Full disclosure; I’m someone who has always had some kind of issue with food, or rather, the eating of it. I don’t mean an eating disorder; I just mean, I’ve never been someone who never thinks about food. First, I’m an emotional eater, and that isn’t limited to the less-than-happy emotions. I like food, I love to cook – I love to bake! But over the years, I’ve learned that my body can have a hard time digesting things. I’ve always felt that, rather than it being what I’m actually eating, it might be when I’m eating that’s the problem.
I used to be a diehard ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ type, often eating breakfast within 45 minutes of waking up. And so would begin an entire day frequented by thoughts of what to eat next.
I used to think that people who didn’t eat breakfast were just weird, until I started reading about intermittent fasting. Weight-loss claims aside, what first attracted me to IF was the fact that, although it meant establishing some kind of parameters around when I ate (you give yourself an eight-hour window in which to eat), it also felt like things were a little more relaxed. I have this thing where I kind of hate numbers – on the scales, counting calories, etc – so IF started to feel like something I could try to aid my digestion, without feeling like I was a failure if I didn’t stick to it religiously.
For me, trying IF was about paying more attention to my body and how it works. It wasn’t about losing a ton of weight. Over the years I’ve struggled with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) although my symptoms all but disappeared after I broke up with an ex so, there’s that… Also, my skin is constantly going up and down with breakouts; once I even had a facial where the therapist, before applying anything to my skin, swiped one finger across my eyebrows and told me it was clear that my digestion was poor!
Before I explain my own approach to IF, here’s what James Clear, a firm believer in self experimentation and a known authority on changing eating habits, has to say about it:
“Here’s a simple definition of intermittent fasting: you eat your normal amount of food in a smaller time frame. It’s not a diet, it’s just a pattern of eating that reduces your eating window each day to about 8 hours. Intermittent fasting is just another tool in your toolbox. Just as eating a healthy diet of real, whole foods is another tool. And exercising regularly is another tool. And meditating or doing yoga to reduce stress is another tool. And sleeping at least 8 hours per night is another tool.”
One of the key benefits Clear points out about IF, is that it greatly reduces ‘decision fatigue’, and I could not agree with this more. Instead of waking up in the morning adding what I’m going to eat to a long list of things that I need to think about, I no longer have to even think about food until 12pm. This means, if I’m up for a workout at 7am, I can be at my work desk at 9am and get a solid few hours of work in before I even think about putting something in my mouth.
Another point Clear makes, is that IF is perfect for frequent travelers. I’ve always complained about the lack of quality, tasty options at the airport, and even more so once I’m on a flight. I don’t know about you but plane food does something to my gut! I’m frequently bloated and uncomfortable if I eat anything supplied on a flight, no matter what class I’m flying in. Now I don’t even have to think about it. I’ll make the decision to fast throughout the flight, and eat on arrival. To read Clear’s in-depth article on IF, click here.
So, what does my own IF day look like?
I usually wake up around 7am and after a pint of water I’ll have a coffee with Coffeemate (not strictly sticking to the zero-calories thing, but I don’t add sugar so I allow myself this one ‘treat’). Then I don’t eat until 12pm, whether or not my morning has included a workout. Although I can give myself until 8pm, I go to bed pretty early most nights, so instead my cut-off is 7pm. If I’m eating out that night, I’ll just push my window to a later starting time, say 1pm, if I can. If I’m hungry, I just eat! I don’t follow this like a robot. If I fall out of the loop, I start over the next day. I just know that, when I do stick to it, there are several things that feel better:
I go to the bathroom regularly, like clockwork, every morning when I wake up.
My stomach is the flattest it’s been in a long time.
I don’t get IBS or bloating anymore – unless I’ve eaten late!
I get way more work done in the morning.
I feel slightly more organized. When I wasn’t doing IF, it was easy to pretty much eat all day. Wake up with breakfast, snack, have lunch, snack, have dinner, snack… It feels strange to just eat all day now, plus my stomach does not appreciate it anymore.
It’s easier to say ‘no’ when someone offers me something.
My own personal advice, if you want to try IF, don’t go all-in on the first day. Starting at 12pm was something I worked up to. I started by eating from 9am until 5pm, and staggered the hours until I got to 12pm. Remember, I am not qualified in any way, and, although I’ve heard some very interesting statistics on how IF can affect your cholesterol and hormone levels in a very positive way, as well as decrease body fat, I advise that, if you’re in anyway concerned about your health, and how IF might affect it, seek the advice of your doctor first.
For now, IF feels right for me, and apparently I’m not alone. At a recent breakfast event I went to, the PR team couldn’t understand why the plentiful spread of fruit, croissants and juices were going untouched – I’d bet money on the fact that all the other editors and writers are trying IF too.
Image courtesy of Chicago Health Magazine.