Intermittent Fasting: The Inside Scoop
What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
IF is an eating routine that focuses not on what you eat, but rather when you eat. You choose a period of time when you can consume, and a period of time when you fast. There are many different timing strategies for IF. Some people choose to do a daily fast, in which they have an 8-hour window to eat and 16 hours of fasting. For example, if you eat your first meal at 12pm, you stop eating after 8pm. Some people take a 20 hour fast, with a 4 hour eating period. Some people even choose to do periods up to 72 hours of fasting!
How Does It Work?
After extensive research throughout the years, there are many reasons to believe that IF can offer several health benefits. Basically, it is believed that after fasting for several hours, the body runs out of available sugar stores and relies on burning fat as a source of energy. Other research has found that IF may improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, lower your risk of obesity and diabetes, and help to regulate blood glucose levels.
However, there is always reason to raise an eyebrow and it is important to really consider how beneficial and sustainable a regiment like IF might be. Yes, there are many potential benefits to implementing IF into your lifestyle. But the key word here is potential. It is important to remember that every body is different and requires different things, and although IF may be beneficial for some people does not mean it's a perfect fit for everyone.
I personally experimented with IF for about 3 months. This was just long enough to notice some considerable changes, but not long enough to understand the lasting effects of IF. The purpose of doing this was out of curiosity and gaining control of my appetite, not necessarily to achieve weight loss or any other major health benefits. I decided to a 16 hour fast, followed by an 8 hour eating period. I would wake up, have some water and a coffee, workout then break my fast at noon. For the first week or so, I found myself getting hungry near the end of my fast and almost a little light headed until I ate. Working out during the fast probably wasn’t the best idea, and is something to consider if you are trying to start fasting. After about a week or two my body had adjusted. Once I was used to it, I actually enjoyed this 16:8 hour fasting method.
Here’s my personal take on the benefits and downsides to IF during my experience with it.
I was more mindful of the food I was consuming. I was not attempting to significantly reduce my caloric intake, and wanted to ensure I was consuming enough macronutrients and vitamins and minerals. Essentially, I wanted to still have energy and did not want to deprive my body. Ultimately, during this eating window I made sure to eat more nutrient dense foods. I found myself focusing largely on high protein foods and snacking on fruits and vegetables to make sure I was getting all the essentials in that 8 hour window. I felt more in control of my nutrition. Although I did not track my calorie intake or macros, I did not feel hungry and felt that I was consuming enough carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to maintain my lifestyle. With this in mind, many people may find themselves struggling to get enough nutrients and the necessary caloric intake to meet their body’s energy demands. The last thing you want to do is deprive your body of essentials.
My appetite felt more regulated and I felt more in control of what and when I ate. I am someone who loves a good bedtime snack. Whether it's leftovers from the dinner I ate just a few hours prior, a nice bowl of cereal or a bowl (or entire tub) of ice cream, I always feel the urge to reach for a nice evening snack. During my IF, I wasn’t able to do this. Instead, I would make myself a nice cup of tea while watching Netflix or reading a good book. I found that I actually wasn’t hungry in the evening after eating nutrient packed foods all day and these night time snacks were just extra calories (and sugar) that I didn’t need to consume. I went to bed feeling satisfied and woke up feeling energized and not sluggish. I was in control and able to listen to my body and it’s needs.
When I experimented with IF, it was during the initial Covid-19 lockdown. I had lots of free time on my hands, was sleeping in later than usual and put more thought and planning into my meals. This meant that I could eat at 12pm everyday no questions asked, and planned my meals/snacks out so I could eat dinner at about 7:30pm every night. This was great and helped me learn a lot about myself and my relationship with food. Unfortunately this isn't sustainable. Life gets busy and unpredictable. I work in the fitness industry as well as at a restaurant. This involves early mornings and late night shifts. When waking up at 5am, it isn’t ideal to eat my first meal at noon. And after working a dinner shift on my feet for 6 hours straight, my body is craving some fuel. This made it extremely difficult to follow a 16:8 fasting protocol, regardless of when my first/last meal was. Some lifestyles may be better suited for this type of fasting, such as people who have more structure in their daily schedule.
It is important to note that these are my personal findings with fasting and may not be the same as anyone else's experience.
No matter what your goals and struggles are, the best way to see if a routine is suitable for your lifestyle is to try it out! Here are my recommendations if you are interested in trying intermittent fasting:
Do your research. And no, I don’t mean your favourite instagram influencer or basic google search. There is tons of nutrition research out there on fasting, and choosing to read peer reviewed articles from credible sources is probably your best bet when looking for truthful information. Find studies that are applicable to your own life. If you read a research article that finds IF effective to elderly men with diabetes but you’re a 24 year old, healthy female - that may not be exactly applicable.
Plan and record. If and when you start fasting, you want to make sure you are eating enough food and the good kind. Planning out your meals and nutrient dense snacks are going to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals and meeting your energy demands. In addition to planning, keep a journal about what and when you eat and how this way of eating is making you feel. If after a couple of weeks you are not feeling energized or find yourself mentally drained, chances are this lifestyle is not working for you.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! During your fasting periods you are able to drink black coffee/tea and water. Ensuring you are getting plenty of H2O will actually help keep you energized. Use this opportunity to increase your daily water intake.
Choose a sustainable and reasonable eating window. If you know you are up at early hours, choosing to start your eating window at 2pm is probably not going to last long. If you are a busy bee on the weekend, maybe your fasting days should be limited to weekdays. There are a lot of options for eating windows and tons of flexibility here, so choose a method that will make sense for your lifestyle and will be sustainable.
Eat! Regardless of “fasting rules”, listen to your body. If you are hungry, eat. Do not starve yourself! Your body requires energy and nutrients. If you do find yourself hungry outside of your eating window some days, reach for some vegetables to munch on, paired with a big glass of water.
Consult a health professional. Before making any major changes to your diet and lifestyle, you should talk to your doctor, nutritionist, dietician or any other qualified professional. They will know the most about your current health and your history, as well as things to be cautious of when starting a new diet.
There is a lot to consider here, and at the end of the day nutrition is challenging and is not meant to be easy. Our body’s are complex and require many different things, therefore we need to spend time ensuring we are doing the best we can to nourish ourselves properly. No matter how you choose to do this, the most important thing to focus on is what makes you feel good - both mentally and physically. If it doesn’t make you feel good, it’s not right for you. Eat well, and remember - always reach for the clouds!