This is my personal and very unscientific experiment with Intermittent Fasting.
Why did I choose to try intermittent fasting (IF)? I had a few clients ask about it and the only answers I could give were based off what I had read of other people’s experiences. Also, I wanted to see first-hand how intermittent fasting felt and worked. I am insanely curious. I always want to know about different diets and their effects on the body. What better way to learn about it then to try it on myself?
I had hoped to stay on the diet longer and be able to write up a more in-depth article detailing my experience with IF, including blood work and more body metrics. However, I had to throw in the towel just short of one month. Keep reading to find out why I quit.
Intermittent Fasting (referred to as IF) is when you go a set amount of time, usually 24-16 hours, without eating or eating very little. There are multiple different versions of it. I choose to follow a modified version of the 16:8 method (also called Lean Gains and Daily Fast) Normally, with this version you fast for 16 hours, and then have 8 hours to eat for the day. I chose to modify it slightly. I fasted for 15 hours from 9pm till noon and had a 9 hour eating window from noon to 9pm.
First off, I think intermittent fasting can work extremely well for some people. I just wasn’t one of them. I would hypothesize younger males and some women (particularly ones who have had not undergone a lot of crash diets and have stable hormones) would be better candidates for IF. Also, Intermittent fasting is not for anyone who has a history with eating disorders or binge restrict eating cycles.
Intermittent Fasting isn’t just about skipping breakfast and getting ripped. With this version, not only do you need to fast for a set amount of time, but it also takes into effect nutrient timing (what you eat around your work outs) and carb cycling (consuming higher carbs on workout days and lower amounts on rest days).
So, let’s get to it. My personal pros and cons of IF
IF work really well with my schedule. I believe IF works best for people who find themselves very busy during their fasting window. Basically, all I was giving up was my 1st 2 meals of the day. Normally my 1st meal is eaten while chasing children around and arguing about the importance of putting on clean underwear. And my 2nd meal is usually eaten (or drank from a shaker bottle, and if you follow me on IG you know how much I despise drinking my food.) while sitting in the carpool lane. Since my mornings are so busy, I never felt hungry or bothered by the fasting. If anything, it freed up my mornings.(For the 1st time all year my kid was early to school!) If you have a desk job or are not busy during your fasting window, it would be a lot harder.
This version of IF utilizes carb cycling (and in turn calorie cycling). So, on the days I would work out I would eat higher amount of carbs and calories. On my rest days I consume a lower amount of carbs and calories. With normal eating, I generally find the lower carb/calorie days to be challenging. However, while doing IF, the low carb/calorie days were incredibly easy. It was the high carb days that I found were a bigger struggle.
Since my workouts would fall in the mornings, while I was still fasting, I choose to drink branch chain amino acids (BCAA) right before and after my workout. My day would look like this: I’d wake by 5 am. Consume only black coffee and water. Then at 8:30AM. I would drink 5 grams of BCAA. Next I would train. Then, at 10:30 I would drink another 5 grams of BCAA. At noon I would break the fast with a huge (and I mean HUGE) meal. I’d eat dinner at 6pm and a pre bed snack at 9. Then I would begin the fast all over again.
I loved (and I mean LOVED) the fact I was eating larger meals while doing IF. I was able to eat two 600 calorie meals and one 300 calorie snack. This was a large increase from the multiple 200-300 calorie meals I had been eating. Eating such large meals, would leave me feeling satisfied after eating. When I am eating multiple smaller meals, I never really get to feel full. At times, however I found it was really hard to get all my calories in (without resorting to calorically dense less nutritious foods, aka junk.) Unfortunately, I did find myself eating more and more less nutritious junk foods.
It did make dining out easier, though. I could pretty much eat anything on the menu and still stay under my calories for the day.
Another huge positive (and the biggest one) is it took the head game out of eating. What I mean is I didn’t have to think much about eating. I didn’t have to worry about when I ate last or when will it be time to eat again. Since I was only eating a couple times, I also didn’t have to give much thought to how much I was eating either. I also got to learn some important lessons around food. Like its ok to be hungry. Its ok to miss a meal. And I will not lose all the gains if I don’t eat directly after my workout. IF reminded me I could relax around food and eating.
Interestingly for me, the easiest part of the day was when I was fasting. Things started getting tricky once I broke the fast. Once I started eating, I found it very hard to stop, particularly on my workout days. I believe IF reignited some old restrict-binge tendencies from my younger years. Within 2 weeks of following IF, I found I was unable to control myself around food. I started to notice the classic restrict-binge symptoms. I couldn’t stop eating, even when painfully full. I would experience an overly full and upset stomach. Then the guilt and shame would hit. I would find myself having an intense feeing to “get back on plan” or “make up for my slip up”. This all would be followed by more binge and more guilt and shame.
My totally unscientific theory is that due to past relationship with eating (which prior to this experiment, I thought I had fully healed) and my personal hormones, intermittent fasting and I didn’t jive. My 37-year-old metabolism just isn’t as adaptive and flexible as it had been in my 20s. (Or maybe I stressed my metabolism out too much with horrible diets when I was in my 20s)
After 3 weeks of doing IF I:
- Huge increase in my cravings. To the point of being uncontrollable.
- Experienced binge- restrict cycle eating
- Increase in my hunger (which would hit only after breaking the fast.)
- Big decrease in my energy. My workouts started taking twice as long to get though. I was too exhausted to take my daily afternoon walk with my children and dog. And at one point towards the end, I was unable to even make my bed without having to take breaks and sit down. My caffeine consumption also tripled while I was doing IF, it was the only way I could get through the day.
- My libido disappeared.
- I started experiencing night sweats.
- Even though I was exhausted, I was unable to fall asleep at night and I would commonly wake up in the middle of the night.
- I experienced heart palpitations, particularly at night when trying to fall asleep.
- Holy mood swings! I would become insanely crabby, once I broke my fast for the day. And I mean CRABBY.
- My body did not ovulate during the cycle that coincided with IF.
(Since stopping IF, all of the above issues disappeared within 2 weeks. Also my body ovulated, 3 weeks late, after having had resumed normal eating for 2 weeks)
Alone each of these signs could mean nothing, however I felt due to all of them at once it was a clear sign from my body that I should quit intermittent fasting. I could go into a lengthy discussion of the different hormone pathways in our body and how fasting may have affected mine. But, I’ll save you the time and just says this: I suspect fasting suppressed my appetite regulatory hormones, raised my cortisol levels and caused my reproductive hormones to become unbalanced. Of course this is all speculation, since I did not have any blood work done.
I had come to the conclusion, that at this point in my life IF wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it to my body and my hormone health. Or to my family. I wasn’t a great mother while I was practicing IF. And let’s be honest, above all else these are the important things. In the big picture of life, I would rather my kids remember me as a mom who played and was fun than a mom who was below 15% body fat but exhausted and crabby AF. The final straw was when my dinosaur obsessed 5-year-old asked me to take him to the museum to look as the dinosaur bones and I shuddered. Just the thought of taking my kids to the museum exhausted me. I had no idea how I could possible muster up the energy to do it. Then I looked in his eyes and I knew. I needed to quit IF.
I originally did IF with the hope to shed a little body fat. Interestingly, I did not lose any body fat, but I did put in a wee bit of muscle and stored more water. I started IF at 118.2 pounds, and an estimated 17.3% body fat. When I quit I weighed 119.2 with an estimated body fat of 17% In full disclosure while I did attempt to log all my food as accurately has I could. I suspect I may have under estimated my intake due to the binge style eating. (It’s hard to know exactly how much peanut butter you are eating when standing in front of the fridge while spooning it straight from the jar.)
Now with all that said, I am actually considering doing IF again. If I do, I will make even more modifications though. I plan to try a more cyclical version, where I will only fast a few days a week (on rest days or very light workout days) and would only fast for 12-14 hours. I also will test my hormones before and after (and during if need be). Of course, if I feel my any of the symptoms I experienced this time I will quit immediately. My thought is that with this more relaxed version of fasting will be easier on my hormones.
While IF wasn’t for me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of people out there getting great results with IF. I hypothesize that IF works better for
- Young adults
- Those already fairly fit (women under 20% body fat and men under 15%).
- Those without ANY binge-restrict eating history
- Anyone who has never suffered from an eating disorder (or any form of disordered eating)
- People whom are busy during during their fasting window
- Women whose hormones are stable, and not perimenopause or postpartum.
- And those who do not have a history of any extreme diets.
Even though I would call this IF experiment a fail I was able to learn and take away some positives. I have been reminded I can be more laid back with my eating. I can miss a meal and it will be ok. And that is ok to be hungry.
Bottom line: whenever you are trying out any new diet always listen to your body. Not every diet it best for every person. You have to find the one that works best for you and your body!