Two years ago I was frustrated by my attempts at eating healthy. With five kids and a busy job and endless things to do, planning meals at all was a challenge, let alone super-healthy meals. Plus, I was starting to gain weight and not happy about it. Make food for the boys and then another meal for me? Impossible. Meal planning made me miserable, and I’m all about not adding misery to anything that has to do with food. But it was clear I needed to figure out a way to eat healthier and not change my kids’ world too much.
I stumbled across an article on intermittent fasting (IF) on a fitness blog and was intrigued. As someone who has struggled with control and food, I wondered if it was even possible. Could I limit eating to a window of time, or only eat 500 calories on certain days? I was sure I’d get a hangry headache, feel miserable, make everyone else miserable…not doable. But I read a couple more articles like this and this and decided to give it a try.
Here’s what I learned.
Give it some time
After trying to follow the 5:2 method of eating normal for 5 days and fasting to under 500 calories for two days a week, I quickly determined this was NOT for me. Miserable. Starving. Wanted to eat ALL the food on the days I could eat and wanted to cry the days I wasn’t supposed to. Life is too short for misery by choice, so I moved on to 16:8, where I could eat during an 8 hour window and then I fasted for 16 hours. I eased into it, starting with a 12 hour fast from 7pm to 7am, then gradually added hours every few days. Eventually I landed on fasting from 7pm to 11am, and that’s what I do today. If I’m starving and miserable at 10am I eat a little snack, and if I feel good at 11 (which is most of the time), I don’t eat until lunch. I follow this plan most days but know it’s OK to eat a bit earlier if I need to.
Coffee? It’s complicated
I drink coffee with cream. After endless articles, I finally determined that my coffee with cream would be ok. I need creamer to by happy. And again, I’m not looking for misery (especially at 7am) when I can choose happy. So I have about 80 calories in creamer total in my coffee every day. Some IF gurus say if you stay below 100 calories you won’t break your fast and you’ll keep humming along burning that fat. Others say you’ve ruined it and you’re done so only drink black coffee. To that I say….ummmmm, no. I have two cups of coffee and I adore my creamer and I’m not parting with it. But I do avoid the yummiest hot drinks most of the time or wait until later in the day.
Working out still works!
I’ve been an early-morning-empty-stomach runner for years, so this wasn’t an adjustment for me. Running also kills my appetite for a couple of hours after, but then I’m very hungry! So this was an adjustment and took some time. When I run more than an hour I sometimes need a banana to calm down my noisy stomach. But generally it doesn’t matter if I run, go to the Y, or do nothing. I don’t eat before 11 and coffee does the trick. And if I’m miserable, I eat some fruit and know it’s all good.
For me, the hardest part about eating healthy is the brain drain. Figuring out what I’m eating – especially if it’s not what my family is eating – is exhausting. I need to free up brain space and eliminate choices. IF takes away planning for breakfast and means I only have to figure out what I’m eating 2-3 times a day. That’s it. For some, planning meals is a wonderful experience. For me? Miserable. And remember I am all about avoiding misery. IF just makes things less complicated and fits easily with how the rest of my family eats.
For me, IF alone won’t help me lose weight. If I eat whatever I want and IF, I typically won’t gain weight, however, which is nice. If I want to lose weight, I tinker with my window and what I eat. Quarantine was hard for me and I opened my window up and only fasted about 12 hours a day, if that. Not good for me. So in July I got serious and closed the window back to 14-16 hours of fasting, and then focused on 2 healthy meals and a small snack. I’m back on track now and know I can continue to tweak those two meals if I want to lose some weight.
My husband joined the IF train last fall and lost 30 pounds using this method and refraining from eating starchy carbs. Now he follows the same window I do (he eats from 11-7, but he grazes more and doesn’t eat a full meal until supper) and feels great. His blood pressure is back on track and his doctor is pleased with his overall health.
IF is definitely not for everyone. As someone who has struggled with eating issues and control, I went in cautiously and honestly and continue to make sure I am not becoming rigid or obsessed with my window of eating. Some of my friends have had unusual side-effects from IF or just felt miserable. However, for me, it’s been a great way to eliminate food stress, stay healthy, and eat happy! Remember, I’m all about removing misery, and this does the trick for me! Let us know if you’re on the IF train and what works for you!