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I first discovered intermittent fasting around 20 years ago, although back then I had no idea what it was called, or even that it actually had a name. I simply found that my body was happier if it wasn't being stuffed with food from morning to night.
In those days, my intermittent fasting took the form of breakfast and dinner, with nothing in between. My body responded well to this routine, and it also had the benefit of freeing up a chunk of time in the middle of the day when I would otherwise have been preparing and eating lunch.
However, it ran totally counter to the advice of the “experts” who said that eating small meals throughout the day was the way to go. The younger me was a bit more inclined to listen to “experts” than the older, more cynical me is, so I gave up my two meals a day routine and tried to cram in the six small meals they wanted me to eat.
Six Small Meals Did Not Work for Me
Firstly, it meant that virtually my whole day was taken up with food. I love cooking, but this was ridiculous.
Secondly, I found it almost impossible to make a small meal interesting. There is simply not enough scope for ingredients. I either had to cook a larger meal, divide it in half and reheat the second half later - not very appetizing and doesn't work for everything - or settle for bland.
In practical terms, I ended up eating six larger meals, which was definitely not what the doctor ordered for weight loss.
So in the end I gave up and retreated to the “standard” three meals a day. A few times over the years I tried the two-meal regime, but it never seemed to work the same, and always life got in the way and I ended up back with three meals a day.
Now I have resumed an intermittent fasting lifestyle, but different from my previous one. I have now totally dismissed the “experts” insistence that breakfast is essential (after all, these are the same “experts” who told us that we had to be low fat everything, and look where that got us.) I really don't feel like food first thing in the morning, and I don't see the point of eating just because I “should.” My first meal is now around 1pm. I might have a small snack around 3pm, then dinner is timed to finish no later than 7pm. That means that I am fasting for around 18 hours each day. However, it takes between 8 and 12 hours for the body to digest each meal, so that means that my body is in a fasted state for between 6 and 10 hours.
How Intermittent Fasting Effects Me
Over the years I have learned that one of the most important things I can do for my health and wellbeing is to listen to my body. It will tell me when it is happy, and when it is not. When I stick to an intermittent fasting routine, my body tells me it is happy. Here are some of the things I have noticed:
- I do not feel hungry during the fasted hours before my first meal. There were a couple of days of discipline when I started, from then on it has been easy.
- I have not noticed any decline in my energy level in the fasted hours. If anything, I would say my energy is slightly higher than when I was adhering to a standard 3-meals-a-day pattern.
- My body feels lighter.
- I hardly ever need a “nanna nap” mid afternoon.
- Yes, I am losing weight.
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
Quite a few studies have been done on intermittent fasting, and I am not going to go all scientific on you by quoting from them and linking all over the place. If you want to learn more, a quick search online will turn up masses of data. This is just a quick summary of what I understand of the science from my own reading:
- The body has two possible sources of fuel, fat or sugar. When we eat the digestive process turns our food into sugar (greatly oversimplified, but sufficient for our understanding.) For that 8 to 12 hour period after we have eaten, the sugar from our food is circulating in our blood stream, and so the body will use that for fuel. When we are in a fasted state, the body does not have those readily-available fat stores to draw from, so instead it burns fat - that stuff we really want to get rid of.
- The theory that if we go without food for more than a couple of hours the body will go into starvation mode and start storing fat has been disproved. Recent studies suggest that at least 60 hours must pass before that begins to happen.
- Studies over many years have shown that a decreased food intake can lead to a considerable extension of life expectancy. More recent studies have shown that intermittent fasting can produce similar results (and still allows you to enjoy a good feed when you do eat.)
- Fasting increases the levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which slows aging, increases endurance and helps with muscle repair.
- Your body has an ongoing regime of detoxification and cellular repair. However, when it is busy digesting food it is distracted from this task. Fasting gives it time to get on with sweeping the floors and dusting the shelves of your internal home.
- Fasting is one of the most effective ways of normalizing insulin resistance. It also helps to regulate the hormones leptin (which controls fat storage) and ghrelin (which tells you when you are hungry).
Cautions About Intermittent Fasting
- Anyone with diabetes or any similar condition should consult a doctor before beginning any program of fasting.
- Some studies suggest that in women of childbearing age, menstrual cycles may be affected by fasting. My thought would be, try it, and if you have problems stop - but that's just what I would do. You need to make your own informed decision.