For the past forty days I’ve been following an intermittent fasting (IF) eating routine. IF itself is not a diet, it’s more a schedule of when to eat. What you eat is up to you. I’ve found IF to be quite liberating and I’m definitely sticking with it (more on that below).
You eat your daily calories within your eating window rather than spread out over the whole day. It’s certainly not starvation. There are loads of YouTube videos on IF that explain it well, particularly with regard to the whole insulin-body fat loss relationship, so I won’t get in to it here. IF has been getting some attention in the medical and nutrition fields for a while it seems. A heads up that quite a few IF videos on YouTube seem to be linked to the ketogenic diet or encouraging it. I don’t do keto and have no desire to do it, ever. I would say I am doing a lowER carb diet rather than a deliberate low carb diet, simply because I eliminated my usual high carb favourites like sourdough bread, loads of white rice and pasta.
Remember, IF is a schedule, not a diet so don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a keto thing as it isn’t. Lots of people doing IF following HCLF (high carb low fat) and getting great results still eating a ton of potatoes!
For the IF, I followed a combination of 16:8 and a handful of 20:4, which means that for the 16:8 days I fast for sixteen hours (including sleep time overnight) then eat within an eight hour window. For the 16:8, I chose to eat at 10am, 2pm and 6pm (finishing by 6:30) with no snacks between those times, though as it’s your eating window you can if you want. I preferred to make my meals filling so I wouldn’t need snacks. Nothing apart from water outside those eight hours though I could have plain herbal tea no milk no sweetener. Ditto for the 20:4 where I fasted for 20 hours then ate within a four hour window. I kept the 20:4 for days like Christmas and New Years, where a 1pm lunch was big enough not to need dinner, or the day where I went out to lunch.
For me, the key is to make my meals nutrient dense and filling. Not just a rabbit food diet salad or plain watery cabbage soup! Again, you can eat what you like and people have lost weight doing IF with no exercise and eating what is often considered unhealthy deep fried and fatty foods and alcohol, but I figured if I was going to this effort of IF I’d go all out and do wholefoods/healthier eating all the way, or as close to all the way as possible, for my overall health.
I decided to add a few more elements to this plan:
- Minimum or no added salt, sugar or oil however it wasn’t purely SOS-free because I was eating say canned beans and legumes which have salt (I realised my canned beans have sugar!), and every now and then Braggs or soy sauce. For oil, I cooked some tofu in a little pure sesame oil for flavour now and then or maybe a very small amount of truffle oil but rarely. For sugar, the only sugar I consumed is what naturally comes in fruits and veg, I never added sugar or maple syrup to foods. I had a dessert on the special days like New Years.
- Cutting out carbs in the form of pasta (waaaah!), white bready products and white rice. Any rice was brown rice, often one of those brown rice-quinoa or rice-lentil blends. I have no off switch when it comes to regular pasta, white rice and sourdough, so that’s my reason for cutting these out. I needed to get control over eating those foods.
- Aiming to eat 7 to 10 cups of veggies a day, with a lot of green veg.
- Daily exercise for physical and mental health.
I didn’t do much in the first week, only a couple of days. I bought a secondhand set of TurboFire by Beachbody HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout DVDs, where the program is working out six days a week. The program I have is 20 weeks long. I committed myself to doing the program 100% and never skipping a day. I have 16 weeks to go. Once the TurboFire program is done, I’ll move to Beachbody’s Insanity DVDs which is a 60 day program. Hurrah for eBay bargains!
I always make a point to exercise in the morning in the fasted state, i.e. before breaking my fast at 10am. This is believed to be the best for reducing body fat as your body taps in to your fat storage for fuel.
The Overall Results so far
No photos as they’re for my eyes only but here are the results after 40 days (ha, that’s not some religious 40 day fast thing, it just worked out to be 40!). After the first week my jeans and loungey summery pants felt more comfy, so there was a definite drop of bloat or whatever people like to call it, like ‘water weight’. By the fourth week I was noticing visible changes such as better fitting jeans, looking slimmer in some parts and my flabby tummy pouch looking different composition wise. In my sixth week, a pair of smaller sized shorts that came nowhere near buttoning up at the start buttoned up (juuust). I had anticipated not fitting in to those shorts for 12 weeks, so being able to do it at week 6 was a nice surprise. I’m very happy with the results and I absolutely credit the IF above my other measures, such as the exercise and healthier eating.
Losing body fat and centimetres, not a number on the scale
I don’t place much emphasis on scale weight, I don’t own any and was only weighing when visiting my parents. I prefer to go by the tape measure and how my clothes fit. In the first week I dropped 1.3kg (2.9lb)… then about a kilo (2.2lb) over 26 days! This was pretty surprising given how much I’d lost in terms of visible fat and by the tape measure, like 5.5cm off the waist and in other areas. But this is nothing new for me, in the past when I’ve dropped two dress sizes, the scale hardly moved down to reflect the obvious body fat loss. So let that be a lesson to you: scale weight isn’t the whole picture!
How did I feel?
For the first five days I started feeling pretty tired around 2:30pm and by bedtime I was really tired. I don’t know how much of this is due to IF, as the food I was eating was super healthy and nutritious. There was also the weather, hot and humid some days, which always makes me feel crap. I definitely wasn’t feeling energetic enough in the morning to go and exercise. Even in to the second week I was feeling more tired in the evenings, but I was sleeping okay and had enough energy to start the HIIT DVDs. At the end of the third week I had enough energy to do a 20 minute high HIIT workout at 9:45pm, after having done the same workout that morning. So my energy levels have mostly been pretty good, if I get my proper amount of sleep.
Yes, the hungry feeling takes some getting used to. But I promise, you do get used to it. IF has helped me get over the hangries. I like the sense of discipline and control I have now over my eating habits, in that if I am feeling hungry I just deal with it far more easily now. This is the liberating part because previously I was extremely hung up on needing to eat if I felt the slightest hunger sensation (or even when I didn’t).
I’m pretty blown up after my meals, but not a painful bloat, more like “I just ate a big meal” round belly. No pain or discomfort and it goes away after a while.
I’m surprised at how little food it takes to feel pretty full now, compared to before. But I do take care to get all my daily calories in so even if I am starting to feel full, I will eat what I can to make sure I’m not undereating.
This may be a coincidence but since dropping a bit of weight I haven’t had any of those episodes where I wake up overnight needing to choke-cough, like I have stopped breathing in my sleep. Sometimes I even dream I am suffocating and that wakes me up coughing and gasping for breath (I notice it more if I have rolled heavily on to my side, perhaps my lungs get all squished!). I hope I don’t jinx myself here, but it’s been great not having to deal with that!
What did I eat?
We’ll start with apple cider vinegar. You’ve probably heard people touting it as fantastic for weight loss. My brief google research stuff mostly showed articles where ACV doesn’t really have any kind of super power when it comes to weight loss despite the miracle claims. I was having two teaspoons of ACV and a squeeze of lemon in a big glass of water twice a day before two of my meals for the first week. It tasted horrible and I would force it down, until I read a number of the ACV-isn’t-magic articles and decided to stop. But then I started it up again for the fourth week going in to the fifth to see if I would lose a bit more in terms of measurements. Drinking it again for weeks four and five didn’t seem to give me better results in terms of tape measuring.
On to the food.
A breakfast meal was sometimes steel cut oats soaked overnight in unsweetened almond milk with chia seeds, with the fruits, LSA mix and seeds added before eating. I once made pancakes from buckwheat, quinoa and blueberries and served them with fresh fruit (recipe from Thrive by Brendan Brazier). However I mostly had what I call my breakfast pudding: oats, almond milk or soy, water, banana, Prana On protein and chia seeds (plus some kind of flavour like PB2 powdered peanut butter or chai spices). I make this the evening before and by breakfast time it thickens up to a nice puddingy consistency. Having this nice cold pudding straight from the fridge after the high intensity workout is a nice treat and feels like dessert.
Lunch and dinners: I would make the lunch meal the one with the higher carbs, such as the brown rice mix or potatoes. I kept dinner lower carb with a protein source like tofu and a bunch of veg. Fats were in the form of avocado, nuts and seeds (no oil).
I’ll be posting another update for my 60 days with proper foods photos as I’ve been using my phone in bad lighting as a record, and the photos don’t exactly make IF look appetising!
I enjoy making bowls, so for a Mexican style bowl I chopped up veg and made some black beans. That would go in a bowl with a brown rice-quinoa blend, a bunch of veg, tomatoes, and avocado.
Tofu stir fries were easy, I used a lot of veg like bok choy and spinach.
A simple low carb dinner was just pan-fried tofu slices (in a non-stick pan) with a bunch of veg and nooch. Great for the days where I couldn’t be bothered being creative and I didn’t want to think.
Another meal was a Japanese style curry stew, with tofu and veg and a grated apple. I used a Japanese curry powder but skipped making a roux for thickening like most recipes have. This was so chunky with the veg that it was more of a stew, and really good too.
I made a ‘meat’ from roasted cauliflower and walnuts and this worked great as a bolognese style topping on zucchini noodles, with tomatoes, broccoli and avocado.
I also made a lentil loaf, Greek beans and falafel eaten with salad and a load of oil free hummus.
Another bowl was Japanese style, with brown rice, edamame, nori sheets, veg and avocado.
I had one ‘special’ lunch which was buckwheat pasta and veg done as a huge salad and eaten straight out of a mixing bowl because of all the veg.
Here’s my lunch at a family event:
Was it tough?
The IF component was not tough at all, though I’m used to eating certain ways when I have to. I knew I had to do this so it wasn’t hard. I didn’t feel like I was suffering, though it did make me realise I think about food A LOT and have a big problem with eating when I simply don’t need to, like late night snacks.
I thought I would be ravenous all the time but I wasn’t really, and as cliche as it sounds, I got used to any feelings of hunger or they’d go away with a glass of water. Around 10pm I’d get a bit of a rumble in my belly but in the morning I wouldn’t be hungry for a while.
Yes there were times when I was really hungry in the evening and the next day would be a 20:4 day, so I’d be eating say at 1pm rather than 10am. But I can handle the hunger easily enough now. Remember, it’s not starvation because when you do eat, you’re eating your daily calories, it’s just that you’re eating them in a shortened period of time. I kept the hunger at bay with water and plain tea. Honestly, I really did just get used to it. It didn’t stop me from wishing I could stuff my face with pizza, but it was easy to deal with after a while.
One hard thing was social media, I had to ease off Instagram because of all the fabulous food pics. Same with looking through cookbooks, I had to do that right after a meal when it was easier mentally!
There were many times when I got really sick of eating the same healthy meal four days in a row. For some meals I was well and truly over it on the third day of a prepared meal and was not looking forward to the same meal the next day. One time I couldn’t stand the thought of more boiled sweet potato and broccoli as part of my dinner so I blended it in the next breakfast smoothie.
Some evenings were a bit tough because I had to consciously find stuff to keep me occupied because previously, I would have had post-dinner snacksies. My mind drifted to food a lot at the start, so I distracted myself with those fitness and weight loss before-after videos on YouTube. Ha!
I put a eating-out ban on myself. You don’t need to do this if you’re doing IF– remember IF itself is not a diet. If I was to eat out I would simply factor that meal in to my eating window. I did have one meal out so I made that a 20:4 day (maybe closer to 19:5). My sister and I are planning a future big blowout lunch out around my 60 days and I’ve got a lunch date with my son coming up to use up some two-for-one meal vouchers. I have no reservations about this whatsoever somehow messing up my progress or anything.
What really helped?
Preparing meals in advance is something I find useful all the time, not just for IF or a ‘diet’. I prepared meals to see me through the next four days of lunch and dinner. Such a relief to just grab something out of the fridge.
IF is helpful to me because I don’t have to think about food or preparing food, or the whole “what will I eat?” when it’s outside my eating window times. So I didn’t have to think about breakfast if my first meal was around 10am, and I knew I had something prepared for then. Some IF advocates stress that you shouldn’t eat by the clock because you get fixated on times. But I find that having set eating times works really well for me.
For the first three or four weeks I weighed all my food and record everything in the My Fitness Pal app and website. I stopped in week 4 as some of my meals and recipes were a pain to plug in to MFP and by then I was very confident with my meals and not needing the caloric amounts, as I was eating the same way regardless of using MFP. When I do use MFP, I do so because I want a rough idea of what I’m eating. It’s a personal thing, some people like it, others find it a chore or stressful. I’m a numbers geek so I enjoy it but I didn’t stress or anything if my fats or whatever were too high. I use it as a rough guide but can take it or leave it now though I do think it was important for me at the start to get a handle on everything.
What about One Meal A Day (OMAD)?
As the name suggests, you have one meal a day and eat all your calories in that one meal. People who do it swear by it for things like weight loss and maintenance, or feeling better mentally and physically overall. This includes highly active people. But after looking at loads of testimonial types videos and posts, I don’t think it’s for me. The people who do OMAD seem to have a pretty massive single meal (because you want to fill yourself up and be satiated) and I get so easily full now that there’s no way I think I could eat enough to last 24 hours without force feeding myself. I get full on less food now, and I don’t see how I could eat my daily calories in one meal without feeling totally sick, particularly when I’m eating way more veg.
Will I continue with IF?
Hell yeah, as it’s now a lifestyle change and not really an experiment anymore and my results have been great. I have health goals to reach too so I’ll stick with the IF and exercise. I don’t have a problem with the sensation of hunger anymore. IF has given me a great sense of control over my past little demons like boredom eating or feeling compelled to eat a late snack, or not having an off switch with certain foods which impacted my health.
IF still allows me to eat whatever I want, it’s just the time period of *when* I eat that has changed. I’m still eating my daily calories within my windows, no different to if I was eating them spread throughout the day. However for me, I’m not eating or snacking throughout the day or eating when I’m not really hungry, which was my big issue and so that means I am naturally eating much less calories than before while still having a healthy amount of calories/nutrient dense food.
So yes, I can still go out to eat and if I eat something high fat high sodium high carb high blahblah then fine whatever, I’ll plan it within my eating window. Nothing is completely off limits, I’m just changing the way I prepare my own food and the times I eat. I had a big family lunch the other day with some vegan shortbread and not once did I have the whole thought process of “oh no will this mess up my diet?” then the later-guilts. Instead I’d quite happily planned to have that big lunch and a few pieces of shortbread and made that a 20:4 day.
A great thing about IF is that it’s do-nothing. So if you are turned off lifestyle changes like exercise or having to follow meal plans, there’s none of that with IF. This might sound ridiculous, but you simply don’t eat– that’s your ‘do nothing’. And when that eating window comes, you do what you want to do with your food. During the fasting period, you do nothing. And I love the freedom this gives me from the whole stressing out about what I was going to eat.
Now I’m looking forward to my 60, then 90 day results and finishing the next 16 weeks of the HIIT program. I’ll write more then.
Do you have experiences with intermittent fasting? Leave a comment!