It was Spring of 2015 that I first came across “Intermittent Fasting”. I was looking to drop some post-surgery weight that I’d been struggling to lose (more like struggling to do something about) and thanks to a comical video by The Hodge Twins (they were funnier back then) I was introduced and intrigued by this fasting diet they kept touting. They each had impressive physiques, so I figured why not give this thing a try.
What Is Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is really just a fancy way of saying “I don’t eat breakfast.” I bet 9/10 IF fans would agree that’s basically all it is. There are some individuals who take it to the extreme and skip lunch as well, or even skip an entire day of eating, but since I don’t consider anything that isn’t sustainable to be a legitimate “diet”, I’m going to throw each of those IF versions into my imaginary fitness trash can, along with ketogenic dieting, detoxes, cleanses and Crossfit.
When you fast intermittently, you’re intentionally postponing your daily meals for a given period of time to train your body to run off of its stored energy sources more efficiently. What you’re also doing is decreasing your opportunity to consume too many calories during the day. More meals = more opportunities to cheat your calorie budget. Fewer meals = greater chance of keeping calorie intake under budget. Makes sense right?
By reducing the amount of time that you allow yourself to eat, you not only become stronger psychologically by taking control over your hunger, but you cut down on your bodies ability to consume more calories than it needs which helps you stay in a caloric deficit, which as you should know by now is what is required to lose weight. For those who love eating big meals, not stopping until they’re stuffed (me!), this is a big seller.
You’re allowed to drink water of course (zero calories), coffee (black), tea (unsweetened) and any other no-calorie beverages to keep your hydration up and your appetite suppressed, so you’re not completely without sustenance, but talk about a big mind over matter challenge.
In my first few days of intermittent fasting I struggled, but I knew I would and I didn’t set expectations super high. I wanted to get to where I could wait until 2 in the afternoon to eat lunch, then eat a big dinner somewhere around 7pm, and cut myself off from any more eating after 8 at night. I knew it would take some time for my body to adjust to this, and I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted to try it so I made a commitment to stick it out for a month and see how I liked it.
My first day I aimed to make it to noon. I made it to 11am. Not bad, but I felt a little helpless with my hunger. It was definitely in more control than I thought it was. It wasn’t like I was exercising or doing anything active in the morning, so I shouldn’t have needed food the way I felt like I needed it, but for my first attempt I said, hey, you gave it a shot, let’s keep it up and see how it goes.
Days 2, 3 and 4 were pretty similar to Day 1. I tried drinking extra coffee and water to keep my stomach full and my appetite subsided, but I’d cave somewhere between 10:30am and 11:30am. Finally almost a week in I was able to start making it until noon. Then a few days later, 1pm. About 2 weeks in I was able to make it until 2pm before eating, but I only did that for a day or two.
The reason I didn’t stick to the 2pm schedule was I started to see the fat loss by that point, and I noticed that it was already significantly easier to stay under my calorie limit. What point was there to continue with the smaller feeding window if I was already seeing the results I wanted? I realized that all I really needed to do was skip breakfast, just enjoy my coffee, keep drinking water, and I could pretty easily wait until noon to eat my first meal, which allowed me to eat a hefty amount of protein and carbohydrates to fill me up, which of course made it easy to wait until dinner to eat my final meal of the day.
I’m a sucker for sweets and on a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner eating schedule I always had to work extra hard to fight temptation and stay away from desserts, but with IF I would eat such a large lunch that I didn’t really have room for dessert (or I’d eat a smaller lunch and have some dessert) and then for dinner I’d eat a pretty hearty but healthy meal and enjoy a nice portion of ice cream and still fall under my calorie goal. Now…my next section will discuss my thoughts on this, but on a calories in vs calories out diet plan, you can’t really beat being able to enjoy a dessert every day and still lose weight.
My Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting
It’s precisely because of IF’s allowance to cheat that I don’t necessarily recommend doing it. Not as a lifestyle choice anyway. After having successfully tried it, I have since added my flavored creamer with my coffee and a small bowl of cereal full of toasted grains, nuts and a little sugar to my morning routine. It serves as a low calorie energy boost and holds me over until lunch just fine. This allows me to have a large lunch and a large dinner, but I don’t have as much flexibility with the cheats because of the 300-400 calories I have during breakfast, which influences me to choose lower calorie (healthier) foods to supplement my protein selection at lunch and dinner.
Ideally, every meal should be composed of healthy carbohydrates, meat (or other protein source) and vegetables. If this were the case, it would be very difficult to only eat 1 or 2 meals per day and consume all the calories necessary to sustain our activity levels, especially for athletic individuals. We’d most likely eat at least 4 if not 5 meals per day, unless you were a sedentary person and could get by on less.
The world we live in, however, is full of calorie-dense food choices that we’ve become accustomed to, so it’s almost impossible for most people to legitimately eat healthy for every meal of every day. We not only crave foods that are mostly sugar, or mostly fat (guilty on both counts), but we’ve come to believe that many of those foods are normal components of a daily diet. This forces most people, especially those trying to lose weight, to either reduce the amount of meals they eat, reduce the portion sizes, or completely change the types of foods they’re eating; all of which are not easy changes to sustain.
Intermittent fasting is a fantastic way to take control over your hunger, reduce the amount of calories your consume, and still enjoy a flexible diet, so it serves as an excellent transition tool into what should ultimately become a consistently healthy meal structure. For me, it helped me get the ball rolling on losing that surgery weight, which built momentum on my path to dropping 30lbs. That momentum snow-balled to where eventually I craved desserts less and less because I knew that I didn’t need them and if I was going to continue getting the same results I was going to have to eat less and less crap and more and more healthy choices (mainly vegetables in my case).
So by all means, give intermittent fasting a try if you’re looking for an effective weight-loss tool, but keep in mind that the ability to eat more junk food and still lose weight doesn’t mean that you should. Losing weight initially will help you feel better, move better, and improve your health to an extent, but you’ll feel and see that same level of difference when you start substituting those unnecessary foods with fresh fruits and vegetables.