Intermittent Fasting Explained With a Simple Story

Intermittent fasting isn't that complicated. It's like responding to emails from a crappy boss.


For such a simple concept, intermittent fasting is made to seem super complex:

  • All this technical talk about circadian rhythms, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin.
  • All these rules, schedules, and opinions.
  • All these books, gurus, and gadgets. (Ok, maybe not gadgets… yet.)

Because of this, intermittent fasting has a stigma that scares away many people. But the benefits of fasting are something people should run toward rather than flee from: more time, better mood, flexibility, weight control, fewer dishes to wash, invincibility, etcetera.

And all it takes is fasting (abstaining from some or all food or drink) intermittently (at irregular intervals).

So to try to scrub off some yucky stigma from the concept of intermittent fasting and get you looking at it from a fresh perspective, I’m going explain it with a childishly simple analogy:

Working for a shitty boss.

Your hunger hormones overseeing your food consumption.

Doing Your Job

Imagine you work for a company called Your Health, Inc (YHI). YHI’s mission is to keep [insert your name here] alive and well for as long as possible.

Your role at YHI?

VP of Food Procurement.

Don’t let the fancy title fool you, though. All you do is send and respond to emails.

The conventional modern workflow is to space out your Food Procurement duties throughout the day.

  • Do some first thing in the morning (“breakfast”)
  • Get a bit in mid-morning (“snack”)
  • A big chunk just after noon (“lunch”)
  • Little bits more in the afternoon and just after getting home from the office (“snacks”)
  • Another load in the evening (“dinner”)
  • Then sneak some in late at night (“ice cream”).

That’s a lot of time doing emails! But you feel you need to in order to meet YHI’s needs and placate your short-sighted, short-tempered, physically short boss (your hunger hormones).

Let’s name this boss of yours “Mr. Z” in honor of my 1-year-old son who shares similar traits.

Taking The Morning Off

One fateful day, you decide to skip your usual morning Food Procurement work (“breakfast”) to help YHI’s Maintenance department by attending a yoga class.

Mr. Z hates this decision. He has come to expect to see emails from you first thing in the morning, so he assumes you’re slacking off.

Luckily, you’re too busy breathing, bending, and following your yogi’s instructions to hear him. But as soon as you finish and check your phone, you see it’s blown up with messages from Mr. Z’s:

  • “What the hell’s going on!?!?”
  • “YHI’s falling apart!”
  • “Procure food ASAP!”
Hunger hormones asking "WTF are you doing?"

You hold off on dealing with your inbox, though, because you have other things to do that morning. Mr. Z hovers around and hollers constantly. It’s annoying, but you persevere.

Finally, come midday, you sit down and get your Food Procurement work off your plate. Mr. Z immediately shuts up. And you make up for what you didn’t do in the morning, so YHI gets everything it needs.

Challenging Your Schedule

You feel so good from doing Maintenance work that morning that you sign up for a 30-day membership at the yoga studio. And you challenge yourself to go every day to get your money’s worth.

Why not? You’ve proven that you can catch up with all your Food Procurement responsibilities in one midday batch, right?

Mr. Z doesn’t like this plan one iota.

Hunger hormones mad at taking mornings off

He’s a creature of habit. But the CEO at YHI (your prefrontal cortex) signs off on your plan, so there’s nothing Mr. Z can do other than nag you.

Which is exactly what he does. But his tantrums steadily lose steam as you proceed through the month.

Then, sometime toward the end of your 30-day trial, something flips:

Mr. Z becomes accustomed to this new routine of yours. It no longer bothers him, so he no longer bothers you.

Hunger hormones relaxing in the morning

Most importantly, YHI’s doing better than ever with this new Food Procurement schedule. So the whole team agrees to keep it up.

More Batching, Less Bitching

Building on the success of giving up your morning Food Procurement work, you begin to wonder:

Could I possibly batch my work even more?

It’s worth a shot. So you get YHI’s CEO to sign off on a trendy workflow you’ve been hearing all about:

Limiting your Food Procurement twice a day—once around noon and again around 8 PM (16/8 intermittent fasting).

This frees you up to support YHI’s R&D department—reading books and listening to podcasts.

As expected, Mr. Z is peeved.

Hunger hormones rebelling against 16/8 intermittent fasting

You’re skipping out on the little bits of mid-afternoon, late afternoon, and late evening Food Procurement inbox handling that he’s come to expect from you. But, for this change in your routine, he doesn’t bitch at you as hard or for as long. It seems he’s starting to trust you and becoming slightly more adaptive.

Keeping Hunger Off Kilter

Your new twice-a-day schedule suits you better, and YHI’s thriving with it, but it’s still stricter than you’d like.

YHI’s HR manager agrees. She prefers you do Food Procurement alongside others—friends and family, especially. And many of them remain on the un-batched routine of doing Food Procurement throughout the day.

So, occasionally, you join them in the mornings. This makes Mr. Z happy—more’s always better in his books. But you’re careful not to do it so regularly that he gets in the habit of expecting it from you.

On the contrary!

You decide to challenge Mr. Z’s expectations even further. Instead of doing your Food Procurement work during two fixed windows every day, you adopt a flexible schedule:

  • On Monday, you hit your inbox at 10 AM and 7 PM.
  • Then on Tuesday, it’s 2 PM and 5 PM.
  • And on Wednesday, you’re so caught up with other stuff that you only do one big batch of food procurement at 6 PM!

What does Mr. Z think of this truly intermittent schedule?

At first he fights you to stick to a schedule, like he loves. But then the lack of routine becomes your routine. This pushes Mr. Z totally off balance. He never knows when to expect you to hit your inbox, but YHI’s getting what it needs, so he adapts.

Hunger hormones adapting to intermittent fasting routine

Going on Holiday

Encouraged by your progress, you consider something your crazy hippy friend has preached about but you never before thought to be possible at YHI:

Taking a few days off (multi-day fasting).

You know this would cause Mr. Z to lose his marbles. But you’ve learned to tune him out. Plus, you’ve read that YHI could benefit from emptying the Food Procurement warehouse for a long-overdue cleaning, and giving the machinery a rest to let Engineering fine-tune it.

So you give it a go.

The first day goes surprisingly smoothly. Mr. Z hardly makes a peep.

But on Day 2, he can’t keep his cool anymore. The warehouse is down to its last scraps. Mr. Z is terrified.

Terrified during multi-day fast

He screams at you in the evening, around when you usually do some Food Procurement. But you hold firm and hide from him by going for a walk and then going to sleep.

That next morning, you wake up expecting head-splitting, stomach-curdling screams from Mr. Z…

…but no. He’s silent.

Overnight a trap door opened up at the warehouse. Behind it was a big fat reserve with enough to keep YHI humming for not just days, but weeks. Maybe even months. High-quality fuel, too!

Celebrating ketosis

Changing Priorities

The results of your holiday blow everyone at YHI’s mind.

“Why were we putting so much priority on regular Food Procurement?”, you and your co-workers wonder.

“It’s a support function,” YHI’s CEO realizes. “We don’t need to work around any Food Procurement schedule to thrive. Food Procurement can fit to whatever schedule works best for the rest of the organization.”

So the CEO makes a small change to YHI’s org chart:

Mr. Z works for you now.

Hunger hormones given less power

You commit to sticking to an un-routine Food Procurement schedule with regular holidays. It works best for you, and it’s best for Your Health in the long run.

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.