What is it? What should you expect? And is it worth it?
Since boldly announcing my grand plan to hit reset on my heath using intermittent fasting, I’ve been inundated questions on social media: how long do I fast for, and how often? Is it sustainable? Does it even work? So I decided to write this little blog to explain what I’m up to, and to take a look at the research behind this wellness trend.
My decision to give intermittent fasting another go (I first tried it five or six years ago) was pretty simple: I had enjoyed my summer of backyard barbecues, birthday celebrations, and holiday festivities—with maybe a few more wines than I was used to. I was still working out and eating reasonably well, but I just wasn’t quite as consistent as I usually would be, and it left me feeling a bit ‘blergh’. That’s the scientific term.
So I decided to give the 16:8 version of intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted feeding or TRF, another go. Let’s face it: I was 24 last time I did it, so looking and feeling healthy came without too much effort. This time, post the big 3-0, was going to be the real test. I made a deal with myself to do it for twelve weeks, and that by the time I return to New York in June, I should know whether it’s something I want to maintain.
- Eat my usual healthy diet (yep, that means no reduction in calories or changes in protein, carbohydrate, or fat intake) but restrict my eating hours to eight in a day. That leaves sixteen hours of fasting. Most people opt to eat only between midday and 8pm, but I go bonkers without breakfast, so I chose 9am-5pm.
- Use this 16:8 fasting protocol for starting on Sunday evening, and finishing on Friday morning each week. That gives me five fasts throughout the week, then the weekend to relax a little around food and enjoy a few meals out with friends.
- Eliminate alcohol consumption for twelve weeks. This includes weekends.
- Undertake two HIIT (high-intensity interval) workouts, two 5km runs, and 3-4 resistance training sessions at the gym each week.
Intermittent fasting is attracting a lot of attention lately because there is some really solid research to back it up as a sustainable and effective method of fat loss. One study that looked at healthy resistance-trained males found that over eight weeks of TRF, their body fat was reduced considerably more than those who ate the same diet without fasting. Muscle mass was retained in both groups.
There are also early signs that suggest different forms of intermittent fasting (not necessarily TRF) may be an effective anti-aging approach. Watch this space!
I’m on week five of twelve and can confidently say that I’m loving it. My upper body looks considerably leaner and more defined, but the scales say I’ve actually put on two kilograms. My goal was to lose body fat but retain hard-earned muscle tissue. So while weight isn’t a perfect measure, it is promising.
I’ve also noticed a huge change in my skin. This is likely down to the reduction of alcohol on weekends, but whatever it is I’m very happy with it! People have commented how clear and fresh I look, and I’ve even been told my eyes are brighter.
Most importantly, I still feel good on this plan. I haven’t noticed any difference in my sleep or energy levels, but both of those were pretty good to begin with anyway—good gut health is key to managing those concerns! But my appetite and energy have remained normal so far. The final few hours of a fast can be a bit of a pain (I’m usually watching the clock and waiting until I can eat again) but as soon as I’ve had my first meal, I feel completely satisfied. There’s no temptation to binge, and no cravings. Again, this is only my personal experience, but I was surprised how much my appetite normalised and adapted to TRF after the first week.
Will I continue?
Absolutely! I’ll see the rest of the twelve weeks out, and then decide how to keep it as a piece of my overall approach to health. I’m not a believer in yo-yo dieting, so any health plan should be something you can implement in a sustainable way. At this stage, I’m thinking it might be a matter of using TRF Monday-Wednesday. Let me know if you’d like an update on my maintenance plan!
NB: Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding may not be for everybody. This is my experience, but you should always check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before commencing any new diet plan.