What Fit Women Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting
This writer tried IF for 21 days—here are her results.
Hi, my name is Mallory and I'm addicted to snacking. It's not a clinically diagnosed addiction, but I know the first step in addressing a problem is recognizing it, so here I am. I reach for food probably every two hours, whether I'm actually hungry or just feel like eating out of boredom or hope it'll give me a blast of energy. And, the truth is, I just don't need that much food-especially not late at night when I'm writing (the time of day when my call to munch roars the loudest) and using food to assist in my procrastination.
When I came across the intermittent fasting (IF) meal plan by Autumn Bates, C.C.N., C.P.T., nutritionist and former fitness editor for Tone It Up, my first thought was: Boom. This could be a solution to my snacking habit.
Like many intermittent fasting plans, the most important part of the program is choosing an eight-hour window in which you'll eat all your meals. (Here's a breakdown of what intermittent fasting is and why it can be beneficial.) Because I get up around 6 a.m. every day, I chose to have my first meal at 10:30 a.m. and my last one at around 6 p.m. so I'd be done eating for the day by 6:30. While lots of people try intermittent fasting for weight loss results, I thought this locked-in eating period-plus following the plan to eat three meals a day, with just one snack-could cure my late-night noshing.
Spoiler alert: It kind of did. Here are my results from the 21-day intermittent fasting plan.
1. Post-dinner snacks aren't necessary if I have a hearty meal.
This was proof of what I already knew to be true, but chose to ignore: When you have a satisfying dinner (Bates often recommended a lean meat and some starchy vegetables) you really don't have to reach for popcorn or almonds or even carrots before going to bed. And that's especially true when you're hitting the sheets on the early side. (See: How Bad Is It to Eat At Night, Really?)
My nighttime routine often included going to the kitchen to grab a bite before sitting down to write or watch TV. With the fasting schedule, this was obviously off-limits. Instead, I'd fill up a glass of water and drink while I worked. Not only did I realize how good I still felt sans the added calories, but I was mentally proud of myself for getting in even more H2O-a feat I don't always find easy. Which leads me to…
2. Starting the day with water really is smart.
I've previously tried to throw back a bottle of agua before drinking coffee, and I've stuck with it for a day or two. But then I'm right back to Starbucks before the thought of water even crosses my headspace. While Bates' plan called for having at least an eight-ounce glass immediately after getting up in the morning, I'd often finish a whole 32-ounce bottle before having some food. (Here's what happened when one writer drank twice as much water as usual.)
What's more: While following the diet, I really tried to zero in on whether I actually felt hungry before I ate. Drinking water before reaching for food was one major thing that helped me better recognize my hunger levels. It's a habit that's stuck with me since finishing the plan, and one I actually aim to maintain. After all, experts do say we tend to mistake thirst for hunger. So when you're fully hydrated and still ready for food, then you know it's time to take a bite.
3. Having healthy fats at breakfast kept me full through lunch.
I loved the almond smoothie from Bates' plan, which I cut down to just a few ingredients: almond milk, almond butter, flaxseed meal, cinnamon, a frozen banana, and a scoop of plant-based protein powder (with an occasional tablespoon of chia seeds). I'd often make this the night before, throw it in the freezer to take with me in the morning, and then eat it with a spoon come breakfast. I looked forward to that first spoonful every single day. The best part was that I truly felt full for the next few hours. I think this was one of my best intermittent fasting results: a fulfilling breakfast in portable-smoothie-form that I actually craved. (Try this almond butter superfood smoothie for yourself.)
4. With more time to digest, I definitely felt less bloated.
One of the intermittent fasting results Bates mentions in her program is better gut health. She suggests having an "ACV sipper" 20 minutes before your first meal-that's a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces of water. I didn't do this every day, but thanks to my wholehearted love for ACV (and all its benefits), I enjoyed the days I did. The ACV is meant to help you digest your first meal better. (Just a heads up, though: ACV may be ruining your teeth.)
I can't be sure this is what kept me from getting bloated by the afternoon (something I deal with on the reg), but I really did feel "deflated" on this plan. The full 16 hours of fasting at night probably didn't hurt either, along with more time to digest between meals. (The perks of snack-free life are really starting to add up!).
5. It might not be right for the morning exerciser.
My biggest setback on this diet: morning workouts sans food. Four or five days a week, I take HIIT or strength classes around 8 a.m. or try to go for a run. Without a little fuel to get me to the finish, I found myself feeling weak and resorted to dialing down most exercises instead of busting my butt.
Because I'm pretty active, Bates had suggested I do crescendo fasting-meaning I should follow the same meal plan, but only stick to the 16-hour fasting window on non-consecutive days. (That way, I could have breakfast a little earlier on the mornings I work out, and extend my eating window past the aforementioned eight hours.) I chose to ignore that recommendation in favor of trying the full-out plan, and it wasn't my best idea.
I spoke to another sports-specific dietitian, Torey Armul, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about whether an IF plan is a good idea for the super active. Her short answer: No. "Your muscles need fuel to function properly, and carbohydrates are the most efficient source of muscle fuel. Your body can store carbohydrates, but only for a few hours at a time. That's why you're hungry when you wake up in the morning, and why you 'hit the wall' during morning workouts if you haven't eaten yet," Armul explains. (For example: Here's what you should be eating after a HIIT workout.) "One of the worst things you could do is to continue fasting after a tough workout, since recovery nutrition is vitally important. That's why intermittent fasting and intense exercise/training for an event just aren't a good match."
So, there you have it: While intermittent fasting gave me the results I wanted (to cut back on snacking) and I would totally do it again, I'll probably skip the fasting schedule any time I'm vying for a finisher's medal.