Like most people, I became interested in fasting to lose weight. More specifically, to lose TONS of weight as QUICKLY as possible! Sound familiar?
However, I soon learned that my What IF Diet Plan had nothing to do with losing weight, or any of the other physical benefits of fasting. Instead, my What IF Diet Plan was about creating an effective, healthy, and worry-free way of eating that I could fit into my lifestyle. For years, I was used to eating several times throughout the day, from morning to late night. Therefore, when I dove head-first into fasting for 16 hours straight, I was only setting myself up for failure.
I have since learned that people who try fasting for extended periods of time without prior practice often partake in something called compensatory eating. Compensatory eating happens when two things occur:
- Your body believes that you have encountered a famine and you need to eat more to store excess calories as energy that can be used later, (AKA glycogen and body fat.)
- Your brain believes that since you have been “good” all day, you “deserve” to eat more to compensate for the calories that you missed out on throughout the day.
While both of these mind-body processes are meant to help us survive and thrive, they are both misguided and not fruitful to our modern-day lifestyles..most certainly not mine. Plus, while compensatory eating is temporary and usually subsides after a few weeks (or months) of consistent intermittent fasting, it can lead to weight-gain and feeling sluggish and bloated at end of one’s eating window. While I know that some weight-gain is not a bad thing, it’s definitely discouraging and made me feel worse off than before! This is probably the most common reason that people, myself included, give up on intermittent fasting.
To circumvent this cycle of white-knuckle fasting and compensatory eating, I decided to focus on maintaining 12-hour fasting and eating windows for at least 2 weeks. At this point, I was simply training my mind and body to ignore just some of the usual hunger cues, and re-learn what real hunger and energy felt like. Was I really hungry for a scrambled eggs with spinach and bacon at 7:30 a.m. in the morning? Did eating that early really provide me a “boost” of energy to get through the day? Would it really kill me or my metabolism to push my breakfast back by a couple of hours?
For the first week or so, my mind and body screamed “YES! You’re killin’ me Smalls!” But, by week three, I was surprised to notice that my hunger cues had shifted along with my new eating 12-hour eating window. Eventually, I caught myself wondering why ever bothered eating so early in the first place. I also noticed that ignoring minor hunger cues, such as mild stomach growling, became easier to ignore. Many times I found myself working through my newly scheduled breakfast time because I was so mentally focused on my work.
It was at this point that I decided to start experimenting with shrinking my eating window by just a couple of hours to see how that felt. So I decided to reduce my eating window to 9-10 hours long. I decided to achieve a smaller eating window by “closing” my window by 7 p.m., since eating earlier in the day was the “healthier” option by all common dietary standards.
Boy, did I still have a lot to learn…