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A Self-Experiment with Intermittent Fasting, and My Lessons in Hunger vs. Appetite

Posted Oct 24 2011 1:07pm

As a health, nutrition, and fitness professional, I read about different philosophies and lifestyle (diet, workout, etc) strategies. A. Lot.

Much of the time, the only way I can recommend or suggest/educate people about new things to try is to try it on myself first. I realize that many people hear the word fasting and it makes them twitchy. Either they think it’s a bad idea (and can cite credible references to support this) or the idea of being hungry sounds just plain awful.

My experience with fasting has actually always had some good points (even though I didn’t always fast with health in mind).

The first time I fasted was when my sister died, and it was only because I couldn’t swallow anything. When I wasn’t fasting, I also wasn’t eating the healthiest foods (Lender’s bagels, McDonalds, and Carnation Instant Breakfast…oh, and Easy Mac and Diet Pepsi). It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was healthy, but I had just moved home from Boston to the land of Pizza Hut and Bar food.  The Results: I was skinny—weighing in around 104. My skin wasn’t clear though, and I had a lot of low moods (which obviously had to do with my life events too).

The second time I fasted was as a result of the Break-Up diet. I ended a relationship, moved out of his house…and had a lot of stress (although I was super empowered too so it wasn’t all bad emotionally). I was eating once a day…and mostly not healthy foods. The results? I was thin — weighing in around 111, but this wasn’t so different than before the fast because I had just completed P90X a couple months earlier (review on that coming soon too). Composition-wise, my fat % stayed about the same and my muscle density went down (I measured it with my Tanita scale that I had for work). What I noticed this time was that I actually had a lot of energy and never felt hungry.

The third generation of fasting included Juice Fasts, ranging from “juice till dinner” to 2-6 full days (I did it 4 times over 2-ish years). I always felt hungry at first, but then the “hunger” all turned to appetite, and then that diminished over time too. The most physical results I got were to “de-puff” and maybe lose a pound, and emotionally I always felt more balanced (no afternoon blahs). On day 3 of the 6-day juice fast I felt so euphoric I was convinced I could save the world. I’m not kidding…it was that amazing. I actually started to get nervous that I’d have to eventually eat again and I didn’t want to lose that feeling. (I have lots to say about juice fasting…but that can be later too.)

Now, I’m fasting intermittently because I’ve picked through all those memories plus many resources (and some limited research studies). I want to document it this time—and see how I really feel in terms of energy, hunger, appetite, and body composition.

Currently, my diet is 100% grain-free, and since the results have been wonderful from this, I have no intention of eating grains again (ever). I don’t miss them, and you can read more about that here . My diet is approximately 10-20% carbs, 40-50% fat, and 20-40% protein (depending on the day). My sugar intake is below 20g per day.

I work at home—so I am around (or have access to) food all day long. Emotions tend to make me think I need to eat (all emotions, good and bad). This isn’t hunger—it’s appetite. Appetite is much stronger than hunger for me as a motivator to eat. I don’t enjoy feelings of restriction (really, it makes me crazy…and binge-y). I don’t enjoy craving foods and feeling unsatisfied (which is what a higher carb diet causes for me).

I’ll refer back to one of my new favorite references here, and promise I’ll also talk food details soon (i.e. how to feel satisfied and cut cravings and restriction)—Catherine Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition (along with a book called Nourishing Traditions, and a few aspects of Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint).  I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails asking questions about what I’m eating now, I will be addressing all of them here!

This weekend, I practiced my Intermittent Fasting, and it was pretty easy because I had yoga teacher training all weekend. The only thing I’m changing at this point is that I’m eating during the second half of the day and not in the first. I’m taking a 16-hour fast / 8-hour food approach (but I know the 8-hours will be condensed on most days just because of how I eat).

Here’s a sample day:

7-10am – 1-2 cups of coffee with 2tbsp organic whole milk in each

10am-12pm – water, tea (optional green powder added to water…not sure if I’ll do this)

12pm – workout (workouts happen at other times too, but 12pm workout is more intense)

1pm – meal (content depends on intensity of workout)

3-5pm – snack/meal

5-8pm – optional snack (I don’t anticipate needing this, but it would include a glass of wine if I wanted that, etc.)

I’m going to track my intake at sparkpeople.com at least for this week, and I’m also going to take notes of when I feel hunger and appetite…and how “full” I feel after I eat and at the end of the day. I’m going to track my weight, hydration, and body fat as well, but I may just make general statements about that rather than posting my “stats.”

Why fast? 

Well, it’s an experiment. I want to see what happens. I also believe that the body can heal itself and work on maintenance (instead) of digestion if a person flips the fast:eat ratio the other direction. It’s not calorie-restriction! I read some interesting information about Intermittent Fasting on the Precision Nutrition website, and then I’ve integrated it with my lifestyle and tailored it to fit what I want/need.

Rather than fasting for day(s) at a time, I like the idea of doing a micro-fast everyday (in a healthy way—not just in a “skipping breakfast” way).

I’ll leave you with just a couple pics…

A great after-intense-workout snack for me: higher in carbs (7g per cup), and also good quality protein. What is it? Greek yogurt with stevia and peanut flour.

This guy spent the night on Saturday--we fished (inside) and had a great time. He hates the way I make scrambled eggs, and I keep trying to make them "better" but I have no idea how... We also talked about how Camo (his dog that got hit by a car last week) is now in heaven with his Mom--and his Mom loved dogs so we know they're taking care of each other. Turns out, Jen's dog was put to sleep last week too (she was 15 and only didn't die of a broken heart 8 years ago when Jen died because she went to her "vacation home" to live with some grandparents...)

 

I'm not into Halloween at all...but somehow I'm dressing up this year and we took Matthew to the Pumpkin Walk (1/2 a mile of the Ontario Pathway lined with 2000 lit up jack-o-lanterns!)...I'll admit that was cool.

What do you think? Would you try intermittent fasting? Have you tried any types of fasting?

Do you distinguish between your hunger and appetite?

Are you interested in reading about how this goes for me?

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