My Intermittent Fasting Success Story
If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know that I’m a big fan of Intermittent Fasting. This post is intended to lay out my success story since implementing IF as part of my lifestyle.
I started implementing Intermittent Fasting in late 2005 when Robb Wolf first broached the idea on the CrossFit forums. Being one to experiment with myself, I decided to give it a shot. I started with cutting out breakfast, slowly increasing the length of my fasts. Once I was accustomed to not eating breakfast, moving the intake from that meal to my evening meal, I started moving lunch back. Eventually, “lunch” was moved back to the point that I no longer needed to take lunch to work. Once I got to that point, it was just a matter of getting through the day with no food, coming home, having a meal, waiting a few hours, and then having another meal.
Alternate Day Fasting and Compressed Window Fasting
I’ve experimented with two different types of IF: condensed window and 24-on/24-off. As described above, I started with the Condensed Window, but in early 2007, I started doing lots of heavy lifting and CrossFit workouts and found it difficult to get in enough calories during a 4-hour eating window, so I lengthened it a bit, taking lunch to work and eating it late in the day (like 3ish). Eventually, I decided to give the 24-on/24-off a try. I ate from 6pm one day to 6pm the next, then fasted until 6pm on the third day, when I started eating again for 24 hours. I’d usually get in about 4 meals during these 24 hour feeds (dinner, breakfast, lunch, early light dinner). I stuck with it for about a month, but it didn’t fit with what I was looking for. It succeeded in giving me the additional caloric intake I was looking for, but it also required me to get up and fix breakfast and pack a lunch (or go out and buy lunch). On eating days, I also lost that edge that I found myself with on fasting days. After eating breakfast, even a breakfast of eggs with some vegetables, I would find myself a bit more lethargic than on an empty stomach.
So after that experiment, I returned to the Condensed Window IF plan. It was easier to deal with the lower caloric intake since I had shoulder surgery and was unable to workout as strenuously. I also decided that I could maintain a sufficient level of fitness and muscle mass while keeping a low body fat percentage with the Condensed Window and it just struck me as being more healthful rather than trying to cram in unnatural quantities of food to support a super-high activity level.
The Benefits I’ve Seen
As for the benefits I’ve derived from Intermittent Fasting, the CW version in particular:
- Improved mental clarity during the fast
- Improved workout performance during the fast
- Lower body fat percentage at the same bodyweight (i.e., more muscle mass)
- No worry about food during the day ‘ I can get up, run out the door to work, work all day, then go home to eat. I don’t have to be concerned with fitting in lunch and food is no longer the focal point of my day; living is.
- No food-induced crashes during the day – I’m on top of my game all day. Even eating low-carb Paleo on a normal eating schedule left me more lethargic than this
- Better in-tune with my body – you learn to distinguish psychological hunger (i.e., it’s noon and I should eat) from real hunger. When I get truly hungry, I break the fast and eat, even if it’s outside my “window”
- More energy – You’d think I’d experience fatigue with no food intake, but I can’t quit moving and having an urge to go run around the block during a fast
- Food tastes better – it’s amazing how much better a well-cooked meal tastes when you haven’t eaten all day
I’m Freed From Food
The part that I really love is that I can get up, go out and workout or run or hike or ski all day and not lack energy. My body knows how to tap into its fat stores to generate energy. During my ski trip a few weeks ago, I went all day Friday without eating, chowing down heartily at dinner, and did the same Saturday. Never once did I lag behind my skiing companions. And never once did I have the need to stop and eat. If I go out to do something, I don’t have to plan to stop for food at some point. It’s quite liberating.
I can see myself maintaining this lifestyle for a long time, “forever” perhaps. I love the feeling of fasting. I love the benefits. I love being “weird” and not eating all day. I love understanding what my body needs; you truly do understand when your body is asking you for food and when your mind is asking you for food. When the body asks for it, I give it food. When the mind asks for it, waiting 15 minutes relieves the desire.
But What You Eat Still Matters
One thing that I certainly do advise is to keep a focus on food quality. You can, as Mike calls it, IFOC (IF on Crap) and still see results. However, it’s going to be an excruciating experience of willpower. I find that when I overdo it on crappy processed carbs, fasting the next day is very difficult. It’s like the body is saying “Give me something good to push out that bad stuff you fed me last night.” So given that, I’d advise first adopting a 90% strict real food diet, i.e., the foods your body is evolved for (meat, eggs, seafood, green leafy stuff, vegetables of all sorts, a few nuts, and some squashes and other tubers).
Some other advice I have for anyone wanting to venture into fasting is to start slow. Short fasts, once or twice a week, is best. Twelve hours is probably longer than you’re fasting right now, so that’s a good starting point. You can slowly back breakfast up an hour or so a week until you’re at 15 or 18 hours. I now do about 20-hour fasts 3 or 4 times a week (Mon-Thur typically), usually grabbing lunch with friends on Fridays and breaking the fast after a workout Saturday morning. I eat more on the weekends to make up for any caloric deficit during the week, but it really does come down to listening to the body. I know when I need to eat and when I don’t.
Learn More About The Nuts And Bolts Of Intermittent Fasting
If you’re interested in learning more about how and why Intermittent Fasting works, I highly recommend Brad Pilon’s best-selling e-book Eat Stop Eat. Brad goes through all of his graduate level research to lay out the case for using IF to improve your health and even your athletic performance.
Anyone else have any experience with fasting of any sort? Benefits or drawbacks that you’ve experienced?