A couple of months ago I realized that I had a big race coming up – the Ragnar SoCal ULTRA, to be specific – and concurrently realized I’d done barely any real running training toward that goal. Add to that the fact that I was hovering around 5 pounds heavier than my driver’s license weight, and you can imagine I was motivated to do something about it.
There are three distinct ways I’ve successfully lost weight in the past. One is clean eating, the likes of which I detailed in my ROCKtober and GOALvember posts from late last year. A second was a short but notable period of my early twenties where I began taking a diet pill that has since been pulled from the market for being highly dangerous (and did I mention I was highly stupid in my early twenties? Weren’t we all?).
The third way I first tried about a year and a half ago, called intermittent fasting (IF). There are many different ways to try IF, and some strategies work better depending on your lifestyle, preferences, activity level, and general habits. Some of the main ways to do it are as follows:
The eight-hour diet. This is the method I use, which I find the easiest. Basically, you choose which eight hours of the day in which to “feed” – and fast the remaining sixteen. For my lifestyle, I allow beverages during the fast, including coconut water, soymilk lattes, and yes, beer and wine, but abstain from eating actual food outside the feeding hours (which for me are typically 11-7, but vary based on my dinner plans and workouts).
The 24-hour fast. One day per week, abstain from eating. Yep, that’s it. Give your body a day without food, then return to normal (presumably healthy) eating habits. Most people like to time the fast to coincide with the greatest number of sleeping hours, starting after dinner one and breaking fast with a slightly later dinner the next day.
One and done. Also known as the “warrior diet,” this mimics the great hunters’ feasts of days gone by and requires the dieter to eat one (GIANT!) meal per night – and that’s it. The timing and composition of the meal is more crucial here since it’s a one-time shot, so be prepared to focus on multiple servings of veggies, lots of protein, and a big dose of fat.
Fast cycling. Combining elements of a few other IF methods, this one allows one complete and utter cheat day (woot!) along with a 36-hour fasting period (not-so-woot), plus another 4.5 days of regular clean eating (low-carb, high-protein, and lots of produce). Supplements are also a focus of this program, especially during the 36-hour fast.
Day-on, day-off. Also called alternate-day fasting, this variation alternates high-calorie or “normal” days (2000-2500 calories) with low-calorie or “fasting” days (400-500 calories). The idea is that reducing calories on the fasting days actually provides health benefits similar to eating less on a daily basis, even if the foods are not clean.
I’m sure there are lots of way to do it, but as with exercise, the two most crucial points are consistency and adherence. If you fast one day, binge the next, don’t eat for two days, and then have a couple normal days, your body gets confused. What’s important in IF is choosing a strategy, planning for it, and sticking to it – which, again like exercise, is where most people fall short.
My strategy is pretty sound and it definitely works for me – I’ve lost 15 pounds over the past two months, 19 pounds overall since my highest weight reached here in Singapore, and I have more energy, better sleep, a more efficient digestive system, clearer skin, and my body fat is at 16 percent – all because of IF. I am also running some of my fastest miles (but here, I’d definitely credit the training rather than the IF) and feeling stronger than ever during workouts.
So what exactly does a day in the life of a semi-strict IF’er look like? Here’s mine:
- Wake up between 5:30-6:30. Drink a bottle of water or coconut water, depending on how “festive” a night I had prior
- Go about my morning business, which is either a starvation run, teaching group exercise class, or training clients
- Grab a venti soy latte around 9:30-10am and bask in its blissful deliciousness
- Eat lunch between 11-11:30, consisting of a can of water-packed tuna mixed with Greek yogurt (3 days per week) or a good part of a rotisserie chicken (4 days per week) and dou miou or salad
- Take a 30-minute nap around 2pm to reset and recharge
- Wake up and grab my fave snack, hummus and crackers, and a couple squares of my favorite Vietnamese dark chocolate, Marou
- Make dinner around 6pm, focusing on whatever is healthy (like salmon and a sweet potato) or whatever is delicious (noodles! rice!) depending on whether I’m headed out drinking that night – either way, finishing up before 7pm
- Either go to bed around 10pm like a wonderful and responsible human being, or:
- Go out, enjoy 2-4 beers or glasses of wine, and feel no guilt.
Some of the benefits of this lifestyle for me are the fact that I can still enjoy normal food in normal amounts (my days total between 1500-1800 calories) and never feel lightheaded or hangry like I might with other diets (like juice cleanses). I have my soy latte toward the end of the fast, when the hunger is most urgent, and it provides the “bump” I need to get through to lunch, at which point I bask in the fact that I have eight hours of glorious eating ahead of me.
Moreover, when I need the fuel the most – during the day, when I’m active – it’s there, and then my calorie intake wanes as my body prepares to shut down for sleep – just as nature intended. Also, after not eating for 16 hours, you really have an acute understanding of what biological hunger symptoms feel like – and it has helped me kick the joint habits of a) boredom eating and b) drunk eating without feeling deprived or frustrated.
I’m not a doctor, and I’m sure as heck not a dietitian (although both groups agree that there are myriad health benefits to IF), which is why I don’t “prescribe” IF to my clients. However, I will talk anyone’s ear off about it that will listen, because it has worked so well for me and is just about the easiest thing to maintain no matter how busy your lifestyle, since you set your own “feeding” hours and eat your own preferred foods.
So for all of you out there that have seen me recently and wondered how and why I decided to get kinda ripped all of a sudden – there’s the long form answer! I would love to hear from you if you give IF a try – or if you’re not so keen on the concept.
Would you ever fast in any capacity? What’s your preferred healthy eating strategy?