I do not have a lot of weight to lose. Weight loss was not the point. As a nurse working from home, I found myself looking in the refrigerator and snack pantry way more than necessary. I was not eating for hunger; I was eating because the food was there. Chocolate? Pumpkin pie? Delicious!
By Thanksgiving, I was feeling fatigued and bloated. Too many 100-calorie carbohydrate snacks were being consumed. If I could not sleep, I snacked around the clock, and pounds were creeping on, albeit slowly. It was time for a diet reset.
According to research presented by Medscape, and documented by WebMD, there are three methods for intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that includes hours or days of little or no food consumption. Common methods for intermittent fasting include alternate-day fasting; the 5:2 intermittent fasting program (2 full days of fasting or highly restricted caloric intake per week); and time-restricted fasting, such as the 16:8 regimen, or the more intense 19:5, which restricts eating to a narrow time window.
I chose the 16:8 regimen, believing it to be best for a nurse working from home. I fast from 8 PM at night until noon the following day. All food intake is restricted to the hours between noon and 8 PM. Although this method has been less effective in studies of weight loss than the other two, this may have more to do with a lack of guidance regarding caloric intake than with the method of fasting. I have a colleague who faithfully followed the time-restricted method, but he also ate healthfully during the hours of food intake. He exercised during the morning and allowed himself light meals, carefully counting calories during the hours he was allowed to eat. He kept to a regimen of 1200 calories per day.
At the conclusion of 6 weeks, he had lost 22 pounds and gained an immense amount of energy. He reported improved sleep and reduced body aches and pains. This follows what researchers have observed regarding the benefits of intermittent fasting.
The human body was designed to go for prolonged periods without food intake. Our ancestors spent hours hunting for food, often going for extended intervals without nutrition. During periods of fasting, the body can jump-start mechanisms related to glucose consumption, healing, and restoration. Human trials have demonstrated the positive effects of intermittent fasting, which include improvement in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, neurologic disease, and even cancer.
Pre-pandemic, 42% of US adults were obese — three times the percentage recorded in 1980.
I do not want to become a statistic. I knew I was snacking more than what is advised, and I was not alone. According to NPD Group, American adults began snacking more than ever during the COVID pandemic. This continual snacking contributes to the rise of obesity, as well as an increase in heart disease and diabetes. I knew that the fatigue and bloat I felt was a harbinger of unhealthy news for the future if I did not change.
What I discovered while initiating a 16:8 intermittent fasting regimen was that fasting is not lethal, lol.
The body is designed to switch from glucose metabolism to using glycogen stores in the liver. While we may feel a bit uncomfortable listening to a grumbling, empty tummy, the body is designed to work smoothly through a period of fasting. Caution: For people prone to hypoglycemia, this could be dangerous; therefore, any program involving fasting needs to be discussed with a primary care physician first. Additionally, people who take medications should factor this into account when choosing an intermittent fasting regimen, as this will impact the hours to fast.
I moved my morning medications to a noon dosing, except for one that could be taken on an empty stomach. Since I normally take medications mid-morning, this was not a substantial change. I consumed medications (with a small snack) at the start of the day. This worked for two reasons: Medications went down more smoothly with a snack, and I was not sprinting to the kitchen for food as soon as the flag was lifted on fasting!
The timing and process of intermittent fasting are extremely important, according to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine. However, the process of going without food was eased when I followed these guidelines:
Keep well-hydrated during hours of fasting: water, iced tea, seltzer, coffee (though limiting caffeine may assist in controlling hunger pangs).
Plan healthy, low-carbohydrate, higher-protein small meals during the time for food. Avoid eating items where portion control is difficult (chips, pretzels, bulk snacks eaten in front of the TV).
Keep sugar-free gum, candy, or mints available during times when hunger seems insurmountable. I loved the occasional mint for early morning.
I also discovered a love for diet root beer during moments when I really needed to eat! It was smooth, sweet, and delicious.
Keep busy. If I found myself watching the clock (and surprise: I had hours to go until I could eat), I found a project that had been neglected. My Goodwill bag was soon filled with items to donate, and closets appeared newly organized. The dog received an overdue shampoo, much to her disgust!
Don't schedule challenging tasks for times when you feel hungry (mid-morning) or attempt to stay up late to binge-watch that TV series you taped. I had the most difficulty during the first week, especially during morning appointments, when I could not eat until noon. But I survived, and I began to feel more in control of my eating habits once the first week passed. I kept a few sugar-free mints in my bag; they were helpful when I felt hungriest.
After the first week, I was reminded that food is necessary for health, not the main event. We live in a society where social events center around food. Eating habits can quickly get out of control unless we adopt a habit of mindfulness regarding intake. Learning that I could survive (and even thrive) for hours without snacking taught me a healthier way to live. And surprise: No one thinks you are weird or strange for refusing a snack. If necessary, blame food allergies.
At this point (well into my second week), I am down about 4 pounds — not earth-shattering, but my clothes are fitting looser than they have in months. The bloat I felt around Thanksgiving is gone. The new year is looking brighter.
Intermittent fasting is a challenge, but the pros far outweigh the cons. I have a ton of energy, and my sleep has improved. Even better, the hours and days for fasting can be adapted for unique events, and no favorite foods are restricted.
If you find yourself overdue for a dietary reset, an intermittent fasting program may be right for you. You can learn more about intermittent fasting at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Fasting may prove taxing, but it beats counting points, attending meetings, going to public weigh-ins, and/or paying expensive fees for food delivery.
If you decide to try intermittent fasting, let me know how this works for you. And have a Happy New Year!
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Any views expressed above are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of WebMD or Medscape.
Cite this: Diane M. Goodman. My Journey With Intermittent Fasting: What Worked, What Proved Challenging - Medscape - Jan 21, 2022.