Just over 2 months ago, a friend was telling me how intermittent fasting (IF) had helped his focus. Intrigued, I started researching IF while trying this new way of eating on for size (pun not originally intended). Mind you, I am the woman who (before this) would not have skipped a meal without … consequences. “Hangry” had my picture next to it in the dictionary. So I was initially very cautious about IF as well as … skeptical. Now, over 2 months later, I am well into skipping breakfast, and sometimes more as I have found my focus is better and so are my energy, stamina and overall attitude towards life (yes, I know, it can seem unreal). Along the way, there have been some surprising, some not-so-surprising and some interesting side effects of IF to share. Then at the end, I’ll share some tools and links to science-based articles and posts, so you can explore more if you’d like.
As a result of my first-hand experience and the research I’ve done, I see IF as giving my body a break from digesting, assimilating and (improper) storing of food energy. This post touches briefly on the many positive “side effects” of fasting. I encourage you to keep an open mind as you read. Fasting offers different physiological responses than restricted calorie “diets.” As many of us have experienced dieting and the perpetual low blood sugar that results, we equate dieting with fasting. These are two very different beasts. Please treat them both with respect.
Overall, I sleep less and I wake up more easily in the morning – this is with less caffeine, too. Most nights, I sleep between 5-6 hours and feel energized. As such, it is easier for me to get out of bed, yes, even in the (almost) winter! In the past, I was “sleeping in” until the last minute most fall/winter mornings. Now, I’m up before the sun even on the weekends.
More free-time and money
Cooking and preparing fewer meals means more free-time and less money at the grocery store…well, and less meal-prep stress. While this makes complete sense to say now, these were initially unexpected side effects for me. I’m also snacking less, which means less money on expensive snack bars. Most of my calorie intake is now from more savory meals, and some sweets.
This one surprised me. Well, it still does. After the first few weeks, I’ve found that my hunger has actually decreased, as long as I am eating enough. It will make more sense if you have time to read this article about the hunger hormone, Gherlin, which increases weight gain while it increases your appetite!
More energy and desire to work-out
While this all sounds counter-intuitive, I have MORE energy for the gym. Research even suggests it is better to workout while fasting. Honestly, if I had not experienced this myself, I would not have believed it. So I understand if you are also skeptical.
Now I look forward to working out. I’m hitting the gym more regularly and I feel so much better about myself and my body. WIN-WIN.
I will say, however, that I would personally refrain from starting a new workout routine during the first few weeks of IF (new meaning not already a well-established routine), as it can take some time to adjust to the IF regimen.
Fat Loss and Muscle Definition
While I have lost some “scale weight,” most of my weight loss has been in inches of fat – particularly fat around my waist, thighs and upper arms. Yes, I still have a “belly,” however, it is much more slim than it was just a few months ago. AND, I can also safely say that this is the smallest it’s been since before graduate school (and kids) with the added bonus that IF has required easily less than a quarter of the effort of a caloric-restricted diet (like WW). For the most part, I have not consciously changed my diet, just the time that I eat. In fact, I’ve even stopped tracking my foods.
Again, weight loss has not been my focus, it has just been a nice side effect to look and feel better in my skin, well, and jeans.
More Desserts, Yet Fewer Sweets
While I buy more cookies and treats (I rarely trusted myself to have them in the house before), now I find that I eat fewer of them as my sweet “sensitivity” is greater, so I do not indulge in as many sweets as I did before. In other words, I enjoy the sweets I do eat more, consuming less of them.
Heightened Senses & Intuition
Perhaps this is also part of why I enjoy fewer sweets; my senses of smell and taste are more sensitive. After a fast, especially longer ones, I find that the food tastes so incredible that I eat less of it and enjoy it more.
Intuition can be more challenging to quantify. Suffice it to say, my intuitive voice is louder, more active and accurate.
My Personal IF Steps
When I first started, I was doing a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour feeding schedule. It took me about 1/2 the first week to feel comfortable with not eating for 16-hours straight.
In fact, the first few days I really had to “breathe through” the belief that I was literally going to starve to death if I waited another minute to eat. This is a sure sign of psychological hunger, by the way. As such, it can be easier to fast initially when one’s schedule is more busy, starting 3 or so hours before bedtime to take advantage of our normal sleeping fasting routine.
About a month of so into IF, I began to extend the fast to 18-hours after I read research that the benefits of IF really “begin” after about 16 hours. On kid-free weekends, I also extend the fasting periods for as long as I feel comfortable without allowing it to feel like a punishment.
Strategies That Support IF
- See IF as a break from eating instead of as starvation. Starvation is when you’re not eating and you have NO idea when you’re next meal may be.
- Drink lots of water. Sometimes I add a pinch of salt to give it some flavor.
- Herbal (non-caloric) Tea helps. Matcha has also been ranked as a good hunger suppressant.
- Know the difference between physical and psychological (or emotional) hunger.
- Avoid punishing yourself with extending the fast for too long OR overeating when you break your fast. Think the long haul here, if you punish yourself with it, how long are you really likely to stick with it?
- Be flexible with your feeding and fasting schedules. This can go a long way to support your success. Rigidity here may lead to failure of your program.
- Avoid boredom, or you’ll quickly find out how much you eat to fill the time.
- Meditate or keep busy during fasting times. I find that too much down time can make for a difficult fast (late-night TV is the WORST with all of those food ads; those marketing companies know what they’re doing….)
Yes, My Morning Routine Still Includes Coffee & Some Unsweetened Almond Milk
When I first started IF, I was drinking black coffee only, then I read this article that talks about how caffeine can actually support your fast. The author also states small amounts of unsweetened nut milks do not break the fast. While reviews of this practice have been mixed, for me, I’m still maintaining the positive benefits of IF WHILE also enjoying my AM coffee more.
Some of the science
Does Coffee Break an Intermittent Fast? by Mark Sisson
YouTube: Dr. Satchin Panda
YouTube: Optimizing Your Workouts While Fasting with Thomas DeLauer
Study finds fasting 72 hours regenerates the entire immune system
Tracking App: Zero – keeps track of your fasting times and you can set to count up or down to feeding times, customize the time that’s right for you.
Instagram: @Fastingnews “for all things fasting”
Facebook: Also has moderated support groups including: Intermittent Fasting and Delay, Don’t Deny.
Intermittent fasting has been an interesting journey for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and find that I am snacking less, have more energy and am less weighed down: literally and figuratively.
The first week may require some adjustments and yet I feel if you find these side effects intriguing that it would be good to do some research. It would also be a good idea to check in with your physician first, too, especially if you are taking prescription meds that require food.
May we each find the dietary regimen that works best for us.