“Why are you trying to lose weight when you’re already so skinny?” This is always the first question I get when I say I practice intermittent fasting. No, I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m giving my digestive system a break and practicing self-control.
Intermittent fasting, or time restricted eating, has a wide range of health benefits beyond weight loss. Some of these benefits include suppressing inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar levels and increasing resistance to stress. I was initially afraid I would lose too much weight but my weight has remained pretty consistent, even during the times that I haven’t stuck to my schedule.
I’ve had Crohn’s disease since I was 7 years old. The first 15 years or so were absolute Hell but eventually I achieved remission without medication thanks to making major changes in my lifestyle. Even in remission, fatigue is still an issue. I began intermittent fasting as a means to help me make better food choices and to give my body a break from digestion. Digestion uses a lot of energy. Restricting my eating has allowed me to be more productive and have more available energy during the day.
I generally fast from 7 or 8pm until around 11 or noon. If my schedule doesn’t allow for a whole 16 hours of fasting or if I’m very hungry, I’ll eat. The whole point of fasting is to calm and de-stress my body. Beating myself up for not strictly sticking to the 16/8 eating schedule would be defeating the purpose.
The mental struggle was the hardest for me. A lifetime of Crohn’s taught me to eat whenever I felt (or maybe just thought I felt) hungry. For so long, not eating when I felt hungry would make me nauseous and anxious. Then I would feel too nauseous to eat and a vicious cycle would begin. Can’t eat so you’re nauseous. Nauseous so you can’t eat. Getting over the psychological hurdle was rough but once I did, I felt so much better! It’s helped reduce a lot of anxiety and has allowed me to get to know my body’s needs better.
Starting an eating schedule can be scary. I suggest doing it gradually, especially if you have digestive issues. First, look at your schedule and your lifestyle. Decide what would work best for you. I fast daily. I try to eat dinner between 7-8pm and my first meal the next day would be between 11-noon. You don’t have to do a 16/8 schedule or fast every single day. Experiment and find what works best for your body.
Second, be prepared for your brain and body to go a little crazy. When you aren’t used to being on an eating schedule, it can be difficult to get on that schedule. Be patient and give yourself a break. If I get really hungry before I’m supposed to break fast, I go ahead and eat. I’ll get back on track. No reason to stress myself out.
Third, meal plan! Make sure you’re eating enough during your eating period. I try to have two meals during my eating period. If I’m still hungry, I’ll have a snack. Sometimes, I’ll eat a big lunch and not be hungry the rest of the day. That really throws me off the next day because I usually wake up starving. I then have to decide if I’m going to go ahead and eat or wait several hours before I break fast. Have snacks ready. Drinks lots of water. The only thing you can have during your fasting period is water. Anything else activates your digestive enzymes.
On the days that I wake up hungry, I think about the day before. What did I eat? I might not have eaten enough calories or I might have exerted a lot of energy and now feel depleted. I also look at my mental health. Maybe I’m not actually hungry and I’m just wanting to emotionally eat. Learning to listen to my body has been so important and so beneficial.
Sticking to my schedule has been difficult during the lockdown because my boyfriend and I are quarantined together and he doesn’t fast. It takes so much willpower to not eat when he’s eating, especially when what he’s eating smells so good! So again, if I break fast early, I don’t beat myself up.
As I mentioned above, I have Crohn’s disease and I was already in remission when I began (intentionally) fasting. Many of us go through periods of time when we feel too sick to eat and we end up unintentionally fasting. These two types of fasting feel totally different to me. One happened because I felt horrible and was afraid to eat. The other happened because I planned and listened to what my body was telling me. I wish I had known about intermittent fasting back when I was flaring. It would have been a hard sell because back then, I felt so desperate that I just ate whatever whenever I could. But after seeing the major benefits, physically and psychologically, I would suggest intermittent fasting to most people.
If you’re interested in giving intermittent fasting a try but you have questions or feel like you need some emotional support, schedule your complimentary consultation and let’s chat. You don’t have to go it alone!