Diet culture: it’s weird, right? Even if you’ve never dieted, you might be hyper aware of your relationship with food. Food is one of those cultural phenomena that is both demonized and glorified, making it hard to cultivate a healthy association. Commercials are divided between weight loss plans programs and ads for super-sized servings of fast-food meals. Both, with contradicting content, are telling us we would be happier if we subscribed to what they’re selling. How confusing! We spend so much time meal-planning, assessing our lunch for calories, carbs, and fats, juicing everything, or trying to convince ourselves we love salad. We don’t. But what we do love is being healthy, happy, and celebrating our meals!
Years of obsession over nutrition labels left my relationship with food in shambles. I wanted to love it, but there was a guilt complex that remained, a result of a society that tempts your coworker to comment on how you had pizza for lunch twice this week. (Apparently they have nothing better to do!) The first step in repairing my relationship with food was adopting veganism. The second step was intermittent fasting. Let me tell you a little about my experience with IMF!
The term “fasting” immediately seems to negate everything I just said about diet culture. Am I encouraging you to neglect your rumbling tummy? No! Intermittent fasting is a method of scheduling your meals to allow for 14-18 hours of clean digestion. You don’t have to change your diet, exercise routine, or eat less to benefit from IMF. Basically, you give your body the time to digest efficiently; this regulates your sleep cycle, boosts your metabolism, increases your longevity, improves brain and heart health, and even reduces your chances of Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease. You can still have pizza for lunch, too.
Brad Pilon is a fasting expert who pursued graduate studies on the metabolic effects of short-term fasting at the University of Guelph in Ontario. He challenges us to look at intermittent fasting as a restructuring of routine: “The thesis I want to get across to people is that there are health benefits, including weight loss, to being able to take an occasional break from eating. Rather than just looking at it as fasting, which can have a negative connotation, it’s more about breaking the cycle of thinking you can’t take the occasional break from eating.” (US National Library of Medicine)
Granted, intermittent fasting will yield more noticeable results if you’re conscious of the food you’re consuming. For me, that means making sure to get a serving of fruit and veg every day, and limiting my intake of my guilty pleasure foods. But the real magic is in the window you set aside for digestion.
There are a few ways to do IMF. Some people do every-other day fasts, others do the “Warrior” method where they only eat one meal per day, a dinner feast! Those methods felt too extreme for me. I wanted my health routine to feel natural and comfortable. Thus, I go with the 15/9 method. The 15 represents the 15 hours my body is fasting for. I have a 9 hour window from 11am to 8pm where I eat as much as I want! In fact, I feel like I’m eating more, because I don’t space my food out and snack throughout the day or late into the night. I get to eat a big, hearty lunch and dinner every day and feel GREAT about it. I don’t even think much about the fasting because I’m asleep for a lot of it. 16/8 is another popular window, but it’s been suggested that women’s bodies respond more effectively to slightly shorter fasts, like 14/10, and it works best for me. The flexibility of intermittent fasting is one of the reasons I find it to be so wonderful.
Here are the 5 most noticeable results of IMF I experienced:
Fat loss: I always thought fat loss had to be achieved by less food intake, or eating nothing but…baby spinach. False! Fat loss has more to do with what you eat and the way you do it than how much. I do go to the gym 3 to 5 days of the week, and I also eat a plant-based diet, but before I started IMF, my weight was entirely stagnant. I quickly noticed fat disappear from my tummy and upper thighs. It’s pretty simple: after a period of fasting, your body reaches into its fat reserves for energy.
Understanding my hunger: IMF showed me where my most unhealthy food behaviors were. These habits contributed to weight gain, poor energy, and bad skin. Before IMF, I had the least amount of control over my food intake early in the morning and at night. In the morning, I would almost always have heavy carbs for breakfast, and I was an insatiable late-night snacker. After the first week or so of IMF, I could understand my body’s signals a lot better. I often misread boredom or thirst for hunger, or I would eat because I wanted to taste food, but wasn’t necessarily hungry. I was able to grasp control of my cravings and also to listen to my body. I never realized how much I neglected to drink water until IMF, either! I often drink 6-9 cups of water before my fasting window even opens. It’s resulted in glorious transformations for my skin and my energy is much more sustainable.
Brain health and focus: I am so much more focused now that I fast intermittently. I was almost always munching on something, so my body never had a break from constant food intake and digestion. Our bodies use A LOT of energy to process and digest our foods, and since I’ve done IMF, I have better energy reserves and improved focus. I’ve found in the few times I’ve broken my fasts before class, that I feel sluggish and have difficulty concentrating. Mark Matson is a senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes on Health. In his research on protective benefits of fasting to neurons, he found that intermittent fasting for 10-16 hours forces your body to use its fat stores for energy, releasing fatty acids called ketones into the bloodstream. The result? Matson says this bodily response has been shown to “protect memory and learning functionality…as well as slow disease processes in the brain.” This is why IMF is considered a protector against Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. (Canadian Medical Association Journal)
Improved Energy: I used to have such bouts of lethargy. Naps were essential, even if I got my full 8 hours. My meal schedule is: fruit or snack at 11am, lunch at 12-1pm, dinner around 6pm, and room for a snack in between, if I find I need it. Being on a regular eating schedule, my energy has improved drastically. I eat full, hearty meals until I feel satisfied, and I have a better gauge on what my body needs and wants. Eating sporadically and snacking a lot throughout the day to satisfy hunger sends our blood sugar levels on a roller coaster. This can stress our metabolism, our body’s breaking down of carbohydrates for energy, and leave us feeling tired and hungry more often than we should. The fasting window leaves time for your body to use fat for energy, processed through ketones in the liver. This process of leaves us with more steady energy throughout the day, as well as increased concentration. Plus, when our blood sugar is level, it reduces those annoying hunger pangs!
Improved Mood: I’m not sure that there’s any real science behind this, and if there is, I don’t have it for you. Sorry! But I do have some theories. There are so many benefits to routine. Intermittent fasting has improved my energy and my sleep schedule, so waking up is easier and more pleasant. I sleep through the night and my body wakes up on its own. I used to require caffeine to even start functioning in the day, and now I skip my coffee many a morning without even noticing! I can get myself to the gym at 7:30am… which would have been crazy to fathom a before I started IMF. Starting my day with exercise and having a regular workout routine has DEFINITELY improved my mood, a result of increased, yet level, “feel good” endorphins. I’m also in a better mood day to day because I LOVE MYSELF more! I have almost no anxiety around food. I feel great. I see results. All I’ve really done is change my eating schedule and clean up my diet just the slightest bit.
All that being said, I do have a few tricks and tips for you if you’re thinking about starting IMF!
- Check out the different methods of intermittent fasting. There may be one that works better for you than the others. When you find it, feel free to EASE into the new routine! Rather than jumping right into fasting for 16 hours a day, start with 10, and work your way up.
- Remember to eat enough! This was my crucial mistake. When I first started IMF, I ate the same amount for lunch and dinner that I had been prior to fasting. No good. Because I was eating so frequently and throughout the day, I wasn’t as hungry come lunch and dinner, so my meals were smaller. Now, I make sure to eat two hearty meals a day, with room for a big snack or two in between.
- If you’re eating a whole foods, plant-based diet and getting the right amount of calories every day, it’s almost impossible that you’re not getting sufficient protein intake. That’s the most widespread myth about veganism, I think. That being said, no matter what your diet consists of, make sure you’re diversifying your food! This will help you be sure you’re getting enough nutrients.
- Get a nice water bottle that you love. Experiment with different fruits and flavors, because water will be your best friend while you’re adjusting to fasting! Unfortunately, most adults are dehydrated without knowing it. You should be drinking 9-12 cups of water a day, depending on your physique and how much you exercise.
- Totally optional, but decreasing your intake of processed carbohydrates like breads and bagels makes a HUGE difference. I find they don’t fill my tummy as long, make me sluggish, and definitely slow down any weight loss, if that’s your goal. They also aren’t high in nutritional content and are likely to leave you feeling hungry and lacking energy within the next hour or two.
- That being said… TREAT YOURSELF! Eat what makes you happy and what makes your body happy! Ideally, IMF is a lifestyle, not just a temporary weight loss measure. For now, just changing your schedule will make a huge difference. Baby steps, baby!
- Be open to trial and error. If you’re doing a window fast and you eat an hour or two past your usual “end time”, just start your fast later the next day. What matters is that your fasting window remains 14, 15, 16 hours, etc. While routine is ideal, it’s also okay to mess up. So if you eat 16/8 from 12-8 but you go out for fries with friends and eat until 9, just start at 1pm the next day instead. Problem solved 🙂
If you have any Q’s about IMF or my experience, shoot me a response. Thanks for visiting Little Bird Blog!
I will be leaving this button up on each of my posts, if any readers would be so inclined. At Smith, I’m surrounded by a community of activism, art, and education. However, I’m a full-time student and have limited work-study availability. Many advocacy events, speakers, and community classes demand a fee. Help me to immerse myself in the opportunities my community has to offer by donating a dollar (or two!) Thank you for your consideration, Jenna Scout