What happened when I tried intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting might be the break we all need for wellbeing, writes Jenna Meade.

I moved to Vietnam in April to begin my life as a digital nomad.

It was summer, with an average daily high of 38C, and my body wasn’t adjusting well to its new tropical climate.

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. (Keeping scrolling for more from that interview.)

Here was a clearly-outlined 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.

Getting into the groove of 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.

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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

New research shows intermittent fasting can have profound health benefits.

University of Florida College of Medicine 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 it 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.


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 the 16:8, where food is eaten in an eight-hour window across the day while fasting for the other 16 hours.

And the 5:2, where food is restricted to 500-600 calories for two days in the week and normal eating resumes for the other five.

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.”

What to watch out for if you try 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 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:

  • Aim for the first meal of the day to be 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.

Written by Jenna Meade.