Let me begin by saying that I am a woman who loves to eat. I wake up thinking about my chocolate-banana smoothies and peanut butter toast. One of my legit favorite things in life is breaking an egg yolk over a piece of perfectly-browned toast. I never “forget to eat,” and Whole Foods is my Disneyland.
So when I heard about Intermittent Fasting, the increasingly popular diet that limits eating a certain window of time, I immediately turned up my nose. Skipping breakfast? The idea was as abhorrent as skipping sleep. The practice of fasting also seemed potentially dangerous, especially for anyone who suffers from or has suffered from an eating disorder, and I couldn’t imagine going that long without eating and still serving as a functional human. But as I dug deeper, I learned that many people who practiced intermittent fasting saw positive shifts in their weight, health, and focus levels. These benefits supposedly occur because intermittent fasting enhances hormone function, which facilitates weight loss without losing too much muscle or messing with your metabolism. Color me intrigued.
My judgment waned and I imagined myself drinking the Kool-Aid (I did the same thing for SoulCycle earlier this year). Maybe IF would be healthy AF.
A Quick Summary of Intermittent Fasting
Here’s what I learned before giving it a shot: The most popular way to fast intermittently is to limit the time period of which you can eat to an 8- to 10-hour window. (Another method suggests you fast for 24-hours, but this was too extreme for me.) Most people fast for about 16 hours and eat for 8 hours per day. And instead of grazing or breaking up your eating routine into “mini-meals,” IF encourages you eat 2–3 large meals per day. I settled on an eating time from 12pm to 9pm, as this seemed the least torturous.
You can eat whatever you want during IF, but only during those windows of time. You can also have coffee, tea, and lemon water before you break fast. Some folks will tell you a splash of cream or milk is fine (under 50 calories seems to be the rule of thumb to keep you in the fasted state), but others might disagree. I love my coffee, but drinking straight-up hot bean acid before putting anything else in my system sounded toxic. So I added about a tablespoon of cream.
The Week Prior
Knowing that I was going to be Intermittent Fasting (and knowing myself as the egg-loving grazer that I am), I spent a week experimenting with the fast. Instead of eating within an hour of waking at 7am, I waited until 9-10, when I had a cup of coffee with ghee or cream and adaptogens, and then ate an actual meal around 11 or 12. It was hard, but having something hot to drink slowly helped with the initial hunger pangs and emotional cravings for food.
In this first week, I wasn’t at all strict about consistency, but rather paid attention to how my body was responding without food first thing in the morning. It diminished my initial fear and intimidation by getting me comfortable with hunger pangs, and realizing that my brain would not fall out of my butt if I didn’t eat. I would definitely recommend doing this.
I start off my day with a 7am yoga class and coffee, feeling confident that because I spent a week of “practice fasting,” I should be good to go. Not so. Within an hour I am feeling the hunger pangs and stomach cramps on an entirely new level. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect? Either way, 12pm seems like hours away—because it is.
At 12pm I realize I forgot my lunch (probably because I was too hungry to think clearly), so I go into my snack cabinet. I finally break the fast with a vanilla shortbread Bulletproof bar—it tastes like a soft, perfectly textured cookie and I wish I had five more of them. I then eat a handful of pumpkin spice granola and nearly burst into tears with gratitude. Immediate benefit of IF: you appreciate the small things.
An hour later I eat an apple, and another hour later I eat about a cup of dehydrated pea snacks and then another hour later I eat a handful of Peanut Butter Puffins. So much for not grazing.
But energy-wise, I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been fairly focused and productive all day. For dinner I make sesame-ginger chicken thighs and a cauliflower rice stir-fry, served with Pinot Grigio because my boyfriend and I pretty much always have wine in the house. (Drinking is allowed during IF, as long as it remains in the windows of your eating hours.) I don’t know if it’s because I ate nothing but mini-meals all day and cauliflower can be hard on the digestive system, but I am in pain immediately following dinner. I have some tea and go to bed. A lesson from day one: Eat meals, not snacks.
I wake up still crummy, so I take a walk to pick up coffee from one of my favorite spots. Luckily it’s a Saturday and I have the space to breathe into Day 2 of IF. Also lucky—the caffeine immediately helps to clear my head and I have the energy to work on some freelance projects. My boyfriend and I run errands from 10–12pm and I find the distractions to be comforting. I’m not feeling as hungry as I was the day prior, and the 12pm finish line doesn’t feel as intimidating.
We drive by a Chipotle as we finish up the errands and decide, “Yup, that will be the fast-breaker.” I have no shame in my affinity for Chipotle but I do try to keep it healthy, and get salads sans dressings and with chicken, black beans, pico, and corn. At home I top it with nutritional yeast and fresh lemon. Normally I don’t finish my whole bowl, but today I scarf everything down before heading to see a play at 3pm. During intermission my stomach is growling and I eat a handful of salted cashews.
For dinner we eat leftover cauliflower rice with fried eggs and sweet potatoes, plus a piece of dark chocolate for dessert and finishing right before 9pm. No stomach cramps this time around and the satiation lasts the rest of the night. Normally around this hour I eat a handful of cereal or a piece of fruit, so instead I chug some water and head to bed.
This morning my boyfriend runs out to get coffee while I help prep for his son’s birthday party—the wrapping of presents and stuffing of goody bags is distracting enough to keep me from thinking about food. I go on a run around 11, finishing just in time at 12pm to eat a roasted sweet potato and a fried egg; I’m starving after this run so I can’t imagine having to wait much longer. Two hours later I’m still hungry and nosh more sweet potatoes. At the birthday party I drink Prosecco and eat carrot sticks and hummus. I’ve already started noticing that my cravings are shifting more toward whole foods, veggies, and proteins. (This is a swap from my normal snacks of kid-friendly organic cereal.)
Two more hours later we have dinner of rib-eye steak, broccoli, and salad. I have a few pieces of dried mango for dessert and feel utterly stuffed. While I normally start to feel hungry around 10pm, that hasn’t been happening much with IF, and I’m assuming that’s because my lunches and dinners are somewhat larger. I appreciate this, because late night hungry cravings + cereal addiction = crumbs in the bed.
It’s Monday morning and my boyfriend’s son’s official birthday. I buy two coffees for the fasting adults and a giant blueberry muffin for the birthday boy. I never really cared for muffins, but now I am looking at them in an entirely new light: Muffins are essentially cake. Blueberry cake. Fluffy blueberry fruit cake with a sweet, sticky top. I even warmed it up. I want to grab it out of his little 3-year-old hands—IF can turn you into a monster.
I am destroyed that I have to wait until noon today and the hunger pangs are by far the worst they’ve been. My boyfriend goes to get me a sandwich and I am livid when he is not back by 12. I cannot focus on anything and try to distract myself through work, but as a writer, hunger makes my sentences tired and nonsensical. I write about my hunger instead, and generate some sad poetry that screams “millennial attempting a fad diet.”
The turkey and veggie sandwich arrives. I eat the first half in a way that practically seems x-rated. The second half I savor, feeling almost spiritually connected to creator of the sandwich and everyone else in the world who has ever eaten a sandwich. I go to HIIT at 4, but the weight of the bread is heavy in my freshly shrunken-stomach, and I get nauseous on the treadmill. I make a mental note to swap up my workout routine—it’s actually way easier on an empty stomach.
I drink two cups of coffee (one decaf) before 1pm, my new time as I gear up toward more advanced fasting. It’s actually surprisingly easy today. I’m focused, productive, and not feeling any of the hunger pangs that I felt earlier in the week. I break the fast with a roasted sweet potato and a fried egg topped with spices and nutritional yeast. I feel full at first, but an hour later I am hungry again so I eat a huge piece of dark chocolate. Come 4pm I’m hungry again so I go for an apple with peanut butter and cinnamon—still going strong. I workout at 6, have dinner at 7:30, and quit eating at 8. This 6pm workout feels far better than the one I did earlier this week post-sandwich, so I make a mental note to not overdo it just because I’m breaking the fast.
I wake up early and within 30 minutes feel hungry. Rather than eat something (before IF I’d go for an RX Bar or smoothie), I have my go-to cup of coffee and it instantly fills me up. I go to a HIIT class at 8am and amazed at the amount of energy I have. Exercising on an empty stomach is actually working for me—I feel energized, light, and powerful. I’m surprised that I’m not starving afterward, but the hunger pangs begin to hit around 12pm so I have some spaghetti squash with garden peas and a nectarine. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I begin eating and destroy every bite.
I begin my day with yoga and coffee, feeling confident that I made it this far. I also feel like I should be a pro on my last day, but struggle around 11am. It’s definitely harder to keep the fast going on days when I work out or if I didn’t sleep well the night before. Despite the initial day’s challenge, I make it 1pm and drink a huge matcha and coconut latte, a piece of chocolate, and an RX bar. I’ve realized I can’t give up my grazing tendencies (I love snacks), but that IF leads me to graze on healthier things more frequently, all within that specific window of time.
Around 4 I eat some nut sand some green olives and finish with sushi around 6:30pm. I drink a small amount of sake and cheers myself for making it one week. Kanpai, yogis.
What I Learned
For the most part, I enjoyed Intermittent Fasting. I can definitely admit that I would not have enjoyed this nearly as much if I hadn’t been able to have coffee—that saved me from what I can imagine would be utter failure. I surprised myself in that I don’t really miss breakfast. I think it actually helped with some of my food anxiety, because it prevented me from stressing over what to eat in the morning. And when it was time to break the fast, I was so hungry that I didn’t think twice about finishing my entire lunch or going for a second snack. It truly felt like intuitive eating
It certainly got easier as time went on. I also craved specific foods—nuts, olives, fruit, veggies, and lean proteins. The idea of eating a processed food seemed pointless because I knew I wouldn’t be receiving any nutrition. I drank a ton of water, and was mindful about my drinking as well (in the past I met have a second glass of wine after 9pm, but the cutoff made me quit.) Working out was surprisingly doable on an empty stomach, but I was hungrier on the days I did HIIT or other forms of cardio. I feel more clear-headed in the morning and overall have more stable energy levels. One downside was that I did tend to consume that first meal a little less than mindfully. My priority was less on taking my time and more shoveling food into my body, ASAP.
Would I recommend? Yes, but with caution. I’ve struggled with obsessive eating habits in the past, so I had folks (ahem—my boss) hold me accountable for not going off the deep-end. Intermittent fasting can be dangerous, but if done correctly and mindfully, it could totally have benefits—though I would have to experiment for longer than a week to see if it affected my weight or hormone levels. As for me? I can’t say that I’ve sworn off my runny eggs for life, but I do plan to continue with intermittent fasting… Intermittently.
Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram.