For decades it’s been served to us: the idea that proper nutrition entails our consumption of three, balanced meals per day, spread out between breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with an early morning breakfast being the “most important meal of the day.” That same three-meals-a-day advice has undergone several modifications, the most current belief being that five or six small meals are superior to three large ones, in order to “keep our metabolism going all day” and prevent us from gorging ourselves when we do eat (because we are mindless eating vacuums, evidently). Enter intermittent fasting.
Not to be confused with calorie-restricted dieting, intermittent fasting (aka IF) is a schedule of eating whereby you eat your day’s worth of calories during a designated window of time. Intermittent fasting is a practical alternative to the cruel and unusual punishment that is calorie restriction, and which capitalizes on the health benefits fasting brings to our mind and body.
While some are calling intermittent fasting a passing fad, others are toting its grocery list of benefits, including these:
- It’s an easy diet to follow.
- It will save you a ton of time.
- You’ll have less hunger.
- You’ll lose body fat.
- You’ll build muscle (if you weight train).
- Your body will be healthier and better at repairing itself.
- Your mind will become calm and clear during fasted states.
- You’ll have more energy.
Do the Claims Hold Up? My Experience with Two Years of Intermittent Fasting
Claim #1: It’s an easy diet to follow.
Yes and no. It’s easier than some diets, but it’s hard to follow it religiously, hence my admission that I have been fasting “on and off” for the past two years.
If I were a professional athlete, or perhaps a lifestyle guru who shouted at obese people for a living, I’d have no problem keeping up intermittent fasting, say, 345 days of the year. But unfortunately I’m just a lowly peon, and, well, a man’s just gotta eat sometimes.
That said, I typically practice intermittent fasting from Monday to Thursday or Friday, and relax the eating regime on the weekends.
Claim #2: It will save you a ton of time.
Ain’t nobody got time for nothin’ these days. We spend hours buying, preparing, eating, and then cleaning up the food we eat. In the mornings, when I might otherwise be making something to eat and then stuffing it into my piehole, instead I relax, enjoy a coffee, listen to the quiet, and take an hour to get some writing done.
It’s a great way to start the day.
Claim #3: You’ll have less hunger.
Lies. The hunger doesn’t go away.
But – and this is a big, juicy but! – it’s not all bad news. Although the hunger won’t go away, what does go away is the reflexive belief that being hungry = time to eat. After many months of intermittent fasting, you’ll notice that your relationship with hunger changes. Part of practicing IF means accepting that the human body is not in constant need of caloric intake, which changes your relationship to those hunger pangs you might feel during periods of fasting.
In a really odd, twisted way, I’ve begun to associate fasted hunger with a feeling of calm.
Claim #4: You’ll lose body fat.
Intermittent fasting will really lean you out – but only if you eat well during your eating windows. If you break your fast by eating a bag of gluten-free Cool Ranch Doritos, well, then it won’t really work. I have found breaking my fast with a high-fat, high-fibre, low-carb meal (e.g., a giant salad) to work the best because it satisfies my hunger and leaves me feeling full for several hours after. Plus, after fasting you’re in prime fat-burning mode, so it helps to keep that going by avoiding a high-carb meal.
Claim #5: You’ll build muscle (if you weight train).
This one I didn’t experience, necessarily; however, it’s possible I wasn’t eating enough during my feeding window. I also tend to do a lot of high-intensity cardio (because it makes me feel like a champion!) that could work against muscle building.
But I still think it could work if muscle building is your goal. You just really have to work hard to get all the calories in during your feeding window, which is harder than it might first seem.
Claim #6: Your body will be healthier and better at repairing itself.
The science (still relatively in its infancy) tells us that human growth hormone production spikes exponentially at the peak of a fasting window, which would suggest to me that my body’s ability to repair itself and ward off disease (plus keep fat off and build muscle) would be improved.
But I didn’t necessarily notice this, mostly because I’m not cognitively aware of how and when my body repairs itself, but also because the restorative elements are something that occur over a very long period of time. It’s really more of a long-term investment in health than it is a noticeable, short-term gain.
Claim #7: Your mind will become calm and clear during fasted states.
Yes, true – but it takes a long time before you’ll experience this.
I’m only now really getting the benefit of this. It doesn’t happen all of sudden – I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly get what the world is all about and elevate to a higher plain of consciousness.
But there is a definite calming feeling you start to associate with your fasted state. Even just being free of the need to eat in itself feels liberating.
Claim #8: You’ll have more energy.
Yes! Very yes.
Because we are constantly in a fed state during our waking hours, we never really get to experience how our body changes when we’re fasted.
I don’t even like working out now if I’ve eaten even a few hours beforehand. Eating, and the digestion that follows, has really become something that’s ideally done while I’m in a rested state.
During my waking hours of fasting I do not feel physically tired or weak; on the contrary, as soon as I break my fast I start to feel more lethargic and tired (which makes sense because it requires a huge amount of our operating systems to accomplish digestion).
All in all, I really like intermittent fasting. I may not follow it all the time, but I think it’s a great dietary tool to have in your arsenal. In some ways, it’s a seasonal regime for me – I tend to eat more during the cold winter months, and lean out in the summer months. I think it’s also good, too, to keep your body guessing, to change things up from time-to-time.
Thinking of trying intermittent fasting? I say go for it.
(Note, however, that IF might not be right for everyone; some studies have shown that it can have negative effects on women, especially pregnant women. Everything I’ve included in this post is from my personal experience of IF – I’m certainly no expert.)