As all things in life, we change and evolve, and over the past 12 months I have been a bit quiet on the blog as I have been experimenting with something new that has changed my health, my eating approach and my consumption of life!
I have been a long-time self experimenter when it comes to my health. It has been the way I have continually improved and found what works individually for me. But I like to see how things go before sharing. So, the past 12 months I have been experimenting with Intermittent Fasting (also known as time restricted eating) and One Meal A Day (OMAD). Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them.
How I Started
A bit over 12 months ago, a family friend lost a substantial amount of weight after receiving a diabetes diagnosis. They had such good results they didn’t even end up having to take medication and essentially reversed their diabetes! It was through casual conversation they mentioned Dr Fung which lead me to read The Obesity Code. I have known for a while that I am insulin resistant and while low carb has helped me manage this, it wasn’t until I read The Obesity Code that so many queries I had and explanation for the struggles I have experienced were answered. I read so much of myself in those pages and was instantly inspired to start!
How to start though? That was the question. Dr Fung’s book advocated fasts of 24hrs or longer and I didn’t think I could do that. This sent me searching for more info on the practical application of intermittent fasting and I quickly found Delay, Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens. If you are wanting to start IF, I cannot recommend these two books enough as they will answer all your questions and give you the information you need to find the right routine for you.
I had actually already been fasting of a sort prior to starting IF. I was delaying my breakfast until around 10 or 11am, but I was often having a bulletproof coffee prior to this. This I quickly learnt was not part of a “clean fast” and was actually breaking my fast. So, I started with downloading a fasting app, setting my timer to 18 hours and away I went. Before I knew it, 18 hours became 19, 19 became 20 and these days I aim for 21 hours but often go longer. That 24 hours that I thought I would never be able to do, is now a breeze, and more importantly, I feel incredible doing it.
Results after 1 Year
I have had fantastic results over the last year. I am no longer insulin resistant (blood test confirmed – although I am still at the high end of the normal range and so am hoping it improves further). I have better energy, less hypothyroid symptoms, my skin is clearer, my skin tags have disappeared, less annual illness, decreased inflammation, major body recomposition and I am down 13 kilos (~30 pounds) and 53 cm (~21 inches).
I no longer track, measure or count anything (apart from my fast and weight). I am more in tune with my natural hunger and satiety signals. I am more relaxed when it comes to food and have more mental space with no more guilt or worry around food choices. It has been so, so freeing! Results + delicious food! I’ll take that over any ‘diet’ any day.
What I have Learned
So here are a few things that I have learnt during the last year that I think would be useful to anyone thinking of giving IF a go.
A little disclaimer before we start. These are my personal thoughts and experiences. I am not a doctor and you should always consult with a medical professional according to your personal circumstances. I am not going to go in depth into the science, but I will link through to some sources and I highly recommend that people do their own reading, research and investigation on any topic that interests them.
Black Coffee, water, black & green tea – that is it! Yes, bone broth, cream, MCT oil, that little dash of milk, anything with a sweet taste (even sugar/calorie free!), it all stimulates an insulin response and will break your fast. I’m lucky that I read Delay, Don’t Deny immediately after The Obesity Code and joined Gin Stephen’s Facebook groups. Gin has honed and defined the concept of the “Clean Fast” and it really is an essential ingredient to the lifestyle. Believe it or not, clean fasting actually makes IF easier! If you’ve tried IF before and struggled to get through, make sure you are clean fasting.
It’s Not Hard
It’s actually easy AF. Yes, it take a few weeks for your body to become fat adapted, for you to stop watching the clock and shoving in everything in sight when you open your window. But after that, suddenly you don’t notice the time, you start to crave healthier and more nutritious foods, it’s easy to say no and save treats until your feasting time, you have steady energy and it just becomes a part of your normal day. Compared to the huge amount of time and energy I was spending prior to IF (counting, weighing, prepping, planning, even eating!), there is so much LESS now, which gives me MORE time to enjoy everything else in life. IF has been the easiest ‘diet’ I have ever adhered to. So don’t give up during the first few weeks and months, fat adaption will happen and it WILL get easier.
Measure Every Day and Track Your Average
Weight loss is not linear. Our weight can change by a few kilo’s / pounds every single damn day! There are so many things that can affect it: fluid consumption & retention, food volume, alcohol, carbs, hormones, exercise, inflammation, injuries, sickness, and sleep (to name a few). So, don’t get hung up on what the scale says. If you are going to weigh, weigh every day, at the same time and calculate your weekly average. The average is what we want to see trend down or up over time (depending on your goals). There are apps that can automatically do this like FitBit or Happy Scale, you could write it down in a notebook, or create your own Excel spreadsheet like me haha.
Embrace it as a Lifestyle
I have 21 hours set as my target on my fasting app and it is what I aim for each day. Sometimes I reach it, sometimes I don’t. Often I do a shorter fast one day and a longer one on another. What makes IF so easy is that you can fit your fasting into your lifestyle so you’re not having to miss out on dinners with family, brunch with friends or holidays. So, figure out a schedule that works for you. Don’t stress over special occasions and just take each day as it comes. It’s a lifestyle, not a diet.
Expect SLOW Results
IF is not a crash diet. Fasting allows your body to focus on healing via the process of autophagy (which is stimulated when you fast) and reduced inflammation, so it is VERY common to not lose weight during the initial weeks and even months while your body heals. Many of us have immune conditions, inflammation, issues with insulin sensitivity, out of whack hormones and damaged metabolisms. As such, healing is a priority before weight loss. For me, my average loss has been 0.2 kgs or 0.5 pounds per week! If I had expected to lose 10kgs in a month I would probably have given up. Instead, that 0.2 kgs has added up and more importantly, it has been sustainable. Commit to it for the long haul.
Measure in Different Ways
We just talked about the incredible healing capacity of IF, and that healing means you may see changes in more ways than just weight! Body recompositing is common as inflammation is reduced, and fat is lost but muscle is increased (IF stimulates human growth hormone production). So measure in different ways – take progress photos (believe me, you will want them to look back on!), go by how your clothes fit, take measurements, keep a journal of how you are feeling and any changes in symptoms to track how your health is improving.
Don’t Talk Until You’re Ready
There are some interesting studies on the theory that if you tell someone you are starting a new diet, exercise routine, or habit, your brain thinks you have actually completed this to a certain extent, and so you are less likely to go through with your planned change (interesting info here & here). So, there is no need to announce it to the world you are starting Intermittent Fasting if you don’t want to. People may not understand, or want to, and you don’t need to spend your energy justifying your choices to others. Let your results speak for themselves. This tip is of course a personal preference, one which I know works for me and allows me to establish new habits.
It really is all about the Insulin
A few weeks into my IF journey I got curious, maybe I was just eating less than I was before and it really was all about the calorie restriction? So I tracked a few of my OMADs in MyFitnessPal and I was actually eating the same, if not more (!) than what I was when I was eating carefully portioned and macro measured meals 3~6 times a day. “Eat less, move more” has never worked for me long term and when I read The Obesity Code and learnt about the role of insulin, it explained so clearly for me why this has been the case! Eating multiple meals and drinks a day was just stimulating my insulin, never allowing me to access what I had stored and progressively making me more insulin resistant. Now that I am allowing my body’s insulin to drop sufficiently, I can access those stores and have an incredible amount of energy (ketones) to run off! No more counting calories for me, ever again (some more reading here 1, 2, 3).
What you eat is Still Important
While calories don’t matter, they still matter. Overeating is still going to give you too much energy and your body has to store it somewhere if you aren’t able to use it. Overeating can be common when you first start IF, but your body will get used to the routine. Learn to listen to your body and satiety signals. Secondly, it’s common sense that that 500g of veggies are going to be better for you than 500g of candy. Whole foods give your body the natural ingredients it needs for health, healing and living. Whole foods are also much harder to overeat and are more satisfying than processed ones. I know tomorrow’s fast is going to be harder if I eat crap today, so if you’re going to have one meal a day, make it worthy.
Fasting Won’t Cure Everything
Intermittent Fasting is wonderful for weight loss and healing, but it is not a cure-all. I am still, and probably always will be hypothyroid (due to my genetics) and need to take medication for this. Make sure to work with your health care professional, or seek out a holistic doctor if you suspect you may have more going on with your health. Please, don’t ever ignore symptoms or just stop taking prescribed medication.
And there we have it – one year down, the rest of my life to go! If you want to see samples of my OMAD’s and how my intermittent fasting is progressing, come follow me on Instagram.0