At the start of this year, I started Intermittent Fasting. The aim was to find 3 answers:
- Does IF really reduce Fat: I’ve had a long history with weight loss (read my story here). And given the extreme fat I used to have (105kg at peak), I find it very (very) tough to remove that last layer of belly fat and reveal my abs (sigh). With this attempt, I’m trying to see if IF can get me there.
- Is IF sustainable: I found Keto to be an extremely restrictive and tough diet to follow. You break the discipline one day and you’re out of Ketosis. IF, theoretically, seems much more doable, for long periods. I’m very intrigued to find out if that really is the case.
- Workouts: I want to find out what doing IF does to my ability to workout. Can I still do strength training? Does my power reduce?
These were the stated goals. Because these were the most tangible ones. But apart from these, I was also soft-testing a few other claimed benefits of IF:
4. Productivity: Many report higher levels of focus, sustained levels of energy, and ultimately, higher levels of productivity while fasting. This sounded like a great ‘extra’, so I wanted to test this.
5. Repair / Inflammation Reduction: IF is said to lead to autophagy (It’s the coolest trick our bodies have up their sleeve. So much so, that the guy who discovered it, got a Nobel Prize! Read about it here). And autophagy, ideally should lead to perceivable (if not visible) healing. I didn’t know how this would manifest, but I was open and listening.
There are many, many other claimed benefits, from reducing the possibility of Alzheimer’s to curing cancer. None of these, fortunately, can I test for.
So, it was with these goals that I started IF 6 weeks ago. This is what my schedule has been, ever since:
- I eat from 1pm to 9pm. Then I fast for the next 16 hours. And I do Yoga in the morning, on an empty stomach.
- I eat about 1500Kcal everyday.
- I’ve made a conscious choice to reduce my protein intake. So from the 100gm+ protein I was eating during my bulking phase, I’m down to about 60gm. Which, as per popular science, might be low for even muscle maintenance, but I want to give it a shot. Because frankly, it feels good. (More on this in a later post)
- With that much protein, it’s clear that a decent portion of my calories come from Carbs and Fats. Frankly, with IF, I’ve stopped keeping track of exact macros. I just ensure I’m under my calorie-limit and then focus on listening to my body.
- On Weekends I eat normal. And then I lift weights.
- When I say normal, I mean 3 full meals and one snack in the evening with coffee. That’s usually about 2000 kcal.
- I allow for indulgences too. So some cake, a few cookies with the coffee, the occasional dessert, are not unheard of :)
- Supplements: I used to consumer BCAA during my workout. I’ve stopped that. I used to have a scoop of Whey right after my workout. I rarely do that now.
So that’s the schedule. As you’d notice, the focus is entirely repair and recovery. No (physical) growth agenda. No ramming my digestive system with protein. Just Yoga + IF + maintenance-level weight-training. And a lot of listening to and observing my body.
And here’s what it’s done for me, in 6 weeks:
Belly Fat Loss
A year ago, I stopped measuring Body Fat using the BIA machines that most gyms have. Because, well, they’re just not accurate. At all.
Within a week, two different machines reported my BF as 14% and 20%. And don’t even get me started on intra day variations and variations by body-type.
So I went back to the old-school measure. The mirror. And I’m mildly disappointed to report that IF hasn’t moved the needle much for me.
Just to be clear, we’re talking about going from 14–15% body fat to 11–12%. That’s bloody hard. Especially when the fat you’re trying to lose is age-old, stubborn belly fat that you’ve had for years.
So don’t take this as a verdict on IF’s ability to make you lose weight. I am fairly confident that IF is a great weight-loss aid. Just that for the tough task that I’d set it, it didn’t reap any significant results.
Workouts & Strength
Another area of mild disappointment. I’d read about how IF wouldn’t lead to any muscle or strength loss. About how it aids the production of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) and actually aids muscle growth.
But alas, I’ve lost strength. As measured by the highest weight I can pick across exercises. I’d say there’s been a 10–15% reduction.
Imp Disclaimer: I did, alongwith IF, reduce the focus on weight-training. Yoga has taken precedence the last few months (with some amazing results that I shall write about soon). So the strength reduction, in part, might be due to my own exercise regime.
But it’s clear that building strength on IF is tough. Atleast for me. Maintenance though, might be possible, if one keeps the same routine.
So why are we doing this again?
Having, for the first time, written down these observations, I’m forced to wonder what’s the point of it all?
Why am I continuing to do IF?
It’s a good question. It really doesn’t seem like a good deal. And yet, I find something inside me vehemently resisting the idea or giving it up. Why?
I think the answer lies in how IF makes me feel. Let me try and decode this feeling. More for me, than anyone else.
This is a definite thumbs up.
After the initial few days of getting IF adapted, my productivity during fasting times has just shot up dramatically.
I’m a lot more focussed. I make work-lists and actually get through them. I work non-stop, without feeling the need for a break. And, here’s the crazy thing, I also need lesser coffee!
Yes, I don’t need as much coffee as I used to.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know about my love for coffee. And I express that love, atleast thrice every day. If not more.
In the initial days of IF, I used black coffee as a tool to help me get through the fasting period. But over time, my need for that mid-fasting coffee, or even a third coffee during the day, had significantly gone down.
Interestingly, on weekends, when I’m eating normal, I still need my 3 coffees.
This is another thumbs up.
When I stared, I didn’t know how ‘repair’ would manifest. Turns out, it’s my digestive system that’s showing the first signs.
I feel a lot lighter (and hence more energetic) throughout the day. All the gas-troubles I used to have in the 100gm+ protein days are gone. There’s no acidity. No uneasiness. And interestingly, I sleep better too!
Also, my chronic mid-back pain (due to Scheuermann’s), has reduced drastically. This, in no small part, is due to Yoga. But IF’s contribution to this can’t entirely be ruled out.
And finally, the biggest reason why I think I’ll be doing IF forever, is because I so easily can.
I’ve always maintained that the best diet is the one you can keep doing. One that doesn’t feel like an intervention. Like a huge effort that you’ve somehow gathered the will power to execute for 3 months, but no more.
IF is so awesome because it’s so doable.
First of all, it’s a binary decision. You’re either eating or you’re not. There’s no indecision.
There’s no constant decision-making either. You’re not spending your (limited) will power trying to keep every meal under check. Which is so so hard. You were a good girl for two meals and you felt like rewarding yourself at the third. Poof, all gains lost.
Over-time, your friends and family also come to know — ‘he is not eating right now’. So the bribes and lures (Want a bite of chocolate? One lick of an ice-cream never hurt no one!) just stop. Because, well, he isn’t eating.
And finally, while it might not be as short-term effective as Keto, it is not as impossibly strict either.
You break Keto once, you eat more than your approved quota of carbs once, and all your efforts of getting into ketosis are gone. It’ll take you another few days to get back. Not to mention, all the insanely tough meal planning that Keto needs. That diet is a full-time job.
IF, on the other hand, is a lot more accommodating. Because it’s a lot more natural.
You’ve been on IF for 3 days and feel like a break? Go for it.
You don’t have time to make egg-white omelettes with bacon and almond-flour bread. Good, you’re normal. Eat normal. IF doesn’t judge.
I’ve spent all my life counting calories. It’s the single most powerful weapon, in my opinion, for sustained weight loss. Until you know what and how much you’re eating, and until that number isn’t below your calorie quota, you WILL NOT lose weight. Keto, Paleo etc be damned.
And IF, is the easiest, most implementable tool I’ve ever found, to help you keep those calories under-check.
I now plan to take IF to the next level.
Until now, I wasn’t doing weight-training while fasting. I was allowing my body to get fat-adapted. It’s had enough time now. So I’ll start now.
Also, I intend to push my fasting window. 16/8 seems easy now. I think I’ll try a few 24 hour fasts now. Maybe once a week. And build from there.
We’ve only just gotten started at this! I’ll be back with what more I learn, in another 6 weeks. Ciao!
Originally published at FIT SHIT.