Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently you’ve probably heard something about Intermittent Fasting. The first I heard of it was from a friend who, having watched the Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer last year, decided to try out the approach it advocated. She started to severely limit her calories two days per week and eat pretty much what she wanted on the other days.
Initially I was incredibly sceptical, for many reasons. How could you ‘get away’ with eating ‘whatever you want’ for 5 days a week by limiting your calories on 2 days per week? Why was it called fasting when you were still actually eating? Surely those limited calorie days would be very difficult to manage and leave you feeling tired and drained? It just didn’t seem credible to me, so I dismissed it as another fad.
Then when I started following Julia Buckley on Twitter and found her blog I started to learn more about IF. I realised that there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that it really does help with fat loss and has a range of other benefits as well, including increased insulin sensitivity. That was of specific interest to me given my family history of Type 2 diabetes. I also realised that there were lots of different ways to approach Intermittent Fasting – not just the 5 and 2 method. I was definitely becoming more curious.
When I started Julia’s fat loss programme in January I started to interact with more people who were already using IF as part of their fat loss strategy and seeing good results. The more I found out, the more I started to think that it couldn’t hurt to try it out. After all – the worst that could happen is that I’d feel too hungry and eat something!
From the reading I’d done I’d gathered that the benefits of fasting started to kick in around 16hrs after the last meal. 16 hours seemed like an achievable amount of to go without food – eat dinner by 7pm and then just skip breakfast and eat again after 11am the next day. I decided to give it a go.
For the last few weeks I’ve been doing a 16 hour fast once a week. I finish my dinner by 7pm and then don’t eat anything for the rest of that evening or the next day until 11am. I’ve been very surprised by how easy it’s been. I expected to be ravenous by 10am but I’ve experienced very little hunger at all and as long as I keep myself busy I don’t even really think about food.
I’d been contemplating upping the ante a bit and going for a 24hr fast now that I’m back at work. I thought that being busy would be a good distraction and make it easier than being at home. Then last week as part of the weekly challenge that she sets the people on her programme Julia suggested that we try a 24hr fast. The gauntlet was thrown down and I started to think about which day I would choose for my first 24hr fast.
My husband was away on Monday and Tuesday night so I decided that Tuesday would be a good day to fast as I wouldn’t have the temptation of someone else eating food next to me. So on Tuesday morning I woke up, did my exercise and then had a protein filled breakfast, as Julia had advised. Then for the rest of the day and through to breakfast the next morning I ate nothing and drank only green tea and water.
So how was it? Truthfully tougher than the 16-17 hour fasts had been but totally do-able with a bit of willpower. Interestingly I had hunger pangs at 1pm even though I’d had breakfast 6 hours before. On my 16 hour fasts I’d not really felt that hungry at all so I was surprised that the hunger had come along so quickly. But I went with it and soon it disappeared.
Being busy definitely helped as did drinking lots of water and green tea. At one point I had a bit of a headache but I actually think that was more to do with the amount of tea I’d consumed – I drank more water and it soon passed. By the time I got home I was feeling fine and I’d planned plenty of things to do to keep me occupied. I started feeling hungry again around 7pm but told myself that it was only a couple of hours before bedtime and that I wasn’t going to give in now!
I went to bed at around 10pm and my tummy was really grumbling. However, after a good night’s sleep I woke to absolutely no hunger at all and a tummy that was flatter than it’s ever been! I ate breakfast, mainly because I was due to do a workout and haven’t exercised fasted before, but I really wasn’t desperate for food as I thought I might be. I also expected to be much hungrier on Wednesday than normal and was careful to keep an eye on the amount I ate – but the hunger never materialised and if anything I was less hungry than usual!
To be honest I have no idea whether the fasting is helping my fat loss – I am eating well and Julia’s workouts are getting me into better shape than I’ve ever been so it’s difficult to pinpoint what is having what effect – but it’s definitely not hindering my progress.
Overall I actually quite enjoyed the 24 hr fast and the sense of control it gave me and I definitely appreciated the flatter belly in the morning! I’m going to give it another try next week but this time from dinner to dinner to see if that’s any different. I’ve also bought the 5:2 ‘Fast Diet’ book to find out a bit more as I know a number of people who are advocates of this method. Personally I think ‘not eating’ might be easier than having two small meals during fast days but I’m open minded and now intrigued to read more about the science and theory.
I’ll post again on this subject once I’ve tried a dinner to dinner fast and also once I’ve tried exercising while fasted – some people say they feel really alert when they do this but I know that plenty of others are concerned that it would wipe them out. I’ll give it a go and see how I get on.
For now – I’m not advocating Intermittent Fasting to everyone, but it’s definitely worth exploring and trying if you’re curious, not least as you learn a lot about what’s true hunger and what’s in your mind!