I’ve got a thing for trying out new things; it kinda goes with the lifestyle. Intermittent fasting is my latest attempt in checking out new weight loss solutions. For my clients, it presented another tool in their lifestyle toolbox. For me, intermittent fasting (IF) gave another method of controlling my food addiction (yes, you can have a food addiction and still lose weight). So how did it turn out? Let me tell you. First, the basics.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) involves going for extended periods of time without eating. People do it in different intervals. Some will devote an entire 24 hours to fasting about once a week. Others set up an eating window–usually 8 hours long–where they eat normally while fasting the rest of the time. Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Old Spice, Expendables) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) both take this approach in their training. I used the 16 hour fast (9 pm to 1 pm) as my template.
Much like any other approach to healthy weight loss, the science on IF varies a bit. I followed the approach discussed by James Clear and recommended by Tiny Leaps podcaster Gregg Clunis in episode 161. I used the approach because it can get your body to a state where fat burning begins; Clear’s blog covers the science more directly than I could right here.
So what did I learn from IF? A few things, actually:
1) Getting hungry gets pretty damn distracting.
IF is all about that food timing: eat during this particular time only. What happens when you’ve gone 12 hours without food, though? Hunger sets in.
The last 4 hours of every fast became a progressive exercise in self-control and incoming brain fog. See, our bodies want food–kind of a lot. Yes, you can get into that mode where you start burning fat for fuel, but the cost can be intense. After 3 days of IF, my hungry belly convinced me that it needed a voice to express its anger; I made it a Twitter account just to shut it up (@JabbaTheGutt).
The longer hunger goes on, the less you can think about anything besides food. Herein lies the biggest challenge of IF: how do you solve the hunger problem? Hunger leads to fatigue, irritability and brain fog. Some IF adherents say that this hunger goes away, while others advocate for drinking branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) for keeping protein intake high and avoiding muscle breakdown. I don’t know about those solutions because I never got around to trying them. @JabbaTheGutt kept rumbling at me too much along the way.
2) Coffee is the cheat code of IF. Abuse it.
If hunger control is the main challenge on IF, then coffee becomes your greatest weapon. Caffeine curbs your appetite for a while, tricking your stomach into thinking it’s full (take that, Jabba!). It’s supposed to be taken as-is, though. According to IF experts like Jim Stoppani, any caloric intake during a fast defeats the purpose of the fast. I used a lot of creamer in my 4 oversized cups of coffee every morning, so that may have been a factor in my intense hunger. After all, wouldn’t consuming calories during a fast just kick your appetite back into overdrive? I’ll have to test that theory again later.
3) Time your food.
When it’s time to eat, you need to eat. I finished every fast during this 2 weeks right at 1 pm, my feeding time. I recommend having a little snack to break the fast before digging into that first meal. By the way, eating for the first time after fasting for 16 hours makes your food taste amazing. I had a Five Guys burger that could have saved a drowning man. Of course, there’s a flip side to that heightened love of food.
4) Don’t overeat.
When I didn’t eat for 16 hours at a stretch, there was this urge to eat everything in sight. I needed to make up for lost eating time, right? Not so fast, buckaroo.
It seems like I ate more on IF than when I wasn’t fasting. Cramming in 3 meals inside of 8 hours seemed like a good idea, right? Looking back, I think that this more frantic eating pattern came from my food addiction, which gives me this inherent “I must eat everything so I don’t go hungry” mindset. In fact, many longtime IF followers keep food to just 2 meals a day instead of 3. Adjusting to that pattern might work even better than the frantic eating, but it takes one more thing to find out the truth of that question.
5) Give the process time.
Time, consistency, and effective habits form the foundations of healthy weight loss. I followed IF for 2 weeks before shifting back to my normal eating habits. Even I know that it takes longer than 2 weeks to establish a new healthy habit! You’ve got to give a new eating plan at least a month to determine whether it’s right for you.
Should you try IF? I’d say yes, if with a couple of caveats. First, someone with a metabolic condition (diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc.) should consult their doctor before fasting. As a former pre-diabetic, I felt incredibly nauseous when I went too long without food. Get health issues under control first.
Second, you should give IF the time it needs to prove itself. Flip-flopping on a program after a week or two denies your body the chance to adapt to new patterns. Give IF a month, minimum, if not a full 90 days, to prove its worth to you. If nothing else, those fasting periods will remind how truly tasty food can be when you eat again. Drop me a line if you’d like to chat more about IF.
For more tips on transforming your body one “baby step” at a time, be sure to Follow me on Facebook or Twitter, check out my blog archive, or send me a message to hire me as your trainer.