You’ve heard all about intermittent fasting.
You know the benefits.
You’ve read the success stories.
But you’re not quite sure how to get started. Or, you’ve started but now your progress has stalled.
In this article I’ll reveal the five stages of intermittent fasting and detail how you too can use this popular dieting strategy to get the lean and ripped physique you want.
Stage #1: Skip Breakfast
This is the jumping off point for most people new to the practice of intermittent fasting.
By simply skipping breakfast, you extend the amount of time in the fasted state from roughly 8 hours to 12 hours.
The hardest part about this change is mental – most of us have heard for years that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” or that skipping breakfast is a big dietary no-no because it will crash your metabolism (myths, by the way.)
Once you’ve mastered this stage, you will realize the conventional wisdom regarding the importance of breakfast is dead wrong (as conventional wisdom often is). With nothing more than a cup of coffee to start your day, you will enjoy increased fat burning and more free time in the mornings.
Side note: 90% of people who start intermittent fasting begin by skipping breakfast. This works fine for most people. But in some rare cases, an individual may be better served by eating breakfast and instead skipping lunch. This includes individuals who engage in strenuous early morning training sessions or those who simply find lunch inconvenient.
Overall, this is a relatively simple dietary adjustment for most people. The first few days may be difficult but most people will adapt within a week. After that first week, your desire for breakfast will typically be gone and you will be surprised at how much time, energy and financial resources you’ve invested in breakfast over the years.
Stage #2: Extend the Fast to 16 Hours
After a couple weeks in Stage 1, most people are ready for Stage 2. In this stage, we extend the fast from roughly 12 hours to approximately 16 hours.
Based on the popular lean gains template, this results in 16 hours of daily fasting and an 8 hour daily eating window. Typically this means skipping both breakfast and lunch and breaking the fast with an early dinner around 4pm.
So fasting from midnight to 4pm (16 hours) and then breaking the fast at that point. Obviously the schedule will shift based on what time you STOP eating at night. But the breakdown should remain the same: 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hour eating window.
This is a big increase in time spent in the fasted state. For the first time in most people’s lives, they will actually spend more hours per day NOT eating than eating. (A 2:1 ratio of fasted versus fed.)
For this reason, the degree of difficulty jumps during this stage. But as the difficulty increases, so does the fat loss. For many people, this is all they need to get their ideal physique. They fast for 16 hours, eat anything they want for 8 hours and they stay lean without counting calories, carbs or stressing about following a formal “diet.”
Expect to remain at this stage for at least a month. Most people are able to see slow and steady fat loss for multiple months at this stage.
Side note: Stage two is where most people get stuck. My book The 2222 Method uses a foolproof method for squeezing the maximum results out of stage two.
When fat loss stalls, it’s time for…
Stage #3: Eat Once Per Day
When stage #2 no longer serves your purpose, the next step is to again extend the fasting period from 16 hours a day to roughly 20 hours a day.
For most people this essentially works out to eating one main meal per day (typically at night), although the “meal” will commonly be drawn out into a 4-hour eating window.
Based on the Warrior Diet template, the results from this stage can be dramatic. At this stage, most people are able to obtain the necessary leanness to finally see abs (sub 10% body fat for men, sub 18% body fat for women.)
Another benefit to this stage is that you do not need to eat perfectly “clean” to enjoy rapid weight loss. In fact some people may NEED to incorporate junk food (or at least healthy, higher calorie foods like nuts and oils) in order to maintain their weight at this stage.
Expect to stay at this stage for at least 1-2 months. Expect to fall off the wagon from time to time as this schedule can be difficult to maintain.
Stage #4: Eat Once Per Day, Whole Foods Only
The beauty of stage 3 is that you can lose weight even while eating less-than-perfectly. Pizza, chicken nuggets, fries, milk shakes – when you’re eating only once per day you can get away with a lot and still lose weight.
However, if weight loss stalls in stage 3 than it’s time to make the next logical jump: Eat once per day and start to clean up your diet. This means making a concentrated effort to eat only whole foods – eggs, beef, chicken, veggies, fruits, grains, cheese, etc.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if something qualifies as a “whole food.” Just cut out the processed junk, cut out the sugars and sweets, and weight loss will pick up again.
Again, you don’t have to over-think this. There is no need to over-analyze things to death and drive yourself batty wondering if walnuts qualify as a whole food or if oatmeal is good or bad.
If it walks on the farm or grows in the ground, you’re good to go.
If it’s widely considered “junk food” (pizza, ice cream, chips, pop, etc) than it’s off limits. Strength coach Dan John puts it best: Eat like an adult.
Of course this does not mean you can’t ever have pizza again. It just means most of the time your daily meal should be based around whole foods. If you need a rule of thumb, shoot for 6 days of clean eating with only one “junk food” meal per week.
99% of people will never need to go beyond Stage #4. When combined with a proper resistance training program, stage #4 can get you to 8% bodyfat (for men) or 15% body fat for women which gives you the lean physique most people are striving for.
Stage #5: Incorporate Weekly 44 Hour Fasts
Stage 5 is an advanced strategy reserved for those seeking rare levels of leanness (sub 7% bodyfat for men, sub 12% bodyfat for women), or those with a deadline driven fat loss goal.
After your last meal on Sunday night, you do not eat again until Tuesday evening. This results in a 40-48 hour fast at the beginning of the week. If you eat only one meal per day – consisting of whole foods – during the rest of the week, you should achieve your physique goals within a short time.
Most people will not need to use this strategy every single week. Often times it will be used for a few consecutive weeks leading up to a vacation or photo shoot. Or it will be used 1-2 times a month for maintenance.
Q#1): Do I have to start at stage 1?
Answer): No. If you’ve already tinkered with intermittent fasting in the past, then you can jump in at whatever level you think you can sustain. If you’re new to the concept of intermittent fasting, it’s probably best to start in stage 1.
Q #2): How long should I remain in each stage?
Answer: My rule of thumb is to remain in each stage until you are no longer losing weight. The preferred protocol is to weigh yourself at the same time each week (example: Saturday mornings, right after waking up and using the toilet). As long as you continue to lose weight, stay in that stage. If weight loss stalls for two weeks in a row, go to the next stage.
Q #3) If I want to lose weight faster can I move through the stages faster?
Answer: You can do whatever you want. You can jump right in at level five if you’re in a hurry to get lean. The question is whether you can sustain it. Whatever level allows you to reach your desired level of leanness is the level you will have to stay at to maintain that level of leanness.
Q #4) How do you deal with hunger?
Answer: It’s not easy. Hunger is a powerful force. Staying busy helps. Drinking lots of water and coffee/tea can also help blunt the hunger response. It may also help to re-frame how you view hunger. Think of it this way: When you feel hungry, that’s when your body STARTS to burn your stored body fat. So if you eat every time you feel the slightest twinge of hunger, your body never gets a chance to tap into it’s fat stores. If you think of hunger in this manner, you can start to view hunger as a positive sensation.
Q#5) I started this, made great progress but then I inevitably fall off the wagon. Can you help me?
Answer: Losing weight and keeping it off successfully with ANY method is a lot like pushing a car out of a ditch: You won’t get it out on the first attempt. Instead you typically end up rocking the vehicle back and forth until you finally are able to push the car up and over the ledge on the 5th or 6th push. Don’t expect instant success. Instead, temper your expectations and have a plan in mind in case you fall off the wagon.
Here is a tip that works well: Never let yourself fall down more than one level:
So if you’re currently at level 4 but you keep messing up and eating too much junk food, drop back down to level 3. If you can successfully stay at level 3 for two consecutive weeks (14 days), then go ahead and try level 4 again. But if you drop down to level 3 and you find you can’t even stay at level 3, go ahead and drop down to level two. Stay there for two weeks, then once again attempt level 3.
It’s not about trying to move through the levels as fast as possible. It’s about finding the level you can SUSTAIN. Someone who stays at level 3 consistently will have better long term success than someone who is trying to fly through the levels quickly but always ends up getting bounced back down to level one.
Five Simple (But Not Always Easy) Steps To The Body You Want
You now have a step-by-step blueprint to getting a lean & muscular physique. You don’t have to count calories, carbs or anything like that. You don’t have to measure your food or swear off your favorite dishes or favorite restaurants.
Just follow the five stages of intermittent fasting and you too can enjoy a lean physique and the freedom that comes with the intermittent fasting lifestyle.
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