I Tried Intermittent Fasting and Here's What Happened

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting

If you haven’t heard of Intermittent Fasting (IF) I would love to come join you in whatever place you are at that diet culture has yet to contaminate. Intermittent Fasting for those of you whole aren’t familiar is a type of diet (or “style of eating”) that restricts the time frame in which you can consume your calories. Unlike most diets that tell you WHAT you can / can’t eat, IF tells you WHEN you can / can’t eat. There are a bunch of different protocols people choose to follow but the most common is a 16:8 fasting protocol. This means that for 16 hours of the day you fast, while the other 8 hours are your feeding window. Many people choose a “feeding window” from 11-7 or 12-8 pm.

16:8 Intermittent Fasting Schedule

16:8 Intermittent Fasting Schedule

Now before I go on, some of you may be wondering - but this girl preaches Intuitive Eating - what is this whole Intermittent Fasting business she’s talking about - how dare she?! And I know…part of me was hesitant to even post this BUT as a health care provider I prefer to have PERSONAL experience with a variety of different eating style so that when my clients inevitably bring them up, I can speak to them. I’m also not here to judge or tell you what to do with your life. We learn through experience and this was mine…

If you guys follow me on the gram (@FeelGoodDietitian), you guys probably know I was a highly competitive bikini bodybuilder that struggled with bulimia and had a bit of anorexia when I was in high school. Needless to say, my previous relationship with food was not the healthiest. These experiences however give me insight into how my current clients feel and allow me to relate at a personal level. So anyways, when I made the decision to give IF a shot, I promised myself I would be as intuitive as possible and approach it from a place of health (that’s what we all tell ourselves right?). I somehow STILL have H. Pylori even after rounds of antibiotics (but that rant is for another blog post) so I still get bloated. My thought behind starting IF was “well I feel pretty bloated in the morning ESPECIALLY if I eat breakfast so let me just try this whole fasting thing and see how it goes.” I should have just stopped right there….

I got myself a book all about IF, started doing more research, downloaded the Zero app to track my fasts and like always I WAS STOKED & READY TO DO THIS (that dieter’s high). As I read through articles and listened to podcasts and YouTube videos I did learn A LOT of about the research out there on the positive health benefits of fasting such as:

  1. Improved blood sugars (which I have no issues with)

  2. Autophagy (which literally means “self-eating” and is the bodies way to cleaning up old cells - basically an anti-aging process)

  3. Reduction of oxidative-stress

  4. Mental clarity

  5. Improved insulin sensitivity (again, no issues here), increase human-growth-hormone and positive effects of gene-expression

Great! I’m all for improving my health. Let’s do this!

So the first week I tried fasting, I started with 13-14 hour fasts because I read that the female reproductive system is super sensitive to famine and anything beyond 14 may cause issues. I’d start my day with water and some coffee (sometimes I’d throw in 1 tsp of coconut oil or brain octane oil - which is apparently not a true fast but relax….) then I’d eat around 11 am. The second or third day I started noticing mental clarity in the morning as well as A LOT of energy, almost comparable to the excessive caffeine jitters. I noticed I was feeling better when I would fast and then during my eating window I didn’t feel as good. So I started pushing my fasting window a bit longer, 16 hours, 17 hours, 18 hours. Apparently the “benefits of fasting” increase the longer you fast so why not right??? (As much as I continue to work on eroding that black-white thinking part of my personality, occasionally it still rears its ugly black and white head). All in all week 1 was fine. I should also mention I got engaged halfway through week 1 so the motivation level was there. As much as I told myself it was for health benefits only, that diet culture tape started playing in my head about how I would look in my wedding dress. I reassured myself however that it wasn’t about the weight loss and was only about health….mhm.

Week 2, perhaps from severe glycogen depletion or my body sensing what I was doing, was not so great. I was starting to feel super hungry all of the time but that voice in my head telling me it wasn’t time to eat yet popped up. I was starting to miss the previous weeks euphoric fasting high I had felt. Trying to align my work, fasting, eating and exercise schedule was an additional stress I did not need. Frustration and confusion came and went but I persisted on.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting

By week 3, I knew this wasn’t going to work out for me. Side note: for anyone out there that has past experience with an eating disorder, restriction of any kind can be INCREDIBLY triggering. Recovering from an eating disorder is so hard to do, especially living in a culture that is basically shoving disordered eating down your throat (pun intended). Now, I’m not saying recovery from drugs or alcohol is easy but you don’t need to consume heroin or alcohol to sustain life. Recovering from an eating disorder is almost like asking an alcoholic to work or live in a bar for the rest of their life. Just like an alcoholic needs to remove him or herself from certain situations and people, as does someone recovering/recovered from an eating disorder. Not only do you need to surround yourself with supportive people that have a healthy relationship with food, but you also need to remove yourself from situations that trigger ED behavior… LIKE RESTRICTION.

By week 3 I was basically starting to freak out in my head, if I ate before the fasting goal I had set was up, I’d be bummed or felt like I couldn’t handle it. I have enough training/experience to know what to do in these moments but I knew this was not a good thing. My desire to eat was heightened, my thoughts started to revolve around foods and hours and restriction. This was when I called it quits.

Just like any other strict diet however, there are things to take away from the experience to use as information and apply to an intuitive eating practice. By no means am I saying you need to try these strict diets to learn how to eat intuitively - I’m more telling you to not beat yourself up if you tried a diet and it didn’t “work”. Learn from it - what made you feel good, what made you feel bad etc. My main takeaway was if I’m not hungry for breakfast and I skip it I tend to feel better throughout the day (Hello “Honor Your Hunger” principle). Did I need to fast for 20 hours to figure this out…..100% no.

Moral of the story; if you have an eating disorder or past history of one, I would NOT suggest intermittent fasting. If you have a history of yo-yo dieting I also do not think IF is the solution you are looking for. Would I suggest IF to most people - definitely not. I think men tend to do better physically and emotionally with an approach like this but if you feel good and your mental state is equally good while you’re doing intermittent fasting, go for it.

What I would suggest is that you start to see nutrition through an Intuitive Eating lens. Rather than labeling your eating habits as IF, or Keto, Paleo, Whole30, why not just listen to your hunger and fullness cues and eat the foods that you enjoy and improve your sleep/digestion/energy/mood. Why not just eat the foods that make you FEEL GOOD (now and later).

Hunger Fullness Scale / Intuitive Eating

Hunger Fullness Scale / Intuitive Eating

Why I Stopped Keto

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My ketogenic journey started in June of 2018. I had given the ketogenic diet a try in the past but I didn’t really go all in. Earlier this year I began working with a muscle response specialist for help with some symptoms I was having (large swings in energy, occasional bloating, and a few other health issues). Through muscle response testing we discovered many foods were showing up as “problematic”. The foods that were left over were basically the foods “allowed” on a ketogenic diet: chicken, beef, turkey, fish, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, vegetables and berries. All grains, wheat, dairy, sugar, fruit, corn and basically everything else was a no-go.

With the release of “The Magic Pill” on Netflix, keto was suddenly the newest thing and I was getting a ton of questions about it. I thought to myself, “Hey these foods are the only thing my body seems to like so why not try it out for myself?” (Ironically it turns out I had another health condition that was leading to most of these health issues, and it really wasn’t the food causing the problem…..it’s like rainnnn on your wedding day…..)

So I made sure I did my research on how to implement this “diet” in the healthiest way possible. Obviously there are risks for nutrient deficiencies when you cut out certain food groups. I made sure I was prepared with electrolytes, digestive enzymes, keto products and so on. My focus was ALWAYS on food quality; I was not simply reducing my carbohydrate intake. I was still trying to fuel my body with the best food possible to heal my body while reducing inflammation and risk for disease. Hot dogs and cheese dips were not a staple. I think it’s also important to mention that going keto was not an attempt to lose weight. I thought it might be a side effect but I never expected to alter my body composition by going keto.

Now before I get into why I stopped keto I want to say this: I don’t want this post to come off as “anti-keto”. We all have different goals, lifestyles, genetics, accessibility, histories and preferences. I figured I would share my personal experience to provide some more information to you all. At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone else. You know what feels good and what doesn’t; what works well and what doesn’t work at all. It’s up to you to figure out what feels best to you, keto or not :)

5 reasons Why I Stopped Keto

  1. Decreased Stamina and Athletic Performance: This was hands down the #1 reason why I was ready to ditch keto. My entire life I’ve been an athlete. From soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, softball and basketball to bodybuilding and just trying to beast out in the gym, athletics have always been a big part of my life. For a brief period of time I did notice an improvement in my aerobic capacity (cardio). Weight training however was a different story. I’ve obviously cut back on my weight training since my bodybuilding days but to say I felt weak was a massive understatement. I’d hardly finish foam rolling and band work and was already ready to call it quits. Step ups made me feel dizzy and squats were basically impossible beyond 6 reps. As someone that used to rack pull 315# (literally one time but still) and farmer’s carried 80# for 5 minutes straight, this feeling was horrible. For people that don’t workout or play sports, this isn’t really a big deal. But for someone who lives for that kind of stuff, it’s a massive bummer. I also recently signed up for an athletic event that requires I consume carbohydrates. Eating for athletic performance is something I personally prefer.

  2. The Mental Effects Started To Wear Off: The initial mental clarity I had on keto was awesome. I had lasting energy that would carry me through the day. My sleep was improved and I just felt awesome. After the first month or so the mental effects started to wear off on me. This doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone, but I just wasn’t as “sharp” as when I first started. Again, this could personally be due to other health issues I was dealing with as many people report continued mental clarity.

  3. I Never Felt Physical Hunger. You may be scratching your head wondering why this is a problem. Although the curbed appetite was great in some ways, after a while, not experiencing that hunger sensation in my stomach felt odd to me. I could “feel hunger” in other ways, like getting irritated, moody, or tired, but my stomach felt physically full. I would eat because I could hear my body telling me I needed nourishment but it’s super uncomfortable eating when your stomach feels full - it’s like you are force feeding yourself. Again, lack of hunger might not be a problem for you but after a while it was something I didn’t enjoy.

  4. I Missed Certain Foods: If you follow me on Instagram, you know I like to cook and get creative in the kitchen. I made tons of keto baked goods, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks and I genuinely enjoyed the food I was eating on keto. The high fat content makes the food super tasty and satiating, until it wasn’t. I never had food cravings because my blood sugar was so stable and the food was so filling. It wasn’t like I was craving pizza and donuts; but I just started missing little things, like food that crunched, peanut butter and jelly and apples. Which bring me to my next bullet-point……

  5. It Was Becoming Moderately Triggering: With a past history of anorexia and bulimia, as much as I tried to not let it get to me, eventually the restriction became triggering. For a while it didn’t bother me because I believed those foods felt good in my body and I wanted to feel good. I was choosing those foods for health rather than weight loss. I was being as intuitive as possible with it; listening to my body (which is hard when if feels like your signals are blunted), choosing what I thought would feel good in my body, eating more carbs when I felt I needed them, etc. But for anyone that has had an eating disorder, food rules of any type can be detrimental. Eventually, that food police food voice, the one I had worked quite hard to silence, began creeping back in. It was at that point I was able to recognize, this is no longer working for me.

So with that being said, I’ve compiled a list of people I think keto might be good for, and who it may not be indicated for.

Who Do I Think Keto Is GOOD For?

  • Sedentary to lightly active people, non-athletes

  • Those with certain health conditions such as epilepsy, PCOS, or type 2 diabetes

  • People that feel like they have a crazy appetite / cravings or blood sugar / mood swings

  • Individuals who are willing to educate themselves about what happens in your body while on a ketogenic diet

  • Men seem to respond better than women as far as weight loss purposes go (generalization, but still)

Who Do I Think Keto Is NOT GOOD For?

  • Very active individuals / athletes especially distance runners, crossfitters, bodybuilders, powerlifters, etc.

  • Anyone with a history of eating disorders - (restriction of carbohydrates / food rules can be triggering)

  • People that don’t want to learn and just want to be told what to eat

  • Quick-fix chasers - this isn’t something you try for 5 days and cheat on on the weekends. That’s not how ketosis works

  • Italians (jk comic relief)

How Did Keto Affect My Weight?

As mentioned earlier, I did not set out on a keto journey in an effort to lose weight BUT because I know most people are interested in keto mostly for weight loss purposes, I’ll share my experience. Initially I probably lost 3-4 pounds of water but eventually my weight stabilized (I’ve probably weighed myself 5 times in the past 6 months so it’s hard to say with complete certainty). Initial weight loss on a keto diet is very typical because we store 3-4 grams of water per gram of glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) stored. When we stop eating carbs, we burn through that stored glycogen which means we excrete the water stored with it. Weight loss can vary greatly from person to person. My body is at a weight it likes to be at and I didn’t really have much to lose. For others that feel they have a large # of pounds they want to lose, weight loss will likely be greater in some. The appetite suppressing effect tends to be helpful in an effort to shed to some pounds.

The longer I did keto, the more “flat” I felt. Bodybuilders will immediately understand that term. For everyone else, it basically means my muscles didn’t feel full. I felt….deflated, but not in a good way. When we eat carbohydrates, we break them down into glucose which we then store in our muscles as glycogen. Think of your muscles as little pipes and the glycogen fills those pipes up. That’s what makes the muscle look shapely. When we no longer consume carbs, we have less glycogen, aka less “filling” and the muscles then appear flat. (This is why bodybuilders will eat Reeses, Pixie Stix, and other carb-filled foods just prior to getting on stage. The carbohydrates fill them up and give them a vascular appearance). This “flatness” translated into poor performance for me.

Take Home Message

Everyone is different and there are always exceptions to every rule. I’m sure there are keto bodybuilders and distance runners. There are probably also plenty of people that have a history of an eating disorder but do well with keto. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this is simply my take and experience on keto. If you disagree, that is cool too. Personally, I think it was a great experience. I learned even more about my body and what works (or doesn’t) for me. Rather than taking my word, or anyone else’s word for it, figure out what feels good to YOU! In the meantime, I’ll be over here eating peanut butter and jelly chasing gainz :)

P.S.

And one last thing….just because I no longer follow a “strict keto diet” doesn’t mean I don’t eat similar things - I didn’t just start eating cake three times a day, although if I want to I will. Instead, I’m back to eating for athletic performance, personal enjoyment and overall health and balance.

Tips For Easy Meal Prep

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If you have social media, especially Instagram, you've at least heard the term "meal prep" or "meal prepping." Basically it just means prepping your meals ahead of time. This can help you stay on track with your nutrition goals, and save time and money in the long run. Sounds simple enough right? The first time you try preparing a weeks worth of food you may find it wasn't as easy as you thought it might be. Or perhaps you didn't anticipate spending 8 hours cooking rice, chopping veggies, roasting a chicken and sauteing kale. Here are some tips to follow to make your meal prep fun and easy!

1) Identify Your Goal

Are you trying to save money? Increase your vegetable intake? Feel more energized through out the day? Go gluten free? Put on size? Before you can do anything else, you have to figure out your why. What are you trying to achieve here? From there you can figure out what your meal prep is going to look like. 

2) Pick A Day (s):

I like to prepare my meals on a Sunday so that they are fresh for the week. Everyone's schedules are different. Find what day works well for you. Decide whether you're going to do one large prep or break it up into 2-3 different days. People that have limited fridge/freezer space might need to break their meal prepping up into two days.  If you plan to do one large meal prep, you are going to need to freeze the later half of the week.

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3) Have A Game Plan/Make A Shopping List:

What is your plan for the week? Do you have certain recipes you know you want to try out? Do you plan on prepping one time on Sunday or twice a week? Do you know what ingredients you have vs. what ingredients you need? Make a list of what meals you plan to cook and write down a grocery list before you head to the store.

4) Be Prepared:

Did anyone else think of Scar and the Hyenas??? No? Just me? Okay cool….Most people will likely have your basic kitchen items; knives, pots/pans, cutting board etc. But if you're new to packing lunch or preparing multiple meals, you may need to pick up some things. Do you have all of the following?

                1) Enough Tupperware/containers, various sizes
                2) Ziplock baggies
                3) Measuring cups / food scale (if applicable)
                4) Aluminum foil
                5) Cooking spray
                6) Cutting boards
                7) Knives
                8) Pots, pans
                9) Can opener
               10) Vegetable peeler
               11) A cooler or lunch box

5) Multitask / Time Savers:

A big complaint I hear is that meal prepping takes too much time.  Yes it might take some time while your preparing, but during the week you'll be able to grab and go. The more often you meal prep, the better and faster you get. Multitask safely. For example you can hard boil eggs on the stove while you bake chicken or roast vegetables in the oven.  Try some of these tricks to save time. 
        Time-savers:
             1) Chopped onions
             2) Spiralized zucchini
             3) Pre-cut butternut squash / sweet potato
             4) Frozen cut veggies
             5) Individual pouches of nuts (Trader Joe's Just a Handful)
             6) Hard boiled eggs (although I much prefer cooking my own)
             7) Rotisserie chicken 

6) Clean As You Go:

If you have a tiny Manhattan kitchen, you don't have much of a choice but to clean as you go. Even if you have more than 2 ft of counter space, don't leave a massive mess for yourself. Load your dishwasher or clean different bowls/utensils as you finish using them. 

7) Have A System:

Labeling containers can be a great way to keep track of which containers are which. If you use similar ingredients in different meals, it can be hard to tell what's what.  If you prepared food for an entire week, I would highly recommend freezing half of your meals. If you don't, you'll likely be eating mush by Friday. Organize your fridge and freezer so you can easily see where everything is. 

8) Pack Your Meals:

Pack your meals in a lunch bag or cooler the night before. Pull what you plan to eat for breakfast to the front of the fridge. This is supposed to save you time in the long run. You don't want to be rummaging through the depths of your refrigerator at 6:15 in the morning now do you?

9) Pat Yourself On The Back:

Give yourself some credit. You took time out of your busy schedule to make time for your health and well being.