Intermittent fasting: fad or fab?
At the beginning of May, I decided to try a whole month of intermittent fasting in an effort to jumpstart a healthy, more balanced diet. I had seen a lot of buzz around intermittent fasting on Pinterest and the ‘gram, and wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew holding out on an empty stomach until noon everyday would be hard. Nonetheless, I committed to 30 days.
Before I tell you how my 30 days played out, I think it’s important to share some key things I learned about intermittent fasting and how it effects the body.
What I learned
I knew literally nothing about fasting, and had to do a lot of research to get up to speed before I started. Here’s the SparkNotes version of what I learned (but I highly recommend you do your own research, too).
First thing’s first. The idea behind intermittent fasting is that you’re setting yourself up for a caloric deficit— which is essentially how you lose weight. The fasting itself won’t do the trick unless you’re eating clean and working out, but by shortening your eating window it’s giving you a head start. Theoretically, by eating less throughout the day your stomach will shrink, so you’ll feel less hungry (and less inclined to reach for a bag of chips between meals).
Most people will stick to the 16/8 rule, which means you fast for 16 hours and only eat within an 8 hour window. The time frame in which you fast is flexible, as long as you’re adhering to 16 hours of fasting. There are a couple different schools of thought on that: one of them being that fasting for 16 hours every day could significantly mess up a woman’s hormone levels. In my research I found that a lot of sources recommend women either do the 14/10, or only do the 16/8 a couple days a week. For the sake of the experiment and commitment to myself, I stuck to the 16/8 method everyday for 30 days.
During your fasting window, you’re allowed to drink beverages with next to no calories and zero sugar. For example, herbal tea or black coffee. And water, lots of water. Again, I read contradicting articles on this. Some people say you can consume anything under 50 calories so long as it doesn’t cause an insulin spike, and others disagree. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong. I only drank water and black coffee during my fasting window, but I think everyone should do what’s right for their body.
Another thing I learned is that how you break your fast is almost more important than the actual fasting. You should break your fast with something clean and easy to digest. Avoiding carb-loaded meals and sugary drinks is key when you’re coming down from your fasting window, because they are known to cause your insulin levels to spike, which makes you feel even more hangry. And nobody has time for that, seriously. Some foods to consider when breaking your fast include: fresh fruit and vegetable juices, raw fruits, bone broths, leafy green lettuces like spinach or kale, cooked vegetables, and healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, eggs, grass-fed butter and ghee. I’m obviously not a carnivore, but I read that meat-based proteins are harder to digest for your first meal. Apparently, so are raw veggies, so I tried to avoid those until later in the day.
30 days of IMF
I’m not going to lie, the first two weeks sucked. Because I’m usually up earlier and workout first thing, I got really hungry around 10am. Watching the clock between 10am and noon was excruciating. I drank black coffee in the mornings, which surprisingly did get a bit easier each week. I broke my fast everyday with a smoothie and blender bomb, which acted as a meal replacement, or two scrambled egg whites and fresh fruit. I tried to eat really clean during the full 30 days, but I’m human, and I slipped up (had Taco Bell) more than once.
I also found that while I had no problem not eating after 8pm, it was a lot harder to stop drinking before 8pm. I don’t drink much by myself at home, but if I planned a Zoom happy hour with my girlfriends at 7:30, that meant I only had thirty minutes to enjoy a cocktail with them before I had to switch to water. I can only imagine how hard this would be outside of quarantine when I’m out with my coworkers or on a date— 8pm feels early to stop consuming beverages when you’re in a social setting.
Which brings me to my final two weeks. I spent my last two weeks of intermittent fasting in Palm Springs. While the last two weeks felt easier in terms of my hunger, I quickly realized that managing my fasting window while on a trip with friends was damn near impossible. There were some nights we didn’t eat dinner until 8pm, and kept drinking wine long beyond that. Theoretically that would be fine, it would just push my fasting window further into the next day. But that also meant we had to wait to make breakfast, or brunch, until my fasting window was over. All that to say, there were definitely a couple days when I unintentionally only fasted for 14 hours instead of 16. I found that while the weekends were easier in the mornings, because I could sleep in longer, it was harder to stick to the 8pm cut-off times at night. I tried.
Now, here’s what everyone wants to know and no one will talk about: weight.
My weight fluctuates a lot. I have been carrying an extra 10-15 pounds since mid-last year, and I haven’t had the motivation to do the work necessary to lose it. I thought intermittent fasting would be the secret sauce. I admittedly expected to lose 5-10 pounds in the 30 days. Don’t ask where I got that number, but that’s what I anticipated each time I stepped on the scale— and I was disappointed every single time. I began fasting the week after my birthday and an over-indulgent Cinco de Mayo, so I started the 30 days off a few pounds heavier than I’d normally be. While I did lose those extra few pounds, I didn’t lose anything beyond that. So, basically, I ended back where I should have started— at my normal weight. Disappointing, right?
In my opinion intermittent fasting is not realistic to do on a daily basis unless you’re at home, fending for yourself, with no social life. I wish I had started at the beginning of quarantine when I wasn’t going anywhere or seeing anyone. While I did feel less bloated, I didn’t necessarily get the results I was hoping for, so I’ll be the first to tell you it’s not the end-all-be-all for weight loss. That said, I plan to continue with the 16/8 method a few days a week moving forward. I think fasting Monday-Thursday is a lot more feasible than doing so on the weekends (for my lifestyle), so I’m going to give that a shot. At the end of the day, I don’t think intermittent fasting is a fad or fab. It does the trick for some people, but you won’t catch me raving about it beyond this blog.
Questions? Thoughts? Drop me a line, let’s chat.