I’m pretty hungry. Not quite hangry, but I could eat for sure. It’s 10:31 a.m. as I typed those last 2 lines. I haven’t eaten yet today. The last bite I took was last night around 7:30. It was black bean and brown rice stuffed peppers topped with cilantro, some salsa, and a bit of cheese. It was delicious. I’ll probably have that again today when I finally eat along with a whey protein shake… and a large, stuffed crust, meat lovers pizza… Okay, not the pizza, but right now my brain is pretty consumed with thoughts of food. I suppose those are the early phases of doing 1 month of Intermittent Fasting, or IF for short.
Some of you may already be familiar with the term. Some of you may have no idea what it is or why in the hell I would subject myself to it. So what exactly is IF?
What it is
Intermittent fasting actually has no exact definition. A broad description I suppose would go something like this: Occasional periods of longer than normal fasting (we fast every night when we sleep). There are a few different versions of it, however, that seem to be pretty popular. There is the 5:2 variety where you essentially eat normally on 5 days of the week and cut calories to around 500 on two non-consecutive days. Preferably these would not be days that you are exercising. Some folks prefer to simply take 1 day each week and not eat. So another way to word that would be a 24 hr fast. You can really create any variety of IF that you want, but the one that seems to be the most popular is called the 16:8. This refers to a 16 hour window in which you abstain from consuming calories (solid or liquid). Therefore you have a daily window-of-eating period of 8 hours. Within this window, there are no restrictions on when to eat, but a meal roughly every 3 hours seems most popular. For me personally, I’m going to do something that looks like this: First meal of the day is between 12-1 pm. Second meal is from 3-4 pm. Last meal is between 7-8 pm. Then I will fast until the next day from 12-1 pm and repeat that cycle for 1 month. Ideally my biggest meal will be the first and will follow a workout with each of the next two meals getting slightly smaller. But somehow I don’t see that necessarily happening… and I’m cool with that.
Benefits (or potential benefits)
At the risk of sounding too much like a Crossfitter, there is some thought that in the hunter-gatherer era, we almost certainly had extended periods of fasting due to the obvious circumstances. The hypothesis is that there may be some health benefits to that. And some of the research to date seems to imply that might have some merit to it. Personally, I feel it is a bit early on in the research to say that these are all for certain, but it looks promising nonetheless. Here are a few:
- Weight loss
- decreased risk of cancer
- decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
- improved blood lipids
- decrease in inflammation
- potential to increase life span
- increased insulin sensitivity
- decreased blood pressure
And while the list above is not exhaustive, I think we can all agree that’s pretty damn impressive, even if the changes are minuscule. And those are the reasons I thought I’d give this a shot. I want to see if this is both practical and sustainable… and possibly enjoyable. It’s why I went vegetarian for a month. It has some serious health benefits. It’s why I didn’t try the Hollywood Cookie Diet or the Tapeworm Diet. And yes, those are actual diets. Google away my friends.
In addition to the physiological markers described above, I think quite possibly the biggest impact this way of eating (note I didn’t refer to it as a diet) could have on most of us is this: It helps us to understand (or re-learn if you will) what ACTUAL hunger is. What I mean by that is we are always eating. We’ve been told for some time now that we need 6 small meals a day. Or we need to have 3 square meals with some snacks in between. And let me be clear that I’m not knocking those two ways of eating because there is no one correct way to do it. It’s an individual type thing. Do what works for you! But I digress. I think it’s important to truly understand what it’s like to be hungry. Not bored, emotional, or kinda-sorta hungry, but really truly hungry. I’m afraid a lot of us don’t know or forget what that feels like. And in the world of weight control, it plays a really big role. I often advise my clients to use a 1-10 hunger scale. 1 would be so hungry you could eat your own arm off and 10 would be that you might actually, literally explode. I’ll tell them to start eating when they are approaching a 3 and to stop eating when they are approaching a 7. But if you don’t understand what real hunger is, those numbers are likely skewed. For example, that 3 looks more like a 5 and that 7 more like an 8 or 9. That’s not going to help them much now is it? So with all of these benefits, are there any possible drawbacks?
Aside from some health concerns for people in certain disease states (I’ll get to that shortly) I don’t find very many drawbacks to it. One potential for it to maybe not work down the road is that the majority of the studies that I looked for and found on the subject used animal models and not humans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. For example, rats are used a lot in research studies because of their short life span. We can speed up, if you will, how quickly the data gets to us. We can see the “long term” much more quickly. What would take years or decades of studying in humans we can get in a much shorter time with rats. The downside is that while there are many similarities between species (rats, humans, monkeys, etc.), it’s still not done solely in humans so it is difficult to make a definitive statement on the efficacy of such studies. But you know what, it’s pretty damn good and close enough in my opinion.
From a medical condition standpoint, it may not be appropriate for someone with diabetes. Low blood sugar + driving a car = no bueno. It also might not be appropriate for individuals with already low blood pressure. As with the diabetic scenario above, low blood pressure + driving a car = no bueno. I’ll also throw in here that it may not be appropriate for individuals with a history of disordered eating or eating disorders.
At this point you may be wondering if there is a “foods to eat” and a “foods not to eat” list. Well, no there isn’t. And that’s kind of the beauty of it. As many of you know I am a fan of flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s what we used to call moderation. And I also don’t like to use the words “good” or “bad”, because it’s not the food, chemical, or ingredient that is the issue, it’s the quantity of it that you consume that is the issue. As I said in my last post, too much water will kill you. But anyways, just because it doesn’t have any foods off limits doesn’t mean its a free for all. I still encourage a diet high in produce that may or may not contain lean meats. A diet that is high in fiber, micronutrients, healthy fats, and plenty of water. So it’s basically a diet that is good for you that you eat at different times than you are probably used to.
My Experience… so far
Okay, so this is only my second day of being an IFer (had to; been saving that one). However, here is what I have noticed so far:
- On day 1, I was not digging it. Really hungry by my first meal. Not too bad after that
- Today (day 2) I was hungry for that first meal, but not as much as I thought I’d be
- Discovered that I’m drinking more water in the morning to help fill the void… not a bad thing
- I’m back to two cups of coffee after being a one cupper for the past couple of years. Again, I think I’m filling the void here
- My energy hasn’t suffered. I feel fine. Feel pretty damn good actually, but that might be the endorphins from my extreme hunger pains talking (kidding… maybe)
So I think I’ve typed enough for one post. I will update throughout the journey here and there to give updates should they be warranted. If you have any specific questions or comments for me just post in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to try and answer you.