My personal experience with Intermittent fasting
As a nutritionist, i would never offer people advice that i have not tried out myself. Over the years, i have heard a lot of different theories and methods that people try to find that holy grail to losing body fat, but most of them didn’t have longevity or the science to back it up. But when i started researching IF, i could see there was actually basis moth scientifically and historically to confirm that it had some merit.
I spent weeks researching the topic, case studies and methods and i have now been experimenting with IF for nearly three months. At first, i found it really hard, as i was in the habit of eating all the time, sometimes even when i wasn’t hungry, because i thought that’s what i should do. So as with breaking any habit, it took about three weeks for me to break through the proverbial barrier and it all became a lot easier thereafter.
Being the go-getting i am, i took a flying leap into the deep end and went directly for the full 16 hours. To say i was hangry was an understatement, but i believe i have a pretty strong mindset when i want to finish something, so i saw it through. I would recommend when starting out, to ease into the pond and start with 12 hour fast windows and gradually build up.
I made some errors with what i could and couldn’t have – as in food combinations – do not have milk unless you like gas, lets just say that.
It was incredibly frustrating at first, as i was so hungry and i wasn’t seeing any significant movement on the scales. My most recent dexa scan was done 2 weeks after i had started IF and i wanted to see some extreme results – which i didn’t. For my height of 160cm, i was weighing in at 61kg and very annoyingly 30% body fat. My muscle mass was quite good, but my BF pissed me off, simply because i was feeling so hungry three times per week and being careful with calories on my non-fast days.
After some discussion with other practitioners, i realized that my stress levels were not helping me in the BF department. Excess hormone cortisol – produced by the adrenals to help calm your farm – is a natural stress response, but when you run a company, stress sometimes likes to creep into your “normal.” The adrenals can get tired and call on progesterone to convert into cortisol. Think of progesterone as your “shrinking stuff” hormone – which is the antagonist to estrogen, which the the “growing stuff” hormone. Progesterone keeps your estrogen in check and essentially, your body fat. When progesterone levels are decreased, your “growing stuff” hormone, estrogen runs around like a kid unsupervised in a lolly shop. The more body fat you have, the more estrogen you’re going to produce and so that painful cycle goes on.
It had to be a conscious effort to reduce my stress, so i could start to re-balance my hormones. Not easy, but i was determined to give IF a fighting chance to show me what it could do for my skinny jeans.
And so that was the missing ingredient.
After six weeks, i saw the scale reflect a 2kg downward shift, putting me at a very healthy weight for my height, but better than that, i dropped a dress size. People noticed my waist drawing in and my stomach looking flatter. I was fitting into clothes far more comfortably and just generally feeling pretty good. While i was fasting, i found my concentration was exceptional – i got through my tedious admin work in record time and my menstrual cycles have been a walk in the park. I must say, i really like that part… basically no PMS and lighter periods.
I am not 10 weeks in and although at the beginning i considered this might not be a long term lifestyle for me, i am now fasting 4-5 times per week with little effort. I won’t lie and say its easy every day, especially in the week before my period, but i decided to just honor that my body is more sensitive to hunger hormones during that time and not fast for those 3-4 days in my cycle.
I have started working with my clients doing IF programs and have had some major successes in short periods of time with it. One notable client decreased her body fat percentage by 5% and increased muscle by 2kg in just 6 weeks and actually cut back on her training schedule.
I’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions below, to help you navigate the murky waters of internet bull-crap and encourage you to give this lifestyle a go.
What is intermittent fasting?
You may well have an idea about what Intermittent fasting (IF) entails, but perhaps will all the convoluted information floating about, you may not have been entirely sure what was going to work for you. Essentially, IF is NOT a diet.
You heard correctly, it is NOT a diet!
This plan has been designed as a lifestyle option that can be maintained for as long as you like and suits almost anyone.
Going into this IF plan, you will be encouraged to fast – go without food and some beverages – for up to 16 hours and then eat for an 8-hour period.
It really isn’t as difficult as you might think, as you can design it around your schedule.
For example, if you finish your last meal of the day at 6pm on Monday night, then your next meal will be at 10am Tuesday morning. But you have the freedom to play around with these times to see what works well for you.
How this intermittent fasting works
So as mentioned, this is not a diet in the strictest sense, but still does not give you permission to eat precisely whatever you feel like in the window allocated for eating. For IF to be most effective, you should consider sticking closely to the calorie and macro plan set out for you. You do not want to go into a severe calorie deficit for prolonged periods, so eating the correct number of calories is super important for the results to be long lasting.
Why it works
The science behind this is quite strong, but so it the historical evidence. Various cultures have practiced intermittent fasts for centuries and in a sense, the science is just catching up.
When we eat, our bodies begin the process of digestion.
This process is a complicated synchronicity of hormones and mechanisms working together.
Consuming carbohydrates and proteins cause our pancreas to release a hormone known as insulin, which is tasked to break down and allocate the glucose component from our food sources. What we don’t need at the time will be sent to the liver and muscle tissues to be stored as glycogen, which we use as a back-up generator for later, when we run out of glucose.
This all seems pretty good, until we understand that if by eating constantly without giving our digestive system time to utilise the stored glycogen, we are always causing insulin spikes, meaning we rely on that glucose (food) to give us energy, instead of burning off unwanted fat. And each time our body gets fed, we are essentially storing more glycogen. When we have an overflow of glycogen – more than our body needs to store for later use – it is then sent back into the body to be stored as free fatty acids and ultimately body fat.
Over a period of time, the cells that should be up taking the glucose begin to resist insulins instructions and more insulin is then required to get the cells attention. Our pancreas gets tired of having to constantly work (as anyone would) and our body starts to go into a state of insulin resistance – also a precursor for diabetes.
If your body is storing extra body fat, especially around the torso and calorie counting doesn’t seem to be working or you can’t seem to shift it, then there is a good chance your body has started to become insulin resistant. Meaning, it is not utilising your glucose from food properly and instead storing body fat.
The more body fat you have, the higher your risk for many diseases and ailments becomes. For example, if you have a higher body fat percentage, then you will likely be producing more estrogen, making menstrual cycles and mood swings harder to manage. Higher body fat percentages also disrupt your normal hunger and satiety hormones, often leading to a problem known as leptin resistance. When leptin isn’t functioning properly, you’re in a state of your body getting fatter, but your brain not being aware of it.
This is just to name a select few, common problems associated with over-eating and why IF might be the best lifestyle change for you at the moment.
Other benefits of IF
IF is promising for fat loss, but it has even bigger pluses for the body at metabolic level. (3)
- It gives our cells time to repair and essentially remove cellular debris and repair weakened cells (autophagy) (1)
- It also assists in gene expression, by effecting us at a molecular level, it can help reduce onset of disease. (2)
- Without the constant need to digest, concentration increases, effectively increasing productivity.
What about fats?
Fats are metabolized slightly differently from Carbs and proteins, in that they do not create an insulin spike when they are consumed and are broken down by the liver. This makes them an appealing option when it comes to encouraging your body to become more insulin sensitive.
What happens when I Intermittent fast?
When the time between meals is increased, your body has time to start using its glycogen stores and when they are being depleted, the body will start looking for alternative sources of energy, which include unneeded body fat stores, weak or toxic cells and begins to regulate hormone production. Essentially, you’re turning your body into a metabolic power-house.
Will I lose muscle tissue?
If you are not eating properly during your eating windows, then it’s a possibility, but when IF for short periods and then eating well in between, your body is actually producing higher quantities of the human growth hormone (HGH) which is essential for muscle growth. When you feed yourself with nourishing foods, while giving your body time to metabolically do its thing, you are creating an environment that will actually help you build muscle while leaning out.
What about if I am woman?
This plan is designed with women in mind! Given a woman’s unique hormonal profile and the delicate balance it needs to operate optimally, research suggests that fast spanning longer than 16 hours is not advised, although can be done under supervision. If anything, reducing body fat will actually help balance estrogen levels.
Who should NOT do IF?
If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, then I would advise against prolonged periods of fasting, as your body needs the constant calories to grow, develop and feed another person.
If you are a type 1 diabetic this is not something you should do, due to issues with insulin.
Do not follow if otherwise advised by your doctor or specialist.
Do I need to fast every day?
This is a very good question. At the start of all of this, I would say start by allocating 2-3 days per week where you can do your fast and perhaps begin with a shorter fasted window of 12-13 hours and build up gradually over a few weeks. IF can be overwhelming if you go hard really fast, so get your body used to it. There’s no rush, you’re challenging the way you approach eating and altering your lifestyle.
What do I do on days where I cannot fast?
Another good question and one I played around with myself. One of the most vital aspects of IF is that you still eat the right amount of calories, just in a smaller window, otherwise you are going into a calorie deficient that your body will adjust to over time and make losing weight increasingly hard. So on days you choose not to fast, that is when you need to keep your food consumption in check and make sure you don’t over-eat or blow your allocated calorie intake. It’s that simple really.,
Will I be hungry?
Yep. Initially if you’re used to eating very regularly with a higher carbohydrate load, you will go through a period of feeling hungry, until your body starts to adapt. When you begin fasting, it can be easier to start with smaller intervals and build up to the full 16 hours. It does get easier the longer you practice, I promise!
Can I drink water?
Of-course! In fact, drink lots of water to help flush your kidneys and keep your stomach lining strong.
What fluids can I have while fasting, other than water?
Basically, you don’t want to consume anything that will create an insulin spike, which means you can have black coffee or tea if you’re feeling a bit low on energy and to stimulate metabolism or apple cider vinegar in water to foster an alkaline environment in the body. Soda or tonic water is also acceptable, but the carbonation might bloat you.
How do I break my fast?
The toughest question to answer! I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer to this and each person might want to do it a little differently. I like to break my fast with vital greens in a 300ml glass of water. The essential nutrients help line my gut and my cells are going to uptake everything efficiently.
After that, your first meal should be a decent portion, but be careful not to combine carbs and fats, as the cells are ready to utilise everything you give them and are spiking insulin due to the carbs. In this plan, I will guide you toward the best food combinations and also help to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition.
Is this plan keto?
Nope. Keto requires a low carbohydrate ratio and I believe it is difficult to stick to long term. Yo-yo eating is a metabolic disaster, so you will notice that while fats might be slightly increased, carbs are a lot higher than what you’d see in a keto plan. I keep carb ratio’s higher, because things like vegetables, brown rice and fruit are all considered carbs, but provide some awesome nutrients and fibre that our bodies need to help us function optimally. You won’t drop body fat as quickly as on a keto plan, because we are not going to operate at an extreme level and instead find a way to regulate your blood sugar levels in a slower, but maintainable way.
What if i want to try it, but i need some guidance?
No need to worry, as we have you covered! Just click here to check out our comprehensive 40 page Intermittent Fasting plan that includes more than 20 delicious recipes and 7 menu’s to follow.