I have been fasting intermittently since November 21st, 2017 and it’s about time I talk about it.
I first heard about Intermittent Fasting (IF) a little over a year ago. I heard of its benefits through health-care practitioners and even celebrities like Terry Crews. I wanted to see what all the hype was all about. The problem was as a Muslim, the thought of fasting at any other point during the year outside of the month of Ramadan turned me off completely. I needed something to motivate me. So, the day before I started my IF journey, I had booked a trip to Thailand and I had exactly 53 days to lose the weight that I wanted to lose so that I could feel comfortable walking around shirtless on the beautiful beaches of Phuket. I had read that IF was an effective way to help me reach my goal so I figured that was a perfect time to start. As a nutrition specialist, I wasted no time diving into the sweet science behind IF and weight-loss so that I could get an idea of what exactly I was getting myself into. Here it what I learned:
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The first thing I would like to get out of the way is that IF is not a diet. It’s a pattern of eating. Instead of changing what you eat you are changing when you eat. It is a powerful tool to keep in your back-pocket especially if you are a big eater like me.
Now most people wake up in the morning and immediately think breakfast because that is how many of us were raised. It’s not that we are genuinely hungry, (in fact most of the time we are just dehydrated; more on that later), we just do it because we believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we cannot get through our mornings without it. This idea has since been debunked but that is a topic for another day.
IF follows a 16:8 format. 16 hours of fasting. 8 hours of eating. These hours may vary depending on your schedule but personally I eat from 12 PM to 8PM and then fast from 8PM until 12PM the next day.
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
Over the course of an entire day, between sleeping, eating, and going about our daily activities our body shifts between two metabolic states; Absorptive and Post-Absorptive. The absorptive state is when your body is digesting the food you just ate and absorbing its nutrients. This can last anywhere from three to five hours. Our body then enters its post-absorptive state (aka its “fasted” state) or when a meal has been completely digested and absorbed. During this state, our body is essentially “empty” and the energy we need to function will instead come from our body’s energy reserves, first through glycogen or excess glucose that has been stored in our liver and muscles for later use, and then ultimately through our body’s fat reserves.
The idea behind intermittent fasting is to capitalize on our body’s “fasted state”. This is usually most convenient right when you wake up in the morning because you have been given a huge head-start overnight. For example, let’s say you stopped eating at 8 PM and you woke up at 8 AM the next morning; we are talking about a 12 hour head-start. The human body is working 24/7. While you were sleeping, your body was hard at work and in the process it burned through all of its carbohydrate stores. Keeping your body in this state for a few more hours as you go about your morning will allow your body to continue to burn fat for energy and ultimately help you to lose weight in the process. In addition to that, it will also allow you to eat a pretty big meal at lunch without the guilt of having eaten a pretty big breakfast already.
What To Eat During Your Fast
One the best things about IF for me was that it still allows for black coffee, water with lemon or lime, apple-cider vinegar, and black tea during the fasting period. This is pretty much all you can consume during your fast because none of the above stimulates insulin. Insulin is often referred to as the fat-storage hormone because it inhibits the breakdown of fat cells. While insulin is certainly important to the body when it comes to using and storing glucose, for fat-burning purposes, it can get in the way of what we are trying to achieve. The basic rule of thumb is, if it stimulates insulin, the fast is over and since insulin is stimulated through pretty much anything and everything that you put into your body, you will be functioning on the four options until the conclusion of the fast.
Keeping your body hydrated during your fast is important to help keep your body functioning properly. Fatigue, especially in the morning when you wake up or after a long-day in the sun, is often a result of dehydration and low-electrolyte levels. If you don’t have a bottle of water with electrolytes already in it, try adding a pinch of salt to your water in the morning and see how you feel. If you happen to have cream of tartar lying around in your cupboard, you can add a pinch of that in as well. Yes, I know it’s primarily used in baking, but cream of tartar is a good source of potassium and it doesn’t trigger an insulin response either. Adding both of these to your water is a great way to replenish your electrolytes and to keep you energized throughout the morning.
What To Eat After Your Fast
If you’re going to do this, you might as well do this right. Another benefit to IF is that it is an effective tool to help prevent overeating but that doesn’t make it impossible to do so. You may feel the urge to attack everything in sight the moment you have completed your fast but hang on for just a second. Developing healthy eating habits is critical to getting the most out of your fast. Take this opportunity to fuel your body with whole, nutrient-dense foods to help replenish your body.
I recommend a salad loaded with a variety of different proteins, fruits, and starchy vegetables. The benefits of a big salad will not only allow you to fuel your body properly; it will also keep you fuller for a longer period of time while also keeping your calories down. Trust me, if you build a salad right, it can carry you for hours. This doesn’t mean that you have to eat a salad though and it also doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in some less-nutritious options along the way because we love our cheat meals don’t we?! Whatever it is that you choose to break your fast with, keep it balanced, keep it nutritious, and keep it colorful. Listen to your body. Eat until you feel full and then stop.
Based on the current scientific evidence available, more research is needed to truly confirm the positive effects of IF and weight loss but the early results are certainly promising. There are also many other benefits of IF that I did not go over as I tried to focus primarily its effect on weight loss.
Over the course of 53 days, I managed to drop my weight from 198 lbs. to 175 lbs. I’d like to point out that I paired IF with fasted cardio and I managed my caloric intake through the MyFitnessPal app to ensure I was in a caloric deficit so losing 22 lbs. in a month and a half is certainly not common but it’s not impossible either. The point is, IF is a great tool to use to help with overeating, to burn fat for energy, and to also give your body a chance to “reset”.
I highly recommend anyone struggling with their weight to give IF a chance. The first few days will be very tough, but if you push through those days, you will get used to it. I will say that even after trying this for a few months, IF can be a little difficult to sustain over a long period of time without some serious motivation like an upcoming trip or an event to really kick you into high-gear but it is definitely better than alternatives out there that require you to give up carbs completely which I personally feel is insane. Use it for an upcoming trip like I did or use it every once in a while when you need it. Everything in moderation (including moderation) right? Give it a try and let me know what you think!