I Tried Intermittent Fasting for a Week—This Is What Happened
- May 25, 2021
Intermittent fasting is a weight-loss method that comes in many forms—from nixing food two days a week to fasting in 14-hour spurts. Not only has it been generating buzz in the weight-loss community, but research suggests that intermittent fasting may decrease risk factors for diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (Cha. Ching.) So naturally, in the name of trying anything once, I decided to give it a go.
I decided to follow the Leangains approach, which involves intermittent fasting for 14 hours and feasting for 10 each day. Contrary to popular belief, intermittent fasting isn’t about starving yourself, but rather restricting how much you eat during specific periods of time. I was drawn to this diet because of its flexibility: There aren’t any food restriction rules (though Martin Berkhan, the diet’s founder, recommends eating solid foods over protein shakes or smoothies), and your calorie intake depends on your ultimate goal for the diet, such as fat loss, muscle gain, or body recomposition.
Though specific calorie-count suggestions for each goal aren’t listed on the website, I didn’t sweat it: Because chronic anxiety perpetually suppresses my appetite, my problem has never been how much I eat, but what I eat. I’ve always sucked at healthy eating and am often stuck between two extremes—eating super-healthy one day and buying out the bakery aisle the next. My goal was to re-caliberate my eating habits with intermittent fasting and maybe lose some fat in the process.
Your 10-hour feeding window can happen whenever you want, but word is that fasting in the morning and feasting in the afternoon is the recommended approach—mainly, for social reasons. I mean, who wants to awkwardly sip water while your guy noshes on a delicious dinner? (Or, in my case, while my cat eats dinner.)
Since I’ve never been much of a breakfast person, I decided that my feeding window would start at 11 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. After an initial weigh-in, the diet was on.
Half the battle of attempting intermittent fasting is psychological. I thought about what would happen if I didn’t eat enough before the fasting period started. Would I hallucinate about my cat morphing into a roasted chicken? Would my hanger levels start to make people worry about me?
Since my stomach started growling almost immediately after I woke up at 5 a.m., I was about to find out. No calories are to be ingested during the fasting phase, though in a pinch you can chew on some sugar-free gum or drink black coffee. I’m more of a coffee-with-cream kinda girl, but out of desperation, I poured myself a cup of no-frills coffee anyway. It was like drinking a puddle—but at least it helped my hunger pangs.
It wasn’t until I started writing (I’m a freelance writer, and I work from home) that I began to notice the physiological affects that a fasting diet can have on your body. The only time I’m not an anxious wreck is when I’m unconscious, so I was amazed by how clearheaded and focused I felt. Sure, maybe it was that black coffee. But I actually finished my work in one-third the time I normally do.
When the clock struck 11 a.m., my intermittent fasting phase was over. PRAISE! I was ready to eat, but oddly enough I wasn’t starving. The first thing I went for (you know, besides a big coffee with cream) was a bowl of oatmeal with almonds, blueberries, and milk. Since when you eat during the feeding phase doesn’t matter—it’s all about personal preference—I stuck to my typical grazing routine (instead of three square meals) and tried my best to focus on protein-related eats (I’m a sucker for anything dairy), veggies and dip, and quite a bit of fruit. I had one large meal—pan-fried haddock with rice pilaf—just before my next fasting period started and crossed my fingers that I ate enough to see me through.
Days Two and Three
The morning of day two went off without a hitch, though I admit that by the time 11 a.m. rolled around, I was ready to pounce on my fridge. Since days two and three fell on a weekend, I thought it would be easier to get my calorie fix without work getting in the way of my new eating agenda. But the opposite turned out to be true.
Between errands, housework, and socializing, there were so many interruptions—and so little structure—that it sent my eating habits into a tailspin. I basically hoovered anything quick and easy throughout the day—like a bagel and cream cheese, pretzels and hummus, and cherry cheese danishes (yes, plural)—to stave off hunger. I raced against the clock to eat enough before my next fasting period started (enter: Chinese takeout). On top of all that food, I had two beers before the clock struck nine, and spent the rest of Saturday night in a bloated, burpy state. It wasn’t pretty.
On Sunday morning, I fell off the wagon. Come 9 a.m., prime fasting time, I ate a protein bar because my stomach was growling so loud it woke up my cat, Dre, but at least it held me over until my 11 a.m. feeding window started. And once it started, I got back to my regularly scheduled programming. I tried my best to make up for Saturday’s debauchery by prioritizing healthy meals instead of finishing my to-do list.
I stuck to my grazing and snacking meal plan in the afternoon (sliced apple with almond butter, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers), then popped by my mom’s for dinner (schnitzel with rice and steamed veggies). She tried to peer pressure me into eating a ginormous chocolate-coconut muffin for dessert, but since I started fasting I miraculously didn’t have any cravings for junk food. (Mom didn’t mind taking one for the team, eating it on my behalf.)
Before the 9 p.m. cutoff that night, I ate vanilla yogurt with granola, chia seeds, and blueberries, and hit the sack shortly after. Yay for health!
Come Monday, I was relieved that the weekend was over. Fasting is so much easier to pull off when you have plenty of work to occupy your brain (and your stomach).
It’s also astonishing how much more you accomplish when your mind isn’t preoccupied with food-related thoughts. Before starting this diet, I was oblivious to the fact that about 90 percent of the decision fatigue I faced in a day revolved around food. The freedom of knowing that I didn’t have to deal with anything food-related for 14 whole hours seemed to give my mind a much-needed breather, enabling me to get more done that day than ever before.
I found that snacking through the busier hours of my feeding phase (on average, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) was the most efficient way to go, and fit perfectly within the 15 to 20-minute work breaks I usually take. I ate snacks that were light on calories yet filling and easy to throw together, such as avocado toast, tuna salad, and cereal. Once I clocked out, I had one large meal (the best pulled pork I’d ever eaten), and then a mini-meal (cheese omelette) closer to bedtime.
I also began to notice a shift in how I felt about food in general: Instead of eating healthy because I “should,” I ate healthy because it was the most logical thing to do. When you only have 10 hours to eat, your eating habits shift from obligatory to instinctive. I started focusing on quality over quantity foods that would keep me full the longest—meat, dairy, greens, nuts, and seeds.
Days Five Through Seven
By mid-week, I found my fasting groove. My eating habits became so routine that I barely thought about food at all—snacks during work breaks, one mini-meal after work, one larger meal for dinner, and then a mini-meal or snack before bed, depending on what I felt I needed to see me through the fasting period. I also started putting more effort into the process by planning meals ahead, casually deciding what I was going to eat during my next feeding window just as the current one was coming to a close. This gave me more time to actually enjoy what I was eating. Bonus: I didn’t have one junk food-related thought or craving.
As the week came to a close, I found myself not wanting to go back to my old ways, and learned that intermittent fasting isn’t so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. It’s not something that makes you feel restricted or deprived, and there’s just enough structure to help you make significant changes to your eating habits without feeling like you’re being forced to—perfect for someone like me who’s always struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle of any kind.
I can’t say for sure how intermittent fasting impacts sweat sessions (the only sweating I did this week was due to a lack of A/C), but the huge boost in productivity has made it so that workouts would be a lot easier to pencil into my day. (Another bonus.)
At the beginning of this week, the only major change I made was the time of day in which I ate. But by the end of the week, I was eating healthier than ever before (like, ever) and accomplishing more in one week than I normally do in three. The changes I experienced weren’t something I forced to happen through calorie counting or making myself feel guilty. Best of all, I lost two pounds, which seemed to mostly come off my midsection (gone is the pooch that makes people wonder if you’re three months along or just hella bloated).
As someone who’s eating habits have needed work for a long time, I loved how simple this process was and that it’s a “diet” you can fit into your lifestyle, as opposed to turning your whole life upside down just to make it work. And I didn’t need the gum after all.
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