In May 2011 I had given up calorie-counting because, quite frankly, it was driving me bonkers. By September 2011, I had gained weight and it was driving me bonkers. I reached out to readers as I shared my struggle with the dilemma: to count or not to count. Interestingly, I got a few comments from different readers recommending that I look into Intermittent Fasting. Naturally, I thought that they were insane.
Let me just stop here and caution you that Intermittent Fasting can be a very dangerous and slippery slope for people who have a history of eating disorders. If this includes you, consider yourself warned and also consider clicking away from this post now. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that women do much worse with IF than men do. And that it can affect their menstrual cycle. For more information on that you can click on this link. Anyone else who is curious about my n=1 study, read on.
I decided to poke around the resources offered to me. I won’t provide any links because I don’t necessarily endorse them and besides, you can easily google “IF” or “Intermittent Fasting” and see a bunch of resources for yourself. That night, I read and read and read. Then I took the plunge the very next day.
For the record, IF is a very flexible term and simply indicates a period without food. It can be a daily occurrence, or only once, twice or three times a week. It can also be once a month. The food-free period can be 8 hours (like when you’re asleep) or up to 18 or even 24 hours, or anything in-between. It is whatever you make it.
What did a typical IF day look like for me?
My version of IF was really a very loose one. Mornings, I typically just had coffee with some milk foam. I would train (hard) soon thereafter, while consuming one or two Blender bottles with BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids), which are 4 of the building blocks of protein. The theory goes that at least you are getting a few little bits of protein before, during and/or after you train (especially resistance training). I never once felt tired or dizzy during a workout. Never. If I was truly hungry before my workout, I might have a few sips of a protein shake and some nuts. Ironically, it was the non-training days where I felt the most hungry.
I find that I am rarely hungry right after I train, but nonetheless I subscribed to the ‘must-replenish-glycogen-stores’ theory and forced myself to have a protein shake, and sometimes a little fruit. This just served to make me even less hungry – often for many hours.
If in the afternoon I got hungry, I’d nibble on veggies, fruit, jerky, low-fat cheese, protein muffin, popcorn, a fro yo or greek yogurt. If I met someone for lunch, I’d typically have something that wouldn’t ‘wake the beast’ like a soup and salad and some protein.
Dinner was often sizable but not extravagant and quite early, as I’d be good and ready for a real meal by about 5pm or so. When I first began the experiment, I allowed myself what I was truly craving for my ‘main meal.’ But as time went on, I tended to lean the meal out, which just served to make me hungrier before bed. So, I typically had a snack in the evening as well. And then often a nibble right before bed.
What I learned:
- I wasn’t as hungry as I always thought I was. Especially in the morning. It’s likely that what I used to believe was hunger, was actually thirst or boredom.
- A few hours without food did not make all my muscles melt away.
- A little bit of hunger was not a reason to panic as I did before this experiment. I still stand by the theory that “real hunger can wait” but emotional hunger needs to be fed right!this!minute!
- This way of eating worked for me far better when I actually allowed myself to have less ‘diet-y’ foods. Leaner, lower fat meals often just served to quiet the hunger for a while, but not really satisfy me or fill me up.
- This way of eating worked wonders for when I traveled. I was no longer coming back from trips 5-8 pounds heavier. Also, there was no need to panic if we were stuck in transit and it happened to strike noon. Or if we were in the company of people who did not eat lunch at the stroke of noon.
- After the first week or two, it really became an effortless way to eat. It was liberating not constantly focus on food and meals. It was exhilarating to be free of tracking calories (although I still did a little bit of Rainmanning in my head).
- I did lose fat and gained lean body mass. I didn’t lose huge numbers on the scale, but at least I got back to feeling comfortable in my skin.
- I had plenty of energy to fuel my workouts (some of which became very intense as in Live Fit Trainer) and the busiest of days.
- My food anxiety went down, way down. Especially prior to trips.
- It really worked. Until it didn’t. I believe that I shot myself in the foot because I felt the need to make my meals leaner and leaner. If I would have stuck to how I ate in the beginning, I could do far better with this sort of eating pattern.
- The last big trip was not as successful and I don’t necessarily blame IF. There were just too many dinners out with too many indulgences. Truthfully, I’m sure that I would have gained even more weight this past trip, had I not been still doing IF.
Am I glad I did it?
You bet I am.
Do I recommend it for everyone?
Will I do it again?
You bet! Maybe not daily, but occasionally.
Would I do it forever?
Would I ever do a 24 hour fast?
I doubt it.
Am I glad to know that I can skip a meal here and there without getting shaky, anxiety-stricken, grouchy or dizzy?
To I plan to continue IF?
I will still listen to my body’s hunger signals. Due to the fact that I am rarely if ever hungry in the morning, I will likely pass up a classic breakfast in favor of coffee BCAAs and then a smoothie. If I meet friends for breakfast, as I did last weekend, I’ll eat in a more satiating way. If I’m hungry at traditional ‘lunch’ time, I’ll eat lunch. Same goes for ‘dinner’ time. If I’m not hungry, or mildly so, I’ll have something proportionately smaller.
Of course, you know I’m already 3 weeks into to my next experiment, and so far I’m loving it. The big test will be our upcoming trip starting on Wednesday. If it passes muster, I’ll spill the beans when I’m back in August.
Q. Have you done IF or do you know anyone who has?