A Health Journalist Against Restrictive Diets Became an Intermittent Fasting Believer After 30 Days — Here’s Why
And you might too!
Like many people, I’m not very good at dieting. My fridge is always stocked with plenty of fruit, veggies, and lean protein, but I also enjoy a carb. Chips, crackers, and sweets are my kryptonite, and willpower is not my strong suit. As a health journalist, I’m not a fan of restrictive diets in general (think: keto, Paleo, or Whole 30) because I don’t think they’re sustainable in the long-term. I tried Atkins once for a week and had horrible brain fog. Keto? Never gonna do it. I’ll take the carbs and the belly fat, thank you. The lack of fiber would make me miserable. But intermittent fasting, and especially time-restricted eating, intrigued me.
The idea of simply not eating during certain hours — the bulk of that time being overnight — seemed much more doable to me than limiting carbs, fat, gluten, or anything else. So I gave it a try — and recruited a couple of friends to do it with me. Here’s what happened.
I opted to start with a 16:8 approach right off the bat, eating between 12 and 8 p.m. That suits my schedule the best since I often don’t get home from work until 6:30 or 7. The first day, the hunger hit at about 11 a.m. I promptly texted my friends with several wailing emojis, “I’m starving!! One hour to go!” They felt the same way. I noticed I was very focused on being hungry and not being able to assuage it — almost like my brain was panicking. Still, I managed to make it to noon and have a normal lunch and, later on, dinner.
During this first week, once the panic of being hungry wore off, I realized that I usually don’t even get hungry until 11 a.m., and an hour of hunger isn’t that bad. If I’m busy, I don’t notice it. On the weekends, though, it’s harder to fast as I do notice it more. Thankfully, I never woke up ravenous in the middle of the night, which has happened when I was dieting.
Sticking To It
Six out of seven days this week, I didn’t cheat even by a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee. On Friday, some friends came over and I ended up nibbling and drinking wine until almost 10. Instead of trying to go 16 hours from then, which I knew would be difficult, I just stuck to my original plan to fast until noon the next day. I figured one day of 14:10 wouldn’t wreck everything. Even with a normal diet, my digestion is my Achilles’ heel. I’m prone to bloating and reflux. This week, I noticed that I had less indigestion at night because I wasn’t eating or drinking late. But there was one big sticking point: my colon. I only went number two once this week. That’s slow even by my already slow standards.
This first week, I was just getting used to the rhythm of waiting to eat until later and stopping eating at 8, instead of continuing to nibble and nosh. So far it was much easier to simply not eat until a certain time than to monitor every bite and portion size.
This week I was less successful staying in my 12-to-8 window due to various reasons. A couple of days I woke up very early and I was extra ravenous by 10 a.m. One night, I forgot it was after 8 and had a snack while I was watching television. That’s not too surprising since eating mindlessly while watching TV is easily my worst habit. I thought it would be easier to break,
but I’m finding I really have to pay attention to it. I’m trying to be aware that when I do get hungry, it’s not the end of the world. It will usually pass quickly. If I’m home, I’ll go run errands or get out of the house until I can eat.
My digestion was still slow. I think it’s because the meal I’m skipping — breakfast — is often a bowl of Raisin Bran, which is high in fiber. I run this issue by Washington, D.C.-area dietitian Stephanie Clarke, RD. “It’s a good idea to have something like Benefiber on hand in case you experience constipation or eat something like energy bites with oatmeal and flax,” she says. “Make sure you’re getting plenty of water, too.” I add a magnesium supplement to my daily lineup as well.
I was still successful most days of the week, but I slipped up when not paying attention, or some days I just got too hungry. I just kept trying. Even if I can fast for 14 or 15 hours, it’s still beneficial, I told myself. While I tried to work in the Raisin Bran during my eating window, I was often full during those eight hours and I didn’t want to eat anything else. I have to figure out what I can take out to add that in.
My digestion seemed to get smoother and more regular this week, which was a relief, and I’ve definitely had less heartburn than usual. I only lost a couple of pounds, but I didn’t really try to eat less; I ate what I normally would between lunch and dinner. I’ve had good energy all month, although my sleep has been very up and down.
The best thing so far about doing IF is it has shown me where my problem area is: evening snacking while watching TV. Many nights I’ll just do something else to avoid the temptation to nosh. Usually when I end a “diet,” I’m excited to get back to normal, but I’m planning to stick with time-restricted eating. At the very least, I’ll do 12:12 or 14:10. When I can, I’ll do 16:8. That’s what makes IF more doable lifestyle-wise than some other restrictive diets. It’s really not that hard — unless you’re doing something more extreme. (I doubt I’ll try fasting for a whole day.) So yes, I’m a convert!
It can be hard to find in-person support for fasting, but there are a myriad of books, apps, and podcasts out there, delivering the latest info on fasting research, how to do it right, mistakes to avoid, and more. Here are some I’d recommend.
- Intermittent Fasting for Beginners by Amanda Swaine: You’ll learn all about the different types of fasts and how to find the one that works best for you. Swaine also walks you through common pitfalls to avoid so you can feel your best while fasting.
- Fast. Feast. Repeat. by Gin Stephens: She emphasizes eating a healthy diet during your feeding window, and how the metabolic benefits of fasting are much more important than simply dropping pounds.
- Intermittent Fasting Transformation: The 45-Day Program for Women to Lose Stubborn Weight, Improve Hormonal Health, and Slow Aging by Cynthia Thurlow, NP: For women who like to have an “end date” to achieve a goal or just try out IF, this book is for you.
- Life in the Fasting Lane: How to Make Intermittent Fasting a Lifestyle — and Reap the Benefits of Weight Loss and Better Health by Jason Fung MD, Eve Mayer, and Megan Ramos: Fung has researched the topic more than most and in this book, he explains how to settle into a fasting lifestyle so it feels normal.
- Simple: Intermittent Fasting: This OG fasting app lets you select your goals, such as boosting energy or eating more mindfully, provides expert tips, and has an eating-window count-down clock. It also tells you what’s happening in your body at different stages of fasting. (From $15 per month available on iOS and Android.)
- BodyFast: Choose from 10 different fasting plans, along with meal planning tips, recipes, and coaching. (There’s a free version, but subs start at $35, available on iOS from as little as $17 per month with an annual subscription.)
- The Intermittent Fasting Podcast Hosted by Melanie Avalon and Cynthia Thurlow, NP: This podcast dives deep into all sorts of factors that come up when fasting, including “window creep,” stress, and sleep changes.
- Intermittent Fasting Stories Hosted by Gin Stephens: It features interviews with real people who have discovered the formula for success — which varies from individual to individual.
- The Fasting for Life Podcast Hosted by Dr. Scott Watier and Tommy Welling: The show answers listeners’ questions about OMAD, TRE, or beyond. Most episodes are less than 30 minutes.
- @doctorvmd: High-energy longevity expert Kien Vuu, MD, provides a steady stream of actionable health tips, including for fasting.
- @drkristavarady: A researcher, Krista Varady, PhD, stays on top of new fasting science and answers common questions about various modes of fasting.
- @shana.hussin.rdn: It’s always good to have a dietitian weigh in on fasting and Shana Hussin, RDN, brings her expertise along with an open mind about the research behind this popular way of eating.
- @Dr.MindyPelz: Author of Fast Like a Girl, Mindy Pelz, DC, discusses fasting, hormone shifts, and more.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Intermittent Fasting For Beginners.
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