Since starting my private practice full-time, I’ve had to dive head first into some of the most talked about nutrition and diet trends. It’s been challenging to keep up with it all, but as a Dietitian (or any health provider, really), that’s the name of the game. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been one of the most asked about diets – so, I decided to give it a try myself. I don’t do this with all of the trends out there, but I wanted to give this one a try to be able to speak to it better and help my patients through it if they chose to go that route. I planned to write a post about my experience with IF – my diet, how it changed my digestion, energy, and workouts, and my overall results. I’m still going to do that, however I’m going to be perfectly frank you – I don’t think I did a very good job with it. Actually, I know I didn’t. I’ve never been too great at following diets or very specific eating patterns…and the last 14 days only proved that even more. So, with that being said, I’ve decided to share my experience..the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Before I begin, I would like to preface this post by saying this was my experience with Intermittent Fasting. I repeat: my experience. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, which may be the reason I didn’t see much benefit in the process. I’ve read and heard that many people have seen positive results with this method of eating. As a Dietitian, I work to support my patients to live a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. As long as my patients are educated, have all of the facts, and know the risks and benefits of eating and living a certain way, I do what I can to support them along the way. Finding what works for you is a process, and I am a firm believer that there is no diet, exercise regimen, or lifestyle that works for everyone. Each of us has a unique body, and our systems all have a story that began in the womb – it truly is an exciting and eye-opening journey to figure out what works for you and you alone.
For those of you newbies to this dietary trend, let’s start with the basics. What the heck is Intermittent Fasting? Well, to put it simply, Intermittent Fasting is a term used for cycling through periods of eating and fasting. It’s typically done in one of two ways: fasting for a full 24 hours, twice per week, or fasting for 16 hours each day, with an eight hour “feeding period”. Intermittent Fasting has gained popularity for its weight loss benefits, as well as its possible benefits for those with insulin resistance. Studies on Intermittent Fasting have shown significant weight loss outcomes, which is the reason most people try it. I’ve fasted before, but I had never dedicated a period of time to the 16/8 method, which is the option I chose to do for a two week period.
What I Did
I jumped into Intermittent Fasting without much pre-planning. Mistake number one. I hadn’t been eating all that great the month or two before I dove in…I was snacking more than usual, working out sporadically after an injury, and not doing the greatest job at meal prep (newlywed life, amiright?). I decided to follow the 16/8 fasting method with my fasting period starting at 8:00pm and ending at 12:00pm the following day, making my “feeding period” 12:00-8:00pm. Mistake number two. I planned to workout at least three times a week, and instead of bulletproof coffee and water as my fluids during fasting, I chose to substitute coffee for tea since I’m not a coffee drinker. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Here’s what happened.
Let’s start with the good stuff.
Awareness – Right from the get go, I started tracking my intake on myFitnessPal. My usual caloric intake, when I’m eating well for my body, is generally 1300-1500 calories per day. I’ve always struggled with protein, so my plan was to get 30% of my calories from protein, 40% from high-fibre carbohydrates and starches (I’ve been quite active, so I find I need to the carbohydrates for fuel), and the remainder from healthy fats. Tracking my intake was a major win – I hadn’t been focusing much on what I was eating prior to starting, so it was a huge wake-up call for me. I was paying attention to my choices, and seeing that my protein and fibre intake were pretty much always lower than my target. I immediately stopped snacking after dinner because my last meal of the day was typically around 7:00-7:30pm. I was avoiding empty calories and noticing where I needed improvement. I’d call that a win.
Digestion – Instead of mindless evening snacking, I was hydrating with good ol’ H20 in the evenings before bed. My fluid intake automatically doubled, which made a significant impact on my digestion and overall regularity. Within the first week, I was feeling less bloated and sleeping better. It wasn’t until my food intake started to suffer later in the second week that digestion took a turn. (Dun, dun, dunnnnn….)
Body Composition – I took these findings with a grain of salt, mostly due to my ever-changing hydration status throughout the duration of my experiment. But, I still decided to share them because I did notice a physical change. On day one, I measured my body fat using a Skulpt, first thing in the morning. By day 12, I measured again, and had dropped 2.3% body fat. Muscle quality increased accordingly, which was expected as I was working out more than I had been before I started and focusing on resistance training. My clothes were fitting better, and overall, I was beginning to feel a positive shift in my body overall.
Caloric Intake – Here’s were things took a turn. Getting 1400 calories into an eight hour period was a challenge, to say the least. I’ve said this before – I am NOT a foodie. I eat to live. So, when I’m eating well, it’s usually lean proteins, vegetables, and small amounts of high-fibre starches. The most commonly consumed high-fat foods (nuts and seeds), I’m either allergic to, or not a huge fan of. This proved to be a big challenge when it came to getting my daily caloric intake.
I was usually with patients at noon each day throughout the week, which meant I didn’t end up having my first meal until 2:00 or 3:00 each afternoon. Woops. By that time, I was feeling it. I was used to eating breakfast, so it took serious mindfulness to determine what type of hunger I was experiencing. I realized by week two that my mind hunger kicked in around 10:00am each morning, telling me it was time to eat. By 2:00pm, my cellular hunger was demanding that I eat. If I planned right, my meal choices at that time were well-balanced, but unfortunately, not as calorie-dense as they needed to be. I was eating lots of vegetables, usually tuna or chicken as my protein, and an olive-oil based dressing for my fat. My snacks were generally one or two servings BabyBel cheese, a serving of fruit, and a handful of olives. By dinner time, I had still had 800 or more calories to consume before starting my fasting period. That’s where things went downhill. How was I supposed to get 800 calories in to one meal? Great question. I quickly realized that I was gravitating towards convenience foods like frozen pizzas to satiate me and reach my caloric requirement. I know…don’t judge me. I clearly wasn’t planning ahead to ensure that my afternoon meal and snacks were both calorie-dense and nutrient-dense, and I found myself rummaging for foods that would get me close to my goal. I’m blaming this on my lack of planning. Had I been more diligent and made sure my lunch and snacks were more calorie-dense options, I most likely would not have run into this problem.
Energy – The first week was rough, energy wise. Despite a great sleep, waking up was a struggle. My morning tea wasn’t doing it for me. The lethargy was real. Before beginning the fast, I was taking a Multivitamin three times per day (one that needed to be taken with food), a supplement for adrenal support, iron, Vitamin D, and Vitamin C. I wasn’t able to take my morning Multivitamin anymore because I was no longer eating until mid-afternoon. Within the first week, my supplement routine had gone down the drain, and I wasn’t taking any of them. The combination of skipping breakfast and eliminating my vitamins started to weigh on me, and I noticed my ability to concentrate was deteriorating during the first half of the day. Whether that was because of the fasting or the lack of adrenal and vitamin support, I don’t know – but either way, it was no fun.
Sleep – Well the good sleeps started to be few and far between after the first few days. I chalked that up to the horrible dinners I was eating around 7:30pm. A late, high fat, highly processed 500+ calorie meal did not sit well with me when I was trying to wind down in the evenings.
Relationship with Food – Throughout the two weeks I was Intermittent Fasting, I noticed some interesting things began to happen. I went from eating to live to thinking about food constantly. The first few days, I was counting down the hours until I could eat, and after I ate, I was thinking about how I could possibly get all my calories into the rest of the day. My decisions began to revolve around food. I made sure my social life didn’t interfere with my fasting times, and if they did, I was sipping water instead of enjoying a snack with friends. My relationship with food went from good to bad to ugly in a very short period of time.
Digestion – This ugly didn’t set in until after I completed the Intermittent Fasting. I thought that my body would welcome breakfast once I stopped the fasting, but it didn’t. For the first two days post-Intermittent Fasting, I experienced bloating and discomfort after breakfast in the morning, despite it being a well-balanced, usually well-tolerated meal like eggs or oatmeal. I had to ease back into eating in the mornings to avoid looking four months preggers by 11:00am. I wasn’t used to that feeling, and I didn’t like it all that much either. Getting back to a normal routine took a few days, something I didn’t expect. I’m not sure if that’s typical for those who follow a fasting routine, but considering my body had gotten used to being in a fasted state until late in the afternoon, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that it was a tad shocked when the fasting ended.
Would I Do it Again?
After basically winging my first attempt at Intermittent Fasting, I would absolutely do it again – but VERY differently. I would plan, plan, and plan some more. My biggest mistake going into this was not preparing for it, but I definitely learned that the hard way, and I won’t forget it. Given my current need for adrenal support, I would likely avoid morning fasts and make sure I was fuelling and supplementing accordingly to help my body through the day, rather than starve it when it needed nourishment the most. I would also schedule my workouts regularly, and likely focus on a combination of low to moderate intensity cardio and strength training. I was either going 300% with muay-thai or doing some resistance training during the two weeks, but by no means was I consistent. I do believe that the combination of exercise and Intermittent Fasting would yield the best results for a metabolic standpoint.
Would I Recommend It?
I mean…it depends. I don’t think this weight loss method is for everyone. I would likely advise against it if there is any history of eating disorders (both male and female). I’d also be weary to recommend it, or at least make major changes to the feeding and fasting periods, for any women with a history of hormonal issues. Hormones are a complicated story, and by improperly Intermittent Fasting, there is a possibility that you may disrupt hormone function even more based on the changes that occur to the body in these fasted states. I would also advise against it, or at least ensure that you are cleared by a physician, if you have Diabetes, Hypertension, or any kind of blood sugar regulation issues.
I have helped patients through phases of Intermittent Fasting and seen positive results, so I am definitely not against it. I recognize that a lot of the outcomes are likely ultimately due to a caloric deficit, which will result in weight loss to begin with. Overall, there is research that shows its benefits, and I believe that it could be beneficial for some people.
Short answer: Yes, I would recommend it under the right circumstances, but not for a period of time greater than 3 weeks.
There you have it! My experience with Intermittent Fasting in a nutshell. Was it for me? Probably not. Did it help me change some bad habits? Absolutely. If you made it this far, thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read about my experience!