Intermittent fasting is the buzziest trend in wellness. From Instagram to the stage at Ted X, everyone seems to be talking about it. But while it’s been on my radar for a few years now, it took me a while to warm up to it. As an early morning exerciser and die-hard breakfast person, I doubted that I would feel the steady energy and lack of appetite that so many seasoned practitioners describe. And what about breakfast being the most important meal of the day?
Watching Cynthia Thurlow’s TED talk inspired me to do some more research and ultimately commit to 16/8 intermittent fasting. I’ve been doing it for just over a month, and I’ve been so surprised at how it’s affected me!
Why Try Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (or IF) is gaining popularity because of numerous health benefits including:
Weight loss (particularly around the belly)
Better brain health
Increased cardiovascular health
New studies suggest that intermittent fasting may also boost metabolism, and there’s even evidence to suggest that IF can help prevent cancer. Integrative health practitioner Dr. Amy Shah MD tells Mindbodygreen, “There’s research showing a 34% reduction in breast cancer recurrence with approximately 13 hours of fasting per day.”
I mean seriously, what was holding me back?
What Is 16/8 Intermittent Fasting?
There are several different ways to fast intermittently. I chose the easiest: the 16/8 method. With this type of intermittent fasting, you eat all your meals within an 8-hour period (your “fed” period), then fast for 16 hours. Like most people who use this method, my fasting period is overnight when I’m asleep and wouldn’t be eating, anyway.
This is an incredibly flexible way to fast, because you can adjust the schedule to match whatever you’re doing that day. For example, I had a late dinner with a friend one night, then simply pushed my first meal back a few hours the following day. While it’s best to follow a consistent schedule, having that flexibility enabled me to stay more consistent over all.
A Typical Day Of IF
Since I have a small child and eat dinner early, I’m generally finished eating by 7pm, and I have my first meal between 9 and 11am the following day. If you just did the math, you likely noticed that means I sometimes fast for as little as 14 hours…which really isn’t a true 16/8. In the course of my research, I discovered that there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to IF. While fasting can indeed help women regulate their hormone levels, going too long between meals can send our hormones on a dangerous roller coaster. In fact, some research suggests that most women do better with a 14-15 hour fasted period. Symptoms that you’re fasting for too long include brain fog, headaches and (duh) extreme hunger. If you’d like to try IF, make sure you fast for at least 12 hours; there’s no evidence to suggest that shorter fasts have any benefits.
IF is not about skipping meals. Since I’m three meals into an 8-hour period, those meals tend to be smaller, and I’m less likely to snack. And if I’m cutting myself off at 7pm, I’m not having that extra glass of wine, dessert, or hypno-eating tortilla chips in front of the TV at night. The calorie deficit therefore comes from skipping items that are generally low in nutrients as opposed on missing food groups or undereating.
I don’t do IF if I know I’m going to be too busy to get all my meals in, or if I simply wake up starving. As a result, I’m generally fasting 4-5 days weekly, not every day.
What About Breakfast?
I could write a novel about how much I love breakfast. From bagels piled high with lox, to stacks of fluffy pancakes dripping with maple syrup, to soft, pillowy frittata sprinkled with fresh garden herbs, breakfast is quite simply my jam. But is it as important as we’ve been led to believe it is?
The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day was actually started by the cereal companies, not nutritionists. The research on whether breakfast is beneficial actually quite mixed. While some studies show that the morning meal boosts metabolism, other research finds no difference in weight between people who eat breakfast, and those who don’t.
As I mentioned earlier, intermittent fasting isn’t about skipping meals…and that includes breakfast! I was happy to discover that I could still enjoy all my favorite breakfast foods , albeit a little later in the day. In my opinion, that’s likely why IF is more effective than simply skipping breakfast; when you get your three squares, you prioritize nutrition and eat enough to keep your body from going into starvation mode.
Here’s what I eat in a typical week:
Want to save this graphic to your computer? Download the meal plan!
My Surprising Results
I saw one huge benefit as soon as I started IF: my sleep improved drastically. This started the first day I began fasting and has continued ever since. I sleep more soundly, wake up less often to use the bathroom, and I fall asleep more quickly.
Intermittent fasting has also reinforced something I already knew: the number on the scale is not an accurate barometer of your health if you already lead a healthy lifestyle, and it should never be inversely proportional to your self-esteem.
Within a few consecutive days of IF, I noticed the flat belly effect that so many people describe. While the scale hadn’t budged, my clothes once again fit comfortably and I was feeling myself. I realized I had started to get caught up in that “OMG those extra 5 lb” mindset that can be so destructive. A month later, I’ve lost about 2 pounds and I’m good with that.
IF has also forced me to eat even more healthfully. Because I’m prioritizing three, nutrient-dense meals a day, I don’t find myself wanting to snack, and I’d rather skip dessert tonight than postpone tomorrow’s breakfast even further and screw up my whole meal schedule. This also makes it hard to be too self-critical; when you’re eating that healthy and moving daily, your body ends up at its unique, optimal weight.
Other surprising results:
I’m not at all hungry during or after my morning workouts!
I drink less coffee because I now take it black
Mornings aren’t as crazy because I can get things done while my family eats.
I eat fewer simple carbs, naturally
I don’t crave sweets as much
I drink a lot more water
I’m curious: has anyone else discovered the same? Tell me how IF makes you feel in the comments section below!