Maybe it’s because I’m so heavily involved in the world of health and fitness, but it feels like everyone and their mother is talking about intermittent fasting these days.
Whether you want to shed body fat, improve your cognitive function, or simply become a healthier human being, intermittent fasting (or “IF” as the cool kids call it) is being touted as the cure-all miracle. Many advocates of intermittent fasting also speak to its ability to help you reach a higher spiritual level.
There are countless proponents of IF; I’ve even stumbled across a fitness professional who claimed that those of us who weren’t putting our clients on an IF protocol were doing them a disservice and shouldn’t be in business 😕
A ballsy statement, however that’s just my opinion.
I hesitate to call intermittent fasting the latest diet trend. It’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years (our ancestors went through periods of feast and famine) and we all practice some form of fasting as long as we don’t eat overnight. Hence the term “breakfast” – breaking the fast.
But marketers are smart, and they know that as long as you can bundle something up into a pretty package and slap a slick name on it, you’ve got a trend you can make some big cash off of.
This post isn’t going to be a full run-down on the benefits of intermittent fasting. There are numerous articles out there, some of them with great information, some of them with not so great information. You can find some reputable resources here and here.
What I will do, however, is share a few things I encourage you to consider before deciding whether or not to try intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is simply going extended periods of time without eating. As I mentioned above, we technically all fast overnight. But current IF protocols typically require longer fasts. With some, you’ll fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours. With others, you’ll do a full 24 hour fast once each week, and on the extreme level, you’ll find individuals who recommend a 24 hour fast every other day.
This might seem weird after 15 years of experts telling us breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We read the studies about the people who skipped breakfast were the unhealthiest – so why are we now intentionally skipping breakfast?
It’s the intention behind IF that yields the seemingly more positive results than simply waking up and forgetting about breakfast as you rush to the office, only to find yourself starving with a burger in one hand and a large Coke in the other at lunchtime.
Those who practice intermittent fasting avoid breakfast intentionally, and usually have a strategy in place to stop them from reaching for the heaviest, most carb-laden thing nearby when it’s finally time to eat. Most of them, anyway.
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
As much as I hate putting labels on my eating habits, for clarity’s sake I will share that I’ve been practicing some extended form of IF on-and-off for the past 18 months. I will usually go approximately 14 hours without eating, with my last meal around 9pm and my next meal around 11am the following day. I don’t follow fasting protocols in the true sense, because I have coffee or matcha blended with coconut oil and collagen most mornings, however the consumption of food within that timeframe is rare for me.
I don’t eat this way because it will help me lose body fat (and I don’t attribute any of the weight I lost during the last 18 months to this). Nor do I choose to skip breakfast because I want better blood markers or greater focus.
I do it because it’s easy. Because I don’t want to have to think about what to eat for breakfast when I’m with back-to-back clients first thing in the morning. Because I don’t want to have to shove food down my mouth before I leave at 5:30am. Because, for the most part, I don’t feel like I need to eat in the morning.
But…and this is a big but…I listen to my body. I wake up feeling hungry so infrequently that if I do, I figure my body needs some breakfast.
If I find myself wanting a pre-workout snack before my 9am sweat sesh, I eat something.
If I eat dinner at 7pm and I’m not hungry again until 12pm the next day, I don’t eat.
If I want to sit in Whole Foods and drink coffee and eat a muffin while I work at 8am because I’m so fucking excited that one just opened in my building, I will.
Intermittent fasting is great because it can teach you how to differentiate between mental hunger (like when you had lunch an hour ago but you’re already thinking you’re hungry), and physical hunger (the stomach growls and/or light-headedness that can come from being legit hungry).
We’ve become so accustomed to following the dietary protocol of eating every 3-4 hours or mindlessly snacking throughout the day that we’ve lost the ability to figure out when we’re legitimately hungry. And IF is great for helping you get in touch with your true hunger signals.
But I am largely against following dietary protocols for extended periods of time without listening to your body. Eating paleo just ’cause someone told you to and not because you actually have a problem digesting legumes? Not the best strategy. Living the vegan life because you think that’s the ethical way to live while your hair is falling out and nails are falling apart? Also not a great idea.
The same is true with intermittent fasting. I don’t like to say I follow IF because if I’m hungry I eat. If I’m not I don’t. Simple as that.
Should You Try Intermittent Fasting?
So the question remains – should you try intermittent fasting? If you’ve tried every single diet that’s out there and still can’t seem to lose the weight, could this be your silver bullet?
If you’re struggling with brain fog and wish you were sharp as a tack, could IF help?
If you just wanna be your healthiest, most badass self, can IF be another tool in your toolbox?
I can’t answer these questions for you. But what I CAN do is something I’m really good at – respond to your question with more questions 😉
If you’re contemplating going down the intermittent fasting route, here are a few things you can ask yourself before taking the plunge.
“What’s my reason for wanting to try intermittent fasting?”
I encourage you to really peel back the layers here. If you want to try it because you want to lose weight, why do you want to lose weight? What’s the deeper reason? This is another post for another day, but I’m a firm believer that weight loss goals for the sake of finally feeling comfortable in your body are futile.
“Is there something else I haven’t tried that could give me the results I’m looking for?”
If you’re brand new to a fitness journey and you want to shed some body fat while getting stronger and you haven’t tried making any changes to your diet yet, I’d encourage you to do that before doing something as drastic as skipping a few meals. Eat some veggies. Drink more water. Consume a few less starchy carbs. See what happens, then explore other options.
“Am I in good physical shape to practice intermittent fasting?”
If you’re experiencing hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders, or other health issues, I’m sure this goes without saying, but please consult with a trusted health practitioner before you decide to try IF. A big mistake I see people making with IF is not accounting for their nutritional needs in the meals they DO consume. A lunch consisting primarily of processed foods and minimal nutrients after a fast isn’t ideal for someone who’s healthy, but if you’ve got health concerns, this is even more of an issue.
“Am I in good emotional shape to practice intermittent fasting?”
This is quite possibly the most important question to ask yourself. What is your relationship with food like? Do you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating? Are you experiencing that right now? If so, IF is not for you right now. And that is 100% okay.
Intermittent fasting is popular, and for the right person under the right conditions, I’m all for it. But dietary habits are a highly individualized thing, and what I’m not all for is blindly following rules because Expert Erin said that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Do your research. Find reputable sources and study them. Think critically about the information that’s presented to you. And get honest with yourself about your intentions behind intermittent fasting and whether it’s really the best option for you.
You know what’s best for you.
Have you tried intermittent fasting? If so, what was your experience like?