Disclaimer: Since I do not have any studies in nutrition and everything I try is based on my own research, I do not recommend you to follow the same path as I did, this is purely based on my experience.
As probably many of you out there, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I was sent to work from home and the little movement that I made during the day was reduced to moving from the bed to the desk and then to the couch. Furthermore, since I was around the kitchen all day, I would keep on eating and eating throughout the day, as if I was preparing to run the marathon. No surprise that I gained even more weight, and from the 10 pounds that I wanted to lose this year, I had gained 5 extra by March.
Measures had to be taken and I started with the easiest, working out. At least twice a week I would do a home workout class for 50 minutes, with an intensity of medium to high. When I saw no results in one and a half months, I started to look into diets, and the new cool kid on the block that got everyone talking is intermittent fasting.
So what is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting has a lot of implementations, but all of those are around the idea that you should eat less and try to skip a meal if possible. The classic one would be to only eat during a specific number of hours (12h,8h,6h) and for the rest of the time to fast, don’t eat anything that contains calories (or those not be higher than 20kcal). Another implementation would be for every other day of the week to fast completely, or for 2 days in the week to eat less than 500 kcal.
Since the idea to completely refrain from eating for a full day was not that appealing to me, I went with the diminished window of eating during the day. Many recommend starting with a 12h window of eating, basically, you wait 2 hours after you wake up and you stop eating 2 hours before going to bed, this if you sleep for 8 hours. Since I wanted results a little bit faster, I went with the not so popular 6 hours window of eating and kept that between 10 am till 16pm.
Cravings and Hunger
I have to admit that it was a lot easier than I initially thought and the hunger and cravings were bearable, during the first week it was hard to adjust my habits of not having some popcorn or a glass of wine in the afternoon when I was watching a movie. Or the fact that I would have to start my day off with simple black coffee and if I wanted a latte I would have to wait until 10 am. Also, during the weekends when I wanted to go out to dinner that would no longer be possible, I would have to trade that for a late lunch and so on.
The biggest issue is not hunger but is habits. One that I built for 30 years and that I now wanted to change starting from day one.
I am the type of person that needs to make those changes in a drastic manner in order for them to stick, so I haven’t bent the rules unless it was something that I promised and usually would try to adjust the eating window to fit it.
Clearly, it is not the end of the world if for a day I would eat half an hour later or if I had something small to eat just to stop the hunger (it happened one day to get a stomach ache and I immediately stopped the fasting and got something to eat). My belief is that you need to listen to your body and if there are any red flags, such as acid in the stomach or any sorts of stomach aches, the fasting needs to stop.
I am now in my 8th week of this new lifestyle and I have managed to lose 5kg. The pace looks like a steady one and my body adjusted very well to my new eating habits. I still get hungry sometimes during the evening and it’s hard to see everyone eating around me, but I managed to stay on track even in these days. In turns of food, I keep mostly the same eating habits, I try to stay away from sugars, animal fats and try to have only foods that are not processed. Since I am fully remote now, I usually prepare the food myself and only add natural ingredients.
For years now, I stopped drinking sodas and I only eat junk food once or twice a month tops, clearly, there can be exceptions, but I try to keep the 70-30 rule, 70% of the time I make the right and healthy choices, giving me a 30% of the time to make not so smart decisions.
Also, I have kept on practicing sports, at least twice a week, usually, I do a workout in the morning during my fasting state, so that my body uses the store fats to burn for energy.
Diets don’t work, a change of lifestyle will be the only way to keep that lost fat out of the way. Apart from the kcal reduction that 6h window will give you and therefore the weight loss, intermittent fasting has a lot of other possible or proven benefits, such as: lower insulin level in the blood, decreasing the inflammation of the body, getting your body in the ketosis state and more energy during the fasting state.
For me, another benefit was the fact that my body started to crave more and more healthy foods, rather than the simple carbohydrates that I used to prefer. Given the fact that carbohydrates, in general, cause hunger and don’t last very long in your stomach, it’s best to avoid those especially on the last meal of the day. Therefore I was surprised that I was more drawn to meat and fibers than I was to sugar and all the other simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, etc).
If I plan on keeping the 6h eating window for my entire life, this is still to be seen, but I do plan on keeping it for as much time as possible and keeping the exceptions rare. In my opinion, I would still like to lose 4 kg more and after that to try to stabilize my weight by maintaining the same healthy eating habits, also working out is not optional, since I would like to keep my muscle mass intact. One thing that I was not able to read during my documentation is if it’s possible to build muscle mass since when it comes to energy the body will start with the muscle mass and only after that go to the stored fast (or at least that I how I learned in school) it could be challenging to build up if you are practicing intermittent fasting, yet I saw a lot of bodybuilders recommending this. I would take this with a grain of salt if I were to plan on building muscle mass.
If I were to recommend this lifestyle
Clearly this is not for everyone and it will require a lot of discipline in the first weeks. Also, it will require a complete change of lifestyle and adjusting around the new eating habits, and at least from what I read, it works very well if you are the type of person who eats smaller portions but very often. If you are the other way around, you eat a lot (more than 1000kcal) at one meal, the fact that you will only eat 2 meals, or the meal that you will have after the fasting period will be twice at big and high on carbohydrates, may cause you to gain even more weight than if you were to split this into 3 meals and 2 snacks ( as other popular diets recommend).
Also, I would strongly recommend seeing a nutrition doctor if you have any health issues if you are pregnant or you suffer from any stomach problems. Keep in mind this is a commitment that needs to be taken for a long period of time to see results. In the first 2 weeks, I only lost 0.5kg, and it was from the 3rd that I saw more. In the 4th week, I stopped losing weight, and it took another week to drop another 1kg. Today I stabilized the weight and losing more could get even more difficult.
It took me 6 years to put on the weight that I now try to lose, it’s only natural for me to lose it during a longer period of time. Therefore it’s important not to force anything and be as patient as possible when it comes to your body and your health.