GRETCHEN TRIES STUFF EP 12: The one with intermittent fasting

"Never skip breakfast."

"Eat within the first hour of being awake."

"Eat many small meals throughout the day."

I've heard these statements a lot over the years so when my roommate mentioned she was going to try intermittent fasting, I was a little skeptical. The concept itself feels reminiscent of a starvation diet based on name alone. As someone who has spent years in thearpy for an eating disorder, the negative effects of a starvation diet have been drilled into me, and I try to also stay away from anything that could temp me into old bad habits. But then a few days later, I suggested video popped up on my YouTube feed all about intermittent fasting—I preceded to spend the next hour doing research on the concept. Intrigued, I immediately jumped into my own 10 Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent Fasting isn't really a diet as much as a guideline to when you do or do not eat. There are a few different ways to approach it with the two post popular methods being the full 24 hour fast once or twice a week and the eating window method. The benefits? Researchers say intermittent fasting has been link to decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, improved blood sugar level, and even improved mood and memory. And of course the benefit most people try it for, weight lost and increased fat burning. Many of the people I know who have recommended intermittent fasting claim it's helped with those "stubborn last pounds" particularly if you're goal is a flat stomach. I chose to go with the eating window method, with a 8/16 hour ratio—that 8 hours in which I can eat and 16 hours of fasting. The girl I modeled my plan on used from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. as her eating window. Considering I try to be in bed around 10, attend a 9 p.m. yoga class, and try be up around 5:30 a.m., closing my eating window at 10 p.m. didn't feel like a good fit for my lifestyle/schedule. So I'm doing an 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. window.

My 10 Day Intermittent Fasting Experience

  • Day 1: My first day was a little ad hoc. I'd had appointments in the morning and just happened to have not sat down to eat my breakfast until after 11 a.m., It was actually while I was eating that I was doing research on the subject and decided to give it a go myself. Since I had eating breakfast during my designated eating window, I decided I would just count it as my first day. I ate the lunch I'd brought with me in the early afternoon and just made sure to cook and eat dinner by 7 that night. Day 1 really didn't feel difficult or weird cause I wasn't really changing what I would have normally consumed in the day.

  • Day 2: As I packed both a breakfast and a lunch to bring in to the office, I was stuck by a sudden thought: Am I suppose to be eating two or three meals a day during my fast?! (I ate three.)

  • Day 3: This is the first morning that I felt hungry before 11 a.m. It didn't help that I was surrounded by other people who eating very delicious smelling breakfasts. I was still unsure if I was eating too many meals during the day.

  • Day 4: This was a Friday, making it the first day during my intermittent fasting that I wasn't exercising (I continued through my normal exercise routine during the entire intermittent fasting, which I'd highly encourage.) I was starting to be a little less hungry in general and had established a routine of eating mostly fruit with yogurt or fruit on top a oatmeal pancake for "breakfast", a veggie-based left (generally left overs from dinner), and a light dinner, which was mostly cooked to be eating as lunch the next day.

  • Day 5 & 6: Eating breakfast later in the day on the weekend feels pretty normal for me. Both days though, I didn't really eat lunch (also a normal habit on the weekend). Sunday I had a long training run and didn't end up eating my first meal until around 4 p.m. (I made waffles topped with fresh fruit). This is when I started having some more philosophical questions about eating: Is the label for a meal (i.e., breakfast, lunch, or dinner) determined by what type of food you're eating or the time of day you eat it?

  • Day 7: Sticking to my eating window feels very normal to me at this point. As I planned my meals out, I officially settled on three-meals a day with breakfast and dinner generally being fairly light and lunch being slightly more involved. My breakfasts at this point become smaller then they were during the fist half of my challenge and I felt like even though I was eating three meals, I was eating a bit less throughout the day in total than I use to.

  • Day 8: My mornings have suddenly become way easier. I feel like I spend less time prepping and packing up stuff for work and just have more time and nicer, mellower mornings. I fudge my timing up a bit this day and ended up eating dinner slightly later than I intended (not too far out of my window, only about 30 minutes). I decided the best way to make up for that would be to push my breakfast back by 30 minutes for the next day so my "fast" time was still the same.

  • Day 9: Sticking to my eating window was pretty easy when I'm sticking to my normal schedule, but having plans to meet up with someone for drinks after work added a bit of a complication. I again, let the timing slip just a little, and made up for it the next morning. Oops!

  • Day 10: Hitting day 10 didn't feel like a monumental thing. After 10 days of mostly just eating breakfast later, I didn't feel like I was really doing a challenge at all. It also occurred to me this was essentially the same way I ate when I use to work from home, and the only reason I started eating breakfast in the earlier hours of the morning was because I started working in an office. I feel mostly like I adjusted back to a more natural way of eating for me.

My takeaways

Now that I'm finished with a "10 day challenge" I can give my self more wiggle room for things like events, travel, brunch parties, and just in general life that can get in the way of being super strict with eating. But I'll still pretty much be sticking to my intermittent fasting. I might actually try bumping my window slightly later in the day or shortening it to a 7/6 hour window for periods of time, just to see if I feel much of a difference. I think for the exception of weekends when I don't eat lunch, eating a super small/healthy more snack-like breakfast and focusing on eating lunch as more of an official first meal worked well for me. I personally recommend both sticking to a regular workout routine and trying to get your workout in before eating your first bigger meal. I usually had my fruit about an hour before working out and then ate lunch an hour or two after running.

  Did I feel any of the benefits or lose weight? Well I definitely didn't feel like my attention or ability to focus was negatively affected. I also didn't feel under fueled at all in the mornings. Not sure I was able to really notice if my memory improved. I did feel an increased boost in my mood! After going through a few weeks of high stress and general anxiety, I was feeling much less anxious and just more relaxed and happier. I can't confirm if I lost weight (I don't own a scale and haven't weighed myself in almost a decade—it can be a trigger for me). But I can say that my stomach feels flatter and I just feel really good all around. I plan on continuing to incorporate intermittent fasting into my life, at least for the foreseeable future.