What is intermittent fasting really like?

The health benefits of fasting have been big news over the last few years.  But what’s it really like trying to follow one of these diets?  I thought I would find out.

I have never been tempted by the 5:2 diet where 2 days out of seven you live on less than 600 calories.  I run on nervous energy, do quite a bit of exercise and need to refuel every few hours otherwise I get shaky and cranky.  But I became intrigued by the latest ‘intermittent fasting diet’ where two or three times during the week you fast for 16 hours (this includes when you are asleep) and then eat all your meals in an 8 hour window.

The claims made for intermittent fasting on a 16/8 routine include that:

  • It takes 12 hours to burn off glycogen (carbohydrate from food) and you then begin to tap into your fat storage
  • Reducing calories has health benefits that include living longer
  • You benefit from a reduced risk of disease, for example cancer
  • There is a possible reduced risk of degenerative brain disorders, for example Dementia

However, few rigorous scientific trials have been run on humans and some believe the benefits of intermittent fasting are no more than the benefits of reducing your calorie intake to a reasonable level at what-ever time of day.

Never-the-less I was keen to give it a go.  

This was my experience

Day 1 Tuesday: ate normally, breakfast lunch and dinner which was finished by 8.30pm. Had nothing else except a green tea that evening before bed.

Day2 Wednesday:  (Fasting day) Got up at 7.30 and had tea.  I weighed myself just to see whether there would be a difference 7 days later.  Felt fine and took the dog out for 4 mile walk. 10.45am I began to feel a little shaky and drank another green tea.  11.30am I was definitely ready for scrambled eggs and toast.  

The rest of the day I did some Pilates and a bit of strength training.  Had a salad followed by a small tub of ice cream (it was hot!) at 2.15pm.  I ate a snack at 5pm followed by dinner at 7pm.  I didn’t feel hungry after dinner.

Day 3 Thursday: Woke up with a slight headache but had no problem waiting until 11am for oats, fruit and yogurt and ate normally for the rest of the day.

Day 4 Friday: I woke up full of energy at 6.30am and ate normally for the rest of the day.  I walked the dog, went swimming and worked at my desk.  I went to bed around 10.30pm but was wide awake and couldn’t get to sleep until 1.30am which for me is unheard of.

Day 5 Saturday: (Fasting day) Woke as usual around 7.30am, did the park run with the dog at 9am and ate at midday.  Ate again at 2.30pm and 7.30pm

Day 6 Sunday: Had a long drive so took a sandwich to eat at 11.30, ate normally the rest of the day.

Day 7 Monday: Ate normally and had nothing after dinner until 11.30am the next day.

Day 8 Tuesday: (Fasting day) weighed myself and I was 3lb lighter

What I noticed:

  • Things seem to have much more taste when you haven’t eaten for 16 hours
  • I wasn’t as hungry in the mornings as I expected to be. Especially on the second day
  • I didn’t have my usual 3pm fatigue where I feel like curling up and going to sleep -particularly on the days where I ate in the 8 hour window.
  • I did seem to have more energy
  • I did suffer a bit with headaches and think I will drink the coffee (with oil) if I was to do it on a long-term basis
  • I did lose 3lb but I fluctuate that in a week anyway so I am not sure it was down to the fasting?

Would I do it again? 

I think so, mainly to see over a longer period whether my energy levels stay high and my afternoon dips disappear.