What happened when I tried intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting might be the break we all need for wellbeing, writes Jenna Meade.
After I moved to Vietnam, my body wasn’t adjusting well to its new tropical climate.
It was summer with an average daily high of 38C, and I felt full of fluid, sluggish and constantly bloated.
I’d already heard about the health benefits of intermittent fasting, so interviewing sports dietitian Chloe McLeod for a piece in The House of Wellness magazine was the final push I needed to try it for myself.
Here was a clear schedule that I could easily follow without too much thought, and would be good to my body, too.
I chose the 16:8 method, and fasted from 6pm to 10am.
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How I felt when I started intermittent fasting
I was tired in the beginning. And hangry.
My saviour was a black coffee in the morning, with a little dash of coconut oil.
But I quickly discovered it was mind over matter.
I distracted myself instead of focusing on how hungry I was – with reading, journalling, or a morning walk.
When it came to my eight-hour eating window, during the first week I admit I did go a little rogue and ate whatever I wanted.
However, as my body got used to fasting, it didn’t get as hungry and wasn’t craving heavy meals.
It wanted nourishment, so I fuelled it with protein, veggies and fruit.
The hardest part was having to obey the schedule and turn down the occasional cocktail on a balmy summer evening.
How intermittent fasting helped me
I noticed my clarity of mind increase as the morning hunger pains subsided.
I could write easier, and I felt more inspired and focused on my tasks.
There were physical benefits, too.
I lost a little weight – though I don’t weigh myself, my clothes felt looser around my body.
But mainly, I felt lighter, more energetic and had more stamina during exercise.
Is intermittent fasting sustainable?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
And for me, it was interesting to try it out and experience the benefits first-hand.
But after a month of the lifestyle, I decided to postpone it until I was back home and could delve deeper within my normal schedule.
After all, the cocktails in South East Asia don’t always fit into an eight-hour window.
What to know about intermittent fasting
Research shows intermittent fasting can have powerful effects on your body and brain, may help you endure a workout for up to 30 per cent longer and may also slow the ageing and disease process.
So how does intermittent fasting work?
Scientists say while our bodies usually run on glucose, that energy source becomes unavailable when we fast for a longer period.
Instead, the body flips a metabolic switch, turning certain types of body fat into fatty acids that are easily absorbed by the blood.
These fatty acids then produce molecules called ketones, which the body uses as its new source of energy.
While weight loss is often a key motivation for intermittent fasting, and does commonly result from the practice, in a review of research scientists found the broad-spectrum benefits include not only disease resistance but also improved mental and physical performance.
And there is increasing evidence intermittent fasting can modify risk factors associated with obesity and diabetes.
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A dietitian’s view on intermittent fasting
Sydney sports dietitian Chloe McLeod says intermitting fasting is gaining popularity across the nutrition industry, and she’s seeing results first-hand.
“A recent client was a 40-year-old male with a high-pressure job who travelled regularly and needed to lose some weight, but was also very time poor,” Chloe says.
“After three months of intermittent fasting, he had a loss of body fat, and improved cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. He’s now adjusted to suit his weekend family life, but still fasts on weekdays.”
Different types of intermittent fasting
All bodies are different, but there are two main frontrunners when it comes to fasting types.
There’s time-restricted eating (TRE) such as 16:8, where food is eaten in an eight-hour window across the day while fasting for the other 16 hours. There are also variations, such as 14:10 and 12:12.
And then there is calorie-reduction based fasting such as 5:2, where food is restricted to 600-800 calories for two days in the week and normal eating resumes for the other five.
Dr Michael Mosley’s popular Fast 800 and New 5:2 fasting programs combine both TRE and calorie reduction – and advocates sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet on the non-fasting days of the 5:2 diet.
Regardless of the approach, Chloe says there are general guidelines to follow to ensure effectiveness and safety.
“It’s important to listen to your body and ensure you’re still meeting your daily nutritional needs,” she says.
“Fasting is a good way to get into a routine, but remember it’s OK to have flexibility in the routine when needed, too.”
Side effects of intermittent fasting
Some people experience low energy levels, headaches, fatigue, constipation and heartburn when doing intermittent fasting, says Chloe.
“Extreme hunger may also result in over-eating when not fasting,” she says.
“If you’re planning on fasting, keep well hydrated and continue to make healthy food choices when you’re eating.
“Opt for plenty of veggies, wholegrains, legumes and healthy fats over highly processed foods.”
16:8 fasting guide for beginners
This fasting method allows you to eat in an eight-hour window across the day while fasting for the other 16 hours.
Chloe advises to:
- Eat the first meal of the day around 11am or noon.
- Drink plenty of water in the morning to help manage hunger pangs.
- Exercise in the afternoon. If you exercise in the morning, eating earlier and finishing earlier is advised.
- Aim for two larger meals and a more substantial snack. For example, eggs with roast vegetables, wholegrains and avocado to start, then a snack of yoghurt, fruit, oats, nuts and seeds, and finally a dinner of fish, sweet potato and veggies.
- Plan for your final meal of the day to be by 7pm or 8pm.
More on fasting:
- Do fasting diets work?
- Why intermittent fasting may help you live longer
- Why an interval approach to weight loss is most effective
Written by Jenna Meade. Updated January 2021.