The Small Tweak That Makes Intermittent Fasting Way More Effective For Weight Loss

Photo by Cameron Whitman

Many people are familiar by now with intermittent fasting, or periods of eating and not eating. They're not familiar with the concept of IFPC: intermittent fasting protein cycling, which I coined for my new book, Glow15: A Science-Based Plan to Lose Weight, Revitalize Your Skin, and Invigorate Your Life. With IFPC, the fast is 16 hours (sleeping hours included!) followed by eight hours of eating. During the eating part, you'll be protein cycling (or PC), alternating between protein restriction and normal protein intake.

This deprivation and supply of nutrient intake influences a biological process called autophagy.

Autophagy comes from the Greek, auto, meaning "self," and phagy, meaning "to eat," and it's literally the way your cells self-cannibalize. Yes, you read that right—when autophagy is working optimally, your cells eat away the junk, removing and recycling the waste that leads to the visible signs of aging.

As we get older, autophagy becomes less efficient. It needs to be boosted so that your cells can effectively eat away their own junk. The best way to make this happen is to not provide any additional nourishment, essentially forcing your cells to self-cannibalize.

IF, or intermittent fasting, does this, as you might expect, by depriving the cells of nutrients during your fast. Specifically, it works by activating glucagon, which works in opposition to insulin to keep your blood glucose levels balanced. Think of a seesaw: If one side goes up, the other goes down. In your body, if insulin goes up, glucagon goes down, and vice versa. When you give your body food, insulin automatically rises and glucagon starts to decrease. But the opposite happens when you deny your body nutrients—insulin goes down, and glucagon rises. An increase in glucagon triggers autophagy. This is why temporarily withholding nutrients, or fasting, is one of the best ways to boost the youth of your cells. In addition, science shows that cycles of intermittent fasting can decrease visceral fat, reduce cancer rates, improve the immune system, slow down the loss of bone mineral density, and increase longevity. It is believed that many of these benefits of IF—like burning more fat, providing more energy, and decreasing your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease—can be attributed to the activation of autophagy.

One of the main reasons protein cycling works to enhance youth is because your body can’t create its own protein.

PC, or protein cycling, has an effect similar to fasting. Creating protein deficiency also lowers your insulin levels—it’s that seesaw again—and that, in turn, boosts your glucagon and activates autophagy. This means your body will not store the foods you eat as fat but instead will work to build muscle and burn fat. One of the main reasons protein cycling works to enhance youth is because your body can’t create its own protein. Instead, it is forced to find every possible way to recycle the existing protein you’ve already provided it. The problem is, we don’t normally deprive ourselves of protein. Actually, we generally eat enough protein to keep autophagy in "maintenance" mode. On average we eat 70 grams of protein daily, which is more than one and half times the amount typically recommended for women. But our bodies can handle periods without protein. If you think about it, this goes back to our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers who often had to survive for periods without a successful hunt.

So now, we have to choose to deny ourselves protein. There is evidence that protein cycling can help reduce the risk of diseases, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, in addition to enhancing autophagy.

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Here's how to IFPC and kick your intermittent fasting up a notch.

IFPC works to take advantage of autophagy, activating and inhibiting the process, with "low days" and "high days." You will choose three nonconsecutive "low days" intended to help you activate autophagy by starving your cells of nutrients. On your "low days," you will do this by fasting overnight and into the morning (for a total of 16 hours) and then limit your protein intake for the remainder of the day to less than 25 grams. The remaining four days of the week are your "high days." On these days, there are no food restrictions. This will inhibit autophagy.

IFPC is purposely designed in this pattern of activation and inhibition. It is important because low is not always the way to go. We can’t live in a constant state of nutrient deprivation. Besides the fact that starvation is obviously unhealthy, it’s also not fun! And too much protein restriction can actually contribute to aging in the form of muscle wasting, accompanied by increasing weakness and immune deficiencies. So to ensure you get all of the benefits of both fasting and protein restriction, the intermittent and cyclical combination of "low days" and "high days" is fundamental to the practice of IFPC.

You may choose any day of the week to be "low" or "high" (keeping in mind that the three low days should be nonconsecutive). I prefer unrestrained eating on the weekends, so I make Monday, Wednesday, and Friday "low days," when I fast for 16 hours and then eat low protein for eight hours. Then, on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday—my "high days"—I can indulge, with no food restrictions.

My favorite part of IFPC is that it works best when customized for you and your life.

Do you hate skipping breakfast? Simply begin your fast earlier the night before, so you can get your 16 hours and still have a morning meal. Craving a burger on a "low day"? Go for it; just know that you’ll have only about 5 grams of protein remaining before you hit your daily limit. The choice is yours. You’re the one with the power to look and feel younger.

Want to know more about intermittent fasting? Our ultimate guide will answer every question you ever had.

And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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