The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the words intermittent fasting (IF) is deprivation. It sounds virtually unappealing to a serial snacker like myself. After doing extensive research on IF, though, I quickly learned there's a broad range of benefits associated with trying this fast such as weight loss (especially stubborn lower-belly fat), lowering blood sugar, improving cognitive health and memory, decreasing inflammation, increasing energy, curbing sugar cravings, and the perk that sold me instantly: better sleep!
There are a few fasting protocols one could follow, such as the 5:2 plan (eat normally for five days while eating only 500 to 600 calories on the other two days); alternate fasting, where you switch between periods of consuming zero-calorie foods and beverages and actually eating whole foods; and the most popular fast, which I opted for, the 16:8 plan (16-hour fast and an eight-hour feasting period). I've tried 24-hour fasting in the past where I've failed miserably, so I was curious to see if IF would be any different.
Sydney Axelrod, an NYC registered dietitian at Mount Sinai, told POPSUGAR, "If we're constantly eating, then our body will always be in the 'fed' state, which tells our brain we don't need to use our stored energy aka burn fat. It's also great to take a break from eating so often so our bodies can focus on other processes, like regulating hormones, decreasing stress, and reducing inflammation". As a person who eats every hour on the hour, this poses a great challenge.
Another great challenge for me is maintaining muscle mass. I have a thin frame naturally, so I've been weight training for years to gain muscle and build strength. However, Korey Rowe, a certified personal trainer at Dogpound Gym, said, "You'll have to fast a very long time (72+ hours) for your body to begin breaking down muscle tissue. The key is to strength train in the morning (during your fasting period) to boost human growth hormone. That particular hormone shifts your body into a fat-burning state while forming new muscle and maintaining mass while experiencing favourable changes in body composition".
Below is a personal account of my week-long intermittent fasting experience:
Day 1: Am I Alive?
I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning out of pure angst at the thought of not being able to eat until noon. I made the executive decision to utilize my time wisely and take a Vinyasa flow yoga class at 9 a.m. I can't confidently say this was a great boss move because during the class I felt a little lightheaded, but I will say it did help calm my mind and take away from my hunger pains. I ate my last meal at 8 p.m. last night, my yoga class was about an hour long, so finishing up at 10:05 a.m. took up a good chunk of time where my mind (and stomach) wasn't so focused on consuming food. I ate an avocado and egg sandwich around noon, chugged water religiously, and snacked on macadamia nuts around 3:30-4 p.m. I finished my night off with a cup of tea and Pop chips at 8 p.m. I survived the first day. I'm alive.
Day 2: Headaches Galore
I broke fast at 14 hours because I woke up with a knocking headache. I tried drinking more water, which didn't help much at all. In fact, it only made me more annoyed because I was getting up out of my bed every five minutes to use the bathroom. I ate avocado toast at 10 a.m. to help get rid of this headache, which did nothing. Also, I'm 100 percent sure I drank at least one gallon of water before noon to try and kick this headache, but the headache won that fight. I had a smoothie for lunch with a few handfuls of macadamia nuts. I didn't feel as hungry today as I did yesterday, which was weird for me because I'm always hungry, but I didn't force myself to eat. I listened to my body and ate what I felt was decent at that moment.
At 8 p.m., I ate a light spinach salad with eggs, shredded cucumber, a little pecorino cheese, and hemp seeds tossed in lemon zest olive oil.
Day 3: Feeling Refreshed
I woke up today feeling ah-mazing! I felt refreshed and well-rested, which for me is an absolute perk because I've always had trouble sleeping through the night. No headache, no hunger pains. I think this feeling stemmed from the fact that I was not eating right before I went to bed. What I'm extremely impressed with is my lack in cravings. As stated before, I'm a serial snacker who can eat potato chips at any hour, any day of the week. The fact that I hadn't had a single urge to grab a bag is pretty darn impressive.
I broke fast 12 p.m. I opted for two bananas and made a fresh green juice at home. I ate a full meal about 45 minutes later.
Day 4: Feeling Like the Hulk
I woke up with so much energy that I decided to take a HIIT class. I grew up a competitive athlete, so I'm not new to weightlifting by any means. However, I was hesitant about training heavy on an empty stomach. But I went in with an open mind and felt great. I was amazed at how much energy I had. I was able to increase my weight with no problem, I blasted through all of the circuits like champ, and I felt energized the whole way through. No lightheadedness, no faint feeling at all. I've peaked at drinking a gallon of water before 4 p.m., which is pretty impressive. I had more energy today than I've ever had before, which speaks volumes. Feeling amazing.
I broke fast by eating avocado and salmon toast with eggs, spinach, and pecorino cheese on a fresh baguette.
Day 5-7: Smooth Sailing
Now that I was in the groove, it went rather smoothly. Energy was at 100 percent and I felt lighter and more alert. I'm more mindful of what and when I eat, which is a game changer. I've learned how to control my desires and stay disciplined. I'm enjoying waking up and waiting a little bit before I consume food. There's something about having an empty stomach for just a little while that makes me more alive and conscious of what I'm eating throughout the day. I also think it's helped me enjoy my food more. I didn't lose any weight, but I do notice my body is a a lot leaner and more toned. In fact, I gained a little more muscle, which is awesome. I'm sleeping sounder as well, and that's been the biggest perk. I believe my dreams are more vivid because my mind is clearer. I can see intermittent fasting becoming a part of my life, because the results are there — there's no denying it.