I Tried Intermittent Fasting for Six Months, and I Lost More Than Weight
March 20, 2019
The mental health gains were worth much more
You’ve probably heard about intermittent fasting — the lifestyle and weight loss fad has been somewhat in vogue in online discussions and among celebrities like actor Terry Crews, who was one of the first on the bandwagon. Proponents of the diet — which involves restricting eating to certain periods of the day — claim that it bestows a host of benefits ranging from improved brain function and longevity to, of course, weight loss.
But at first glance, no one would likely suspect that I’ve been giving intermittent fasting (IF) a try, too. That’s because, after more than six months of purposefully fasting most days for 16 hours or more, I’m lucky if I can say I’ve lost 5 pounds off my almost 170-pound body.
Of course, other people in the “Intermittent Fasting for Entrepreneurs” Facebook group that I joined last August for support claim a much bigger dip in this same time frame; 20 pounds or more would not be an exaggeration. Through them, however, I’m learning that everyone’s experience with IF is different. As long as I keep at it, I’m told, weight loss will come. Still, what I have lost might surprise you, and it’s why I’m glad I adopted this lifestyle and am sticking with it.
No more breakfast first thing in the morning
When I decided to give IF a try, I thought it would be easy. I remembered how, in college, as a single parent, I’d share a Happy Meal with my two young kids, them sharing the burger and fries, me taking the Coke. I’d make it through late-night studies and sleep just fine. Plus, I’ve always been that type who, during the workday, may get so bogged down in a project that I forget to eat till after noon anyway. So I didn’t think this fasting thing would be that big of a deal. I wasn’t going to starve. But once I started — gosh, was I ever hungry! I had committed to a “16:8” schedule, which meant I would fast for 16 hours and then have an eight-hour window in which I could feast. So I decided to begin my fast at 7 p.m., meaning my first meal of the next day would be at 11 a.m. Waiting 16 hours to eat seemed impossible at first. It was all I could do not to grab a protein bar, a banana, something! But then I realized: Oh, all I’m really giving up is breakfast. I do that all the time. After that shift in mindset, you realize most of the fasting takes place when sleeping. So you basically only give up the breakfast hour and then wait a few hours more. You can still eat your favorite breakfast foods later in the day, if you prefer. Some people will sip on bone broth for the electrolytes. I did not. I focus mostly on drinking more water, and now I can fast for up to 20 hours on some days without a problem. This is the schedule on which I’ve seen others claim the most progress — and these folks are still eating as much or more than I do.
Leave the sugar and cream in the cupboard
I’m used to starting my day with coffee — loaded with cream and sugar, please! But I’ve lost the taste for that simple pleasure now that I’ve given it up for IF, committing to a “clean” fast. Fasting clean means you avoid all fats, sugars and added flavors during the fasting period. You can have any combination of coffee, green or black tea, and carbonated or still water. But you have to say no to cream, sugar, honey, lemon and other flavoring. You get nothing but the plain, boring, bland. Blah. I’m still wrestling with this one, because celebrities like Brooke Burke encourage a little cream, butter or Bulletproof coffee to get through the fast. But proponents of the clean fast say that’s a no-no. During a fast, when I feel the urge to reach for the gateway drug to cookies — cream — I try to remember their advice. The good thing is, they say you can have that cream and sugar when the fast ends. If I drink coffee at all before that time, however, I find myself choosing still to leave out the sugar, mostly, and pour much less cream.
Lose the snacks
It did take a few weeks before I stopped feeling deprived. It helped knowing that, when feasting, you’re restricted only by common sense. The leader of the Facebook group, Georgia-based Ellen Britt, told us we could basically eat whatever we wanted. Because we were training our bodies to use stored fat instead of sugar for energy, we didn’t even have to give up carbs! But I’m no longer that 20-something with energy to burn. I’m a 50-something with a metabolism that has come to a full stop and an appetite that hasn’t. So I follow the “no snacks” rule, recommended by Jason Fung, M.D., a Toronto-based nephrologist and self-proclaimed “Diet Doctor” who also wrote “The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss.” I bought his books to learn more about what I’d gotten myself into — and it turns out that what I’d gotten myself into was eating just two square meals a day, sometimes with dessert. Wink, wink. Not so deprived after all.
Say buh-bye to inches
While I’ve not lost a lot of weight, I have seen a decrease in inches around my waist, legs, arms, and hips — 1 inch each so far. Even my neck is slimming down. This is not enough to send me shopping for a whole new wardrobe yet, but I can see my body’s changing shape, smoothing out and slimming down. It helps that I exercise regularly, at least four times a week, usually more. This is supposed to speed up the process, though it doesn’t seem to have done so for me. Yet. So I’m now cutting back on the wine (sugar) at dinnertime.
No more (or at least fewer) aches and pains
I had this nagging pain in my left arm and shoulder, most likely from overuse of my cellphone. I’d rest my arm on the arm of the couch to read, text and post. It was a bad habit I’d gotten into. I recognized I was doing it and that it might be the cause of the pain, so I stopped. But the pain still didn’t go away — not even with Advil or with the high dose of Tylenol prescribed by my doctor. Yet one month after starting IF, that nagging pain was gone — and I also regained full range of pain-free motion in my shoulder. Achy knees and swelling legs by day’s end aren’t a thing for me anymore, either. Even more surprising, by the end of the third month, pain from an inflamed corn was also gone. All of this reduced inflammation, I’m told, is likely the result of the autophagy that occurs during fasting. Autophagy is the body’s way of removing old cells in the body so that human growth hormone has space to produce new cells. It’s part of the body’s natural renewal process. But when we eat three meals a day and snack in between, the body just doesn’t have time to catch up with waste removal. I’m thankful that my body is working more efficiently now. Because of this, I have more energy and more focus and am more productive at work. I’m also able to move more easily, exercise harder and play longer, especially with the grandchildren.
Skin tags, begone
One final loss was completely unexpected, especially since I fell off the wagon during the holidays and had to re-start IF. But early in January, I noticed my skin felt smoother, including around my neck, where I was once graced with a boatload of skin tags that appeared during the hormonal crisis days of perimenopause. When I touch my neck now, I can tell those skin tags are shrinking, and I’m sure one of them has completely disappeared. On Facebook, several other women have claimed a similar experience, referring to this as another “NSV,” or “non-scale victory.” I’ll take it.
Goodbye, lack of self-confidence
This is the best loss so far from my experience with IF. Whatever improvement going on inside my body is also improving my mental wellness. My overall attitude has improved. At the time I started the diet, I had been feeling a bit down on myself. My career wasn’t where I expected it to be. I felt heavy and dumpy. I wasn’t confident things would turn around, because I exercise regularly and wasn’t seeing results. I don’t know if it’s because I’m feeling better about myself on the outside and that’s affecting how I feel on the inside, but I believe IF has given me energy I didn’t even know I had. I’m doing more in all areas of life. I’ve started running again, which my husband, himself a runner, loves. I’m cycling harder than ever. I’ve started to explore my own art, rather than just write about other artists — I’ve even sold a painting! — and, after joining a leadership training group, I’m exploring this new creativity work-wise. When I joined Ellen Britt’s IF group on Facebook last summer, I expected that this lifestyle choice offered great rewards — and it has. Even the losses have turned out to be gains. If you’re trying a new diet and not seeing results on the scale, one of these surprising reasons could be why you’re not losing weight.
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