Typically, people are like cows; we like to graze and eat when we feel like it. Trying to explain that I prefer to strategically control my hunger and eat on a schedule often has people cringing at me. But the fact is, I love intermittent fasting.
When I started fasting for the first time last summer, I saw noticeable results in less than two months. I lost 10 pounds of body fat, started putting on muscle mass and saw a significant improvement in my endurance and speed in cardio. Fasting gives me more energy, better sleep quality, balances my insulin, makes it easy for me to stay in a calorie deficit, and has improved my horrible digestive system.
I don’t approach intermittent fasting as a diet – it’s a lifestyle change and a choice. It’s not something you do temporarily until you lose weight. It’s something you continue to pursue in order to maintain your hard work and desired results, be it physical appearance or for health.
In the simplest term, intermittent fasting is alternating intervals of not eating (fasting) with times that you’re supposed to eat (eating window). The idea is to eat for eight consecutive hours and fast for the remaining 16. I like to eat from noon until 8 p.m., but everyone should pick an eating window that works best with their own schedule.
Think of intermittent fasting this way: when you’re sleeping, you’re not eating. This means you’re fasting, so everyone does some variation of intermittent fasting already. Now all you have to do is extend that fasting period to 16 hours. If you fast for four hours before bed, sleep for eight hours, and fast for another four hours after you wake then you’ve fasted for 16 hours.
This may sound crazy to some people because a popular notion of healthy eating is to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, but I disagree.
There’s a hormone called ghrelin, which is your hunger hormone. It not only makes you hungry, but the more you eat, the more you produce ghrelin. Luckily, ghrelin is a trainable hormone, so when I stick to a restricted eating schedule, I can control my ghrelin-induced hunger.
Eric Williamson, a registered dietitian, owner of Unlocked Fitness and Nutrition, and PhD student at the University of Toronto, says that the idea of hunger management is why intermittent fasting can work well for some people.
“Of all the different nutrition trends out there right now, I would say that intermittent fasting is probably one of the most effective ones for a lot of people, for that reason. It can help people manage their hunger, and it makes creating a calorie deficit easy for people.”
While Williamson has mixed opinions about intermittent fasting, I find that fasting makes it easier to stay within my calorie deficit, no matter how many meals I eat within eight hours. It also helps control my hunger because my body has adapted to an eating schedule. It took about a week for my body to adjust. It wasn’t easy, but if you can make it through the transition period, the results are worth it.
Another personal benefit I’ve experienced with intermittent fasting, to my surprise, is my improved digestive system.
Dietitian Williamson says some people experience improved digestion when they practice intermittent fasting.
“Having that prolonged time between eating allows their digestive system to recover.” He mentions that most people experience normal digestion without fasting, but if you’re one of those unlucky few, who like myself have bad digestion, then maybe fasting is for you.
Fasting also allows our bodies to burn its energy and stores (fat when the body needs fuel to perform). So, instead of using food for fuel when I’m in a fasted state, my body uses its own sources of energy.
An article published by Harvard Medical School called Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update, explains that insulin is responsible for bringing sugar into our fat cells and storing it there. Whatever carbohydrates we eat are broken down into sugar and used as energy by our cells. Any leftover energy is stored as fat in our fat cells, so when we eat too much sugar, our body can’t utilize it effectively.
The idea with intermittent fasting is to keep our insulin levels down long enough so our fat cells can release the stored sugar as energy. This is how our system burns stored body fat, resulting in weight loss because our insulin sensitivity is high after fasting, as stated in the research article by Harvard Medical School.
This lifestyle is not for everyone and no one should be overzealous about any diet or major lifestyle changes. With the results I’ve experienced, I feel better than I ever have before, and I encourage people to try it to see if it can work for you, as it has for me.