It felt great until it ruined my health.
Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular fitness trends these days. I first heard about it on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. As a devotee of the “human guinea pig”, I started to dig deeper into the concept. More than a diet, this is a lifestyle with proven benefits to your body and mind.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that defines eating cycles and alternates them with fasting ones. It can take up several forms. One of the most common is the 16/8 method, where you have an 8-hour eating window in a day and fast for the remaining 16h. A popular alternative is the 5:2 diet, where you consume only 500–600 calories 2 days per week, and eat normally the rest of the days. Other people experiment with fasting for 24h once or twice a week.
Regardless of the exact format, the goal is always to alternate eating and fasting cycles. The reason behind this is that fasting has science-proved benefits for the body and mind. Weight loss, higher energy levels, reduced inflammation in the body, and improved mental clarity, for example. Furthermore, it reduces insulin resistance, improves heart health, and induces cellular repair processes. This study by The New England Journal of Medicine shows precisely that.
“In animals and humans, physical function is improved with intermittent fasting. In humans, intermittent-fasting interventions ameliorate obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and inflammation. Studies in animals show that intermittent fasting enhances cognition in multiple domains, including spatial memory, associative memory, and working memory”.
Considering all the mentioned benefits, I had to try it. And so I did, starting about a year ago. The whole experiment lasted for six months, and I learned some valuable lessons. Let me share them with you.
How Intermittent Fasting Feels Like
Contrary to what most people expect, when you start it, you don’t feel hungry all the time. Sure, it takes time for your body to adjust. That’s why you should introduce intermittent fasting into your diet step by step, instead of abruptly changing your eating habits.
In the first couple of days, keep having breakfast but do it a bit later. Then, have dinner slightly earlier. Slowly, reduce your eating window until you reach 12 pm — 8 pm or something similar that works for you.
Following the 80/20 principle in intermittent fasting is an effective approach. The restricted eating schedule can get in the way of social events, so if you add a bit of flexibility, it’s easier to stick to it without feeling that you are failing all the time.
Intermittent fasting should give you a better sense of well-being. You are not going to achieve that by excluding social interaction from your days. Life is all about balance.
The Good Stuff
Intermittent fasting comes with several benefits. Especially during the mornings, while you are still fasting, your whole body performs better. You feel energized, both physically and mentally. It’s a general sense of feeling “fresh” that lasts throughout the day, even after you started eating.
Having this restriction around eating times ends up fixing late-night snacking too. We all know how easy it is to get to the end of the day, sit in front of the TV, and grab some chocolate or popcorn while watching a movie. With intermittent fasting, that is gone. The simple rule of defining that your eating hours are between 12 pm and 8 pm means you don’t even question eating outside those times.
But what is most surprising is the physical transformation. Intermittent fasting doesn’t control what you eat, only when you eat. So you could assume that it doesn’t have much of an impact on your body weight, but it does.
In my case, I became thinner than I had been in years. My muscles were more defined. And I lost my belly fat, to a point that had never happened before in my life. No belly fat. At all. But this came at a cost…
The Bad Stuff
I am a woman, and I am a vegetarian. I guess those two things didn’t help with this experiment. After three months of following intermittent fasting, I did a routine blood test. The results were alarming: my iron level was the lowest it had been. Ever. We are talking about ridiculous numbers here. My level was 19 when the healthy limits are between 60 and 170.
Radically changing your eating habits without proper knowledge and guidance can have a serious impact on your health. Trendy diets don’t become harmless just because everyone tries them. And even if it works for other people, you should always be aware that it might not work for you.
Intermittent fasting can be a healthy lifestyle when done properly, but you should also consider other factors in your life. Do you have a special diet besides it? For example, are you vegan or gluten-free? Do you have pre-existing health conditions? Does this diet fit your metabolism? Do you have a physically demanding job? Do you have a history of eating disorders?
It’s crucial to address all these questions before you adopt the intermittent fasting lifestyle. After all, your goal is to feel better, not to ruin your health and start feeling miserable.
Eventually, I stopped the whole thing because of the pandemic. I moved back home with my parents for a few months, and parents don’t believe in intermittent fasting. They want to feed you properly, at all four meals of the day. And you know what? Sometimes, they are right. Sometimes, all you need is to let someone love you through food. Especially when you are an idiot and insist on damaging your own health.
A year later, here are the main takeaways from this experience, and some advice to you:
- This is an interesting experiment to make and most people should try it. It teaches you to rethink your relationship with food and to push your body in ways you normally wouldn’t. It is also part of questioning the world and life in general. Why do we eat at the times we do? Who said this works for everybody? These are conventions. Challenging them should be part of our roles as human beings.
- Intermittent fasting is not as scary as it sounds at first. You will not feel hungry all the time. Instead, you will feel less hungry than before because your body will get used to a systematic eating schedule.
- It won’t have a big impact on your social life. This is one of the reasons that, often, puts people off from trying intermittent fasting. Obviously, it depends on your social life habits and the customary eating times of the place where you live. Two tips can help you navigate this: have a large eating window (around 8 hours), and apply the 80/20 principle.
- This is the most crucial piece of advice. If you decide to try intermittent fasting, never — I mean, never — neglect your health and the signs your body shows you. Before you start, read as much as you can about it. If possible, get professional support. A nutritionist will help you create a meal plan that guarantees you will meet your dietary requirements. And then, once you start, do regular checks. If something is off, don’t be stupid, and take a step back. Nothing is more precious than your health.