying my health and peace of mind.
Sports fans gasp when they hear about professional athletes who play hungover or are otherwise physically incapacitated. Yet in many regards, we do the same thing. We harm ourselves with what we eat and how we sleep, then get up every morning and work “hungover.”
Every time we “play through the damage,” we are doing ourselves, our health, our careers, our families, and our employees a great disservice. It’s time to take control of our health and, by extension, our work output. After more than year of intermittent fasting, I can attest to its success and the benefits of being healthy at work.
Disclaimer: Intermittent fastingmay seem like a fad to many people. Feel free to post your hate below (and tag me). But I can say it’s the only eating plan I’ve stuck with for more than a year without disrupting our family lifestyle. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to intermittent fast without disrupting the regular habits and routines of my family, which includes my wife and two little ones.
How does intermittent fasting work?
Gretchen Rubin, the author of “The Four Tendencies” (a hidden gem of a book), explores personality types and habit formation. One very specific personality type, which she calls “abstainers,” fits me perfectly. These are people who live at 0 mph or 100 mph. Off or on. No in-between. And their diets follow suit. They (I) cannot eat a single square of a Hershey bar or a single bite of a pint of ice cream. And so, while countless advice-givers, diet coaches, and normal folk preach “moderation,” abstainers (like myself) find success in … well, abstaining.
Fitting a diet to my lifestyle instead of a lifestyle to my diet: This is why I began intermittent fasting in early 2019.
I fast for controlled periods and then consume whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about portion sizes or nutrition values. I eat healthy foods, but I don’t count quantity. And it’s been absolutely life-changing.
What works for me is fasting from 7 p.m. until noon the next day. Some people can play this game for 24 hours at a time—no thanks, not me. I find that by keeping my evenings and mornings food-free, I can jump into work sooner. As I engage in mental activities between 4:30-6:30 a.m. (I’m a morning person), I often forget that I’m hungry. My focus has never been better.
Here are my best intermittent fasting tips
1. Don’t fear the hunger
Let’s be clear: Most people would prefer not to fast for hours on end, but hunger isn’t bad. Feeling hungry produces a hormone called ghrelin, which is highly important to your neural and cardiovascular health. Being ashamed of how I take care of my body was no way to live my life, especially because I’m surrounded by athletes (at my work) and Ironmen (in my neighborhood). My friend Rick says, “People change when the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change.” There are worse things than being hungry.
2. Stay hydrated
You alwaysneed to keep up with your fluid intake whether you’re eating or fasting. Water is vital to your body’s functions (duh), and being well-hydrated helps you feel full throughout the day. I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking teas, coffee, and carbonation-infused water from our SodaStream. And, in a pinch, I’ll pull out a LaCroix. And no, I’m not afraid of the LaCroix lawsuit claiming absurd ingredients. I’ve learned not to believe everything I read on the internet.
3. Resist the urge to push your nutrition plan onto others
“Gee, Mike, this is kind of a hypocritical point to make, given that you’re writing an article about this.” Fair criticism. However, once you get used to intermittent fasting, the resulting enthusiasm can be hard to ignore. If you observed my daily routine or followed me around while I traveled, you’d be surprised to learn I’m on any type of food restriction at all. Extreme eating isn’t something to show off, especially if you have young children who learn by example. I do the dishes every morning, even though they aren’t mine. Just because dad is wired differently doesn’t mean his kids and spouse are. If a nutrition plan can’t work with the family, then it can’t work. Period.
4. Exercise on an empty stomach
Exercising after a fasting period might sound like bad advice, and for the first couple of weeks, it’s going to suck. In worst-case scenarios, your mind might play tricks on you. But take heart: Exercising on an empty stomach can promote faster fat burning. Although I’m no star athlete, I swim four to five miles per week. Not every physical activity pairs well with intermittent fasting, but it’s amazing what the human body can adapt to when you train it rigorously.
5. And after working out? Eat right away
With that said, you should always eat after your workout to replenish your energy and rebuild muscles. Plan your workouts at the end of your fasting periods, then you can celebrate with a protein bomb after. Your body can absorb protein over several hours, so you can consume enough at one time for muscle repair while your body’s still burning fuel.
Finally, celebrate your progress! Any habit, even one that takes incremental improvement, is incredible in and of itself. People love change, but they hate changing, so anything you’re able to do for a sustained period deserves real pride and celebration.
Regardless of whetherintermittent fastingis for you, I’d encourage every business leader on planet Earth to have nutrition and health routines that allow them to operate at maximum performance. If you’re stuck in a rut? Don’t just sit there. Do something.