Intermittent Fasting: How I Am FINALLY Controlling My Weight Naturally

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!

What You Should Eat

I have spent a large portion of my adult life trying to find all the "keys" to health and maintaining an easy, natural weight. I've read countless books, watched many talks and combed studies on nutrition until I've gone cross-eyed at times. All in search of "The Perfect Diet."

By far, the #1 question I get both in my career and via this blog is "what should I eat?" 

Here's the short answer...."I don't know!"

Here's the long answer...."What you should eat depends on everything from your genetics and epigenetics to how old you are, what ratio of hormones your body is producing, how much activity you get, the current state of health in your body and what you've done with your body up until now." 

I am absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as a perfect diet. As humans, we have evolved in many different extreme circumstances and somehow still survived. For example, Inuit (who have survived cold, harsh temperatures in often barren conditions for over 6000 years) have a diet that consists mainly of meat! Fatty meat at that. They may eat a little bit of roots and berries in the warmer months but that's about it! 

However, it is questionable just how healthy they are in their later years. There is much debate on this as they appear to age faster and have higher rates of osteoporosis and heart disease. People from the low fat/high carb camp will isolate their diet as the cause. People of the high fat/low carb camp will argue that you can't isolate this one variable because they live in some of the most extreme regions of the world which would be very taxing on their bodies. 

I belong to neither camp but I have to agree with the high fat people on this one, you can't isolate this one variable. In fact, you can't even reproduce this one variable in the general population to form a study because,  after 6000+ years, the Inuit have genetics that are different from ours. The Inuit who didn't thrive from this specific diet were more likely to die and not perpetuate their genetics (genetics that maybe would've thrived on a lower fat/protein diet). This is evolution folks. Evolution isn't some crazy "we came from apes" sci-fi stuff. Evolution is genetic selection. Nature weeds out genetics that are considered weak and do not serve the overall species in whatever environment they are trying to survive. 

Another example of this genetic selection (or, some will argue, genetic mutation) is seen in people who are truly not lactose intolerant into adulthood. By nature, it would appear that early after weaning, something "shuts off" inside of us that makes us lactose intolerant into adulthood. However, there are some adult individuals who truly can digest dairy and appear to thrive off of it. This is called lactase persistence. Although there are many theories surrounding the "why" of this, one that seems to be most widely embraced (and makes the most sense to me) is that these people descended from Nomadic herders. There were times when the herders may have had little other sources of food except the milk being produced from their animals. The herders that were able to thrive from consuming this milk (whether it was because they naturally could already consume it or because of a genetic mutation) were more likely to pass on their genetics to the next generation. The ones who didn't  thrive, often died before reproducing. 

Less dramatic versions of this genetic propensity to thrive on certain diets can be seen all around the world. So, I believe that can be your first clue: find out what your ancestors ate. Not your grandma but the indigenous people of the land(s) from which your ancestors came. 

Leaving genetics behind, let's also talk about Ayurveda. Although, I could easily believe the argument that Ayurveda is closely linked to genetics and possibly a better map to follow since a large portion of us would be hard pressed to narrow down all the places of origin from which we descended. 

Without getting too deep into this, I'll break it down in the most simple terms I can and then I encourage you to seek out your own answers in this field. Ayurveda is a form of holistic "health care" that was developed in India thousands of years ago. One of the foundations of Ayurveda is determining your doshas. There are three. Pitta, Vata and Kapha. We are all a combination of these three doshas but in drastically different amounts. Some people may be predominantly Kapha (this is usually marked by people who struggle with their weight, have large round features, oily skin and are slow and sluggish) while others are predominantly Vata (struggle to keep on weight, anxious, dry chapped skin). No one person will fit perfectly into any one description but learning what balance of doshas you have in your body can help you to understand what you need to eat, what kind of exercise you need to do, etc. in order to bring your body into balance and thrive. 

The key is to balance these doshas. An interesting thing I have observed in myself is that over the past couple of years, I've managed to tip the scales in a different direction within  myself. Years and years ago when I learned about Ayurveda, I was a straight-up, hardcore, card carrying Kapha. I was slow, round and mellow. However, I somehow managed to tip myself into Vata territory a few times. Now is actually a perfect example of that. I suddenly am not struggling to keep my weight down, which sounds great, but I am also struggling with bouts anxiety and frenetic energy and dry, chapped skin. And, understanding what I do about Ayurveda, it makes perfect sense to me. I've been eating a diet and doing extreme forms of exercise that tip my scales out of balance in the direction of Vata. To counterbalance this, I know I need to do more slow forms of exercise (more yoga, less Crossfit) and eat more warm foods containing healthy fats. 

This may sound like pseudo-science to many but I encourage you to learn about the doshas and how they apply to your life. I have yet to have a friend or a client to learn about their own doshas and not become a believer. Not once! 

The next thing we have to consider is what you've done with your body up until now. Maybe your body could, by nature, tolerate a large amount of carbohydrates but you've eaten them in excess to the point where your pancreas is no longer functioning the way it should. Maybe your liver could handle a lot of fructose and/or alcohol but you drank yourself stupid for all of your 20s. Our bodies and each organ therewithin have a certain amount of mileage and then that's pretty much it. We can do some things to restore health to our bodies but someone who has gorged on desserts their entire lives to the point that they develop type 2 diabetes by the time they are 40 (or, like me, just have a general state of insulin resistance as a result) won't ever be able to consume the natural amount of grains and fruits that they were originally born with the capacity to handle. 

Which leads me to my final and, by far, most important determinant of what YOUR specific and unique diet should consist. Ask yourself this one question and nothing else will matter:

"How does this food make me feel?"

And you ask this question throughout the entire eating process. 

Do I have a strong craving for it? (Often times, we have strong, blinding cravings for foods that we actually have an intolerance to!)

How do I feel immediately after eating it? 

How do I feel 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours after eating it?  Do you feel light, satisfied or energetic or sluggish and kind of hungry again? Does your stomach feel comfortable or are you gassy and/or nauseated?

Also pay attention to the fact that some foods will trigger strong cravings for that same food later that day or the next day.

And that neatly leads me into the advice that I feel 100% comfortable giving everyone!

Refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, excess alcohol and processed foods are not good for any of us. If it has an ingredient label it's automatically suspect because that means it's not straight from nature which makes it, by definition, unnatural. Clean water in amounts appropriate for your body (which also varies) is vital. Making vegetables the cornerstone of our diet is important for almost all of us (there are a few--a VERY small few--who may not be able to tolerate vegetables but they are extremely rare and you're almost definitely not one of them so don't even try it my friend!). 

Bottom line, tune into your body and the rest will unfold naturally for you. If you watch cows eating grass, you will start to notice that some seek out clover while others seek out wild onion grass. When dogs are sick, they will eat grass at times to correct some digestive issue they are having. We are born with an internal compass that will guide us toward the best food choices. However, our modern lifestyle has us so removed from nature that we can't hear that little voice of intuition. So tune in and, ultimately, let your body be your guide.