[Editor’s note: Gabe has graciously agreed to let me use this platform to offer an update on my intermittent fasting. The following is from me.
If you read Kaplifestyle last week, you may remember that I decided to embark on a self-experiment and try intermittent fasting. As I write, I’m currently in day 9, and I thought I would provide an update on the early returns.
Once I decided to try IF, I spent the next couple of days researching and reading nearly everything I could find on the subject. This helped me to grasp not only the potential benefits, but the areas where my experiment might fail. Some of the concerns:
- Inability to stick to the times.
Some people have found it very difficult to alter their eating patterns. If the body is in a consistent eating pattern, it will send the signals (regulated by hormones like ghrelin and leptin) of being “hungry” when it comes to expect food. These signals aren’t necessarily an indication of anything other than a routine, and they can be retrained. It takes some time, however, and most people indicated that the first 10-30 days were the hardest. Because I didn’t have a consistent set of eating patterns, and certainly was not a breakfast person, I haven’t struggled much with not eating before 5 pm.
Another concern some people, particularly women, experienced was binging during the feeding times. The research showed that for people who were successful on IF, they’d consume about 10% more calories than what they’d otherwise be expected to consume during that feeding window. The ones who were unsuccessful, however, tended to way overconsume and eat more calories than they would without trying IF.
Luckily, I haven’t experienced those two problems (at least, not yet). That’s not to say that my first 3 days didn’t involve a lot of trial and error. Day 1 went relatively smoothly, with the excitement of beginning still at the front of my mind. Day 2 started off well, but I was feeling hungry by lunchtime and thinking of food. Through the force of willpower alone, I continued through, and within a couple of hours, my mental energy rebounded and my mood improved. I felt strong at that moment, but made my first real mistake that evening.
Most of the time, my meals are reasonably on point, home-cooked and using fresh, whole ingredients. There is very little processed food or sugar. So I didn’t think I’d need to seriously change anything about what I ate, only the time that I ate it. That mindset came back to haunt me when I went to swim on day 3. I woke up with very little energy and feeling very sluggish. I had to force the workout, and when I got in the pool, was tired after a single lap. I had to scale back to make sure I didn’t hurt myself and every lap was a grind.
I knew where I had made my mistake. My dinner the night before had only small amounts of protein (shrimp). Interestingly, I wasn’t particularly hungry after my swim, but my body clearly didn’t have the nutrients accessible for my muscles to feel strong. I know now that, particularly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, I need to prioritize eating more protein.
That night was the low point of the experiment. I couldn’t fall asleep and felt like I had just enough energy to make it through. Since then, most mornings I wake up with more energy. My desires to eat before 5 are minimal and sporadic now, and it’s much easier to tell what is a true need for food and what is simply a passing craving. Affirmatively eating protein before my next workout helped quite a bit, and I felt strong throughout the day.
Perhaps it is the confidence gained by taking an affirmative step, perhaps it is from the IF itself, but I’ve found a lot of mental benefits over the past week. My energy and mood levels are higher and more stable. I haven’t experienced any mood swings on this program; in fact, I generally feel happier than I did prior to starting. I’m also starting to see the benefit of the structure. I found that I would sometimes eat less out of hunger and more out of boredom. If I wasn’t busy, eating could provide a novel experience. Restricting that has forced me to become more mindful about my consumption.
Physically, the results seem to be coming as well. While it’s certainly not the ideal measure, the scale suggests I’ve lost about 2 lbs in the last week. I try to control for natural fluctuations as much as I can, but those numbers can sometimes be misleading. I have also lost about an inch around my waist, however. I’m committed to giving IF a fair trial no matter what, but seeing some early indications of results certainly makes it easier to pass on lunch.
My personal results are lining up with the theory behind IF. Generally, the body is digesting food for a few hours after eating, thus providing you with energy. If you’re eating every few hours, then that process is only interrupted during the extended “fast” while you sleep. By lengthening that window, the body is required to turn toward stored energy to get its fuel. Combined with the better sensitivity to insulin and more growth hormone released, IF prompts the breakdown of fats into free fatty acids for energy, rather than breakdowns of protein (and subsequently, muscle). New research is suggesting that intermittent fasting also reduces markers of inflammation.
I certainly find this structure easier to stick to than restricting calories overall or embarking on some sort of diet. I know that if I am craving a particular food, I’m able to eat it within a few hours. There is no guilt or mental castigation. Now, on the flip side, if I don’t eat well during my feeding period, I know that the next day is going to be more difficult. I am coming to be more aware of my body and the impact of what I put into it.
I initially intended for this to be a 30 day experiment. I will likely give it 60 days – 30 for my body to truly acclimatize to the changes and 30 days to see results. Early returns, however, indicate that I might be able to continue this (and hopefully reap benefits) over the long term.