Three things I have learned while practicing intermittent fasting.
This past year, I explored my fair share of diet trends, including intuitive eating, counting my calories, If it Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), the Keto diet and, most recently, Intermittent Fasting (IF).
I first discovered IF because I read that weight loss was the most common reason why people try intermittent fasting. At the time, I was getting ready for my upcoming wedding, so I was willing to try anything and everything to shed some unwanted pounds and look great in my dress. Like any lifestyle change, some days were more difficult than others, especially on days that I taught Les Mills BODYPUMP in the evenings. (I’m a group exercise instructor for 24 Hour Fitness.) I also work out in the mornings, so going to the gym twice a day can make it tough to commit to an IF lifestyle.
But, overall, my experience with IF has been positive. Although there were a few things I wish I knew before trying IF, this was one of the easiest diet trends I’ve followed to date. And while I already eat relatively healthy, doing IF didn’t force me to count my calories or restrict myself from eating certain foods. All I did was change the time I ate! I figured if it worked for Beyoncé and Hugh Jackman, it could work for me too, right?
Below, I’ll share with you a few things I’ve experienced and learned during intermittent fasting. But first, a little background on IF.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t really a “diet.” It’s more like an “eating pattern” that alternates between periods of fasting and eating. There are a few methods of IF, the most common being a daily 16-hour fast, and fasting for 24 hours, twice a week.
Before food was available to us 24/7 (fast-food chains, supermarkets, refrigerators, etc.), our ancestors had to hunt and gather food in order to survive. Sometimes food was scarce, and people had to be able to function without eating for extended periods of time, which makes fasting once in a while more “natural” than eating constantly throughout the day.
Now that you’ve got the basic idea behind this eating pattern, I’m going to share with you a few things I learned—and achieved—practicing IF. This style of eating is not for everyone, but if you’re thinking about giving it a shot, hopefully my own experience will be of help to you.
I learned to adjust my eating window to fit my fitness lifestyle
I gradually worked my way to the 16:8 method of IF, which is fasting for 16 hours with an eating window of eight hours. I started by skipping breakfast and would begin my eating window during lunch. However, this schedule made it very difficult for me to work out in the morning and teach in the evening, since I would be starving after my morning workout, but bloated and full during my evening class.
Because of this, I ended up adjusting my eating window to about 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Instead of skipping breakfast, I would drop dinner, which actually made working out in the morning and teaching in the evening easier, because I would fuel up after my morning workout, and give myself plenty of time to digest before teaching. (I also drank half a pre-workout shake to give myself a small energy boost before my class.) As soon as I got home after work or BODYPUMP, I’d get ready and hop straight into bed! There were times when I’d take a melatonin to help fall asleep, but for the most part I was more tired than hungry.
Adjusting to this new eating pattern definitely took time and patience. I noticed I was very cranky and irritable in the morning (#hangry), since I skipped out on dinner the night before. (Although, who doesn’t experience a little crankiness most mornings?) Give your body time at adjust. It took me about two weeks to learn to function correctly!
Looking back, I don’t think I had enough energy for my morning workouts when I started IF. Not being able to eat after my morning workouts didn’t help either. This forced me to adjust my eating window to compromise with my workout schedule. If you’re going to do IF, my advice based on my own experience is adjust to what works best for you. Everyone’s schedule is different, so listen to your body and what it needs to function.
Also, it might take a while for friends, family and even coworkers to understand what you’re going through. So maybe give them a fair warning that you might be hangry for a good part of the day.
I was more aware of when and what I was eating
Timing is the main focus of IF. When and what you’re eating during your window is important. While fasting, I realized how much I had been depending on food to comfort me when I was stressed, or to pass the time when I was bored. Before IF, I used MyFitnessPal to track my food, and I continued to use it while doing IF. During IF, I found myself eating fewer calories since my eating window was shorter, which definitely helped me with my overall weight-loss goals.
I also used the app Zero to remind myself when to start and stop eating. It made me feel accomplished when I hit my goal, which made each day a bit easier! I was also able to visually track my progress, which gave me the motivation to keep with this for the long run.
Ultimately, IF helped me to eat more mindfully and purposefully. If you use food as a crutch when you’re bored, sad or stressed, IF could be a helpful method for changing your relationship with eating, like it was for me.
IF affected my social life—but didn’t ruin it
To some degree, IF did affect my social life—specifically evening activities. I was so busy with work, planning a wedding and teaching BODYPUMP, that I hardly ever went out to begin with. But while doing IF, I had to be selective about when I wanted to go out. Since I wasn’t eating in the evenings, I had to mentally prepare myself to be around friends as they ate and enjoyed.
Most of the time, my willpower was strong enough to resist eating while out with friends. But when the holidays came around, I decided to not fast and enjoy my time with friends and family. And with a solid foundation already laid in IF, It was easy for me to pick up where I left off after the holidays.
In short, IF didn’t do away with my social life, it just made me more selective about when to go out, and when to relax my eating schedule and allow myself to enjoy special moments—like the holidays—with family and food.
My intermittent fasting results
In the end, I gradually reached my goal for my wedding. I tried my best not to look at the scale, but tried to gauge my results by how I felt and looked (rather than a number).
My actual weight stayed relatively the same overall, but my clothes fit a lot better and people seemed to notice my “weight loss.” In reality, I lost body fat and maintained muscle mass, which was ideal for me. I also noticed an increase in energy throughout the day, which has been associated with IF.
Are you considering trying IF? Personally, it worked for me, and I plan on continuing my practice in the future. If you’re already living a healthy lifestyle, transitioning to IF will definitely be a much smoother process. For those who are new to the game, it may be more difficult to adjust to and may take some time (but it’s totally doable).
My biggest advice is to listen to your body—not every trend works for everyone. You may find you love IF and it works for you, or it may be just the opposite. Whatever the case, do your research, consult your physician before changing your diet or fitness regimen and most importantly, love and be kind to yourself no matter what.
Please note that the results that Justine has experienced are unique to her, and your results may vary. Always consult your health care provider before undertaking changes in your diet or fitness regimen.
Photo credit: Alison Marras, Unsplash