This is my story with intermittent fasting (IF). It’s based entirely on personal experience and learnings.
For the low-down on what intermittent fasting is, how it may help you lose weight, and all kinds of other factual info, check out this other post.
For an account of how I learned the ropes of IF through trial and catastrophic error, read on! You’re in the right place. You have full permission to laugh, tut, and maybe learn something small from my journey!
Let’s get straight into it.
Growing up, I had only heard of people fasting for religious reasons. You know, like Yom Kippur or Ramadan.
Or, because I went to a girls’ school, ‘fasting’ could be code for disordered eating and get you sent to the school nurse for a pep talk.
But, apparently, it’s a practice that fitness buffs have been doing for a long time to trim down, burn fat, and boost their metabolisms.
Intermittent Fasting: Take 1
When I first caught wind of IF, it was during my ‘extreme physical experimentation’ phase. Nowadays, I embrace moderation and focus on eating foods that make me feel good. (By the way, food diaries can be a great tool to help you figure this out for yourself.) I practice yoga, I breathe deeply, I eat sweet potato.
But back in my university years, I was using my new-found personal freedom to experiment wildly with my diet and fitness regimes. I took a laptop on holiday for the sole purpose of bringing my treasured ‘Insanity’ daily HIIT workout videos. I went extreme keto, limiting my carbs to under 10g a day. And, yes, you can bet your bottom dollar I tried intermittent fasting.
I had heard it could boost weight loss, so me and my partner gave it go to shape up for beach season. We restricted ourselves to a very narrow window of 4 hours within which to consume all our daily calories. We stuck to a strict 12pm to 4pm window.
I would say it wasn’t the most stable experience. Actually, it was pretty damn hectic.
Mostly, what I remember about that time is being in a crazy hunger frenzy, running around the kitchen and putting everything I found into my mouth. I also remember stuffing myself with food I didn’t feel like eating, and screaming, ‘Ah! The window is closing!’. Picture Indiana Jones jumping through the closing door, and risking his life to grab his hat. This was me at 3.59pm.
As you can imagine, having not eaten anything since 4 in the afternoon the day before, by lunchtime, we were starving. We would inhale a giant meal at breakneck speed, not really bothering to keep track of calories or nutritional content (because, who needs ‘em?).
Our phone alarms would beep at 3.30pm to tell us it was time for Round 2 before the end of eating for the day. I was usually just about clawing my way out of a food coma from lunch, but I still raced my partner to the fridge. Every time.
We carried on for a while, then eventually gave up. It was exhausting and impractical to alternate between hungry and overstuffed. Like Christmas Day on repeat.
Three Unforeseen Consequences of IF
1. Being a party pooper.
My extremely restrictive eating pattern was not very sociable. I cringe at the thought now, but we would sit at family dinner tables and refuse to eat anything. To stress the embarrassment, I was on holiday with my partner’s family at the time. I’m mortified in retrospect.
Narrow-window IF got in the way of leading a normal social life. Breakfast plans? Dinner date? After-work drinks? Sorry, not unless it’s inside the window!
I don’t know why I listed this under ‘unforeseen’. It surely does not come as a surprise to anyone that my system wasn’t impressed with my speed-eating large quantities of food.
3. Poor mental health.
My extreme eating pattern was quite stressful. I’m pretty sure any physical benefits were outweighed by the mental and emotional strain. If you’re not careful, it can wreak havoc on your relationship with food and other people.
In my experience, extreme behaviour encourages more extreme behaviour. The problem is when the total effort isn’t sustainable. Something has to give.
It’s far better to strive for balance.
Intermittent Fasting: Take 2
About a week ago, while talking to a friend who was trying IF, I realised I currently eat within the definition of intermittent fasting.
I never officially ‘tried again’ with IF. Maybe that’s why I found a workable balance.
It happened gradually, as I found out what felt good in my body. Snacking for me is a real struggle, I know I’m not alone. When I start snacking, I can’t stop. So, I avoid starting. I make sure my meals are nice and balanced and I remind myself that I have plenty of fuel in my body. Now, I rarely get the nibbles.
Because of the good fuel I eat (healthy fats, protein, slow-release carbs), I don’t wake up starving hungry. At around 11am, I start to feel the first pricks of hunger. My first meal tends to be a hearty early lunch.
Dinner happens when I am next hungry, which is usually around 6 or 7pm. And that’s it for the day!
That’s how I, Naomi Pyburn, accidentally found myself intermittent fasting.
So, from my initial abysmal IF experience, I have two top tips:
1. Don’t start with the most extreme window possible. 4 hours is not for IF first-timers.
2. Make sure IF doesn’t get in the way of enjoying your life. Life really is too short.
This second point is important. No diet or pattern of behaviour is ever going to stick if it makes you miserable.
Consider exercise. I absolutely love practicing yoga every day. It brings me joy and feeds my mental wellbeing. I know I’m far more likely to keep going with yoga long-term than any crazy 45-minute high-intensity interval training workout video. Sorry, Insanity. Your endorphins are fun, but I don’t see us having a future together.
In reality, I don’t want fast abs or crash diets. I want to be healthy, inside and out, and body confident. At the moment, that takes the form of intermittent fasting, however inadvertently it came to be.