First thing’s first. You are probably wondering what intermittent fasting is. (I know you so well, don’t I?) To put it simply, intermittent fasting is exactly as it states: going a certain period of time without eating.
The term “intermittent fasting” is not new to me. Back in my Paleo days, I stumbled across leangains.com, a site hosted by Martin Berkhan who in my eyes began the intermittent fasting movement. Many might scoff at that idea since the concept of intermittent fasting stands the test of time, but as any good internet phenomenon story goes, Martin was the first person I saw that published relevant content online thus making him the “originator”. At the time when I discovered leangains.com, I had very little understanding of macronutrients, timing them appropriately, or even how to begin creating a diet based on macronutrients. Regardless, I poured my attention into reading nearly every article on the site and was extremely intrigued by the seemingly gluttonous approach that was proving to be effective for Martin and his clients to remain lean year-round.
Back then, as I’ve mentioned before, my relationship with food was a wreck. I was battling the vicious cycle of extreme food restriction followed by episodes of uncontrollable binge eating. The inability to find balance in my life with regards to my diet did not bode well when I briefly attempted to incorporate intermittent fasting into my lifestyle. As you can imagine, restricting the times that I ate alongside my already strict eating regimen only led me down a more destructive path. All in all, I wasn’t ready for this in my life. I had other, more personal things I needed to work on.
Fast forward 3 years
to today where I have a much healthier relationship with food and a very comfortable understanding of the role macronutrients play in the diet. I don’t restrict any food groups and with the help of the support system around me, I have found a healthy balance in my life. Needless to say, when I recently heard a podcast episode from MindPump Radio on intermittent fasting, my ears perked up with excitement as I listened to the familiar approach toward eating. After relearning all of the proposed benefits of this lifestyle, I felt much more comfortable to experiment with this idea this time around. I decided I would only do it for a day or two – fasting for about 14-16 hours per day and eating during a 8-10 hour window.
Two days ultimately led to three weeks.
Over the course of three weeks, I have had a number of interesting discoveries about this approach and myself that I want to share with you. But first, I’d like to give you some of the proposed benefits of intermittent fasting. The information below is from an article series posted by Precision Nutrition where you can read about intermittent fasting in much more detail.
Intermittent Fasting can help with…
- blood lipids (including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
- blood pressure (perhaps through changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity)
- markers of inflammation (including CRP<, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
- oxidative stress (using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage)
- risk of cancer (through a host of proposed mechanisms; we’ll save them for another review)
- cellular turnover and repair (called autophagocytosis)
- fat burning (increase in fatty acid oxidation later in the fast)
- growth hormone release later in the fast (hormonally mediated)
- metabolic rate later in the fast (stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release)
- appetite control (perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin)
- blood sugar control (by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity)
- cardiovascular function (by offering protection against ischemic injury to the heart)
- effectiveness of chemotherapy (by allowing for higher doses more frequently)
- neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (by offering protection against neurotoxins)
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
So what was my three weeks of intermittent fasting like? Below I’ve listed some of my personal experiences so far with intermittent fasting:
- First and foremost, IF saves so much time, especially in the morning! Preparing 2 meals is so much easier than 5-6 small meals.
- I get to eat more in one sitting! Since I am currently trying to lean out, it is constantly apparent that the volume of food becomes less and less as I progress. With IF, the meals were huge so I always felt full after eating – a common annoyance when consuming 5-6 small meals per day.
- My mental clarity in the 10-14 hour period of my fast (the morning hours for me) was astonishing! I found this to be the time I would produce the best work and be the most attentive in meetings.
- My uncontrollable cravings subsided nearly entirely, which I believe is due to feeling full after meals. Regardless, I found myself less interested in snacking throughout the day which is a huge win for me!
- No mid-afternoon slump for this girl! The large meal I’d eat to break my fast around 12 or 1pm provided enough energy for me to get through an afternoon of meetings or presentations without feeling tired.
- I found that during the time I was following IF, I was more in tune with my satiety. Knowing when I am truly full or hungry has allowed me to successfully travel for two weeks by following an intuitive eating approach. As a recovering binge eater, I have never been good at this in the past and was astonished with my accomplishment to stay on track while traveling for extended periods of time.
- I broke my bad habit of eating at certain times rather than when my body needed fuel.
- I learned more about how my body responds to foods. I figured out very quickly that eating a meal mainly consisting of simple carbohydrates before going to sleep would result in a growling stomach much earlier the next day. But if I incorporated slow-digesting proteins paired with fats in my last meal, I sometimes went until 2pm the next day without feeling hungry.
Even three weeks in, there are still a few things I am unsure of regarding how intermittent fasting affects me:
- I still can’t make any solid conclusions of whether or not IF is giving me more energy during my workouts. Currently with my schedule, I workout around 6:30pm in between my two big meals. I eat a small snack prior to working out, but I might rearrange that to earlier in the day. I will experiment more will meal frequency and timing around my workout. I have also been reducing my intake of pre-workout supplements so this could simultaneously have an impact.
- I also cannot determine if IF is contributing to my physique yet or if that is correlated to my reduced macros as I lean out.
The most important thing I would like to note is that I would recommend you attempt this approach only if you have a comfortable relationship with food. That being said, here are a few tips I learned along the way:
- Don’t think of this as skipping breakfast or snacks. Think of it as reallocating that food so you can have huge meals!
- Don’t eat simple sugars at night. You will be hungry much earlier in the day. I suggest ending your day with a meal that includes slow digesting protein and fat. This will keep you fuller for longer.
- Eat the majority of your carbohydrates around your workout (if working out after breaking your fast). This will provide you the appropriate energy to sustain intense workouts.
- Coffee was my friend in the mornings. There are many benefits to drinking a cup of coffee including helping me stay energized and focused during the final hours of my fast. Don’t like coffee? Try black or green tea!
Overall, I am really enjoying this approach to eating. As I continue in this journey, I believe I will continue to incorporate intermittent fasting into my daily routine. However, I once I become even more comfortable with my satiety and hunger, I will definitely be focusing less on the clock and more on what my body is telling me. I feel confidently that my body will find a natural eating rhythm that is not based on habit but rather the way it is intended to be.
Want more Information on Intermittent Fasting?
The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting by James Clear
5 Methods of Intermittent Fasting by Daily Burn
Intermittent Fasting: Science and Supplementation by Parker Hyde for Bodybuilding.com
Experiments with Intermittent Fasting by Dr. John M. Berardi
How Intermittent Fasting Might Help You Live a Long and Healthier Life by David Stipp for Scientific American