Here’s What Happened When I Tried Intermittent Fasting For Three Weeks
Before I get into fasting, I want to announce that I will be switching from a once weekly blog post to a once monthly post. I’m much busier with patients now than when I started (a great thing) and I’m also running out of things to say (I know you don’t believe that). I’d like to really concentrate on the most important information I’d like to get across to my patients and you’ll see that monthly. I know also that people are becoming more and more busy and don’t necessarily have time to read a weekly newsletter. So, look for a concise, once monthly blog that will continue to concentrate on how you can be your healthiest self. Now onto the fasting diet.
First let me say that breakfast is not something that I ever skip. I wake up most mornings incredibly hungry. When I get the urge to sleep in, the pressure to eat overpowers my longing to get more sleep, and I get up to quell that hunger. In fact, eating in general is a big highlight of my day. When I’m not eating, I’m thinking about my next meal. And lately, as I’ve gotten past forty, and after two children, this indulgence is starting to show up a bit in my gut.
Now, I’m not overweight, but I have gained ten pounds in the last couple of years and I’ve found it hard to shed. I’ve also read online and heard accounts from my patients who have lost up to 20 lbs. on Intermittent Fasting (IF). This is a diet where you either go 12 to 18 hours a day without food, or you eat 500 calories or less one to two days a week. This diet not only helps you lose weight but there is also good science that fasting is linked to decreased heart disease and cancer rates, decreased rates of dementia, and improved blood sugar levels (less diabetes). I figured I’d give it a go. It might just help me lose a few pounds, and also I was curious to see what would happen. Here’s what I learned:
The First Couple of Days are Hard
I decided to dive right into fasting. I was finished with my last meal the night before at 7pm and I waited until about 1pm to eat the next day. I was very hungry and was obsessed with food for several hours leading up to lunch. All morning I’m thinking, “I’m hungry, I’m hungry!”. Many experts advise ramping up to all 18 hours. Start with 12 hours and add a couple hours each day. Usually this obsessive feeling of hunger wanes after the first couple of days but for some IF dieters, the obsession with food sticks around and can be more unhealthy than their regular habits.
Hunger Pains Come and Go
After a couple of days on the IF diet I realized that hunger pains wouldn’t necessarily stick around. I drank a lot of water and tea and kept busy and I would feel hungry for a few minutes, then I would forget about it. My ability to ward off hunger seemed to increase as the time passed. By the end of the first week, I wasn’t thinking about hunger much at all. Routine helps ward off the hunger. Here’s what Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist who has been Intermittent Fasting for 35 years recommends: “I would suggest that in the morning you drink some tea or coffee and keep busy working until 1pm. If you usually exercise, then you may want to exercise at noon. Then eat a moderate amount of (healthy) food right after you exercise (e.g., 600 calories), and eat the rest of your food during a 3-4 hour time window in the late afternoon to early evening. The biggest benefit is that your mind will be clearer and you will be more productive during the entire morning.”
Sugar Cravings Increase
The IF diet does have some down sides. Sara Gottfried, a doctor and author of The Hormone Reset Diet, worries that it can trigger sugar cravings—and binges. I found that I was craving more sugary foods, as I often do when I’m really hungry, due to my low blood sugar levels. I found myself indulging more than usual and telling myself that it would all even out because I was spending so many hours not eating. Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, says, "It's risky to tell overweight people to eat what they want every other day, because they could actually gain weight. And, in my practice, very few people are interested in trying it. It could wreak havoc on your life."
Oy - the Headaches
I found I was getting a headache every afternoon around 2pm that would not go away. Doing a bit of research online, I found that headaches are a common occurrence during fasting. Many folks complain of mild headaches every now and then, while others, like me, experience them daily. Drinking enough water helps relieve the headaches in some cases but for me, that didn’t help. The headaches were one of the things that caused me to stop fasting and the first day I ate breakfast, no more headaches. I think my sensitivity to low blood sugar is probably to blame. If you’re someone who becomes weak and cranky when your blood sugar is low, then the IF diet may cause headaches and may not be for you.
I Didn’t Lose Weight
The clincher in stopping the diet, in addition to the headaches, was that I wasn’t losing weight. Now, I didn’t couple the fasting with better eating habits and because of the increased hunger and sugar cravings, I think I was actually eating a worse diet than I normally do. The good news is that even though I was eating a worse diet, I didn’t gain weight.
I think that if you’re someone who is not ruled by your blood sugar levels, if you eat healthy during the hours you are allowed to eat, and if you drink plenty of water, Intermittent Fasting probably will work for you. For me, I’m back to what has worked for me in the past: a ketogenic diet for about a month then maintain a healthy Mediterranean Diet. I’ll explore the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in my next blog post, next month.
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