12 Good and Bad Lessons Learned from 4 years of Intermittent Fasting.

“It’s a scientific fact that you need to eat breakfast every morning to lose weight.”

“You shouldn’t skip meals, it’s not healthy. You have to eat six small meals every day.”

These were some of the objections I raised to a nutritionist — who prescribed a three month intermittent fasting protocol — during a consultation over four years ago. The nutritionist was adamant that intermittent fasting would solve the main problems I battled with at the time — weight gain, an unhealthy diet, constant tiredness and poor concentration, to name a few.

Even though I was skeptical, after thirty minutes of listening to the nutritionist preach on the benefits of intermittent fasting, I decided to self-experiment and give it a try. The next day I skipped breakfast, ate my first meal at 12 p.m and my last meal at 7 p.m. This protocol was repeated each day for the next three months.

On the last day of the prescribed three month period, I walked into a local gym, took off my shoes and placed my two feet on a white weight scale. I had little to no expectation for results (as a matter of fact, I didn’t keep track of my weight change throughout the three month period). I watched the numbers on the scale go up and up and up, then it stopped. I was stunned.

I had lost 22 pounds (10 kg) of weight over the three month period.

Needless to say, I was elated and immediately set out to complete another three months of intermittent fasting. Those three months turned to one year, then two years and today, after four years of intermittent fasting, I ‘d say it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

Here are 12 good and bad lessons I’ve learned from intermittent fasting, with some insights that may be useful for you.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

In layman’s terms, intermittent fasting is simply a pattern of eating. It’s not a diet plan, it’s just a conscious decision to skip meals on purpose. You would “intermittently” eat during a short time window of the day and “fast” for the rest of the day.

For example, I typically eat my first meal around 11am and freely eat till 7 pm that evening. After 7pm, I purposely don’t eat till 11 am the next day. This type of intermittent fasting is called the ‘16/8’ fasting because you don’t eat for 16 hours of the day and only eat during a specific 8-hour window.

You can also reduce or increase the eating window on different days. For example, on my workout days, I typically prefer to exercise in a ‘fasted state’, so my first meal is usually later in the day around 2 pm. In these cases, my eating window is 5 hours and my fasting period is 19 hours. There are many variations of intermittent fasting including the ’24 hour’ fasting and so on.

According to fasting expert, Dr. Jason Fung, intermittent fasting is an effective way to correct imbalances of hormones responsible for weight gain and obesity. He suggests in his book,The Obesity Code (audiobook), that intermittent fasting is a proven method for lose weight and stay in shape for a lifetime.

Since this article is primarily about my experiences with intermittent fasting over the past 4 years, I will address the science of how intermittent fasting works for weight loss, health and so on, in a separate article.

Free Quick Start Guide: I’ve put together an Intermittent Fasting Quick Start Guide for Beginners to help you quickly get started with intermittent fasting. Within the free PDF you’ll get the three best intermittent fasting methods and worksheets to help you lose weight and get in shape. Click here to download your free guide.

Good and Bad Lessons from 4 years of Intermittent Fasting

1. Intermittent fasting isn’t a ‘starvation’ diet, it’s a healthy lifestyle.

Most people I’ve shared the philosophy of intermittent fasting with, usually comment by saying, “oh yeah, I’ve done that before, you mean like starving yourself to lose weight right?!” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet. It’s a pattern of eating, or to be more specific, it’s a lifestyle that can be sustained for a lifetime.

2. Track and measure your progress.

It’s very important to track and measure your progress.

Here’s a quick overview of the measurements and tools I’ve successfully used:

  • MyFitnessPal: I’ve used this app to track the calories I consume on eat days. The cool thing is that, after a few months of tracking calories in the app, you’ll develop a superman like ability to eye ball common food items and estimate the total calories without using the app.
  • A scale: I’ve used a lightweight Digital Scale to track my weight loss progress on a weekly basis. Just a quick tip: make sure to measure yourself at the same times of the day, otherwise your weight may appear to fluctuate.
  • Measuring tapes: I’ve used flexible measuring tapes each week, to get more accurate measurements of my body, that the scale may miss out on.
  • Water: Simple I know. But trust me, when you start intermittent fasting, you’re going to get dehydrated and extremely hungry. Your best friend in those moments is a bottle of water, preferably a 1 liter water bottle.

3. Listen to your body on what to eat.

One of the most common inquiries about intermittent fasting revolves around what to eat during the protocol. From my experience, any balanced healthy meal will suffice, however, a diet similar to the ‘blue zones’ diet could help to achieve sustained weight loss, improved mental performance and better health.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about what to eat, is to listen to your body and eat according to its needs. For example, if you feel tired and drained after eating rice or grains, you could try eating more vegetables instead. If you feel more energized after doing this, that’s your body’s way of telling you to stick to vegetables and avoid consuming high carb foods.

This is why I’m a strong advocate against a ‘fixed’ diet. Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older, plus, eating the same meals every day increases the odds of developing food intolerance and diseases.

Thankfully, I came across this idea of ‘eating by listening to your body’ whilst reading the work of internationally renowned holistic health expert, Paul Chek — specifically, in his book How to Eat Move and Be Healthy.

The key lesson here is to consistently listen to your body and experiment with different foods for optimal health.

4. Intermittent fasting simplifies your life.

Before practicing intermittent fasting, I was constantly thinking about what food to buy, when to cook and prep six meals a day. This tedious routine caused inconsistency with my weight training routine and my results suffered for it.

Nowadays, my life is a lot more simple. I eat one or two major meals a day, without obsessing over what to eat, and still make consistent progress towards achieving my health goals. The Intermittent fasting protocol simplifies life by reducing the number of decisions you’d have to make.

5. Expect your results to slow down after a year.

During my first year of intermittent fasting, I lost a lot of weight, shed a good chunk of fat and leaned into the best shape of my life. But, after my first year, my weight and fat loss reduced significantly, and the results slowed down over the years.

This makes sense, since your body can only lose so much fat till it’s detrimental for your health. Make sure to keep track of your intermittent fasting progress on a spreadsheet or a sturdy notebook, for future reference.

6. Intermittent fasting plus high intensity interval training equals rapid fat loss.

If you want to lose fat as quickly as possible, I’d recommend you introduce any form of training that has high intensity. For example, when I got started with intermittent fasting, I introduced 10 minutes of sprinting 3x a week, plus weekly football matches.

You can choose any form of exercise i.e. swimming, skipping, jogging, and then raise the intensity till you’re gassed out after every workout. In addition, training in this way on an empty stomach could also help with fat loss. I’m not exactly sure about the science behind why training on a fasted state could aid fat loss, but, I’d recommend you experiment with this as well.

Intuitively, it makes sense why this could work, since fasting helps to restrict calories, plus the high intensity training which burns even more calories. Overtime, your total daily calorie intake drops significantly and more fat is shed off your body.

7. Intermittent fasting can improve your discipline, focus and productivity.

During my fasting window, up till 1 pm on most days, I get a lot more work done than if I had breakfast when I woke up. Once I break my fast with the first meal, my energy levels drop, I lose focus and feel lethargic. For this reason, I’ve scheduled my most important tasks before I break my fast. This allows me to match my peak energy levels with my top priorities, resulting in higher levels of productivity.

Another observation I’ve noticed is that the habit of fasting every day, has significantly improved my discipline across the rest of my life. Once I built the habit of intermittent fasting, I developed the willpower to start new habits — eating healthy, sleep early, reading more and so on. This is the power of a keystone habit.

8. Intermittent fasting can reduce your discipline, focus and productivity.

This may appear to contradict the previous point, but think about it, hunger can cause irritability. In other words, when fasting, it’s easy to lose focus and get agitated due to a grumbling stomach.

This is why it’s so important to listen to your body, instead of sticking to a fixed regimen. I’ve noticed that there’s a sweet spot every day — a time period to stop your fasting window. If you break your fast too early, you’ll miss out the energy that could have been used to get more work done. If you break your fast too late, you’ll start to get agitated and lose focus during the day.

Every day is different, so it’s about trial and error.

9. Intermittent fasting could make your diet worse.

Following on from the previous point, when you’re really hungry and break your fast, it’s easy to overeat unhealthy or nutrient empty foods. This has been one of my biggest challenges with intermittent fasting. It takes human discipline to fast every day. But, it takes superhuman discipline to fast and maintain a clean diet every day. The reason is that when you’re fasting, your body is low on sugar and energy. It craves high carb foods with sugar as well.

Whilst, you could still achieve your weight loss and aesthetic goals without eating a clean diet, over the long run this may be detrimental to your health. The best way I’ve found to prevent this overeating tendency after breaking the fast is to design your environment for success and drink as much water as possible throughout the day.

10. Intermittent fasting could contribute to muscle mass loss and gain.

During my second year of intermittent fasting, I injured my lower back doing back squats and had to stay away from weights indefinitely. So, I replaced my weight training with Pilates and stretching exercises. In addition, I started a body detox program, which involved removing high-carb foods from my diet for a couple of months.

Within a couple of weeks, my muscle mass significantly reduced to the point that my clothes didn’t fit as well anymore. The detox program and intermittent fasting protocol drastically reduced my daily calorie intake, contributing to muscle loss.

Once I recovered from the injury and restarted the weight training program — whilst increasing my carbohydrate intake — within a few months, I regained my physique and regained the muscle mass.

The key lesson here is that calorie intake matters — a lot!

11. Intermittent fasting is a tool to reduce calorie intake.

Just like any newbie, during the first year of intermittent fasting, I believed that I had discovered the magic formula to weight loss and getting lean. I would preach to everyone about how this was the only way to achieve their health goals because it worked so well for me.

Over the years, as I’ve experimented with intermittent fasting, I’ve discovered that the main reason why intermittent fasting works so well for weight loss is because it helps to reduce the amount of time, and thus, the amount of food you can eat. The less food you eat, the less calories you consume and the more weight you lose.

It’s simple maths really. There’s nothing magical about it. People who attempt intermittent fasting and fail, lament that it doesn’t work. But, in most cases, it’s because they didn’t track calories properly.

Intermittent fasting is simply another tool to help you to reduce calorie intake, and if you choose to overeat junk food after a long fast, you could still end up gaining more weight than the weight you had lost! Intermittent fasting isn’t an excuse to indulge in your favorite ice cream or chocolate cookie, without a care in the world.

As long as you ensure that total calories consumed is less than what you use to move and live each day, you’ll lose weight and burn fat overtime.

12. Don’t let intermittent fasting prevent you from enjoying your life.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned during my 4 year journey of intermittent fasting, is to stop worrying about being perfect and enjoy life, regardless of progress towards my goals.

During the first year of intermittent fasting, I refused to break my fast outside of my eating window. I would travel on holidays to new places, missing the experiences of eating new food from different cultures because I was “fasting.” I often looked down on people who didn’t live as healthy a lifestyle as I did, and held fast to a rigid intermittent fasting protocol. Over time, I’ve learned that there’s more to life, than losing weight, gaining muscle and getting in shape. Sure, I still work towards achieving my health goals every week, but I don’t beat myself up if I mess up.

Sometimes, I have a meal for breakfast instead of fasting. Sometimes, I break my fast at the right time, but then, binge eat unhealthy food. At the end of the day, I can only pick myself up from where I left off.

Where To Go From Here

Intermittent fasting may or may not work for you. It’s a lifestyle change that I strongly vouch for because of the many benefits it has given me, mentally and physically.

Keep experimenting to find what works for you, but always remember to enjoy the journey. Because, you can always lose or gain — with respect to your weight, muscle and fitness — but you can never get back time.

BONUS

Free Quick Start Guide: I’ve put together an Intermittent Fasting Quick Start Guide for Beginners to help you quickly get started with intermittent fasting. Within the free PDF you’ll get the three best intermittent fasting methods and worksheets to help you lose weight and get in shape. Click here to download your free guide.

Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity.
To get practical ideas for better habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.

Originally published at mayooshin.com on October 26, 2017.