Intermittent fasting has been all the rage for the past few years, especially the 5:2 version. My partner and I tried intermittent fasting. We used the 16:8 protocol. It has many positives, which I believe (for us two of course) heavily outweigh any of the negatives. Read on to see our personal experience with it.
Disclaimer: I am not a dietician, nor am I a nutritionalist. This is anecdotally our experience with a particular way of eating. This does not mean I am suggesting it is the best and only way to eat. Each method will work very differently from individual to individual and results WILL vary. If you are looking at changing your diet and/or lifestyle in any way, shape or form, I advise that you seek a doctor's opinion beforehand.
We followed the 16:8 protocol, which is pretty straight forward. For 16 hours we were fasting, for 8 hours we were eating as and when (not the whole 8 hours!). For a lot of the intermittent fasting you have to bear in mind that we both tracked our calories and made sure we were in a slight calorie deficit.
Calorie deficit vs calorie surplus
A quick note on that. To put things in a very black and white sense (which nutritionally I don't think it is as ever as clear as that), if you are in a calorie deficit you will lose fat and some muscle, and if you are in a calorie surplus you will gain muscle and some fat. This will all depend on how much of a deficit/surplus you are in, if you are getting sufficient protein and how much resistance training you do. But that's not the point of this post.
Intermittent fasting: the positives
1. TIME! Time is the one for me. To gain more time is invaluable. When fasting, we wake up, and don't even need to think about food, because there's none to make. I chose my hours to go from 12pm to 8pm, and my partner Cat went with 11am to 7pm. We had a tea or coffee in the morning with minimal amounts of milk and relaxed. I normally try to use the morning to be as productive as possible. By the time it got round to noon, I'd forgotten I was hungry, then I broke my fast. Sometimes I'd gone until 1pm or even in some cases 2pm, almost by accident. You have to understand this is unheard of with me especially.
2. Convenience. This ties in with time. In that, there is such a lack of time spent cooking. Since we only had an 8 hour window, there is only so much food that can fit in in that time. Now I know some of you will be thinking "trust me, I can fit in a whole lotta food in 8 hours". But, give intermittent fasting a try for a while and you'll be surprised at how difficult you'll find it to eat lots during that 8 hour window. I'd probably say this is due mostly to stomach shrinkage. At most I'd been able to fit in 4 meals during that window, and those meals weren't big. Alongside this convenience of not cooking much, there is also way less washing up that has to be done. Washing up is the bane of my life. Oh god I know, there are so many worse things out there, I've slapped myself for that sentence don't worry. But, seriously, washing up annoys the hell out of me. We don't have a dish washer (yeah, serious 1st world problems there...), and the previous year when I was on my monster food feed the WHOLE year I spent cooking, eating and washing up it seemed. So 16:8 really created a lot of convenience for us.
3. Calorie deficit. This is a good method to create a calorie deficit. The reason I think it is so good is that you most likely will get into a calorie deficit without having to count calories. Counting calories can be a very inconvenient method for some, so this method can be a good for someone to lose fat. Going back to point 2 with this, basically it's very difficult to eat loads in that 8 hour window, so because of that food volume will decrease and therefore calories will decrease.
4. It's taught me to listen to my body. I now actually understand WHEN I'm hungry. I think this is really important. Having a little bit of hunger in the day is normal.
Intermittent fasting: the negatives
1. Hunger. Yeah, wow. I woke up hungry most of the time. If not starving. This has always been the case with me though. Even when I'm eating 3000-4000+ calories a day. But this time I couldn't eat when I woke up. To combat this a cuppa tea goes down a treat. I put a small amount of milk in there as I wanted to keep in this 'fasted' state as much as possible. I tried to keep busy during my fasted hours so I wasn't sitting about thinking of how hungry I was. This turns out to be quite positive as most days I'd wake up and get little things done around the house and get my admin work done (washing up and writing blogs posts, for example). What I find is that hunger comes in waves. Ride that wave and it'll disappear. Like I said previously, sometimes I accidentally fasted an hour too long. You soon get used to the hunger pangs.
2. Hunger at night. So yeah, pretty much the same as point 1. Basically though, once that window has closed, it can be very disappointing to know you're not eating again until tomorrow. And I'd been really hungry during that time. Going to bed so hungry can be a bugger, but again, I've gotten used to it and if anything I found I was sleeping better as I wasn't going to bed digesting food still, as I often would before I started fasting.
3. Loss of strength. This is a really tricky one for me to say whether this happened for me. First of all, I was injured when I began fasting, so couldn't lift as normal. And second, I had lost a lot of weight (both fat and muscle). So loss of strength is inevitable. But by how much, I just simply don't know. In terms of powerlifting, I wouldn't be looking for weight loss, so I wouldn't try to get into a calorie deficit if I was training in this way.
What about exercise during a fast?
I would think this is very much individually-based. Some people can do it, some people might struggle with it. What I would first of all say is, it's not necessary to work out during a fast. So choose what works best for you. For me personally, I don't mind, and I don't find I am lacking in energy. Maybe initially when I first started fasting, but I am very much in tune with it now and barely notice it when I work out. But I'd certainly say approach with caution when you first try it. You don't have to exercise during your fast. If you find that you can't, don't.
Things that helped me with intermittent fasting
Body confidence; I lost fat and felt better about my appearance.
Cuppa tea; helped me through my fasting periods.
Eat as soon as my fast was up. Try to eat on the dot of your eating window finishing.
Busying myself during my fasts. I tried to be be as productive as possible during that time.
Things that might help someone start intermittent fasting
There are different protocols out there, and each may work for different people. The only ones that I have read about are 5:2 and 16:8. I hate the idea of 5:2 personally. The extreme lack of calories in those 2 days of fasting is too much for me. 16:8 I have found to be a very comfortable way of fasting. So find what works for you. 16:8 works with the hours that I have chosen. Pick hours that work for you. I work weird hours because I am a personal trainer and we tend to work when most people have finished work.
If you are struggling with 16:8, then why not try just not eating in the morning. Or not eating after 6? That sounds familiar doesn't it? Lots of people do that anyway because of that myth that because you are sleeping food turns to fat as you aren't active enough if you eat after 6, which is a load of nonsense. But what it turns out is, that they are probably getting into a bit of a deficit, or at least controlling their way of eating rather than gorging at night, so they are not putting on a load of weight.
I hope this has been some food for thought (lololololololol) and has given you a bit of an insight to intermittent fasting from my perspective.
Thanks for reading!