My client brought up IF (Intermittent Fasting) this past spring and I thought, “Oh, no. Not another diet. She’ll waste her time. Why can’t she just focus on eating healthy?” I’d been reading about IF here and there. It was the opposite of how I’d learn to eat. The main gist was that you had an eight-hour eating window every day and fasted the other 16. (16:8, the most popular IF method.) Well, duh, of course you’re gonna lose weight because you’ll eat fewer calories that way. Actually, maybe you won’t because, once it’s time to eat, you’ll be so starved you’ll overeat! I certainly would. I cannot STAND being hungry. I get hangry if I go too long without food. Plus, I’m a writer and I can’t write if I’m even slightly hungry.
Turns out I was wrong about all this. When I went to Europe late July for my yearly visit, I decided to give IF a go. I’d spent a week eating and drinking like a pig in Sweden (great food there!!), so when I got to Serbia to visit my dad (food so-so there), I hoped IF would help me get rid of the two pounds I’d gained up north. And it did without being hard at all. I lost the two pounds plus another that week. I checked my subcutaneous body fat after, so I knew it wasn’t water weight but ACTUAL FAT LOSS. I was ecstatic. Too bad I couldn’t continue living like this in the US because I’ll be writing again and I MUST eat then.
Wrong again. I COULD go 5 hours in the morning without eating. I ate between 10am and 6pm. Being on Europe time back in NYC, I woke up at 5-6am in the morning. I was super-efficient and drank only coffee and water. I was shocked! The crucial thing for me was that, according to this IF blog, you’re allowed to have less than 50 calories during your fast without it breaking it. That meant I could put a little almond milk in my coffee!!! Yeay!!!!!! Game changer. See, I HATE black coffee. Unsweetened almond milk has 30 calories/8 ounces. I have 1 -2 ounces in my coffee. That’s less than 10 calories. It’s also very low carb. So I drank 2 or 3 big mugs every morning. About 25 calories:) You’re also allowed to use the natural sweetener Stevia sparingly during fasting hours, according to another blog, but I don’t use it. That blog also explains why it’s okay to have some almond milk in your coffee during fast. Read it!
What surprised me the most was that I WAS NOT starving at 10 am. I was “normal” hungry. (I tend to be hungry when I wake up, but as long as I get my coffee with almond milk, it goes away.) Also, I didn’t feel the need to over eat during my 8-hour eating window, resulting in me eating average 300 calories less than I usually do. (But, apparently, calorie reduction isn’t the only reason for weight loss. See below.)
I’ve continued to do IF most days and I don’t feel deprived at all. I even drink wine and eat some crap during my eating window. Lately, I’ve been in the late stages of publishing a new book, which means I’ll spend a week hardly exercising (maybe 1-2/week instead of 4-5) plus, I’ll be eating VERY badly during my eating windows (which tend to be nine or ten hours instead of eight.) What amazed me when I went back to normal was that I hadn’t gained the 2-3 pounds I typically gain during that week.
BENEFITS OF IF
- Weight loss. This is the main reason most people try IF. You’ll easily lose body fat, which is why I personally find this way of eating so amazing. If you don’t also strength-train and eat sufficient protein, you may lose some muscle despite IF’s tendency to spur muscle growth. Be sure to strength-train a couple of times/week to counteract this. IF also increases your metabolism, another reason for the weight loss. IF is especially efficient to reduce unhealthy visceral – belly – fat.
- Fewer workouts. Because IF increases your metabolism and you consume fewer calories, you don’t need to spend your life at the gym. That’s great news for your joints. Also, IF increases human growth hormone (6), which preserves your muscle mass. I’m not saying you can’t do cardio–I myself enjoy running a couple of times a week. Though, when I do run or work out hard with weights, I make sure I eat A LOT of healthy calories–especially protein– during my eating window or I might end up losing muscle. It’s a fine balance to maintain. And I work out during my eating window, not after. Working out before your eating window starts is another good option. Don’t forget that being active is extremely important for reasons other than weight loss.
- You’ll live longer. According to studies, fasting rats live 36-83 % longer (3, 4) Other studies showed mice reversing hair loss and wrinkles. IF rejuvenates your body by getting rid of dead cells and leaving only healthy tissue.
- Prevents disease. Doing IF reduces inflammation (5), which is connected to chronic conditions such as Alzheimers, asthma, MS, arthritis and stroke. It lowers bad cholesterol, blood pressure and positively affects many other heart health factors. Several animal studies suggest IF can prevent cancer.
- Lowers insulin levels. Because it reduces insulin resistance, it helps to protect against type 2 Diabetes.
- Improves brain function. You’ll have more mental clarity due to toxins disappearing from your blood as well as making your body use energy for thinking instead of digesting food. Maintaining a steady, low insulin level also helps you think better. (7) Plus, practicing IF increases the important brain hormone BDNF and the growth of nerve cells.
- Improves sleep and mood. (7)This may be the biggest change I’ve seen in myself. I’m sleeping and feeling better!
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
Being in a fasted state leads to metabolic switching, which is why IF works so well. The body breaks down the food we eat, mostly carbs, to glucose, which we use for energy. Any remaining glucose is stored in your fat cells. During your fasting hours, the body switches from using sugars (glucose) to using stored body fat for energy. It goes into ketosis, meaning your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates (glucose) to burn for energy so it goes to your body fat. This doesn’t happen immediately, though. You’ll have to be in a fasted state for at least 12 hours first. Being in ketosis also has major effects on your cell and organ functions, leading to all the health benefits above. Keep in mind that IF is NOT a license to eat whatever you want and tons of it. Focus on eating healthy in normal amounts and you’ll get better results.
There are different IF methods. As previously mentioned, the 16:8 method I’m doing is the most popular. Some people do 18:6, which may be even more effective. 5:2 is another popular method during which you eat normal for five days and eat only 500-600 calories for two non-consecutive days, all in one week. Another method is eating only 500-600 calories every other day and eating normal the other day.
HOW TO START (THE 16:8)
You may find that going from regular eating to only eating during 8-hour windows is too challenging. In that case, start by doing a 10-11-hour eating window every day. Deduct an hour after a few days so you’re only eating in a 9-10-hour window. Do it again until you get to the 8-hour window and feel comfortable with that. You don’t have to practice IF every single day. I personally only do 5 (maybe 6) a week. The other two days I like to eat normal and go out for dinner later in the evening.
I’m a complete IF convert. It works. No more breakfasts for me. You’ll lose actual body fat with minimal effort. You can cut down on your workouts while still maintaining/adding muscle. You’ll be healthier in general. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re someone in your 40s or 50s and healthy, give it a try. As always, talk to your doctor before you start, especially if you’re very young/older and/or frail.
Sources referenced in this article.