I am two weeks in to my experience with intermittent fasting and want to give an overview of how things have gone since I transitioned into my new meal plan. I’ll start off with a bit of back story and some details about IF and what it is – so expect this to be kind of a long one.
Wikipedia describes intermittent fasting as, “a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water and sometimes low-calorie drinks such as black coffee) and non-fasting.” From there, different proponents of IF promote various styles with two in particular being the most popular:
- 20/4, otherwise known as “The Warrior Diet”, involves a 20 hour a day fast (in which low-calorie vegetables and liquid greens are permitted) with the day’s calories consumed during a 4 hour break-fast. (see what I did there? :P)
- 16/8, otherwise known as “Lean Gains”, involves a 16 hour a day fast (in which only water, no-calorie drinks and black coffee/tea are permitted) with the day’s calories consumed in an 8 hour window.
Why would anyone do this? That’s sort of the question I’m looking to answer. A lot of people believe that fasting forces your body to utilize stored energy (read: fat) instead of constantly using the energy you’ve been consuming through the day.
The question I’ve been asked most since undertaking this experiment is How is starving yourself healthier? Here’s the thing, though. I’m not starving myself. I’m eating a full day’s worth of calories just in a shortened period of time. The people who experience those physical and emotional feelings of starvation are those on severely calorie-restricted diets whereas I have been eating roughly 2500 calories a day of whole foods to accommodate for my current level of activity.
I had done a fair amount of research myself before diving into this experiment, as did Coach Krissy, and as with anything I gave the negative comments as much weight as the positive ones. In particular, she forward me an article by Charles Poliquin that dives into some of the “cons”:
Similar trends are being reported by humans who have tried intermittent fasting. Studies and personal reports by men and women suggest the following cons to the practice:
• Obsession over food during the fast period (watching the clock constantly in expectation of the next meal, which of course raises anxiety).
• An over-reliance on coffee that causes severe adrenal fatigue, hormonal, and circadian dysregulation.
• Insomnia, particularly among women, due to activation of the hypocretin neurons that incite wakefulness.
• Hormonal havoc for women takes many forms, including adult acne, metabolic disturbance, obsession over body image, and menstrual irregularities.
• Over time, the ovaries shut down and women stay awake at night, presumably an adaptive response so they can hunt for food to keep them alive. In other words, why become pregnant if you are going to starve the baby?
It’s important to have both sides in order to form a more rounded opinion on any subject. What I found interesting about the above list though, is that is almost completely describes how I felt on the six-small-meals-a-day method, the traditional “bodybuilder’s diet”.
The bulk of my day, from the moment I had breakfast until the moment I went to bed was spent obsessively watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the next time I could eat. My life went from fitting my meals into my day to fitting my day around my meals. My anxiety levels were always high, my days dragged on at a snail’s pace, I was always hungry yet never full. By the time I would get to each meal I would have it finished in under five minutes because I was so desperate for food and after the last morsel I would start the countdown all over again.
In order to make it to the next meal without an anxiety attack I was filling up on coffee (which, prior to this year I had never drank in my life), flavoured teas, aspartame-laden water enhancers and pack after pack (after pack) of sugar-free gum. To me, that’s not healthy and it obviously wasn’t working. I stopped seeing any significant changes to my physique around February. Carb intake came down, time spent doing cardio went up and I continued to obsess about food constantly which usually lead to me cheating on my diet quite dramatically.
Around this time, I started waking up in the middle of the night absolutely starving. I would have to chug a bunch of water to make myself forget about it and then I’d be up and down the rest of the night dealing with all the water I’d drank. I also experienced hormonal imbalances that effected everything from the regularity of my menstrual cycle right down to sudden, abnormal hair growth.
The last con about the staying awake at night with the urge to hunt small game… yeah, I’m just going to leave that one alone.
Needless to say, it would seem (in my case) that the cons for trying IF weren’t really all that scary that it would deter me from it since I was already seeing them on my current meal plan. Onward I trudged!
Coach Krissy did an amazing job of putting together two meal plans (one for workout days and one for rest days) both with a fairly high caloric intake, both full – and I mean FULL – of healthy, nutritious foods that would still allow me to meet all of the day’s nutritional requirements while adapting to a 16/8 IF plan on workout days, and 18/6 on rest days with the inclusion of a greens supplement during the fast. Also during this time I do my workouts fasted (WHOA – I’m gonna stop you before you hop on your muscle catabolism high horse) with the help of 10g of BCAA’s before, during and after my workout to make sure that my muscles are being fed even when my stomach isn’t.
I know this is getting long so thank you to everyone who has kept reading. I’ll dive right in now to my first experiences on this plan. I will say ahead of time that these two weeks aren’t the best for judging results because there were a few days where my food choices weren’t so good (I had a friend visiting one weekend followed by my birthday the next weekend) which likely skewed the results. Regardless of the food I was taking in, I have maintained the 16/8 – 18/6 eating pattern.
Days one and two… well, they sucked. My brain demanded to know why I hadn’t eaten breakfast, my body demanded to know why I was working out on an “empty stomach” and I just wanted to lay on the couch. Things changed dramatically by day three. The fog that had been clouding my brain the previous days was gone, I had an absolutely amazing, energy-filled workout and above all else… I wasn’t hungry. At all.
Since then I have not had any issues making it through the morning on my own steam. I had been concerned about feeling lethargic, like my blood sugar was low, or having hunger pangs but I haven’t experienced any of that. In fact, I can’t remember a time when my blood sugar was so consistent. I feel really great! I’m sleeping great (no desire to start hunting yet), I’m in good spirits, getting all of my water in, all of my food in and most importantly… my sugar cravings are nearly non-existent.
The reason? I’m eating so much at a time that I’m so full I can’t even imagine eating anything else. I feel full! That never happens! By the time I finish eating around 7:45 p.m. I’m so done with food that I want to stop eating. On my previous plans as soon as I finished my last meal I’d be wondering what else was in the cupboards I could snack on – this is something I have never experienced and it’s kind of awesome.
I’ll also point out that I haven’t had the urge to drink any kind of caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, etc) during this time and it’s been about a month since I last chewed a piece of gum so those are two things I have managed to cut out completely and not miss.
As for results… I’ll have to wait and see. It’s a bit early in the game yet. I go for a check-in next week so I’ll get a better idea of where I’m at but I think I need to give this plan a decent run to truly see how it can fit into my life.