Why is it that most people balk at the idea of intermittent fasting, at the idea of going without food for any significant period of time?
Walk down any street and you can see that way too many people eat way more food than they need. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions.
Yet the idea of going without eating for even a little while seems out of the question to most people. We’ve gotten so used to eating almost every waking hour that the idea of going without is completely foreign.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
In one sense, this is a good quality problem. For most of human history, starvation was a very real threat. Too much food is way better than not enough.
But why do people eat more than they need?
Food now is relatively cheap and easily available. I guess it makes some sense that easy availability makes people more likely to overindulge.
Something Sinister at Play?
If I was into conspiracy theory, I would have another thought. While food is abundant in terms of quantity, it’s quality is lower.
The food industry spends huge amounts of money researching additives that attempt to make their highly-processed fake food taste like the real thing.
These taste additives aren’t at all like herbs and spices. They have no nutrient value at all. But it’s worse than that.
The additives don’t just add artificial taste. They actually create cravings to the point that they’re addictive.
The manufactures weren’t kidding when they ran the ad campaign saying “Bet you can’t each just one.” It was a suckers bet. They knew the chips were loaded with chemicals designed to get you to eat the whole bag.
And then want another one.
So it’s not surprising that we’re drawn to eat more than is good for us even though we know better.
I certainly knew better, yet I had trouble cutting back. That had me wondering about trying intermittent fasting, doing something that on the face of it seems a little more extreme.
I kept running into various descriptions of fasting in different places.
Simple. But Is It Doable?
The idea is simple enough: don’t eat anything for some period of time, generally 16 to 24 hours. Drink lots of water and some coffee or tea, just don’t add sugar or cream.
Simple. But could I do it? What would it be like?
Would I constantly suffer from gnawing hunger? Would I feel weak and dizzy? Would I be able to sleep?
I had a lot of doubts. What I discovered surprised me.
You may experience the same surprises.
Big Surprise #1
First, the hunger wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.
The first time I tried it, I ate my last snack around 9 PM before going to bed at 10. I had low fat cottage cheese, figuring that the slow digesting protein would be satisfying and might help maintain muscle.
Although I usually eat breakfast, it wasn’t that hard to skip it the next morning. I had a couple of glasses of water when I got up, one with some lemon juice. I also had a cup of coffee but found the black coffee a little harsh on an empty stomach.
I felt a little hungry throughout the morning, but nothing severe. When I did, I drank more water and the hunger faded.
Maybe This Is Why:
As I’ve thought about it and remembered past experiences, I’ve been much more hungry an hour or two after I’ve had some cookies or especially some packaged junk food. I suspect the reason is twofold: the additives I just mentioned and the fact that processed foods shoot your blood sugar sky high and when it crashes a little while later you crave more.
Not eating means your blood sugar stays low and you avoid those hunger-creating swings and cravings.
Surprise number two was that fasting saves a lot of time. I don’t obsess about food, but I do like to eat. I know I could be more efficient about my cooking but I’m not one of those people who plan their menus a week ahead, cook in advance on the weekend and always have a freezer full of great homemade meals ready to heat up.
I admire those people. It’s just not me.
I usually have the same breakfast. It’s generally eggs, a slice of canadian bacon, tomato juice and coffee with coconut oil and cinnamon. It used to be cereal until I cut back on grains.
Lunch is leftovers from dinner the night before. When I cook dinner, I always make enough to have something for lunch the next day.
Most dinners are straightforward enough. Basically some meat or poultry or fish along with veggies. I’ve been trying to eat more of those as I cut back on simple starches.
During the week I keep the recipes simple, but it still takes at least half an hour (usually a little longer) to put things together.
And then there’s the clean up.
None of that seems super time intensive, so it surprised me how it adds up.
Making breakfast, eating it, cleaning up, packing lunch, eating it, cooking dinner, eating, cleaning up, putting away the leftovers… It adds up.
For me, one to two hours a day!
I found it freeing to wake up knowing I wouldn’t be dealing with food that day. And that includes thinking about it – wondering what to have for dinner and how to prepare it. Just another subtle time suck.
I now look forward to my fast days as being some of my most productive.
Which brings me to perhaps the biggest surprise.
On my fast days, I feel clear headed and energetic, even when I exercise!
Before I tried it, I was afraid I’d feel weak and wouldn’t be able to concentrate, or even worse have the shaky, tremulous, sweaty response that goes along with extremely low blood sugar.
And I thought exercise would be impossible.
Now, there may be a couple of reasons for that. One is that I’m generally pretty healthy. Someone with diabetes or metabolic syndrome or some other metabolic problem may have more difficulties.
I’m not saying they can’t try fasting. In fact, it might help improve their condition in the long term. But they would need to be careful and check things out with their doctor.
The other thing is, I’d already cut back on processed foods and sugars in my diet. That probably made my blood sugar a little more stable and made it easier for me to moblize fat for energy.
Whatever the reason, I feel fine on my fasting days, even when I exercise.
For example, the last time I did a 24 hour fast, I went for an 18 mile bike ride with some friends in the morning and did some bodyweight exercises and stretches in the afternoon without a problem.
And mentally I certainly feel sharper during a fast than I do when I eat poorly.
If I have some chicken and green beans for lunch I’ll feel fine in the afternoon. If I have a couple of slices of pizza (which unfortunately I love), I’ll feel bloated and foggy.
On fast days, I feel clear headed and motivated all day.
So those are the biggest surprises I had when I tried intermittent fasting.
Of course the only way to know how it works for you is to give it a try. You may be even more surprised than I was.
It’s Good to Have a Guide
Like anything else, having a good coach helps you avoid misteps and get the best results. There are a number of sources out there, some good, some not-so-good, and some that are no help at all.
The one where I found the best advice to encouorage me to try intermittent fasting was Eat Stop Eat.