When I first set out on my weight loss journey, I was very much an "eat before you get hungry" gal. I was constantly grazing throughout the day. And it worked! I was able to lose weight this way. But I always felt unstable. I would dutifully count calories and try to make myself stop eating my frequent little unfufilling snacks when I reached my limit.
I always felt like a ticking time bomb. And sometimes I would explode....metaphorically. I would break down and go way past my calorie limit.
Often, even after I had exceeded my calorie limit for the day, I would have a protein shake at night because I worried that my body would go into "starvation mode" in the middle of the night, shutting my metabolism down and eating my muscle.
Then, a couple years ago, I started learning about Intermittent Fasting. At first I was very dismissive thinking, "There is absolutely no way I can go long periods of time without eating. I will literally die."
However, the more I learned, the more compelling this concept seemed to me. So, finally I thought I'd try it. For the past 6 months or so, I have been pretty religiously following a 16/8 plan. What this means is that I eat all my meals within an eight hour window of each day. Usually the times that work out best for me is eating my first meal at 11am and my last meal around 6-7pm. I don't always do this. And if I have a day when I'm just ravenous, I don't do it at all!
Here's what I've experienced so far:
- Reduced hunger. I was born hungry! Seriously. My dad likes to talk about the time they put a nipple on a gallon milk jug and let me drink from it because I came out of the womb starving. The more I stick with my 16/8 schedule, the more I notice that I'm simply not hungry outside of my eating window! This is absolutely HUGE for me!
- Increased energy during fasting. This is the one that really blows my mind! I always assumed that trying to attempt anything of importance (working out, intense concentration on an important task) in a fasted state would end up in disaster. However, some days I deliberately wait longer to break my fast because I feel so good and energetic and I've learned that my focus and energy will actually decline once I eat that first meal. I've heard many other IF fans claim this as well.
- Almost effortlessly controlling my weight. I say "almost effortlessly" because I still have to be aware and make tweaks. For instance, if I've edged my eating window up all weekend and maybe consumed a little too much wine, I know I need to extend my fasting periods or reduce my food intake slightly to compensate. However, these efforts can't even compare to the constant calorie counting and extremely long exercise sessions that I used to use to control my weight. Now, I don't count calories at all. I try to be mindful of not eating too much in one sitting and I focus on consuming lots of good, healthy food but I also cheat on a daily basis and refuse to ever give up all the good tasty things that put more flavor and happiness into my life. And now I don't have to! I have consistently maintained the lowest body weight I've seen in about six years with the smallest effort so far!
So here's some common myths about Intermittent Fasting that I'd like to put to rest:
- If I go long periods of time without eating I will be starving and binge: What I've found is that the longer I consistently fast, the smaller my appetite gets. There's actually a very good reason for this. In the short term, our bodies will start to turn off the hunger signals when they don't receive food and switch to metabolizing fat, which is a healthy, clean form of energy (and one of the reasons for the high energy levels and mental clarity one experiences when in a fasted state). Also, going the longer periods of time without insulin present in the body, helps us to become more insulin sensitive which can help reduce/prevent binging not to mention reverse the risk of Type II Diabetes!
- Skipping meals will put my body into starvation mode and lower my metabolism. This is the one that really freaked me out! However, there are plenty of studies emerging that prove this isn't true. "Starvation mode" is absolutely a real thing but it appears to occur after about 48-72 hours in a fasted state and only temporarily lowers metabolism. The opposite has actually been found to be true. Fasting can actually increase your metabolism because, again, you don't constantly have insulin present in the body from eating frequently as the presence of insulin temporarily slows metabolism.
- But breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Wrong. This is a myth. Period. Look it up. The one and only seemingly compelling argument you will find is that studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are, on average, healthier with lower body weights. However, this is actually correlation not causation. We've been told for a long time that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That means, someone is more likely to take this advice of eating a nice, big breakfast if they are health conscious. However, these same people are also more likely to exercise, eat their veggies and get a good night's sleep for the same reason. You can't isolate this one variable. (When reading scientific studies, always be on the lookout for the correlation vs. causation flaw.) Besides, breakfast by definition is "breaking a fast" so I have breakfast every day....I just have it at 11am. Furthermore, if you think about our prehistoric ancestors, do you think they casually rolled out of bed each morning and cooked up some eggs, bacon, toast and a big bowl of oatmeal? Then they continued to snack all day? Heck no. When the sun came up, they hit the ground running. They gathered food, hunted animals, ran from predators. They more than likely ate their biggest meal of the day as the sun was going down....or maybe they grabbed a squirrel while they were busy with their daily tasks.
Bottom line, I am absolutely convinced that humans, for the most part, are not "grazing" animals, especially if we are leading fairly sedentary lifestyles where we spend a large portion of our day sitting still. We eat way too much and too often as a society and our bodies are suffering because of it!
A couple of things to be mindful of before starting IF:
- Be mindful of your relationship with food. There are some suggestions that IF can cause eating disorders. I can kind of see how this could happen as being in a fasted state can make you feel so good at times. Also, focusing on that meal when you break your fast could cause an unhealthy relationship with food. However, I think this potential pitfall is avoidable by simply making sure you have a healthy attitude about your body. Don't fast to punish yourself for what you ate the day before. Don't have a free for all gorge when you break your fast (most of the time anyway!). Instead, learn about the health benefits of fasting. It helps strengthen your cells and gives your digestive system a break. It increases the amount of human growth hormones present in your body. Of course we are all going to cheat occasionally. But make sure you are focused on putting lots of good, living foods in your body in the meantime!
- IF might not be right for you if you're pregnant, nursing or have diabetes or some other metabolic disorder. Pregnant and nursing women especially. In fact, if you look at cultures who fast for religious reasons, these two groups of women are often excluded from fasting. If you have any concerns about your current state of health, find a knowledgeable health professional to help guide you into IF.
- Also, ladies, be mindful of how IF can affect your hormones. My schedule of 16/8, I am quite certain, has positively affected my hormones. My menstrual cycle is the most regular it's ever been, I've had zero pimples and my midsection has finally been reduced significantly. However, some women may experience different hormonal results. Especially depending on if they find fasting to be liberating and energizing (like I do) or if they find it to be stressful and exhausting, which will cause cortisol levels to spike. There are tons of different ways to fast. I have one client who simply reduced her food intake time from a whopping 6am-10pm window to a 6am-7pm window and saw results.
Most of all, I'll say what I always say, Educate yourself! Don't take my word for it. Don't take the word of Big Mike at the gym. Don't even take just your doctor's word for it. When it comes to your health, trust no one but yourself! You know your body more than anyone else does. Everyone else is just a resource, a guide, in your journey to better health!