Intermittent fasting isn’t a very popular recommendation for weight loss or health. I have yet to see Suzanne Somers or Bob Harper touting the idea of restricted eating. You’ll more likely see diet books and gurus recommending the exact opposite. Lose weight by eating often, up to 5-6 times a day! Indeed, I used to believe that eating that way would help me lose weight.
The rationale for multiple meals and snacks that I bought into and many people believe is healthy went something like this: by not getting too hungry, one would succeed in avoiding what a large majority of people do in this country – overeat. By having smaller meals more frequently, one would avoid becoming too hungry and overeating at the next meal.
The only problem with this plan (and it’s kind of a big one) is that it doesn’t work. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman in the book Eat to Live, “more frequent eating has been shown to lead to more calories consumed by the end of the week.”
So the more often we eat, the more we eat. Yikes!
Which is why, about 8 weeks ago, I decided to give Intermittent Fasting a try. Based on some research I’ve done starting with this article from TrueNorth Health Center and also this quote from Eat to Live:
The body needs time between meals to finish digesting. To maximize health, it is not favorable to be constantly eating and digesting food.
Intermittent fasting differs from 5-6 meals a day as it restricts your eating window to 8 hours and follows that with a 16 hour fast. So for 8 hours you would eat your normal healthy, vegan diet. Then the following 16 hours, beginning after your evening meal and ending with your next day meal, would be a fasting period. Fasting is typically water fasting, with no food, only water. Thus giving your body, as Dr. Fuhrman recommends, time to absorb and digest your food.
I’m just beginning my 8th week of intermittent fasting. Though I’m certainly no expert, I have broken through some previously difficult weight loss plateaus and experienced some pretty significant changes in my health over the last 2 months. Here are some suggestions for successful intermittent fasting;
Keep an open mind.
Just the word fasting tends to elicit concern from friends and family. The very American fear of skipping a meal is so ingrained in our culture that the mere mention of going without food is considered either a cry for help or at least the first signs of a serious eating disorder. But wait, how did we get here?
In this food-obsessed land of ours, complete with full-on food courts in Ikea and Target to 54 different varieties of fountain soda at your corner gas station, we would all do well to skip a meal now and again. Our food culture pushes the idea that constant eating is not only okay, but a normal and necessary part of a healthy diet.
Keeping an open mind has to do with realizing that although you may not have grown up with fasting as a part of a healthy lifestyle, many cultures and religions incorporate this therapeutic practice. Whether fasting for healing, spirituality or overall health, many cultures recognize the value of allowing the body a break from digestion.
Being open to new experiences with your health could lead to breakthroughs you weren’t even expecting. But first you have to be open to challenging and perhaps changing habits you’ve followed for years. I’ve found this isn’t something that most people are willing to do. Are you?
Prepare to feel bad.
The first week you may experience crushing headaches, fatigue and a general sense that you really wish you had never heard of intermittent fasting. This is totally normal and will cease as soon as you stop threatening to kill whoever recommended this (that would be me).
But if you hang in there I swear it will get better. If you think about it, a few weeks of not feeling your best is really not that much time in the big picture of your life. Plus, of course, nothing worthwhile comes without a little work on your part. You’ve spent a lifetime most likely eating too frequently and in too much quantity. The change involved with this is not going to happen immediately and without a little suffering on your part.
After about two weeks waiting to eat until late morning or early afternoon felt quite natural. I’m a little surprised how easily my body has acclimated to eating much later than I’m used to. I’m an early riser so I thought waiting to eat until late morning would be impossible. I’ve experienced no pain or suffering in waiting to eat, even after a long run or bike ride.
Recognize true hunger for once.
Just sayin’. I know we all think we feel hunger on a regular basis, but chances are most of us have felt hunger much less than we think. When I started intermittent fasting, I quickly realized the difference between hunger and well, not hunger. In Eat to Live, Dr Fuhrman calls that not hunger thing “toxic hunger.”
Toxic hunger is the hungry that you feel because of your environment. You may smell a savory lentil soup cooking as you walk into a friend’s home, or the distinct smell of bread baking as pizzas are removed from the wood-fired oven at your local Whole Foods. Even though you may not have thought you were hungry a moment ago, smelling and seeing those foods might cause you to think you’re hungry when you’re really not. You may even experience physical feelings in your stomach and brain that tell you you’re hungry.
True hunger is different. It’s felt in a different part of your anatomy (in your throat and mouth rather than stomach) and some other symptoms might include:
enhanced taste sensation
With true hunger, you have no trouble deciding what you want to eat. All food sounds good, and you enjoy your food so much more when eating happens as a result of true hunger.
Ultimately, you may determine intermittent fasting isn’t for you. Or, you may decide (like me) it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for and incorporate this practice into your life as a new habit.
Either way, intermittent fasting is an experience I would recommend to everyone trying to improve their health or achieve weight loss goals. Giving your body time to digest and assimilate food is a powerful feeling that everyone should experience.