A little while ago, I was in some corner of YouTube, maybe 15 videos deep when I stumbled across this video, How to do Intermittent Fasting: Complete Guide which I had actually been recommended to by a friend about 5 months prior. I had been meaning to watch it, but never got round to it, so I clicked away and so began my research and adventure into intermittent fasting.
I feel that I should preface this post to say that I am not qualified in any way to talk about dieting or things you should do or not do, this is just some random person on the Internet blogging about their experience so please take it with a few handfuls of salt and always seek medical advice from a professional before altering your diet in any way if you are unsure about what you’re doing. Not that I did that, but again, I’m just some guy. Now with that out of the way, let’s get into it.
My interpretation of intermittent fasting (IF) is to not eat for a set amount of time each day and have a specific eating window in which food and drink can be consumed. According to my research IF allows for drinking of tea, and black coffee with no sugar or milk.
I mostly became interested in IF when I saw the video which talked to the benefits of it. Because I’m in general someone who runs out of the house in the morning without thinking too much about the day ahead, before jumping on my bike to head to work, I don’t usually prepare lunch, or have time for breakfast. Though this has slightly changed a bit since I got a dog, since she needs a walk every morning and my wife usually asks me to do it whilst she’s getting ready for work and preparing her breakfast. So lately I’ve been having time for brekkie and I’ve kinda gotten used to it.
Experimenting with windows
When I first decided to try it out, I was doing a fast between 6pm and 8am. Which is a 14 hour window. This was to facilitate having all three meals of the day but just restricting the window of time in which I could eat. This didn’t really work. I found myself rushing to get home at the end of the day to eat before six and also in the morning waiting until 8am, shoving down breakfast as fast as possible to still make it on time for work.
So then I considered doing just two meals and thought about which times I would like to eat. Figuring I usually exercise in the evening or occasionally having work events on, I’d try the breakfast and lunch window and then fast from lunch until dinner. This kind-of worked. Until I did in-fact have an after-work event where there was food provided and beers passed around. After this occurred a few times, along with dinners out with friends or going to visit my folks for dinner, and not being able to eat or drink, I decided to switch it up and do the lunch and dinner window and skip breakfast instead.
With the breakfast now out of the picture, I needed to find the right time to have lunch and dinner to enable the 8 hour eating window which is apparently where YouTube suggests that people start with IF. I initially started with 1pm to 9pm, but was getting too hungry by then so I moved the window by half an hour to 12:30-8:30. Eventually I settled on 12pm to 8pm which made the most sense to me for my circumstances.
Getting started with IF
I’m quite stubborn when it comes to certain things, so I didn’t let snacks or drinks sneak their way into my intake whilst in the fasting window. The first week with IF was really tough though. Around the 10am mark my stomach would be panging with not getting the expected food intake it was used to by that time of the day, and it was growling like crazy. Even some of my colleagues would notice the sounds which was a little embarrassing! To combat this (a bit), I drank a lot more water and probably had an extra coffee in the morning than I normally would to disguise to my stomach that I was giving it something to do.
After the first 10 days or so, I noticed this kind of went away and it was much easier to deal with the hunger I was feeling in the morning. Also the stomach sounds dwindled away for the most part and it became more a mental challenge than anything. I think around the two week to 18 day mark, I noticed that I wasn’t even feeling hungry in the mornings anymore and I would eat lunch without counting down the minutes until the fasting period had ended.
Fine-tuning the fasting
After learning more and more through various resources on the Internet, I found that the benefits of IF go up the longer you’re able to go without eating, i.e. the smaller your eating window is, the better the benefits are to your body. So I began chopping off 30 minutes here and there from my eating window. Initially I started with the dinner end of the window, taking 30 minutes off. So from a 12-8pm window, it became 12-7.30. Then I took off half an hour on the lunch side. Eventually I got down to a 6 hour window. So now I am down to 1pm lunch to a 7pm end of dinner. Sometimes it can be a stretch for the dinner part though, so I either flex a little and have a longer window on that day or if I know in advance if I’ll be eating later, for example going out for a friends birthday, then I’ll prolong my lunch the next day because it’s the fast that matters, more than the eating window, at least in my view.
I’ve been doing the 6 hour fast for about 3 weeks now and I can say it’s mostly easy. Some days are harder than others, and I find that it’s very easy (for me, at least) to be distracted by delicious things that happen to come my way. For example, there might be a morning tea at work for some occasion, or someone may have brought in baked goods for the team. A few times without thinking I’ve reached for a muffin at one in one of these situations and as I’m about to put it in my mouth, I’ve realised I can’t eat it yet as my window has not yet opened so I put it to one side until then.
Making an exception
The hardest time I struggled with was at our weekly team breakfast which I always make an effort to go to, to catch up with the other people in my company. Being consultants we are often on site at our client’s offices so we don’t get a chance to see each other very often so the team breakfast is a great way to catch up, share ideas about how to tackle technical problems and a bit of banter. When it came to fasting during this time, I really struggled not to eat anything since everyone around me is enjoying delicious breakfasts. So Friday mornings are the one time of the week that I make an exception.
A really interesting observation I noticed, however is that my stomach is not expecting food at this time of the day anymore though! I don’t feel hungry and I don’t really want to eat, until of course the meals come out and they smell fantastic. Anyone who’s hungry at a restaurant, and you see other people’s food coming, thinking it’s yours and then the waitperson goes right past you or smelling that amazing food and you can’t eat it - it sucks. So the first two weeks, I ordered something relatively heavy, eg, toast/eggs/bacon/spinach or something similar to that effect. I found that I felt quite sick afterwards, and had a bit of reflux, which isn’t normal for me at all. So the following week I had something super light. I had a small bowl of granola with some yoghurt, berries and milk and that was far better for my stomach to process. So that’s what I do now on the Friday team brekkies. I usually go for something small and light if I have anything. So far, in the past 6 weeks or so I’ve been doing IF, it’s been the height of summer, so when I usually ride my bike to work, I don’t feel like eating after the cycle in, making avoiding breakfast much easier.
Taking it to the extreme. Sort of.
During my research I found that there are even longer fasts than the types I’ve discussed here. The extended fasts. I’m talking 36, 48 even up to 72 hour fasts that the guy on YouTube was talking about. These are the types of fasts that should only be undertaken at most once a month, but the longer ones, e.g. 72 hours you should only do once a quarter (every three months). So for fun, I decided to try a 36 hour fast. For me this meant, dinner one day, then not eating until breakfast two days later.
This was a very interesting experience.
Initially I was doing the regular fasting which I was doing, but then around the time my stomach was expecting food, it didn’t get it. And then it didn’t get the next meal either. I was HUNGRY. That evening I was playing boardgames with some colleagues after work, and there was snacks galore! Normally I’d be able to partake, since after work it’s within my eating window, but not this time! I had to just sniff the chips (not even kidding!). However when I went to bed that night a weird thing happened. I wasn’t hungry! It was strange. I woke the next morning fully expecting to be super hungry, but found that I wasn’t hungry at all. I arrived at the team breakfast, and debated not even ordering since I wasn’t hungry at all.
I ended up getting an omelette (I was still experimenting with my Friday breakfasts at that point). And whilst I could finish it (just) I felt extremely full and had a bit of reflux to go with it. Nothing serious, just an observation. You might have guessed that I didn’t eat lunch that day, and then I had dinner and was back onto my regular fasting.
What’s the point of all this experimenting with fasting if you don’t have any results to show for it? Let’s take a look. So a couple of nice things of fasting I personally found was that I eat less food. Which is nice for my wallet. I’ve lost a bit of weight, which is always a good thing. Probably about 4 kilos in 6 weeks. And that’s from not changing anything about what I eat, more just when I eat. I also drink far less milk. I usually have milk with my breakfast, eg, oats/muesli/granola/cereal as well as my morning coffee. I mostly have milk in my coffee. But when you’re fasting that’s not allowed, so now I’ve noticed a lot of milk has been cut from my daily intake since I mostly drink black coffee now.
I feel it’s worth mentioning (since some readers may be curious) about sleep. I monitor my sleep with a smartwatch, and have noticed no changes there. I was expecting to sleep more soundly and have more restful sleeps. I have not noticed any changes there, however I will say that I am actually a pretty good sleeper, and can fall asleep relatively easily, so if there have been benefits to it, I haven’t noticed them. I’ll add that I haven’t experienced any trouble sleeping either.
A few videos and blogs on the topic of IF seem to mention concentration and focus as one of the big benefits. I don’t seem to have a problem with these in general anyway when I am at work. I usually start working and then look at the clock again and it’s almost lunch time. I usually exclaim “How is it 12:30/5pm already!” So again, if there was a benefit then I haven’t noticed, but maybe some of my colleagues have. I’ll check in and update if necessary.
In general, I’ve found that IF is a really great lifestyle choice for me. It works for me, and it stops me snacking on stupid things when I don’t need to be. I also have saved a fair chunk of change by not having to buy food for breakfast anymore. On top of this, I’ve lost a little but of weight. I personally think if I cut out the sugary crap I occasionally consume, that the benefit of IF would be strengthened for me and I’d probably lose a bit more weight than I already have.
I’m also personally a fan of the longer fasts, that I described above, and would like to try a 48 hour fast soon. It’s definitely a mind over matter thing sometimes, and I always like to challenge myself to improve and become more resilient to not eating as much. In the past I have always had relatively big meals and a big appetite. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself fat, I am 187cm and 93kg, I’m by no means skinny. I exercise a lot (>5000 active KJ’s/day) and found the benefits of fasting meant my exercise in a fasted state was more effective at burning fat stores.
So for me it’s a lifestyle change, not just a diet. Which is a big deal. IF takes a few weeks for your body to adjust and for you to be able to see the benefits of. If you’re thinking about it, I’d strongly recommend starting with a manageable window for you and your body, and then making adjustments as you see fit.
I’d love to hear about your experiences. Or if you have any comments or questions. Hit me up on Twitter or DM me if you’d rather not make your comments public.