This month marks for me one year of intermittent fasting. On my 39th birthday last year, I decided I was done feeling lethargic and heavy with the extra 20-30 pounds I’d put on in recent years. I was ready to jump in to a new way of eating that no longer demonized particular food groups, but instead placed parameters that would serve my body well. After all, this body is the vehicle for serving God and caring for others and I want to do that with excellence for as many years as I have on this side of eternity.
What is intermittent fasting? It’s a way of eating that focuses on the when rather than the what. A person simply eats only within a certain window of time (typically between 4-10 hours) each day and doesn’t eat outside of that time bracket. During the fasting period, the body does amazing things! Since digestion can rest a bit, the body can switch from burning glucose (the energy in food) to burning fat (the energy already stored in the body). The body also moves into autophagy – a fancy word that means “self-devouring” – or less frightening…the body is simply cleaning house. Dead, faulty, and old cells are cleared out and new ones generated.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained more recognition in recent years, but it’s been a way of life for most cultures throughout most of human history. Fasting is also a common practice in most (perhaps all) major world religions. There is intrinsic value both physically and spiritually. Since God created us as tri-dimensional beings (spirit, soul, body), we must honor the intertwined nature of who we are. What we do physically most certainly affects the health of our souls and spirits.
Is IF just another diet? Nope. I see this way of eating as a sustainable lifestyle. A diet begins for a period of time where someone wants to reach a goal and ends once they’ve hit it. IF can last a lifetime because, even once we’ve hit a weight goal, incredible health benefits are still taking place. It’s a powerful tool in preventing dementia, cancer, inflammation, and a host of other illnesses.
Is IF starvation? Nope. I eat as much as I want and I eat to satiety – to a point of fullness and contentment. I’ve always enjoyed food and I believe I’ve been able to enjoy it even more when I eat “window worthy” foods rather than graze all day long.
What does it look like in my day? The first few months, I eased in and typically ate during an 8-10 hour window. I would start eating around 10 or 11am and finish around 7 or 8pm. I like to vary my windows, keeping them as brief as I can while still feeling like I have enough time to eat what my body needs. For me now, I typically have a 4-8 hour window. As a woman, I’ve noticed that I’m hungrier later in my cycle, so I have longer windows for a few days during those times. Since I like to eat dinner with my family, most days I open my window around 2pm and close it around 8pm. That can and does vary depending on special events, vacations, etc. I love the flexibility I have with this lifestyle!
I’ve experienced so many victories this past year. My 20 pound weight loss and drop in three dress sizes is perhaps the most obvious. But the most substantial, I think, has been that for the first time in my life I’m able to trust the signals I get from my body. Having been an emotional over-eater from the age of eleven, I’ve never been able to trust hunger signals. But using this tool, I’ve regained that ability to distinguish true physical hunger from emotional hunger.
One other fabulous non-scale victory I’ve experienced is more stable blood sugar. Having type 1 diabetes, this is absolutely critical for my well-being! I have the most stable sugars when I’m fasting. And fasting periods are the best time for me to exercise without having blood sugar highs or lows.
Keys to success in intermittent fasting: clean fasting and give it time. Clean fasting (a phrase I first heard from Gin Stephens, an IF expert) means that during fasting times we only take in plain water, plain tea, or plain black coffee – no flavors or sweeteners, even non-caloric ones. It’s not only calories that trigger insulin responses and digestion – it’s also sweetness and flavors. They kick us out of autophagy and out of fat-burning mode. They also increase feelings of hunger. When I made the switch to only clean fasting, my hunger pains simply went away!
If you try IF, give yourself plenty of time, at least a month, but two or three would be even better. There’s a lot of cleansing and healing happening beneath the surface which simply take time. And feel free to ease in with a long window – even 12 hours if you need to. Tighten it up a little at a time as you get used to this approach.
Have you considered trying IF?
Tools I’ve personally found helpful: Delay, Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens, The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung, Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast by Gin Stephens, and the Fasting Tracker app. (As a final side-note, I’ve heard objections that IF can create hormonal imbalance in women. Perhaps there are situations where that may take place, but in my experience and research, I simply don’t see it. I imagine it would have to be an extreme situation for that to take place. That said, this is not a practice for small children who are still growing or for pregnant/nursing mamas. Do your research and be informed for your own body’s needs!)
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this is not intended to be received as medical advice. Do your own research, know your own body, and consult a trusted health practitioner.