Here’s what happened when I tried intermittent fasting for a week: nothing.
In case you haven’t heard, intermittent fasting, otherwise known as IF, is the “it” diet trend of late.
Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman and supermodel Miranda Kerr are all converts to the lifestyle. Longevity. Weight loss. More energy. Better cardiovascular health and sleep. These are some of the supposed benefits of IF. Was it too good to be true? I decided to find out. And why not, at least I’d be in good company — Beyoncé.
First thing, I consulted Dr. Google to see what exactly I needed to do.
If you haven’t heard of IF before, allow me to give you some background.
There are two styles of intermittent fasting, the 6:18 and 5:2 methods. I chose the first, which denotes 6 hours of eating, 18 hours of fasting (this includes time spent sleeping). The 5:2 method seemed harder, in my opinion, because two entire days are devoted to fasting. For the rest of the week you can eat your normal 2,000 calories. But on the two fasting days, women shouldn’t have more than 500 calories, and men should stay under 600.
In short, the premise of intermittent fasting is your body will unlock fat stores for energy if it needs to. It will only do this when food isn’t in steady supply as is generally the case in modern life.
I called Gillian Arathuzik, who is a Registered Dietitian at Lahey Outpatient Center, Danvers and co-author of the 2011 book “Flat Belly Diet! Diabetes: Lose Weight, Target Belly Fat, and Lower Blood Sugar with This Tested Plan from the Editors of Prevention” to learn how I could properly fast.
Her advice was to start eating my calories earlier in the day because metabolism slows in the afternoon and evening.
“People often eat their biggest meal of the day at dinner, and that’s when we should be eating the fewest calories because our metabolism has slowed throughout the day,” Arathuzik said.
As it turns out, Arathuzik estimated that most people eat about 40 percent of daily calories in the evening, shortly before they go to bed.
“I try to advise people to eat more earlier on,” she said. “Even to get the percentage of calories equal, so roughly 30 percent at each meal.”
I tried both approaches. The first four days I refrained from eating until about noon. I normally eat within an hour of waking, so since I wake up around 5:30 a.m., waiting this long was particularly hard. I thought about food constantly. I felt dizzy. The hunger pains never subsided. With intermittent fasting, you’re allowed to eat any foods, but you should aim to stay far from junk, sweets, and alcohol as much as you can. Waiting six hours to eat made me obsessed with food and I’d have whatever was in front of me. Sandwiches, pasta, loads of candy, anything, as long as it could be consumed.
Eating earlier was all around a better fit for me. I am generally not as hungry in the evenings, which makes sense considering the metabolic pattern of slowing as the day goes on.
For the remainder of the week, I ate my first meal around 10 a.m., had lunch at about 12:30 p.m. and finished around 4 p.m. It was doable, but in the end, I didn’t lose weight and I only felt an obsession with what and, more importantly, when I could eat.
“It’s probably something you have to do for an extended period to see benefits,” Arathuzik said. “And that’s the problem with these popular diets; they aren’t sustainable for the majority of people.”
The most important thing, Arathuzik told me, is to find something you can stick with. She has had patients who have successfully gotten healthier from fasting.
“It’s basically a way to restrict calories,” she said. “Some people can do this on their own just as easily.”
If you’re one of those who might find intermittent fasting too difficult, Arathuzik suggested some tried and true advice. Eat healthy. Don’t over eat. If you’re trying to lose weight, restrict your refined carbs. But if you do that too much, know you’ll probably panic later on and overindulge in things like breads, pastas, and sugars.
As for the all the benefits – the better sleep, health, weight loss – Arathuzik said there needs to be more studies. So, fasting because you’re hoping to improve your health based on these claims is probably not the best reason.
For me, I know trying to eat healthy, meaning whole foods and limiting sweets, as much as I can stand it, coupled with exercise and prioritizing sleep will be more effective. There’s no way I sustain thinking about when and what to eat without feeling a little crazed.
For more information on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, talk with your Lahey Health physician.