As a dietitian, I’ve tried a lot of things in the name of science: carb restriction, elimination diets, sugar “detoxes”, calorie counting. I figure that if I’m going to offer advice on something, why not have firsthand experience?
Intermittent fasting is one of the buzziest trends right now, and I was genuinely curious.
Plus, there’s actually evidence to back it up. Research has shown that fasting may actually help lower risk for disease, possibly because fasting puts cells under mild stress, which may fortify them against disease. It’s also argued that, while a super low-cal diet drags your metabolism down, alternating between fasting and eating does the opposite. A recent research review concluded that intermittent fasting was a “promising” approach to losing weight and improving health—for those who can handle it.
I thought I could. Since I’m not a big breakfast eater and wanted to cut out evening snacking anyway, I decided the “16:8” approach to intermittent fasting was my best bet. That involves eating during an 8-hour period that you choose and fasting the rest of the time. (There is another approach, the “5:2” method, which directs that you take in just 500 calories two days of the week and eat normally the remaining five.)
But I struggled. The last three hours of my 8 p.m.- 12 p.m. fast each day were brutal. I was light-headed and empty, my brain felt fuzzy, and I daydreamed about my morning smoothie as the minutes dragged on.
Still, I stuck solidly to the plan for a full week and learned some important lessons:
The last meal matters. What I ate in the evening made a big difference in how I fared the next morning. A skimpy bowl of soup for dinner, and my stomach was rumbling by 7 a.m. A more substantial plate with lots of protein kept me fuller longer.
Planning is everything. It’s harder than it sounds to fit all of your food into an 8-hour window, and those calories really need to count if you’re going to get the nutrients you need.
Coffee or tea can help. Some people who swear by intermittent fasting sip on green tea or even Bulletproof Coffee throughout the morning. I’m not a fan of either, but they’d definitely be helpful in curbing hunger (and offering a much-needed distraction).
Life will get in the way. Late dinners, parties, vacations, and illness—all of these things will throw your schedule off and make sticking to this plan 100 percent nearly impossible. If you’re not willing to give yourself some grace now and then, it will prove too challenging.
Diets can lead to food fixation. I tend to become preoccupied with food when I can’t have it—and I think that’s true for a lot of people. While fasting, I yearned for food in a way that just didn’t seem healthy, mentally or physically.
Intermittent fasting may click with some people, but I’m not one of them. I’m better off making small, healthy changes that aren’t too painful. Bottom line is that whatever approach to eating you take has to be sustainable–and ultimately enjoyable–if it’s going to create lasting change to your weight and your health.