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.
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:
Improved blood sugars (which I have no issues with)
Autophagy (which literally means “self-eating” and is the bodies way to cleaning up old cells - basically an anti-aging process)
Reduction of oxidative-stress
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.
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).