My Intermitent Fasting Experiment
The chatter surrounding intermittent fasting has increased significantly in the past couple of years. Not surprisingly, a lot of recent research around fasting and weight loss is inconclusive. What we do know is that long term studies of intermittent fasting show links to increased longevity and chronic disease prevention, but that there is no link to sustainable, long-term weight loss. Given the benefits, the many options for fasting, and my propensity to experiment on myself, I decided to try a few starting this past January to see what the effects were.
24 Hour Weekly Fast
I started with a 24 hour fast 1 time per week for 7 weeks.
Difficulty Level: Very difficult at first to moderate at the end. I fasted Wednesday after dinner to Thursday evening, as Thursday was my lighter training day. My first couple weeks were very challenging: low energy on fasting days, moody, and very hungry. By the 3rd or 4th week it got much easier and by the end I felt like I could have kept doing it forever.
The Positives: I learned how to manage hunger. The fasting taught me that it was ok to be hungry and that I would be ok without having to eat every 2-3 hours.
The Negatives: I didn’t like missing meal times with my family. Sometimes my 24 hours would fall later than our normal dinner time and I would have to just sit at the table without eating. Family meal times are a big thing in our house and I don’t want to change that part of my lifestyle. Because my fast days were totally planned, I learned to overeat before and after as I knew what was coming. It didn’t feel great to feel stuffed on Wednesday and Thursday evening!
12 Hour Daily Fast
For my second experiment, I moved to a 12 hour fast every day of the week for 8 weeks, basically from 8pm after dinner to 8am the next day.
Difficulty Level: Super easy. I never felt hungry and got into a simple habit of eating a quick snack at 8am even if I wasn’t hungry.
The Positives: I felt great because I never felt hungry. It was easy to manage this type of fasting along with not overeating because I didn’t feel like I was ever fasting.
The Negatives: Again, lifestyle! I was missing out on early morning family breakfast on Sundays. We usually wake up and make some kind of banana bread or muffin and eggs and turkey bacon. I missed out on that!
16-18 Hour Random Fast
My Third experiment was a 16-18 hour fast randomly 3-5 x per week for 4 weeks.
Difficulty Level: Moderately difficult at first, but after about 2 weeks, I was in a routine that totally worked. I would sometimes feel hungry but not the kind of hungry that all I can do is think about food.
The Positives: This totally fit my lifestyle. I had the freedom to fast after the last meal of the day and then the next day I had a late lunch that worked well for me. I never had to miss a family meal and I had my Sunday early breakfast back.
The Negatives: Definitely some days were tough for me and, when I first started, I tried doing Monday through Friday fasting for the the 16-18 hours. Towards the end of the week, I would get tired or cranky. Also, with 5 days a week, it meant my Friday was my overeat day. Of course, that’s pizza night at our house, so I would overeat thinking that I had earned it from fasting all week. Once I adjusted to 3-5 times a week, I had the freedom to pick my fasting days and make them totally random. This helped a ton because I wouldn’t plan it out, so I didn’t overeat.
Now, I follow something close to 3-5 times per week for 12-18 hours. I like to let it go with where my day is taking me. Since I have learned to control hunger from the 24 hour fast, I’m ok with being hungry for a bit. I also have learned my patterns around overeating and fasting. I work best with doing it at random.
- Fasting should be used for longevity and chronic disease prevention.
There are a ton of methods out there that different people subscribe to. No one method works for everyone. You should experiment with several methods to see what works best for you.
Women who are over the age of 40 may want to be more strategic about intermittent fasting. Restricting calories can be detrimental to certain hormones that are already on the decline, thus causing a deficiency that can sometime cause more harm than good. Some women who have practiced intermittent fasting have noticed an increase in metabolism and decrease in body fat. It all depends on genetics, fitness level, health, and many other factors. The strongest research for women show benefits associated with the 24 hour fast done 1-2 times per month.
So, is it worth trying? Yes. It’s worth trying but only if you are willing to track how you feel, and for some of you, it might be worth getting a blood panel done before and after to see how hormone levels are affected. If you plan on doing some version of fasting, it might help to reach out to me or a nutritionist beforehand. If you experience any abnormal symptoms like depression, nausea, dizziness, or, even in some cases, body swelling, you should stop fasting and consult a doctor.
Remember!!! Intermittent fasting shouldn’t be your first option for weight loss. The best place to start is to eat a well balanced diet that limits processed foods, sugars, and alcohol. If you are not doing the simple things like eating mostly whole foods, then that’s your place to start, not with intermittent fasting!