Friday, August 12, 2011

IF - High Level Overview

A friend of a friend reached out to me recently. She's frustrated and looking for a weight-loss approach that actually works and is sustainable - same as the rest of us. I started typing her response, but, what came out was a fairly detailed outline of what I've been doing and why it works.

It's not super technical or scientific. If you want to read about the science behind the theories, go to Martin always does a thorough job of explaining things in fairly simple terms. What follows is more of how I would explain my lifestyle on Leangains to a friend. It is in no way complete and does not cover all aspects of IF, but I think it's a decent introduction to the average person who may be curious about what IF is and why the way we eat is primarily responsible for how we look.


No matter whether it's 10 lbs or 100 lbs, I see people every day killing themselves in the gym on treadmills and elliptical trainers and wondering why they're not losing weight. To be honest, and you may not want to hear this, the way we look is shaped more by WHAT we eat and WHEN we eat it than by how much we exercise. Our diet is probably 85% of the fat-loss battle.

If you want to do it right, nothing is off the table when it comes to what you are able to eat, but the timing of when you eat different kinds of foods will make all of the difference.

In case you're new to my blog, the lifestyle I've adopted includes what is called Intermittent Fasting (IF) combined with a heavy weight/low volume strength training program.

I discovered IF in January when I was just browsing internet blogs and forums. A Swedish nutritionist, Martin Berkhan, has a great website/blog that is FREE and full of tons of information as well as the science behind why it works. The site,, is overwhelming, so I would recommend starting here :

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Brief Summary of Popular Approaches to IF - there are different variations; find one that fits YOUR life.

Leangains is a variety of IF that uses a 14-hour fast with a 10-hour eating window (women) or a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window (men). For example, I will eat my first meal of the day at 11 am and my last meal at 9 pm and nothing with calories until the eating window starts again the following day.

Now, just fasting isn't enough because what you eat during your allotted window is critical.

How many calories should you eat for fat loss? There are many formulas out there, but one of the simplest is to take 13 and multiply by your body weight. If you weigh 150 lbs (just using a round number), that would mean you need to eat 1950 calories a day to experience fat loss. If you're honest about what you're eating and you're not losing, then lower your calories a bit and see what happens.

Now, when creating a calorie deficit, hunger is always a problem. This is where WHAT you eat makes the biggest difference.

Protein is king.
Chicken, seafood, beef, pork, cottage cheese, eggs...learn to like eating meat and/or fish. This will comprise at least half of your daily calories EVERY DAY.

How much protein?
You will notice changes quickly by simply increasing your protein intake dramatically - aim for at least 1g protein per pound of your bodyweight. You are supposed to use Lean Body mass for this calculation but, if you can't figure that out, just start with your scale weight and play around until you start seeing the fat fall off. For example, if you're 150 lbs (just using a round number), you would aim to eat a minimum of 150g protein per day. Since protein is 4 calories per gram, that's the same as 600 calories in just protein alone.

But that's not half of your calories, so you should really be eating more protein per day for best results. At 2,000 calories per day, you'd need to eat 250g of protein to comprise 50% of your daily calories.

Basically, you cannot eat too much lean meat, fish, seafood, pork, chicken, cottage cheese, plain greek yogurt or eggs.

Fat and Carbohydrates
Where this lifestyle differs from probably every other diet you've ever tried is the cycling of what are called macronutrients – Protein is a macronutrient. So is fat and so are carbs. The timing of your fat and carbohydrate intake will have a tremendous impact on your satiety (feeling full), mental wellbeing as well as fat loss.

1g of fat = 9 calories. Since fat is nearly twice the calories of both protein (4) and carbohydrates (4), you can't eat as much of it – but you CAN eat it. Bacon (low salt), avocados, natural peanut butter (low sugar), egg yolks, fatty meats, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), cooking oils, etc. Fat will make you feel full and improves flavor of the foods we're eating.

I have a love-hate relationship with carbohydrates but, to really get lean and strip off body fat, carbohydrates have to be used sparingly and only at the right times - preferably after a strength-training workout (I'm not talking about cardio, but weights).

Carbohydrate sources matter. Straight sugar will not help you – it will only make you hungrier and crave more sugar. This is where the myth of "Fat Free" foods is screwing our society. Fat is not the enemy; carbohydrates are, yet we still need them - in the right form and at the right time - for recovery and psychological wellbeing.

Sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, beets, tomatoes, fruit, etc, should always trump cookies, candy, cake, donuts, ice cream, frozen yogurt, fruit juice, etc. They contain more fiber and vitamins/minerals and will help you to feel full longer than eating a sleeve or Oreos (which you can still do from time to time by the way).

Why should I only eat carbs after I train?

Our muscles are our biggest storage centers for carbohydrates. Muscles pull in glycogen (byproduct of carb digestion) to keep at the ready for an energy source when needed. Here's the rub - IF YOU'RE NOT USING THAT GLYCOGEN, ANY ADDITIONAL CARBS YOU EAT WILL BE STORED AS FAT. So, what do you do about it? You use the glycogen before you eat more carbs.

Perhaps the fastest way to use the glycogen stores in your muscles is by weight training - heavy weights, low repetitions, low volume (meaning not often). For example, I work out 3 days in a 7-day cycle with 2 rest days between each workout. I use compound lifts that use a number of muscles in a single movement - like a squat or bench press.

My routine is on my blog here - . I do not do cardio other than taking my dog for long walks and surfing when I am able to.

By training and then eating your carbs, you are more likely to shuttle that glycogen into muscles instead of storing them as fat.

Confused yet? I don't blame you. There's a lot of information. To break it down simply for you, try this for a while:
- Fast for 12-14 hours a day (this includes time sleeping). You can drink diet soda, water, tea (no sugar), coffee (no sugar, only a tsp of cream if necessary), sugarfree gum, etc...

- Eat only during your "feeding window"

- Only eat carbs on days you workout, preferably after you workout or you can have a small meal a few hours before you workout with some carbs and the rest post workout.

- On days you are not working out, eat protein and fats with as much leafy green and non-starchy veggies that you want - broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, green beans, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, celery, etc...

- Learn to read labels and try to estimate your calories. This is nearly impossible to do when eating out, so try to prepare as much food as you can yourself. Read the packages. Weigh your food. Know what you are eating. This is the hardest part, but worth the effort to make it a habit.

- Calculate your caloric needs by taking your body weight and multiplying by 13. If you don't lose weight, you're either not being honest about what you're eating or you need to cut more calories.

- Indulge once every couple of weeks. Stretch one of your fasts a bit longer and then eat anything you want for one meal. I once ate nearly an entire deep dish Chicago style pizza. LOL.

- Do not mix alcohol with fat or carbohydrates. When you drink alcohol, your body stops processing food, stores everything as fat and tries to rid your body of the booze. Protein can't be stored as fat, so feel free to eat lean meats, fish (not breaded, no tartar or heavy sauces), etc. before and during...

- Train heavy - see my routine. (Start light while you're learning your limits and work your way to your maximum). Get a small notebook and log every workout. A good way to start for a beginner is 5 x 5. That means find a weight you can do 5 sets of 5 repetitions with at least 2 minutes rest between sets. The last couple of reps should be challenging, but not impossible.

Let me know if you have any questions...If you're female and on Facebook, friend me and join my IF group for women only (it's private. No boys allowed).

me -

group -


cindy lewis said...

Fabulous post Jenn. :)

Jenn said...

thanks! glad you enjoyed it!

Dana said...

I agree. I just started IF. I plan to submit my request to join the FB group too.