I have always had a strong opinion against diet culture. I don’t think it’s healthy to restrict yourself from eating the foods you love, unless you have a medical condition that requires you to do so. I also don’t believe in going on a diet in order to achieve the false ideal of “the perfect body” — my mentality with eating is everything is okay in moderation. That’s why at first, I didn’t really understand the point of trying intermittent fasting. Was it just a weight-loss fad or did it have additional benefits that could turn it into a lifestyle? I spoke to the chief of staff of The Dr. Oz Show medical unit, Dr. Michael Crupain, who wrote a book about intermittent fasting called What to Eat When, to learn more.
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I found out pretty quickly that one of the major benefits of intermittent fasting is an increase in your energy levels. With the promise of more energy, I wanted to give it a try. As a student with a full course load and full-time internship, I could definitely use a boost of energy to get things done during the day — and losing a few pounds along the way didn’t sound like a horrible side effect.
Our bodies use carbohydrates as fuel, but when fasting, the body is able to burn those carbohydrates at a faster rate, which only leaves stored fat in your body left to burn, causing you to lose weight. “People [who practice intermittent fasting] have reported losing weight, sleeping better, feeling more energetic, and having improved blood sugar control,” says Dr. Crupain.
How to Get Started With Intermittent Fasting
The most common way to practice intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method, which is what Dr. Crupain recommends. On this plan, you fast for 16 hours of the day and eat for the other eight. There are other methods including, but not limited to, the 5/2 diet (where you fast two days a week by eating only 500 calories) and a full 24-hour fast once per week. When deciding which method would work best for my lifestyle, the 16/8 seemed to be the right choice (plus it’s Dr. Oz-approved).
While you can technically eat during any eight-hour window you want, Dr. Crupain recommends eating between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. While I thought it might be challenging to skip my normal 8 a.m. breakfast, I remembered that eating my morning oatmeal usually left me feeling bloated and groggy, so maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I decided to start on a Tuesday and go for two weeks, which according to Dr. Crupain is enough time to start seeing results. I was interested to see if this experiment gave me a jumpstart on my mornings, and the results of fasting surprised me in more ways than one.
The First 3 Days
On the first day, I woke up and went about my morning routine, which includes taking my daily vitamins, drinking at least one glass of water, and then having a cup of coffee. I did have to make one minor adjustment and drink my coffee black. According to Dr. Crupain, you shouldn’t have more than 50 calories before your eating period, so adding milk or sugar gives coffee too many calories and can break your fast. Dr. Crupain recommends drinking only water during your fasting period, but a girl’s gotta have coffee, so I got the OK because of the low calorie count.
After coffee, I headed out to catch my train and go to work. When I got to my office around 10 a.m., my energy levels were high and I felt ready to take on the day. I would say one of the hardest things about intermittent fasting that became apparent to me on the first day is that it is hard to watch other people eat breakfast and drink fancy lattes when you know that you can’t have food until a certain time. It felt like as soon as I committed to the fast, every person I passed on the street was eating an everything bagel with bacon, egg, and cheese just to taunt me.
By 11 a.m., my stomach was rumbling. For my first meal of the day, I had a low-calorie granola bar just to get something in my system. Then I didn’t eat again until lunch around 1:30 p.m. or 2, which typically consisted of a salad or wrap. For dinner, I had a protein, side of vegetables, and a starch that I would eat around 6 p.m., so I could close out my eating window by 7. Overall, it was a pretty easy schedule to maintain. I was able to eat things that I regularly incorporate into my diet because there’s not really a restriction on what you can eat while intermittent fasting. Although, you should make conscious healthy choices — eat all the necessary food groups and limit your intake of processed foods and sugar.
Though I noticed a difference in my energy levels, I was skeptical if it was real or just a placebo effect. I didn’t feel, by day three, that I had practiced fasting long enough to be able to tell if it was psychological or physical.
The Weekend Was Hard — Here’s Why
Fasting was fine Monday through Thursday, which are the days of the week I’m the busiest. But when it got to the weekend, I won't lie — I struggled. Intermittent fasting isn’t necessarily challenging in the sense that you feel constantly hungry or deprived of food. What I found hard was planning my dinner so that I’d be done by 7 p.m. on a Saturday night.
Luckily, Dr. Crupain told me, “[It’s okay] to stray a little bit on the weekends” and stop your eating window at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. instead because it won’t affect the work you did during the weekdays. I definitely took his advice into consideration and didn’t deprive myself of going out to eat with friends on weekends. If I chose to eat later, I tried to make a healthier choice, like a salad or something else low-carb, rather than a burger or pizza. (I ate some of my friend’s French fries too). I didn’t feel any difference in my energy when I woke up in the mornings on the weekend, so Dr. Crupain’s advice seemed to work.
I had no problem starting my eating window at 11 a.m. and my energy levels seemed higher than usual. I felt way more productive in the morning and was actually able to get more work done, which is rare for me on the weekends.
The Energy Gain
By the second week, I felt like nothing was happening in terms of weight loss. I had only lost about a pound and thought I would have lost more. But then Dr. Crupain told me, “It will probably take about a week for you to see weight loss results, and you’ll lose about one pound per week if you do it right.” I must have been doing it right; by the end of week two I lost two pounds.
The biggest benefit I experienced from intermittent fasting was an increase in my energy levels. After two weeks I knew it wasn’t a placebo effect. In the morning, I felt more energized because I didn’t have a heavy breakfast weighing me down. I never felt an afternoon slump because I was fueling myself up with lunch instead.
If I were to do this experiment over again, I would eat bigger meals at the start of the day and gradually work my way to having my smallest meal at dinner because Dr. Crupain noted that “eating a bigger meal in the morning can help speed up your metabolism because you are processing your foods during the day rather than at night when you’re sleeping.”
Overall, I would recommend intermittent fasting. Were there times when I got hungry in the morning? Yes. But overall, it wasn’t that life-altering, I’m-going-to-pass-out type of hunger; it was manageable. I found it was a pretty easy lifestyle to maintain (sans the 11p.m. weekend craving for fries). But on this plan, having the fries won’t derail your progress — as long as you don’t make it a daily habit.