As I get older, I realise some things I always thought were true are now being questioned, especially when it comes to health & nutrition. For example: “You need dairy to get enough calcium”, “You need to eat meat to get enough proteins”, “Never skip a meal” or even “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, etc. Really? I’m not so sure anymore… After all, some doctors used to recommend their patients to smoke cigarettes in the past! Wouldn’t it sound crazy nowadays?
With time, research keeps improving and we’re constantly changing our minds on various things, but in the meantime the end consumer is vulnerable to wrong information. Everyone has a different truth so maybe the only way to find out what works for you is to monitor your own health and not believe everything the food industry tries to put in your head so they can maximise their profit.
As a simple rule, don’t eat when you’re not hungry
That, to me, might be the only thing that should be universal. Having the ability to listen to your body and know when you need “fuel” is the best way to avoid putting on weight. The problem is we’re only human and it’s a very difficult skill to master. We’re all susceptible to use food for comfort, to compensate boredom, when we feel stressed or simply when we have food easily available (out of sight, out of mind!). But what if not eating when not hungry meant skipping breakfast? Not so easy, as everyone will encourage you to by telling you that “breakfast is too important to skip”. I love breakfast food but if I’m completely honest, I never feel hungry when I wake up. In fact, I only start feeling hungry 4-5 hours later. I’m not sure why but it has always been the case.
When I was a teenager, I remember I used to struggle to get out of bed in the morning and my grandma never understood it, she once said to me: “When I feel tired in the morning, I get up anyway, just because I know I’m going to have breakfast and that’s a good enough incentive to me! Why don’t you try this approach?”. Bless her. I miss her quite often, even though she used to believe everything the TV said. I just never felt that way about breakfast… Could it be because it is NOT necessarily the most important meal of the day for everyone? Who decided we needed at least 3 meals a day anyway? I’m pretty sure I don’t.
It doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself
When people hear the word “fasting”, they freak out, with or without the word “intermittent” beforehand. Understandably, because it sounds like a sacrifice or something people would only do as a religious practise for example. But what if it was a natural way to give more time for your body to digest better all the food it constantly has to process? What if we ate too much, too often? No one has ever died from starvation because they didn’t eat for more than 12 hours.
Actually, that’s what most of us naturally do every day (unless you wake up at night craving for food, but that’s not common). Maybe the reason why we eat so often without necessarily feeling hungry and why we struggle not to fill our plate too much comes from something that is hardwired in our genes: the fear of starving, leading our body to develop amazing survival mechanisms. Historically, our ancestors would have starved in times of scarcity, but let’s face it, we’re a lot less likely to experience this in the Western world nowadays. I guess what I’m trying to say is that doing intermittent fasting means forgetting about that anxious feeling of lacking food, as realistically, it’s not going to happen. We’re currently going through a worldwide pandemic and the main thing supermarkets have been running out of was toilet paper… Just saying.
Why Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the solution for me
Of course I can only talk about what I know, from my personal experience. It was a big revelation for me when I first heard about it and did some research. I found out more and more scientists agreed this eating pattern had many health benefits, including weight loss/maintenance. I wonder if forcing myself to eat breakfast when I was never hungry was the main reason why I always struggled to maintain a healthy weight. I’ll never know for certain but all I can say is IF seems to be working great for me.
I have 1 or 2 full glasses of water when I wake up, I eat at the same time every day (it gives me a lot more consistency) and I even enjoy going for a long walk just before breaking the fast, during the weekend. My fasting window is usually about 19 hours every day, but I would find it harder to push it to 20 hours. I started with the 16:8 method though, which means fasting for (only) 16 hours. I might have to go back to it after lockdown because it will be easier to maintain in the long term. Don’t forget you can be flexible and adapt your fasting schedule around your routine if need be. I encourage you to read my previous posts on this topic if you haven’t already:
- How I broke my weight loss plateau
- Counting calories is not always enough
- Find a method you can easily turn into a healthy habit
- What is IF and how does it work?
- What my day looks like
- How intermittent fasting is helping me reaching my goals
- What is IF and how does it work?
- What are the health benefits?
- Are there any side effects?
- Is it a good method for everyone?
What happens to your body when you fast
I think that imagining my body repairing itself when I give it the time to do so is also making me feel better mentally. I’ve been doing IF for almost 14 weeks now and I believe it has allowed me to be consistent with my weight loss (roughly 800-900g per week). I’ve been using a fasting tracker app that helped to start with and I still find it useful to make sure I drink enough water. It tells you about the steps your body goes through:
- 0h-2h: Blood sugar rises
- You feel pretty normal during the first hours of fasting because your body is going through the regular process of breaking down glycogen. Your blood sugar rises, your pancreas releases insulin to break down glucose for energy and stores the extra glucose for later.
- 2h-5h: Blood sugar falls
- As a result of the effects of insulin, your blood sugar decreases to near normal after spiking. And it typically doesn’t continue climbing because insulin is immediately delivered into your circulatory system after eating.
- 5h-8h: Glycogen reserve drops
- Your stomach is reminding you that it’s been a while since your last meal, however you’re not actually that hungry. You’re not going to starve to death, shrivel up and lose your muscle mass… Actually, your glycogen reserves will begin to fall and you might even lose a little body fat. You body will continue to digest your last food intake. It starts to use stored glucose for energy and continues to function as if you’ll eat again soon.
- 8h-10h: Gluconeogenesis
- 8 hours after your last meal, your liver will use up the last of its glucose reserves. Now your body goes into a state called gluconeogenesis, which indicates that your body has switched into the fasting mode.
- 10h-12h: Little glycogen left
- Your glycogen reserves are running out! As a result, you may become irritable or “hangry”: sign that your body is burning fat. With little glycogen left, fat cells (adipocyte) will release fat into your bloodstream. They also go straight into your liver and are converted into energy for your body. You’re basically cheating your body into burning fat in order to survive.
- 12h-18h: Ketosis state
- Now it’s the turn of fat to fuel your body. You’re in the metabolic state called ketosis. The glycogen is almost used up and your liver converts fat into ketone bodies – an alternative energy source for your body. Fat reserves are readily released and consumed. For this reason, ketosis is sometimes referred to as the body’s “fat-burning” mode. Ketosis produces fewer inflammatory by-products, so it provides health benefits to your heart, metabolism and brain.
- 18h-24h: Burn fat
- The longer you fast, the deeper into ketosis you’ll go. By 18 hours, your body has switched into fat burning mode. Research shows that after fasting for 12 to 24 hours, the energy supply from fat will increase by 60% and it has a significant increase after 18 hours.
I would just advise you not to be put off right away by the word “fasting” and try it for yourself, monitoring constantly any side effects you may (or may not) experience. You can read more about different types of intermittent fasting here. Note: you shouldn’t do intermittent fasting if you’re under 18, you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, you’re underweight, you have a history of eating disorders, you’re diabetic and/or need medication at regular intervals to be taken with food.
Have you ever experienced any type of fasting in your life? Is it something you would consider trying yourself to see the benefits?
Big Girl x
I can never do intermittent fasting, ended up with bad gastrics. Kudos to you on your success with intermittent fasting 👍 You’re an inspiration to many 🙂
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That’s a shame! At least you tried and now you know this is not the right method for you 🙂
Hi! I have made it to 16 hours IF in the past. This was a great read on it and a good motivator to start again.
I’m really glad to hear that! I’ve decided to stick to it permanently as I established I really don’t need breakfast anyway 🙂
Great article. I never have looked into the science behind IF and what your body does through the fast. I’ve tried IF before in the past, but never really stuck with it. So far this year, I’ve been trying out intuitive eating and have noticed I don’t usually eat until closer to 10:00 every day and it’s actually helping me lose weight and I’m so excited!
Awesome! If you put food in your body when it hasn’t finished digesting the last meal, it really doesn’t help with weight loss (even if it’s healthy food). So well done for finding out what time is ideal for you to start eating 🙂