Intermittent Fasting 101

[I’m not a doctor, and this diet involves restricted eating. This post should be taken as anecdotal advice, not gospel. Also, if you’ve struggled with disordered eating, you might want to skip this post/trend. For a counter-perspective on intermittent fasting, check out this article by licensed counselor Kate Sutton.]

The Basics

Intermittent Fasting, by its broadest definition, is just any practice of fasting intermittently, including for religious purposes. Even as a tool for weight loss, methods vary wildly. These include fasting for a full 24 hours or eating a severely restricted amount of calories once or twice a week. The method we’ll be focusing on is time-restricted eating: eating within a certain “feeding window” and fasting for the rest of the day.

In its purist form, the Leangains method, this involves eating in an eight-hour window and fasting for the remaining sixteen hours of the day (a good portion of which is spent sleeping). But the ratio of eating/not eating isn’t set in stone. A fasting period can be as short as twelve hours, or, more likely, fall somewhere between the twelve-and-sixteen.

For women, I’ve read articles recommending a 14 hour fasting window and, perhaps most importantly, not using this method every day. Our bodies stress response to fasting is more intense than men’s, and hormones can affect our appetites. Eating normally throughout the day a couple days a week makes our bodies less likely to freak out – and has the added benefit of building in some flexibility.

What It (Might) Look Like in Practice

Basically, all of this just means skipping breakfast. You can still drink coffee, since coffee and tea are low enough in calories that it doesn’t affect the results. But here’s a brief snapshot of what lax intermittent fasting might look like.

Sunday: Sleep in until 10, because it’s Sunday. Have lunch at noon and dinner at 7, maybe with a snack in between. Debate eating thin mints while watching Dance Moms. Too lazy to go to the kitchen.

Monday: Wake up at 7ish. Coffee. Coffee in an IV. Keep busy until 11-ish and then have lunch. Dinner later. Debate eating Thin Mints while watching Dance Moms. Eat thin mints at around 10:30.

Tuesday: Wake up and bring a large coffee to class/work. Class back-to-back until 1. Tacos. More class. Dinner. Out of thin mints.

Wednesday: Wake up. Debate skipping breakfast again because I’m about to write a post on intermittent fasting. Go to a cute cafe and eat avocado toast for breakfast while writing about intermittent fasting. Lunch. Drinks. Dinner. There’s other work going on in there, I swear.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  1. Studies have indicated that intermittent fasting can result in not just weight loss but in lowered cholesterol, better insulin processing, and other health benefits.
  2. In my experience, intermittent fasting has a good deal of flexibility (for when and what you eat) without a detrimental affect on results.
  3. It’s great for people who, like me, feel more satisfied and less hungry when they eat fewer, large meals than eating many tiny meals throughout the day.
  4. Eating one less meal a day literally saves money, especially when you don’t cook at home as much as you mean to.

Cons:

  1. Most of those studies were not very scientifically rigorous (small sample sizes, etc.) and/or done on rats, which differ from humans in a number of ways. Not enough research has been done to know the full effects of intermittent fasting.
  2. Intermittent fasting can resemble disordered eating, including ignoring your body’s natural hunger signals. This is something to be continually cognizant of if you give it a try.
  3. It’s a diet choice, not a health choice: exercise, vegetables, etc. are not necessarily a part of intermittent fasting.

Tips and Tricks

I’ve been using intermittent fasting (intermittently) for about a year now and it (plus more exercise) helped me lose a lot of the stress/ice cream shop weight from the last four years. If you want to give it a try, I’d recommend the following:

  • Have a drink or several in the morning. Water, because hydration is important, coffee or tea for an energy boost. I try to have a coffee in hand when I start to get hungry in the mornings (8-9 a.m.) and the hunger always goes away pretty quickly after that.
  • Keep busy. I try to make my fasting days the same days when I have something to do in the mornings – when you’re caught up in a project or stuck in class, your mind stops reminding you about bagels.
  • Eat relatively healthy. I think the real effectiveness of intermittent fasting was that it just meant I ate fewer calories a day. Breakfast makes me hungrier and portion control was never a strong suit. Intermittent fasting isn’t going to magically undo eating an entire large pizza, so try for a vegetable and some protein once in a while.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. The reason intermittent fasting can be sustainable is because it’s flexible. Have brunch once in a while. Go for a fried egg in the morning. If restricting your eating is making you feel stressed or guilty, then stop doing it.

Bodies are weird and unique and we’re not lab rats. What works for other people just might not suit you. I’ve tried a lot of weird and questionable diet trends that didn’t work or make me happy. Intermittent fasting is the sustainable diet choice that finally “clicked” for me – I hope you find the thing that clicks for you.

Have you tried intermittent fasting? Did it work for you? Do you have any tips? Do you hate the whole concept? Has something else “clicked” for you? Let me know in the comments!

xoxo,

Kim

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image courtesy of monika

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