In response to my “Life in the Fast(ing) Lane” post, I was asked (multiple times) what to expect with intermittent fasting. Though I’m a baby at this, having only done it since January, I have lots of thoughts on the topic, so here goes!
I think the best approach to fasting as a lifestyle not a ‘diet’ is combining the practice with a low carb-high fat way of eating (LCHF).
Carbs make you hungry. I’m talking—Starvin’ Marvin.
Carbs are like twigs on a fire. If you feed a fire twigs, you’ll have feed it again five minutes later. And five minutes after that.
Good quality fat (plus a bit of protein) = like logs on a fire. Healthy fats become slow, long burning, red-hot coals.
Carbs create a crazy cycle of I MUST EAT NOW OR I WILL DIE.
Most people who go LCHF agree this way of eating allows them to finally have victory over their appetite. For me, before LCHF, I lived to eat (Next meal, next meal, what’s it gonna be? When’s it gonna be? How long is that from now?). Now, I eat to live.
FYI: I plan to get out a low-carb high-fat “guide book” (as a downloadable pdf) soon, since so many people are asking for one.
So what does a typical fasting day look like for me?
In the morning I drink 2-3 cups of coffee with heavy whipping cream and xylitol.
Then, around 11 or 12 (later if I do NOT feel hungry), for lunch, I eat something like:
- 1 c. FULL FAT yogurt with 2-3 tablespoons of sunflower seeds
- 2 scrambled eggs + cheese + 1/2 avocado + grated cheese + salsa (+ bacon or sausage or leftover pot roast or steak, if I have it)
- Tuna (or chicken) salad eaten like a taco inside lettuce leaves
- A gorgeous garden salad with sunflower seeds or toasted nuts, grated cheese, half an avocado diced, full fat salad dressing (+ grilled chicken or steak, if I have it)
- Leftovers from supper if I have something like pot roast with lots of veggies.
Dinner is always protein + vegetable (and/or salad) + berries.
I serve berries because of all the fruits, they have the least sugar. Sugar = carbs.
If I’m feeling fancy, as an appetizer, I’ll serve warm brie with 4-6-ish crackers for each person.
I’ll give you a sneak peek from the cookbook of some LCHF items you can eat within your “eating window,” if you get hungry between lunch and dinner.
- Nuts (Macadamia nuts are best because of their nutritional excellence and fat-to-protein ratio. I also eat almonds and cashews from time to time.)
- Sunflower seeds
- Hardboiled eggs
- Deviled eggs (made with full-fat mayonnaise. Buy Dukes!)
- Cheese (Brie and Havarti are great because they are high fat!)
- A glass of WHOLE milk (If I want it to taste a tiny bit like chocolate, a spoonful of Ovaltine is yummy with hardly any carbs.)
- Yogurt (Always buy full fat—I love the Greek Gods brand.)
- Celery stuffed with peanut butter, full fat cream cheese, or guacamole
If I want something salty and crisp during the day, I eat ONE serving of chips, like Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot and Blues topped with guacamole, or Nut Thin crackers with cheese or nut butter.
For the record, I am not a SPAZZ about counting carbs.
If you don’t eat cereal, pancakes, toast, biscuits, or waffles at breakfast, if you stop eating sandwiches for lunch and rice and pasta with dinner, it WILL make a difference. Confession: We still eat potatoes , white and/or sweet; however, I only serve them once a week.
If you feel dismay over giving up grains, take baby steps. Write down how many servings of grain you currently eat in a day. If you currently consume 6 servings a day, commit to cutting back to 5 this week. Then 4 next week. And so forth…
Bit of backstory: For years, the USDA food pyramid recommended something like 7-11 servings of whole grains a day. The obesity epidemic in America basically started with that recommendation.
One thing you can expect with LCHF at first is a little wonkiness, a little “I’m going to die if I don’t consume something immediately” desperation. This is because:
You are basically overcoming an addiction. To carbs. This will pass.
How long will it take to pass? Depends on the person. I was over it in two weeks.
Another super awesome thing you can expect down the road with a LCHF lifestyle is a flatter stomach. The fat from gluten-containing food items tends to set up camp in the core area of your body. Read the official quote on that in my blog post here.
Within a few months of eliminating most grains and eating LCHF, I also noticed my britches getting looser in the butt and thighs. Thank you, Jesus.
In case you missed my post on “Breaking (up with) Bread,” the book that got me started eating LCHF was Eat Bacon; Don’t Jog.* You can read the book in an afternoon and be ready to start the Eat Bacon Don’t Jog lifestyle by dinnertime that night.
In the book, the author recommends eating no more than 50 grams of carbs per day. Honestly, even though I never kept track of my carbs, I still got results.
Some people get so excited by their LCHF weight loss, they try to eat next to no carbs.
I know two men who were crazy disciplined about getting their daily carb count as low as possible. Both lost over 30 pounds. However, that kind of eating is not for me. I’m pretty sure it would steal my joy. Plus, it seems to me, it would be super difficult to maintain.
Hilarious LCHF anecdote: One of the guys RAVED about an uber-low carb snack he discovered. A week later, he figured out his “beef jerky” was dog treats.
The LCHF lifestyle can also cause some lightheadedness early on. As you consume fewer carbs, your body automatically retains less sodium. Sodium regulates blood pressure, so less of it hanging around your cells can lead to lightheadedness.
I was one of the lightheaded ones, so I researched and found two simple solutions. Drink more water to plump up your blood vessels. Or, if you aren’t a cardiac risk, eat more salt so your cells have more sodium.
When some people transition to LCHF (or a ketogenic lifestyle which is EVEN LOWER CARB), they actually have a period of time where they feel ill. It’s called the “Keto flu.” This too will pass.
Because I was eating LCHF when I tried intermittent fasting, my transition was easier. Partly because I’d already defeated the Crazy Carb Cycle of Starvin’ Marvin. And, also because I’d stopped eating breakfast, a practice also recommended in Eat Bacon Don’t Jog.
Unbeknownst to me, bailing on breakfast beneficially increased my “fasting window.” I went from “fasting,” aka not eating, 7 pm-7am (12 hours) to “fasting” 7 pm-11 am (16 hours). Remember, your body starts to use its own fat reserves for fuel at the 12-14 hour mark. As I told one of you in a text: “Your body has two fuel choices–to eat what you put in your mouth or to “eat” the previously stored fat on your body.” I much prefer the second option.
Once I learned the body will burn its own fat for fuel if it gets no food for 12-14+ hours, I determined to increase my “fasting window.”
These days I try not to eat until noon or 1. I also do my best to make sure we’re done with supper at 6. After dinner, I consume no food until the next day around noon.
Tony is even more disciplined. Very early on he adopted the OMAD way of life. One meal a day. His one meal is dinner with the family. On days he works out, though, he discovered he needs to eat something—ie. full-fat yogurt, a cheese stick, and a serving of nuts—for lunch. He tried working out “in a fasted state” but found himself feeling too wonky.
Some people can and do work out “in a fasted state.” For the benefits. Apparently, if you haven’t eaten in a while, to provide energy for exercise, your body will produce adrenalin which can enable you to lift more weight than normal. In addition, some folks say you can build more muscle with fewer workouts.
What else to expect with fasting? You will be hungry. Surprisingly, though, the hunger comes in waves. You don’t feel the plaintive pangs of your protesting stomach every single second of the fast. I can atttest to this. And if you’re busy, you notice the rumblings even less.
It’s not that your body NEEDS to eat three meals a day. It’s that your mind has been trained FOR DECADES to eat three meals a day.
Your body will fight you on this!! However, Dr. Fung says at the 48-hour point in a fast, hunger pangs fall way off. For the record, though, not all fasts last 48-hours.
In the meantime, drink a ton of water to help fill that empty tummy. For some people, drinking green tea staves off hunger. Coffee is another beverage option. However, if you drink your coffee like me—sweet and blonde—some folks say that can BREAK your fast. Because I love coffee, I take the risk.
So far, Tony and I have only done one LONG fast. We were aiming for 48 hours, but at the 47th hour Tony started feeling sick. I felt fine but wanted to support him so we broke our fast together. We were following doctor’s orders. Fung’s book says, “Should you feel unwell for any reason, stop your fast immediately.” Note: Unwell means sick, not merely hungry.
We are excited to try longer fasts this summer when our son will be out of town for a month, then two weeks, respectively. When he’s here we ALWAYS eat dinner together. Tarantini House Rule.
What else to expect with fasting? We found we go to the bathroom (#2) less. Dr. Fung’s book says this is normal. Less input in one end means less output from the other. Sorry if that skeeves you out.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that by eating fewer meals, I appreciate food more. I always love to eat but when it’s been 12+ hours since I’ve eaten, man, does food taste great!
If you’re like Tony, the weight will fly off you. In the beginning.
Tony finds fasting so much easier than any calorie-restriction program he’s ever done. And really, the results have been more impressive. He lost 2-3 pounds a week for about 2 months straight. Then it slowed down.
What do you do when your weight loss slows?
When I taught aerobics, my students would whine whenever they hit a weight loss plateau. “What do I do?” The prescription was always a change: increase the number of days you work out a week, increase the length of your workouts, increase the intensity of your workouts.
Fasting is no different. When progress slows, something has to change. One thing you can do if you hit a weight loss wall is increase the length of your fast. For instance,
When Tony wants a little shove to get past a plateau, he’ll fast 36 hours instead of his usual 24.
In my situation, since I fast for 16 hours, eat for eight, (a 16:8 fast), I could introduce a 24-hour fast once or twice a week.
You can also increase the frequency of your slightly longer fast. Some people will do a 36-hour fast twice a week.
Someone who is fasting alongside of eating LCHF could squeak past a plateau by eating VERY FEW carbs for a few days.
Eating few carbs, or no carbs, or fasting from food altogether kicks the body into ketosis, a state in which the body burns its own fat for fuel.
One of the behaviors of people who have dropped significant weight and kept it off, is the habit of stepping on the scale daily.
Tony does this. He weighs himself every night before bed and every morning. Always without clothes and after voiding his bladder (fancy way of saying he peed).
Losing weight isn’t why I’m super excited to try longer fasts. I’m excited because there are benefits to fasting beyond weight loss. According to Dr. Fung, fasting can:
- Improve mental clarity and concentration
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Increase energy
- Improve fat-burning
- Lower blood cholesterol
- Prevent Alzheimer’s disease
- Extend life
- Reverse the aging process
- Decrease inflammation
With all those wonderful advantages, sign me up!
Okay, for now, that’s all I’ve got on the topic of intermittent fasting. If you ask me more questions, though, I’ll try to find the answers. Or, you can order Dr. Jason’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, for yourself. Also, if you want to read an account about someone else’s intermittent fasting experience, click here for Cindy McKee’s story. She’s the person who introduced me to the concept.
Please know I am NOT a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. If you have any health issues that might conflict with intermittent fasting, please please please, discuss them with your primary care physician!
*Affiliate link: if you click on this link, love what you see, and buy it, I will make a tee-tiny commission. Like, a quarter.