Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
In short, Intermittent Fasting is going an extended period of time without eating. At first glance that sounds like an eating disorder in the making – but as it turns out, Intermittent Fasting is simply a different style of eating that is safe, effective and comes with a slew of health benefits (including fat loss) when done the right way.
The first time the term Intermittent Fasting entered my sphere of existence was at Mark Sisson’s blog, Mark’s Daily Apple. I later came to read more about it in Mark’s book The Primal Blueprint and then in the The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris. The little that I’d come to I understand at that point allowed me to stop worrying that my “metabolism would slow down” or I would totally screw myself up if I delayed breakfast until I actually felt hungry or skipped any meal completely for that matter.
Then this study was released and I was suddenly eager to learn more about Intermittent Fasting. At the beginning of 2011 I’d already been working for a few months to lose those pesky 10 lbs that just love to creep back on when I get lax with my diet and the weight was not coming off as quickly as I would have liked.
I made my way around the interwebs with my friend Google and found The Retired Dieter, a blog that is extremely motivational and informative. From there Eat, Stop, Eat and The Fast 5 (both e-books) presented themselves, followed by Martin Berkhan at Lean Gains, Getting Stronger and Fitness Black Book – more great blogs all containing scads of helpful info on Intermittent Fasting.
The Weight Loss
No matter how or what you eat, weight loss boils down to a calorie deficit. I made no secret of the fact that 2010 was a pretty challenging year, and thanks to some good old fashioned emotional eating (Freaking nut butters! Blasted hummus!) I came to find that my pants were suddenly getting a bit snug once again. I quickly got the emotional eating under control, but I didn’t escape completely unscathed. Getting back on track with my normal eating habits and exercise were enough to stop gaining and maintain my weight – but in order to actually lose weight? I knew it meant maintaining a daily calorie deficit for a period of time.
Having been down this road before, I was intrigued by IF because everything I’d read made me think it would be an easier way to reach a calorie deficit without feeling deprived or obsessing about food – other roads I’d been down before as well. As it turned out, Intermittent Fasting was exactly what I was looking for – an easy way to achieve a calorie deficit without food on my brain all the time.
I started experimenting with IF at the end of March of 2011 and was down 10 lbs and back to my healthy weight less than 3 months later. This is the second time I’ve had to make a real effort to re-lose about 10 lbs since my initial 35 lb weight loss in 2008. While did count calories, I can say without a doubt that IF made losing weight this time the easiest time of all.
The Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle
With all the reading I’ve done, I’ve come to find that many people choose Intermittent Fasting as a way of life. Some people regularly fast for 24 hours and then eat ad libetum for the next 24 hours. Some people do a 24 hour fast once a week. The Fast 5 recommends a daily 19 hour fast with a 5 hour “eating window” – which basically means you get to eat whatever you want during that 5 hour window (without going COMPLETELY crazy – but yes, you basically can eat whatever you want during that time.)
While I was losing weight, I tried and experimented with many different fasting lengths and eating windows. I eventually came to find that a 16 hour fast with an 8 hour eating window was easiest for me. It felt the most “normal” and least extreme, and I still got all the benefits from fasting. I ate fewer calories over all without having to give up any of the things I love or feeling deprived by eating small quantities of my favorites; nut butter, real cream in my coffee, chocolate, hummus and more.
I’ve come to find that I really like this way of eating. These days I finish up dinner around 6 or 7pm and then I don’t eat my next meal or snack until about 16 hours later (6 – 8 of those are hours are spent sleeping!) I usually don’t officially break my fast the following day until 10 or 11AM. Basically, I’ve just pushed breakfast back until late morning.
I now typically eat two meals a day and usually one snack between my first meal of the day and dinner. I do drink coffee with half and half or heavy cream (no sugar) in the morning. I’ve recently been experimenting with coconut oil in coffee as well and find that it gives me a nice energy boost and nixes my appetite for a while too. Due to the fact that cream (or coconut oil) is just fat with no carbs, I believe that coffee with cream has little to no effect on my fasting metabolism. Therefore it seems that I still achieve the benefits found from fasting even with some calories in my coffee. (You do still need to account the calories in your daily calorie allowance from any cream or coconut oil though.)
If I exercise in the morning, I do so in a fasted state with no problem at all. Fasting teaches your body to more readily use stored fat for fuel, but know there will be a transition period while you get use to consuming less carbs.
I had to stop doing IF at the end of 2011 through the first half of 2012 when I was pregnant with our third child, but I have returned to practicing IF (even while exclusively breastfeeding) and am using it to help me lose about 15 pounds to get back to my healthy, pre-pregnancy weight once again. My current eating window is 11AM through 7PM most days of the week. An 8 hour eating window with a 16 hour fasting window works very well for me and feels very normal.
Check out an article on IF from the May issue of Harper’s Bazaar, “Lose Weight Fast?” (with a quote from yours truly!)
The most amazing thing that happened in the months that followed my start with Intermittent Fasting was the way my body adapted to my changed eating schedule. I have NO craving for food in 16 – 18 hour period I go in a fasted state. I have no urge to eat or snack after dinner, something I’ve struggled with in the past. I do still occasionally eat later than 7 pm – at a party or when out for the evening with friends. I might wait to break my fast until later in the day when I know my eating window will close later than usual – but not always. Some days my eating window is longer than others and that’s fine.
At this point, the thought of late night snacking rarely even enters my head. I use to really struggle with resisting the urge to snack at night. I use to wake up ready to dive head first into breakfast. No more. I get up most days between 5 – 7 am and I don’t even start to think about food or feel the first inklings of hunger until after 10AM.
Going such a long stretch without food was absolutely a challenge in the beginning – I won’t deny that. But your body and brain truly do adapt given enough time. It still amazes me at times that I now go 16, 18, sometimes even 20 hours between my last meal of the day and my first meal the following day without effort or discomfort.
And when I do eat? I EAT. Trust me. I eat whatever I want (fortunately I “want” healthy, whole foods – but I’m a girl who loves to indulge from time to time too!) and I eat until I’m completely satisfied – which is not something you normally get to do while in weight loss mode. I’ve counted calories on and off since I adopted an IF lifestyle to be sure I’m eating enough – and I am. Some days I eat way under my BMR – and some days I easily go over. It all balances out over the course of a week and thus maintaining my weight has felt effortless for the first time ever.
For me, it is much easier (and more enjoyable!) to sit down and eat until I’m satisfied and satiated twice a day than it is to eat small, often unsatisfying quantities of food 4 – 6 times a day.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting is definitely easier when you eat whole, less processed foods. (Getting Stronger has a great guide to getting started!) At the start of the year I became more mindful about where I was getting my carbs, getting less carbohydrates from processed sugar and grains and instead from fruits and vegetables. I believe this is why I was able to transition into intermittent fasting without much issue in the spring.
I do still eat grains, starches and even sugar – but I’ve come to find that I feel better if I don’t eat these foods every day and instead get the majority of my carbs from fruits and vegetables. Nothing is off limits as I have no desire to give up grains and sugar forever! I just eat them a lot less often and less frequently than I use to. I have found that I feel better going long stretches without grains and sugar – just a couple days a week works well for me.
Intermittent Fasting unexpectedly gave me an even better look into my relationship with food and all the reasons I eat that aren’t related to true hunger. I’m now finding it much easier to enjoy food without all the preoccupation with The Next Meal – something I have struggled with during weight loss and maintenance in the past. Intermittent Fasting has made it surprisingly easy for me to resist temptation, to stop eating when I’m full, finding other things to turn to when I’m bored, stressed or in need of comfort.
This seems to go against everything I ever thought was true; Going too long without eating slows your metabolism. Your body goes into starvation mode. You lose muscle mass. You’ll totally binge and go nuts if you go too long without eating. If you’re intrigued but worried about all these things, do your homework and see for yourself that Intermittent Fasting can be totally safe and super effective and even easier to reach your weight loss goals when you do it the right way.