Intermittent fasting has changed my life.
Two to three days out of the week, I fast for 14–16 hours and I couldn’t be happier. Let me explain a little so you understand, I’m not just promoting a trendy health craze, it’s been around since about 1945 when it was discovered that intermittent fasting extended life in mice this study.
I have been weight conscious my entire life. I’ve always been a little heavier than the “average” girl and that has been true into my adulthood. In my late teens I ended up losing over 50 pounds in a very unhealthy manner and I promised myself I would never do that again.
Still, over the years I have tried the typical, rotating food and diet fads: Atkins Diet, Veganism, Weight Watchers, Raw Food Diet, Paleo, and even more I’m sure I’m leaving out. My point is, nothing ever really “worked” for me. I couldn’t find something that became a part of my daily lifestyle — I viewed them all as diets.
When I looked closer at my eating habits I realized…
- I don’t always plan meals
- I often skip breakfast
- I prefer heavier meals earlier in the day
- I have some days where I eat very little
- I have other days where I load up on calories
Holy shit, I was the perfect candidate for intermittent fasting!
Fast, slow, what are we doing?
Intermittent fasting is not a limitation on calorie intake, it’s about reducing your eating windows to a limited number of hours in a day. You can fast anywhere from 14 to 35 hours. The key to intermittent fasting is to eat as much as you like during your non-fasting hours. I’m not talking about stuffing yourself like it’s Thanksgiving but don’t overthink how much you’re eating as long as you stay within your daily calorie limit you should be fine. I eat to satiety and not a morsel over — which used to be a very bad habit of mine.
Some non-fasting days I am not as hungry as I think I should be but I listen to my body closely. I use a lot of protein (eggs, chicken, turkey, etc) to fill me up while I keep net carbs pretty low around 20–30g. It’s important to put protein first when practicing intermittent fasting. Without your daily protein over a period of time (not just one or two days) you may start to see a decrease in muscle mass. This means a decreased metabolic rate, and in turn, you will be burning less body fat.
If you want to figure out what your suggested daily calorie intake should be, you can use this free calorie calculator.
During the fasting hours you do not consume anything with calories — this means foods and drink. For many people they have black coffee or tea to help smooth the edges of hunger. I don’t often feel “hungry” during my fasting time but I find that a simple cup of green tea can help my stomach feel less empty. I also feel like I enjoy the flavor of the tea a little more because I don’t have anything else competing for my tastebuds.
I’ll just eat less?
At first I thought intermittent fasting was like a diet but the more I learned the more I saw the beneficial differences. If you’ve ever tried a diet you know that it can be frustrating and difficult to stick with. You may experience micronutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, decreased bone mineral density, or worse.
The difference with intermittent fasting is that it exceeds the beneficial effects of just dieting through calorie restriction. It was studied and found to be not only equally effective for weight loss but overall better. The fasting leads to a more natural calorie restriction, without the feeling of being forced. Naturally, you seem to consume less. Surprisingly, having a large meal after a fasting period does not usually make up for the time you have been fasting.
That’s why there’s a few different ways you can try out intermittent fasting from the easiest to the most challenging:
- 5:2 Fasting -
For beginners to fasting this is a pretty simple approach to implement. You are mindful of your calorie intake, reducing it by 25–35% on one day, and follow it by an unrestricted eating day.
This good for someone who already has another layer to their eating restrictions such as low carb, keto, etc because it builds that into your calorie restricted day. The concept is to eat “normally” for five days and then restrict your calorie intake to 500–600 calories on the other two days.
- Fat Fasting -
For some people eating 4–6 small meals a day is the way they’ve tried consuming their food. With this suggestion, you would instead eat 1 or 2 regular, high fat meals, and then fast the next day.
- Spontaneous Fasting -
This was how I initially discovered fasting. Some mornings I would have breakfast and then not eat until my late dinner. Other days I wouldn’t skip breakfast and lunch but instead dinner. Never did this feel forced because it was just my natural way of eating at the time. For a lot of people, this is their favorite way to do intermittent fasting.
It can be a slow process where you put off your next meal by an hour or so each day until you’re skipping it entirely.
- Segment Fasting -
This method has you fasting in predetermined hourly windows. You can try it as the 16/8 method — you fast for 14-16 hours and restrict your daily eating window to 8–10 hours. It is suggested that you eat mindfully within those time frames.
For example, ff you were to eat dinner at 9:00 p.m. then you would not have your next meal until 1:00 p.m. the next day. Thus, you’ve been fasting for 16 hours. If you’re a breakfast person this may not be ideal for you.
You can also have 20/4, or even 21/3 if you can manage depending on what suits you best. I like this method because fasting can easily be worked into sleep hours.
- Alternate Day Fasting -
This is a little bit of a challenge for those who aren’t used to eating like this. You fast every other day and eat what you like on the non-fasting days. I would suggest starting off with just one or two fasting days a week until you get the hang of it.
If you have a workout or exercise regime that you enjoy, be sure to check out how intermittent fasting works for you safely.
The results are in
My own experience with intermittent fasting has been a pleasant one. I’ve noticed after the first month that I was less glucose-dependent. I started to wake up and fall asleep more naturally. This means now when I get up, I have more energy, more focus, and less brain fog.
The most tangible benefit is that I’ve lost 20 lbs without trying! I haven’t exercised regularly and I’m still dropping the pounds. I am naturally eating less on the days/times I am eating. It’s also been a very convenient way for me to work with limited foods (depending on what gets sold out before my grocery delivery during the lockdown) and implement my low-carb lifestyle. I’ve had more time to actually prepare my meals in advance and in turn, they’ve all been healthier options.
If you are looking to try out intermittent fasting remember:
- Intermittent fasting alone won’t fix everything. You still need to monitor your sleep schedule, stress exposure, and incorporate some movement where possible.
- Try to stay busy during fasting times. I find it easier to stop focusing on food when I’m focused on something else. Go for a walk, start or work on a personal project, lose yourself in some music. A busy mind keeps my fingers from wanting to snack.
- It’s not for everyone. There are a few medical conditions that should be considered before attempting intermittent fasting. Sometimes even if we want to try something, it’s not a good fit for us. Make sure to always double check with your preferred medical professional before starting something like intermittent fasting.
Now, intermittent fasting isn’t without its drawbacks for some. This can be a hard structure to follow long-term if you’re trying to establish healthy habits. A lot of fasters tend to initially binge eat or steer away from mindful meal choices — this is a sure way to negate your caloric deficit. For others the effects could be more psychological where you experience the not-so-funny mood of ‘hangry’ or feel a reduction in energy and focus for a long period. On my first few weeks I also noticed I had some difficulties sleeping and craved afternoon naps. This has mostly subsided but I have introduced a 30–45 minute power nap into my routine on fasting days.
No matter how or if you decide to try intermittent fasting, the most important factor is you. How does this fit in with your lifestyle? Are you prepared to follow a food schedule? Will you make mindful food choices? If you give it a go (or already fast!) try out the app Zero for all your fasting needs like timers, stats, fasting informational libraries, journals, group fasting, and more. Oh, and don’t forget, good foods lead to good moods!