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If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, then the chances of inadvertently stumbling across an advertisement about the latest fad of intermittent fasting. “I have a snack in the morning, crush workouts and eat everything in sight for a few hours and look like this.” Yeah, we get it. I have a feeling metabolism and your fitness regimen has something to do with how you look in addition to your diet. That said, many physical trainers will often say “abs start in the kitchen.”

So, what’s the best plan? Intermittent fasting? Paleo? Keto? Small meals throughout the day? Honestly, I think everyone should give these different options a shot and see what works best for their health and physique.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Intermittent fasting promises the ability to skip meals then binge eat more than you would typically choose to do (i.e., more variety than a chicken breast and kale) while still slimming down and increasing lean muscle mass. Is this possible? Well, yes and no. The scientific benefits of fasting are numerous, and while some claim there is more research to do on the subject, the studies and anecdotal evidence so far are quite convincing.

The idea is this: fasting for 12-16 hours allows the individual to consume more calories during the meals they generally want to eat more at (lunch and dinner) while cutting out any unnecessary calories. And while there’s a bit more science behind the ‘why’ of fasting – fasted cardio taps into fat reserves quicker and kick-starts your body’s usage of ketones – I want to focus a bit more on how the non-fitness enthusiast typically views fasting throughout the average day. If you think about it, intermittent fasting works a bit off of common sense.

Eating less of the foods you don’t care about will allow you to eat more of the foods you truly like. And since it’s easier to eat 1,500 calories over the course of two meals instead of one, fasting can allow you to feel fuller and more satisfied by actually cutting your caloric intake. And this is where it comes back around to calories in vs. calories out.

A Simple Path with Multiple Roads?

If you burn more calories than your take in, you will lose weight. Is that a bit of an oversimplified answer? Yes. But the core message stands true. If you want to shed a few pounds, the only way to do so is to figure out your maintenance (how many calories you can take in and not gain weight) and then burn more than that. Exercise, a relatively clean diet, and lower caloric intake will do this. Do you have to use the intermittent fasting lifestyle to do this? No. But for some, it may help.

The bottom line is this: there are multiple techniques to achieve fat loss and muscle growth. But you’re not going to gain muscle if you never work out and you’re not going to lose weight if you always overeat, regardless of what dietary lifestyle you choose to follow.

I’ll conclude this post with a personal story while I was in the military. I’d recently returned home from a deployment and just wasn’t in the mood to maintain a regular fitness regimen, plus the high-calorie Cali or Breakfast Burritos in Southern California are unbelievable. I also lived in a very party-friendly part of town, so it was easy to go out for a drink or 10 whenever I wanted— which was often. I definitely gained some not-so-wanted weight. I got to the point where I was still hungry after devouring a 1500-calorie burrito (I don’t have the exact nutrition facts to support that, but these are basically like little human babies. Who knows, they could have even been more than 1500 cal). So, of course I just started ordering two of them at a time, ha!

I gained an extra 25-30 lbs and an opportunity arose to deploy for 3 months overseas at a place that was at 6,600 ft. elevation. Prior to my departure, I was tipping the scales over 200 lbs, the heaviest I’ve been in my life. By the time I returned home I weighed 175. What changed? I didn’t drink alcohol, I ate relatively healthy during normal chow hall hours and exercised at least 6 days a week – over 25 lbs gone in 90 days. So if you think you’re in need of a change, cut out the partying, eat healthy, get some solid workouts in and don’t forget to get plenty of rest.