For many of us, Intermittent fasting (IF) has become part of our modern living – it’s a pattern of eating where you eat for a specific chunk of time and fast for the remaining 24-hour cycle. It’s not a diet and it’s not one of those quick-fix weight loss gimmicks.
More so, it’s a shift in attitude and that’s what I like best about the system. Let’s me first say that there are many ways to do IF, for me though, I prefer things easy, so I like the six hour eating window, with an 18-hour fasting. 18 hours might sound like a lot of time to go without eating, but it’s way easier than we’ve all been conditioned to think.
Fasting has put me in control of my body’s relationship with food, I determine how and when I eat rather than my grumbling stomach or some meal schedule that I inherited from my parents.
Growing up, I remember choking down breakfast bright and early in the morning. I couldn’t deal with the sight of food that early in the morning, but my mom was told it was the most important meal of the day, so I’d suffer through the white bread and sugary cereal. In my family‘s way of thinking, it would’ve been unconscionable to allow me to go to school without breakfast. I didn’t know anything about intermittent fasting until about a year ago, when I started to read headlines about studies that showed multiple benefits of this eating pattern.
Some of these perks include reduced belly fat (the bad kind of fat that is associated with heart attacks and strokes), lower blood insulin levels so a reduced change of adult onset diabetes, improved concentration and energy.
My schedule consists of starting to eat around 11 a.m. I give myself six hours to pretty much eat whatever I want, although more often than not, I get in about two, sometimes three meals. I have little to no restrictions. If I want dessert, I eat dessert. I’ve gradually lessened my sugar consumption though, so just a little sweet now goes a long way. Then around 5 p.m. I’ll stop eating. No late night snacking has made such a difference on my weight. A good chunk of the time that I’m not eating, I’m sleeping, so there’s no temptation to battle then.
Having an empty stomach at bedtime according to several studies is beneficial for cleansing your brain and giving your body time, since it’s not having to expend energy on processing food, to focus on other types of maintenance, like removing old, less than optimally functioning cells.
In the morning, I don’t generally wake up starving (unless I ended up eating dinner very early). I try to run then, as running on an empty stomach has been shown to burn more calories than running after having eaten. I’m lazy, so any extra help I can get by hacking our body’s system, I’m down to try.
But, I don’t want to get wrapped up in too much of the science. There’s something else about this system that has really clicked for me. It has switched my relationship with food to put me in charge. I’m no longer controlled by my stomach’s whims and when it decides I’m hungry, I know I can be in control and give my body nourishment when I am ready to. For anyone who has struggled with self control, dieting, food denial and having self esteem tied to what you did and didn’t eat, this can be a huge revelation. It’s truly an empowering feeling.
Some IF routines suggest occasionally going for extended periods of time without eating. Describing this sounds a little scary, I have to admit, but IF doesn’t promoting starving yourself or becoming hyper aware of your eating schedule. And if you have tendencies or past history of anorexia or other eating disorders, you should consult your doctor and therapist before trying anything like this.
With that said, I have doing extended fasts, between 24 and 36 hours, a few times in the last year have been a real growing experience in their own way. I worked through pain, discomfort, agitation, self doubt and pushed through it. Giving yourself controlled discomfort I believe is an awesome way to grow self confidence within your brain. This type of extended fast also has shown some interesting physiological benefits like reducing bad cholesterol levels, lowering inflammation, improving brain health and decelerating the aging process.
Here’s some tips I’ve picked up that have helped me keep IF’ing:
- Start small, don’t try to attempt the longest duration fast each day, every day. Instead, maybe try two days a week to start with a shorter fast time and build up to longer.
- Drink plenty of water! Water will be your best friend, so invest in a giant water jug and make sure you get at least 64 ounces a day. Drinking this much water definitely helps make you feel full throughout the day. And I can almost bet that you are not drinking as much water as you think you are right now.
- Let IF fit into YOUR schedule. Experts will probably turn their nose up at this idea, but it has kept me from feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. I never let IF get in the way of me enjoying time with people I love. Whether it’s running out to a fancy restaurant close to midnight to share a romantic dessert together or an early morning breakfast gossip session that’s the only time I have to catch up with someone, I do it! I don’t turn down invites because they aren’t in my IF eating window or skip partaking at these meetings. Life’s too short for that and if that makes me a faux IF’er I’m okay with that label.
- Listen to your body. This works for me because it makes my body feel good. For several years I struggled with severe bloating and low-blood sugar headaches. Now, on this schedule, I have way less of both. My body seems to like what I’m doing. So listen to your body’s cues when finding the system that works for you.
- BTW, coffee (no cream, no sugar or sweeteners) — totally fine during the fasting period!