I was probably like you.
I went through diet after diet, hoping that this ONE would answer my weight loss woes.
Hoping that this new “diet craze” will address my binge eating, burger takeouts and lack of a healthy lifestyle.
I expected a diet to fix everything related to weight gain and eating habits and be the magic solution to everything! But that, in hindsight, was wrong.
I had heard a lot about intermittent fasting amongst my friends and could see many of them getting positive results. Being subconsciously faced with words and phrases such as eating window, weight loss, and time-restricted eating, it was only a matter of time before I tried it.
The hope? That would help me lose weight and improve MY overall health.
But as I began my journey of fasting, I realised that not only were there numerous methods to fast, it was a lot harder than I thought. I couldn’t help myself obsessing over food, which stemmed from always being hungry. At times I would be irritable and would feel restless with no energy. I think there is a term for it. “Hangry” where you are hungry and angry!
See? Never too old to learn diet lingo!
But I did persist. I gave my entire diet phase a good 45-week (albeit on and off) shot but realised that intermittent fasting wasn’t for me. My mental, physical and spiritual health was far more important than losing a few lbs of fat.
I then stopped fasting! And guess what? I felt better!
I decided to change the timing of my foods, eat a balanced diet and use exercise to help me shed weight.
But I must be honest with you. Did intermittent fasting work for me? Yes, it did, but at a considerable expense, as I will go through in this article.
The moral of this? If something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try something else.
And this is why I have written this blog. I want to share the good, bad and ugly of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is like a “feast or famine” game with your body. You alternate between periods of eating and fasting. It’s like playing “food chicken” with yourself, except instead of a car, it’s your stomach growling.
There are different ways to do intermittent fasting, but the most popular method is the “16/8 method.” This means you fast for 16 hours and then have an 8-hour “feasting” window to eat your meals. It’s like a daily food holiday where you can eat as much as you want, but only for a limited time.
The idea behind intermittent fasting is that limiting the time you have to eat, you’ll eat less overall and lose weight.
At first, I thought the diet would be easy enough to follow as, to be honest, sleeping 12 hours a night could make up for the 16-hour fasting window.
Sounds logical, right?
As part of my research, when starting fasting, I realised that there were several ways to “do” fasting, and each one had its relative benefits. I started with the 16/8, which I will go into later.
The 16/8 Method involves fasting for 16 hours, otherwise known as the “I’m not even hungry; I’m just too lazy to cook” method.
The 5:2 Diet: With this method, you eat like a king for five days a week and then act like a peasant for the other two. Bonus points if you can make a stew out of grass and twigs.
The Eat-Stop-Eat Method: This involves one or two 24-hour fasts per week, or as we like to call it, the “I accidentally slept through breakfast, lunch, and now it’s dinner time” method.
The Alternate-Day Fasting Method: This involves alternating between days of eating like an average human and days of “I’m pretty sure I saw a commercial for a salad once” restricted calorie intake.
The Warrior Diet: This method involves eating one large meal at night and snacking on fruits and vegetables during the day, basically just eating like a hobbit.
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In April 2021, I decided to take action after realising that the previous 18 months of the pandemic had caused me to neglect my once-healthy lifestyle.
I noticed that my food intake, physical health, sleep issues and general mental health were at their all-time low. The toll of the previous two years was just too much, and it was now or never to sort this out.
Scouring youtube and fitness magazines, I couldn’t avoid reading about intermittent fasting, nor could I ignore the raft of “keto diet books” and “keto recipes” that would pop up on my feeds!
So I made youtube my best friend, spoke to people online (and offline) and prepped to begin my first step into fasting!
Binge restrict cycle; this phrase resonated with me! And following the 16/8 fasting window made a lot of sense for it.
I could time my 16-hour fasting window by ensuring 8 to 10 hours was me sleeping! Result!
So that’s what I did.
My first ten days of 16/8 were very successful. I started at 172 lbs and over ten days, I lost a staggering 12 lbs! On my tenth day, I weighed in at 160 lbs!
This was amazing! I felt reasonably good, my clothes started to feel loose, and I managed the 8-hour window well, or so I thought I did.
In hindsight, all I was doing was saving my hunger signals up, and I found that in the 8 hours, I would eat the same amount of food, if not more.
But I was still losing weight! The weight loss was just mind-boggling, and I didn’t need to perform any calorie counting or even calorie restriction
Thinking that this was awesome, I switched to a 20/4 fasting protocol! Yep! Fast for 20 hours and then four over 4 hours.
It seemed natural for me to move to this time-restricted option for the diet, and I did!
I was on the 16/8 for four weeks and had lost weight which amounted to 18 lbs!
Once I switched to 20/4, things started to get worrying but also fascinating!
I realised that not eating for 20 hours was tough! That also surfaced some uncomfortable truths about my relationship with food and some potential eating disorders I am likely to have.
I realised that during the fasting windows, I would not function properly and would obsess about “wanting to eat, ” which wasn’t healthy. This meant that when I ate in the 4-hour eating window, I would go crazy!
Granted, this isn’t the way to do things, and when I did try to control what I ate in the eating windows, I would find myself unhappy and obsessing.
Anyway, come weigh-day, on the ten-day of 20/4 fasting, I was down another 4lbs and so was sitting at 150lbs.
Amazing right? But was it?
My results on intermittent fasting have been mixed. I did lose weight, but it was at the expense of my mental health, which I have issues with accepting or tolerating.
However, I am sure that the issues that caused this could be addressed with more willpower and an understanding the greater good that fasting can do for health.
But I want to sure with you my thoughts based on MY experience, and these are as follows:
Hunger: I struggled on the 20/4, if truth be told, and also on the 16/8. It was more palatable if I managed to get more than 10 hours of sleep, but I felt I was obsessing about food too much upon waking.
Low energy: I did suffer from energy crashes from time to time, which meant that I would lie down or sit gazing. The fewer calories I consumed daily meant that my body was looking for energy sources, and it likely got this from my body fat.
Obsessing over food: This was a profound realization for me. I would find that on waking, I was continuously thinking about eating or food, which made me realise that I have a fundamental issue with my relationship with food. It is also highly likely that this has been the reason for my state as of April 2021.
Overeating potential: I would say that nearly every eating window I struggled with. The potential for overeating was often met, which meant that my overall weight loss was never optimised. I didn’t realise the impact and effects of insulin, carbohydrates, simple sugars, fats, etc., which was a fundamental problem.
Maintaining after the fasting: Once I completed the fasting diet, I realized that if I didn’t maintain a fasting window, my weight would pile back on. This occurred in numerous instances when I took a break from the fasting protocols. So a change in lifestyle and relationship with food is fundamental to ensure you are successful with fasting.
Fasting protocol: Over the year, I have tried numerous fasting protocols from the ones I listed before. Each had its own merits and success, but one thing remained constant. I didn’t address my fundamental issues with food, so I kept assuming that this fast would fix everything. This was an error on my part.
Can my observations be addressed? Absolutely, yes. But I needed to go through this journey for them to surface, and I am extremely happy I did.
I am now three months since my last fast, and I have managed only to gain 5 lbs total, but this has been due to the learnings of fasting and fundamental fixes that I have made with my view on health, food and mental strength.
I stopped intermittent fasting because I realized I had fundamental issues with my relationship with food and my overall willpower.
I realized that once I stopped fasting, I would likely revert to my old condition as I wouldn’t have the fasting window to create the calorie deficit.
So instead then use fasting as a temporary comfort cushion, I worked on these two key issues.
My relationship with food: No diet will fix negative behaviour regarding food. No diet will fix long-term health issues if you revert to the old behaviour. So I worked on understanding food, why I felt like that and what was causing me to want to eat all the time. A mix of boredom, comfort eating, blood sugar spokes, emotional challenges and life were at fault! Once I fixed them, I could eat a balanced diet and drastically improve my overall health.
My willpower on fasting: Fasting educated me on the power of will. It taught me that our thoughts influence our actions, and in my case, I would always think about food and eventually give in and overeat. Once I understood this and observed them as adverse effects, I started eating normally.
Let me first say the following.
Intermittent fasting IS a brilliant tool for weight loss and overall health benefits.
But in my case, it was not sustainable, and I was likely to gain any weight I lost once I returned to my usual eating mode.
When I look back at the fasting period, I can now summarise why intermittent fasting was not good for me and why it stopped working:
Hard to stick to: I struggled with the mental impact of not eating, which caused me to obsess over food and overeat. So my ability to stick to the diet was limited by overeating.
Social impact: Fasting for a large part of the day \ evening made it challenging when socialising with friends and family. Eating is a social event with people, so having to sit there with a glass of water played havoc on my mental health.
Cravings: Sticking to the diet was a challenge as I was always thinking of food that then created cravings. This conflicted with what I was trying to achieve in the fasting window so I would compromise the whole diet.
So, even though intermittent fasting worked for some people, it didn’t work for me. Everyone is different, and it’s essential to find a way of eating that works for you and makes you feel good.
From my experience, it did not cause any eating disorders. What it did was surface pre-existing issues I had with food, and I am grateful for intermittent fasting.
For those with similar issues, you could lead yourself into binge eating cycles, which is something to be aware of. If you are overeating or obsessing about (and about) food all the time, then it’s time to stop intermittent fasting and address the root causes of why you do this.
From research and experience, intermittent fasting will work for most people in some way, as long as you are fit and healthy and have no existing health conditions.
For someone that has diabetes, intermittent fasting would need to be monitored and performed under the care of your health care professional.
The intermittent nature of eating will cause blood sugar spikes which could lead to several other issues, including dizziness, variation in blood pressure and general lethargy.
The weight loss benefit can be easily achieved if you follow the fasting window and control your calories during the eating window.
If you perform intermittent fasting correctly, you will not gain weight on this diet. It would be practically impossible as this would defy science (calories-in versus calories-out).
However, if you observe that you overeat in the fasting windows and return to your usual eating habits between fasts, you WILL gain the weight back just as quickly.
I found that during my fasting windows, I would be moodier, but this was because I was obsessing over food instead of just getting on with my day.
I have read that intermittent fasting does affect moods in people differently. But it appears this is primarily influenced by their persona, health and pre-existing issues.
Some people are elated and have high energy levels (especially in ketosis), while others feel down during the fasting window.
It is worth noting that some recent studies have shown positive effects of time-restricted fasting that have improved anxiety and depression levels. These effects are likely related to brain chemistry, as dopamine and serotonin are related to feelings of happiness and positivity.
However, I have read other studies that have found fasting can lead to feelings of irritability, anxiety, and depression. This was likely related to fluctuations in blood sugar that can cause brain and hormone chemistry changes.
From my own experience, I can say that any mood changes whilst on intermittent fasting were caused by my thoughts, feelings and relationship with food and myself and not due to the actual fasting. It was the fasting that helped me realise these issues.
I was always conscious of what would happen to my body once I reached my target goals.
I found that research and experience often conflict, and the overall effects once you stop depended on the individual.
My own experience on stopping was that I had gained around 20% of the weight back and that if I had returned to my pre-fasting eating habits, then I suspect ALL my weight would have returned. Aside from that, I did not have any other effects that I could note.
However, research and experience from the fasting community would state the following:
Normality: Your body will return to normal once you stop fasting, and the default hormonal peaks and troughs will occur. You will be able to eat per usual, and as long as you make the right changes to your diet, you should be able to maintain your weight loss.
Changes in metabolism: Stopping your fast will impact your metabolism as it no longer needs to deal with fasting windows. So you can expect your metabolism to increase with the foods you provide.
Mood changes: It is common to experience changes in the mood once you start eating normally again. Your thoughts and feelings about the diet will play a significant part in this, so being aware of yourself and how you think will help minimise this.
Changes in the menstrual cycle: I noticed a change in my periods once I stopped fasting, which was related to their regularity and the number of days.
It’s important to note that we are all different, and what happens to one person may not happen to another person. It’s also essential to find a way of eating that is sustainable for you and makes you feel good.
I stopped fasting once I realised my problems were due to my relationship with food and my overall diet.
But that was my case.
Research has shown us that there are several reasons why you should be aware of the effects of fasting and WHEN you should stop:
Pre-existing issues: You must not begin fasting without consulting your healthcare professional, and if you ignore this advice and start, please stop asap.
Your results: If you have been following the fasting protocol for several weeks and haven’t seen the desired results and weight loss, you should stop the diet.
Feeling unwell: If you’re experiencing fatigue, irritability, or mood swings while doing intermittent fasting, it may be time to stop. It’s essential to listen to your body and do what’s best for you.
Sticking to fasts: If you find it hard to follow the eating and fasting windows, you should cease the diet and try a different approach.
Happiness and enjoyment: Noone likes to diet. I think we can safely all agree on that. But if intermittent fasting makes you unhappy overall, it is time to stop.
Do you want weight loss? Do you want fat loss? Do you want to see the potential benefits of this fasting protocol?
If the answer to the above is Yes, you should start intermittent fasting.
But start it with all the information at hand and be prepared to follow it for at least ten weeks so that you can give it a good chance.
You must seek advice from your healthcare professional, especially if you have pre-existing health issues.
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As I sit here today, at the start of January 2023, I can say that I am very glad that I took this fasting journey.
I have learnt a lot about my health, body, mental health and overall relationship with food.
Through my experience of fasting, I have been able to work on my fundamental issues to now lead a healthy lifestyle that takes advantage of elements of fasting but keeps me happy and unrestricted.
I hope my journey has helped you, and I ask you to stay in touch and share this post. My goal was to hold myself accountable for my experiences and help you and many others in our health journey!
(oh, and do keep in touch and check in with us regularly for more fantastic content. For a complete list of our previous blog posts, please go here)
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