My Personal Experience with Intermittent Fasting
First a little background. I've heard a lot about intermittent fasting over the past few years and get asked about it at least once a week. My stance, just like with many other diets, was that personally I didn't think it was sustainable but if it worked for you great! This summer I found myself in a bit of a rut. I had gained a few pounds and no matter what I did couldn't shake them. On top of that, I was dealing with some digestive issues and wasn't sleeping well. I had heard intermittent fasting could help with both of those so started to do some more research to see if it was something I should try. After hours of reading up on IF and discussing it with fellow trainers/coaches, I decided to give it a try. One to see if it helped me with issues I was dealing with and two because I was asked so frequently about it, I wanted to be able to give a first hand response.
So I dove in. I eased my way into a 16 hour daily fast while carb cycling, and made sure to track my macros to ensure I was getting in enough calories. At first I found it to be a struggle to eat all my calories in the shortened feasting window. I felt overly full, sluggish in the afternoons because of the extra food at meals, and bloated. After the first two weeks though, that feeling went away and I noticed I felt A LOT better. My gut was feeling awesome (keep in mind I also cut out gluten and dairy) I had more energy, felt like I was sleeping a bit better, my head was clear and no more bloating. It was easy for me to fast for 16 hours, and would sometimes go longer just because I felt fine. I managed to stick to IF on a camping trip, a weekend away with friends, and a weekend full of parties. For several weeks I felt really good and thought I was noticing some great non-scale victories.
Then, about a month into fasting, right around ovulation, things fell apart. Suddenly I had zero energy in the gym. I was light headed, dizzy and faint even when I wasn't trying to do a higher intensity workout. I was tired from walking on the treadmill and going through my mobility movements. I was irritable with my husband, my kids, everyone around me. I cried. Those that know me know I very rarely cry and I felt depressed. I contacted Ali Damron who I had been working with on my hormones and she said to stop fasting 16 hours and to only go 12-13 hours. My body was in major fight or flight mode and my adrenals were extremely fatigued. Part of this was due to stuff that had already been going on with my hormones, part could have been because of fasting, part could be because I was cycling my carbs and going too low several days a week. I'm not sure the exact reason but regardless I immediately changed things up.
I'm not a quitter so was very frustrated that I had to give up on something I had started with the intention of seeing through to the end (at least 6 weeks). I was frustrated that what worked so well for other people was doing the opposite for me. Mostly I was mad at myself for doing more damage to my hormones than was already done. I had been working on healing them by taking some natural supplements but now that my body was in even more of survival mode, I had taken a step backwards.
Through it all though I learned once again that diets are NOT one size fits all. I DO think that intermittent fasting has some great health benefits and can be beneficial to many people (check out my previous post to see who it's for or not for). However, I also think that it's something that women especially should proceed with caution on. Know your body and what it needs or doesn't need. If you're already putting it through a good deal of stress (work, exercise, family, kids, etc.) you might think twice about giving it a try. The cool thing is, there are several different ways to get the benefits from intermittent fasting. You DON'T have to fast for 16 hours a day or even 14 hours a day to get the benefits of digestive rest. In fact, just fasting 12 hours (that's basically overnight + a few hours) can give you all the same benefits of fasting longer.
So what am I doing now? I actually am still practicing IF. Just not as long as I was before. I end my feeding window each night between 7:00 and 8:00 then break my fast in the morning between 8:00 - 9:00. Which ends up being about a 12-13 hour fast. I have been feeling MUCH better following this schedule than I was fasting longer. That doesn't necessarily mean that my body won't ever be able to handle a longer fast. Just that at this point in my life with where my hormones are at and the amount of stress I currently have around me, a longer fast is not for me. What I encourage everyone to do is to first find someone to help guide you through fasting and to decide which option is for you. Second, to know that there is not one way to practice intermittent fasting and that it's okay to try a few different schedules. Third, and most important, to listen to your body. Pay attention to all signs not just if you are feeling hungry or not hungry.
If you are interested in any nutrition or exercise guidance I'd love to work with you! Feel free to message me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss some options to help you reach your goals!