For a long time, I hesitated to share this with anyone — confiding only in those who know me best. I didn’t want to tell people that I hardly ever eat breakfast or lunch anymore. I wondered how they would react if I told them that most days, especially Monday – Friday, I seldom eat a thing before dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. But that is what I do and it has become such a blessing in my life that I want to share it.
Let’s get these out of the way first.
- I am not a licensed nutritionist. I am not a doctor. I am not a dietitian. I am a woman who has maintained a weight loss of nearly 200 pounds for about 10 years so far. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve also done some things right and learned a lot. I am sharing my experience, not something I read in a book.
- I do not have an eating disorder. This practice isn’t driven by my desire to achieve some unrealistic ideal or to further my modeling career. If you have or have ever had an eating disorder, then I highly suggest you be very careful adopting a new lifestyle regarding your eating habits. If you have any psychological or physical conditions that are closely related to your diet and nutrition, then please consult your counselor or physician before making significant changes such as this.
- I first attempted a lifestyle of intermittent fasting as a skeptic. I had embraced the idea that breakfast was indeed the most important meal of the day and should be skipped only if required by a scheduled medical procedure or surgery. Furthermore, I believed that the best way to keep metabolism revved while fueling my body was to eat small meals or snacks every couple of hours until just before bed. The only thing that could possibly convince me otherwise is my own personal experience. Even those in the fitness industry who were touting the benefits of intermittent fasting couldn’t make be a believer because how could I know if they practiced what they preached? I had to try it myself. And that’s what I did.
- What works for one may not work for everyone. Every person’s metabolism is different — a function of gender, age, genetics, and more. I’m going to share with you how I started this, what my experience was along the way, and how it is working for me as a lifestyle choice.
- I know nothing about fasting in children, but my gut would say it’s a bad idea to have kids go for extended periods without nutrition. Unlike adults, children are still actively growing, changing every day. They need nutrition to do that well. If you want to foster any kind of fasting practice in children, my advise would be to have them forego a bedtime snack a couple of times per week — that isn’t going to hurt anyone. Or, instead of having a “treat” like ice cream, they might have raw vegetables or fruit for an after-school snack a couple of times per week. At its heart, fasting is about sacrifice, not starving.
- Ladies — If you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding — this definitely isn’t the time to significantly restrict your caloric intake. Besides, your husband might kill me.
Now that those are out of the way, let’s get to it.
Intermittent Fasting, Defined
The word, “fast,” is defined, when used as a verb:
- to abstain from all food
- to eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food, especially as a religious observance.
The word, “intermittent,” is defined:
- stopping or ceasing for a time; alternately ceasing and beginning again: an intermittent pain
- alternately functioning and not functioning or alternately functioning properly and improperly.
To combine these two ideas, I have come up with my definition of, “intermittent fasting,” as follows:
to incorporate recurrent, alternating periods of eating followed by periods of abstaining from eating.
Notice, there are many variables which are not specifically defined:
- How long are the, “periods?”
- Are the periods of eating and fasting equal in length?
- And how often do the periods reoccur? How many per week or per month?
The answers to those questions vary widely. I will first start by sharing some of the widely adopted methods, then share what I use.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
These explanations are taken from the article, “6 Popular Ways to do Intermittent Fasting.”
16/8 Method of Intermittent Fasting
This involves fasting every day for 14-16 hours and restricting the “eating window” to 8-10 hours per day. You would eat all of your meals and snacks during that eating windows. The actual time of day you fast and eat can vary, but the most common approach is to wait to start eating until much later in the day than typical. To go 16 consecutive hours a day without eating may sound extreme, but consider that for probably 6-9 of those hours, you are sleeping! Yes, sleeping counts as fasting time (unless you have been known to sleep nosh). This is the closest to what I currently practice.
In this method, you would eat normally 5 days a week and fast for 2 days per week — either going without food entirely on those 2 days or significantly limiting your caloric intake to two small meals of 250-300 calories each. These two fasting days may or may not be consecutive.
This method, popularized by fitness expert Bard Pilon, has you fasting from dinner one day to dinner the next (equating to a 24-hour fast) once or twice per week.
Alternate-Fasting: Fasting every other day.
This takes the Eat-Stop-Eat diet a step further, doing a 24-hour fast every other day. This is an extreme approach and may be difficult for many people, especially beginners, as you will almost surely experience many long periods of hunger.
In this approach, you will eat small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day, then eat nearly all of your daily calories in one large meal at night. Essentially, you “fast” all day and “feast” at night within a 4-hour (or less) window.
Spontaneous Meal Skipping
This approach might be the easiest for many to follow — just skip meals when convenient! If you wake up on Wednesday morning and you’re just not that hungry, then don’t eat breakfast! If you are incredibly busy at work on Thursday and you don’t feel like it will cause more harm than good, work through lunch! Skipping 1 or 2 meals whenever your circumstances or appetite suggests is what spontaneous intermittent fasting is all about.
How I Personally Use Intermittent Fasting
I am going to begin by explaining my current eating plan. I don’t refer to this as a diet, because “diet” is a word I feel implies this is short-term or temporary. This is my way of life, just as, for many years, my way of life was: breakfast, lunch, after-school snack, dinner, bedtime snack and repeat. Just as that evolved, so might my current plan, based on the signals I get from my body. But for now, here is a typical day for me, Monday – Friday:
- I don’t eat breakfast.
- I don’t eat lunch
- I drink water or weakened Crystal Lite lemonade and sip coffee or hot tea. I also crunch ice (but that’s another issue altogether.) Throughout the course of the day, I easily drink a gallon or more. Purists wouldn’t even consume artificial sweetener because it might evoke an insulin response from your body, but I am not that good. In my case, if it did evoke a significant response, I believe I would know because I would experience low blood sugar. During the day, I don’t consume anything with calories or nutritional value, but I stay well hydrated.
- I get home around 5:45 p.m. and yes, I’m hungry at this point. Sometimes, dinner is ready when I get home, either because I had something in the slow cooker or because my husband has prepared it. In that case, I consume my first calories around 6:00 p.m. and it is my dinner. If I have to prepare something and it will be a while before we sit and eat, I may eat a handful of nuts — almonds or cashews usually — or have something with significant protein, like a few pieces of lunch meat or cheese. Sometimes, especially when the weather is nice, instead of eating dinner right away, we will go for a walk outside, 3-5 miles, in a fasted state. I like to do cardiovascular activity (what very little I do) without a ton of food on my tummy. If we do this, I eat immediately when we get finished walking.
- Every other day, we go to the gym about an hour after we eat dinner for a strength training workout of approximately 45 – 60 minutes.
- After the workout is when I am at my most undisciplined of the entire day. By this point, my insulin response cycle is in gear (because I have eaten) and I’m typically pretty hungry after a workout. If we are going to enjoy a splurge like a snack or ice cream, this is when we do it. Ideally, we follow our workout with a protein shake containing about 30 grams of protein.
- In the remaining time before bed, I do sometimes snack a little, but I try to limit it and decide if I’m really hungry.
During the week, when I’m in the office from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. this is a pretty easy routine to follow. I don’t take lunch with me to the office and I don’t take a lunch break. If I want to eat a meal, it takes a lot of effort, so it’s easier for me to resist. I do keep some quality protein bars in my drawer at work in case I believe I really need to eat. Around noon every day, I do tend to get a little hungry, but I think that is as much because of the years of conditioning that you eat lunch at noon every day than because I’m really hungry. I know that because on most days, the feeling passes as I make the decision, “No. I’m not eating lunch today.”
When it doesn’t pass or when I feel the effects of low blood sugar, then I have to consider, “maybe I need to eat.” In that case, I will eat a protein bar. If I decide to eat a protein bar (which, while nourishing, isn’t exactly something I’m gonna crave or overeat), I know it was an intentional and informed decision to feed by body and not just giving in to my urges.
On the weekends, it’s a little harder to follow this schedule because that’s when we are most likely to be with friends or family or to have plans that involve eating. I am not as strict on the weekends because I don’t want to force others to comply with my plan. I make breakfast on Saturday for my family and I eat with them. I do try to push it as late as possible and make it a brunch, limiting us to 2 meals per day. If I’m going to splurge, it will be on the weekend. That’s when I will enjoy donuts (occasionally) or pizza, or whatever else — in moderation. And you know what? The weekends serve as a great reminder of why I eat the way I do the rest of the week — because it feels better. After enjoying indulgences like donuts or pizza, I feel bloated and generally yucky. I actually find myself looking forward to getting back to my routine on Monday.
Additionally, any extra pounds I might put on over the weekend come off VERY quickly within a day or two of my intermittent fasting lifestyle. So even with some splurges, I maintain my weight.
How (and when) I Got Started
I started experimenting with intermittent fasting about 2 years ago. I was trying to “shake things up” a bit in my nutrition and exercise plan because I had plateaued in an attempt to reach a goal. It wasn’t about a number on the scale, but I was trying to achieve a better body composition (lean muscle mass vs. fat). I had read about intermittent fasting and decided to incorporate it in my life and test the results.
I’ve written at length about how the way I treat my body is an act of worship to God. For me, spiritual and physical discipline are very much entwined, so like everything I do to stay healthy, I wanted there to be both a physical and spiritual component of this endeavor. The spiritual value of fasting is obvious to me. Jesus modeled the practice while he walked the earth. We tend to correlate fasting with prayer and petition — that the physical hunger should remind us to commune with God.
If I was going to adopt this practice, I needed to be sure of two things:
- that it is physically safe
- that it is spiritually permissable
Physically, I can tell you that I have fully explained to my primary care physician my lifestyle of intermittent fasting. I expected her to argue with me, but on the contrary, she told me that she follows a similar pattern. Hers began because she is a very busy physician and obstetrician so her schedule has always been a little crazy. What began out of necessity she eventually learned just made her feel better. Additionally, my blood sugar levels remain level during my fasting periods. (I had discussed with her my chronic hypoglycemia, which can become life-threatening.) My labs are great. My cholesterol levels (and ratio of good to bad) are excellent, my blood pressure is in a very healthy range, my heart rate is strong (low), and I have maintained a healthy weight for years now.
I believe (and my doctor agrees) that I am healthier as a 42-year-old than I was as a 22-year-old. I am a believer in the physical safety (and benefits) of intermittent fasting and I have seen the benefits in my own life.
Spiritually, of course we know that Jesus fasted, perhaps most notably immediately following his baptism while he was tempted in the wilderness. “Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and became very hungry.” (Matthew 4:2)
After 3 days, I would probably eat my arm. I can’t explain what empowered Him to do that, but He demonstrated self-deprivation as He was tempted by Satan. To me, the significance of this is that even when Jesus was at His weakest physically, He was able to endure the temptation without giving in. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, we read, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
Perhaps when I allow myself to be physically weaker, His strength will grow in my life. Personally, these periods of temporarily ignoring, or squashing my physical urges reminds me that I am ultimately a spiritual being. While starving the physical, I am feeding the spiritual.
I could list numerous Scriptures about fasting. We know that Jesus kept Mosaic law, which required fasting at certain times of the year. But I do want to make this distinction — we are saved by grace, not by the law. Jesus came to replace the old law and place the law in our hearts in the form of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t think we are required as Christians to fast. I am certainly not saved because I practice it and I won’t lose my salvation if I don’t. We are, however, required to seek a close relationship with God and if fasting helps me achieve that, I can use all the help I can get.
Jesus also warned the disciples in Matthew 6:16, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.”
That was another reason I was always careful about sharing this practice with others. But I feel that to do so now would serve only as an encouragement and I pray that it might help others in ways similar to those I have experienced. I do make an effort not to look miserable (even when I’m a little disheveled)! When I speak of fasting, it is only with excitement for the joy it brings me — not with self-pity and whining.
So I began my practice of intermittent fasting by also committing it to God as a spiritual act of worship. This is what I wrote in my journal when I embarked on this experiment.
One day a week, usually Monday, I will fast from dinner one night until lunch the next day. Associated with that time of fasting, I will pray God’s blessing over our jail ministry that night and I will focus on an additional particular petition or a character trait that I need to work on, covering that situation in prayer and fasting.
The first few times, I got hungry — not gonna lie! But it was only for a few hours and I really did feel it strengthened my prayer life. I found it so beneficial that I eventually extended it to 5 days a week of no breakfast.
This is how I progressed in my fasting:
- I started very slowly — 1 day a week, dinner to lunch the next day.
- From there, I added 1 day at a time until I was fasting until lunch 5 days a week, Monday – Friday. Sometimes, I prayed for a different thing each day, other times, the same thing for 5 days straight, however God was leading me.
- Next, I tried going from dinner to dinner 1 day, then another and another, until I reached a point that I was not eating breakfast or lunch Monday – Friday.
- More recently, as my husband has been dipping his toe in the process, I am stretching things out on the weekend, too.
- In addition to honing my physical discipline, this practice has worked wonders on my spiritual discipline — specifically praying. I now select 5 things daily (I write them in a day planner and sometimes schedule them several weeks out when appropriate — surgery, deployments, etc) that I cover in prayer. I have dubbed them, “My Fast 5,” and if you’ve ever received a text from me, “you’re in my 5 today,” then I sincerely hope you have been blessed by it. It’s a God appointment, years in the making.
- You will feel hungry — maybe hungrier than you have felt in a very long time — but that’s the point. Especially in America, it’s easy to forget what hunger even feels like! Recalibrating your hunger impulses will teach you to listen to your body and once you are doing that, you can respond not out of habit, but out of a desire to fuel your body instead of feeding your desires.
- Make sure to drink plenty, but nothing that would be considered nourishment. If you drink coffee, drink it black. (As I said, I do drink things with artificial sweetener, but I’m trying to cut back on that, too). The reason this is important is that to be most effective, you must fast completely. Even adding cream to your coffee can cause your “eating cycle,” to get started. When we eat (especially carbohydrates), the body responds by producing insulin to sweep up the nutrients and escort them into our cells. But if the insulin overdoes it, you can be left feeling sluggish and starving due to low blood sugar. You will actually get through the time of fasting much better if it’s 100%. I take a gummy multi-vitamin and I even stopped taking it during my period of fasting, taking it instead during my eating window. Staying well-hydrated will also help ease the hunger pangs.
- Have a contingency plan. You may have to eat before you originally planned. If you are at work and you just can’t put together a coherent thought, then you owe it to your employer (and your health) to eat something — BUT NOT JUST ANYTHING. I mentioned I keep some quality, nutritious meal bars in my desk at work. They aren’t the tastiest things, but they provide balanced nutrition if I need it. If you choose to break your fast early, then limit your options. If you have a bag of chocolate chip cookies in your desk, it’s going to be much harder to resist. If, on the other hand, you have a protein bar that tastes just a little like cardboard, you’re really going to consider — do I need this or am I just giving in too easily? If you’re really hungry and need nourishment, you will eat anything. So, even if you don’t make it all the way, you’re still sacrificing a little.
- There are two “feelings” generally associated with hunger. Either we are some level of hungry, from just a little to ravenous, or we are stuffed miserable. If you practice this for a while, I can almost guarantee that you, like I did, will find you much prefer the feeling of being a little hungry to being miserably overfed. That’s a good lesson to learn.
- When you get hungry, ask God to foster empathy through your sacrifice. Imagine feeling like that — and worse — all the time and not by choice, but because you have nothing to eat. It really has broken my heart to those who go without by no choice of their own and far more than I do. Because I never go through a drive-thru for breakfast or lunch during the week, I am sure I save a considerable amount of money — money which could help others.
- If at first you don’t succeed….try again. It might take you a while to break the habits of eating based on a clock instead of your body’s signals. But I can tell you, after a couple of years now, it is not hard for me to wait until dinner.
- Start with small steps, develop a new “normal,” then consider going deeper. A good place to start is skipping breakfast. Or skip a regularly scheduled snack. Over time, just lengthen the period of time you go between eating until you reach your goal. It may take a while, and that’s OK. The journey is part of what develops the discipline.
- Commit your plans to the LORD and they will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3) And make this your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1) Committing your plans to the LORD gives this a level of significance that makes it a little harder to give up too easily.
- Find the plan that works best for you. I have shared some popular variations and what I do, but you have to find what works for your lifestyle, your metabolism, and your health — both spiritual and physical.
- Keep a journal. I wish I had done a better job of this, but keep a record of how you feel. Rate your level of hunger throughout the day from 1-10 (be honest). See how it is changing over time. Track your health indicators, like weight, blood pressure, and how you are sleeping at night. When you are struggling, this journal could be a source of encouragement. If, like me, you choose to include a prayer component to your fasting, track it in your journal as well so you can look back and see how God blessed your prayers. Set goals for yourself, and write them in your journal, such as, “by January 1, I want to be fasting from dinner until dinner 2 days per week.”
- Don’t start something like this on a vacation, or even on a day when you aren’t busy. The busier you are, the less your thoughts will be of your empty, growling stomach. Staying busy will make the time pass more quickly until it’s time to eat. This explains why it is much easier for me to fast during the work week.
I have learned great discipline in when I eat, but during my “eating windows,” I’m still fairly relaxed about what I eat. I occasionally break my fast with an all-out carb binge. My next phase will be to plan and exercise discipline over my macro-nutrient intake — carbohydrates, protein, and fat — to maximize wellness and to complement the hard work I do in the gym. The next step for me is to track my calories and macro-nutrients and cycle my daily carbohydrate intake.
I am going to incorporate a plan I found created and implemented by one of my fitness heroes, Jim Stoppani. He calls it the, “Intermittent Fasting Carb Cycle.” (IF Carb Cycle or IFCC, for short.) After years of following some of his workout plans, I recently heard him speak on a podcast and couldn’t believe it when he started talking about intermittent fasting! Most body-builders eat constantly, and I was surprised to hear him describe his habits — which were strangely close to my own!
I felt vindicated, but also challenged, as he explained how he goes a step further and cycles his carbs to keep his metabolism revved and his body composition incredibly lean. He cycles low, moderate, and high carbohydrate days and tracks protein and fat as well.
Such discipline will take care and planning, but I want to try. I will share more about the specifics of his plan and how I’m trying to follow it (including my meal plans, successes and failures), but for now, I wanted to share my experience thus far. If this is something you’ve tried or thought about, please comment your experience or questions. If you try this for yourself, please be sure to do so safely and let me know how it works for you.
Or maybe you’ve already been doing this for a while, and like me, you are ready to take it to the next level. If so, stay tuned for my next article!