I recently became more curious about intermittent fasting (I.F.) after listening to several health experts rave about the results. I always knew I.F. could be beneficial; I had learned about it during my studies while I became a licensed Health Coach. I just didn’t take a personal interest in it, because eating frequently always seemed to work well for me…or so I thought.
Before I go on, let me explain what I.F. is. It has nothing to do with what you eat or how much you eat, but rather WHEN you eat. Simply put, it means to stop eating for a certain period of time.
Like just about anything when it comes to healthy living, I.F. is not black and white. There are different approaches, and the results may vary depending on the person. And it’s not for everyone. But can it help a significant percentage of people when practiced safely and effectively? Likely yes.
I.F. seems to be the latest trend when it comes to a weight loss. But while it can help you shed a few pounds, that’s not actually what it’s meant for. The benefits of fasting range from more energy, better digestion, improved sleep, less inflammation, and better overall metabolic health. Another benefit that I experienced was a healthier mindset and relationship with food. Specifically, the realization that I could go without eating for much longer than I thought, and that I didn’t need food (energy) in the evening before bedtime. This empowered me to make better decisions around my eating habits.
So what are the most common ways to fast? Time restricted eating is what I explored with. This is when you are limited to eating within a certain amount of hours each day. Most of us already do this overnight (this is where breakfast got its name – BREAK the FAST), and fasting for 12 hours is actually pretty easy. A split involving a 16 hour fast and an 8 hour eating window is also common and pretty mangeable. Some people only give themselves a four hour eating window a day, which is much more restrictive.
The other two options include modified fasting (restricting your calories to 20-25% for several days) and alternate day fasting (fasting for 24 hours, every second day). Personally, I find these both a bit more extreme and not nearly as sustainable compared to time restricted eating.
After doing my research, here’s how I put it all together: I decided to commit to 30 days of a time restricted fast. My parameters included a 15-16 hour fast, about five days a week. I didn’t overcommit to all seven days a week because that’s not realistic nor is it necessary to achieve the benefits. After reflecting on what would work best with my lifestyle, I decided to set my cut off time at 6:30pm at night. This allowed for 3-4 hours in between my last meal and bedtime, which is really important anyway for a good sleep. It also enabled me to begin eating the following day at 9:30am, which was important to me since I exercise in the morning. One thing to note is that I did what’s called a “dirty fast”, which included drinking coffee in the morning with cream, just no carbs or sugar. After a carefully thought out plan, I got started.
Before I began, I was nervous about two things. One was not being able to eat in the evening (I notoriously loved to snack after dinner). But what I quickly discovered was that I didn’t need to eat, I just wanted to out of habit. I mean, it makes logical sense – food is energy. Why would we want to fuel ourselves with food right before going to sleep? And sure, there were a few times my tummy started rumbling as I neared my bedtime. But I thought to myself, what’s the worst that will happen? I go to bed a little hungry? No big deal.
The other thing I was nervous about was doing fasted workouts. And this is where I had my revelation! Previous to starting I.F., I had ALWAYS eaten before my workouts. And even then, there had been a few occasions at the gym where I found myself dizzy, shaky, and weak. At the time, I thought it was because I hadn’t eaten enough. But in retrospect, I realized it was because I was eating high glycemic foods like toast or a banana (foods that cause a rapid increase in blood sugar, sometimes followed by a sugar crash). So it wasn’t actually how much I was eating that was the concern, it was WHAT I was eating. This blew my mind.
Very quickly after starting, these two fears dissipated. My energy levels were at an all time high, and my workouts were not compromised from fasting. If anything, I felt so good that I made some serious gains in my progress. Not eating at night was easier than I thought, thanks to my mindset shift. I slept great, my concentration seemed better, my digestive system was functioning well, and I was super hydrated thanks to the extra water I was drinking to get me through my fast. I also felt amazing when I woke up every morning, because there was zero bloating or tummy troubles from eating too close to bedtime anymore. I have no idea if my weight changed, because that wasn’t the point. But I can tell you that I felt leaner and stronger than ever, and loved the way I looked in the mirror.
I had low expectations of how this would go. I didn’t experiment with I.F. for my personal gain, I did it for some of my clients who I thought might be good candidates to try it. I will always be a guinea pig when it comes to trying different strategies to improve health, so I can speak to my personal experience. But as it turns out, I did gain a lot from this experiment. Fast forward three months later, and I’m still doing it.
If you’re considering I.F., do your research. Start slow (12-16 hours), or maybe just set a cut off time in the evenings. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Make a detailed plan. Be sure you’ve got other fundamentals down pat, like drinking enough water and getting enough movement in. Like I said before, it’s not for everyone. But I had a surprisingly positive experience from it, and it’s just another tool I can add to my toolbox of healthy living.