The very word “fasting” is enough to draw shudders down the backs of the health-conscious, who have been told eating small meals frequently is the best approach to fitness and weight management. Fasting is supposed to make us get cravings, slow down our metabolism, reduce muscle mass, and generally make us un-pretty, hangry and un-focused, right? But recent studies have suggested exactly the opposite, that alternating between “fasting” days and “feasting” days leads to dramatic weight loss, fat loss, and increased energy. Intermittent fasting (IF) has been around for decades, but the recent surge in its popularity is thanks to one Dr. Michael Mosley, the BBC medical correspondent called the Dr. Sanjay Gupta of the UK (sounds credible to me!).
Through experimentation on his own body, Dr. Mosley found that 5:2 ratio of feasting : fasting days was sustainable yet effective–and in the process lost 20 lbs, and restored his glucose, cholesterol, and body fat levels to normal. His method is probably the most well-known of the various IF systems out there, though quite discouraging to hear. On fasting days, you are allowed two small meals of 250-300 calories, for a total daily intake of 500 for women, and 600 for men.
I wasn’t about to follow Dr. Mosley’s method for various reasons. One, I think counting calories sends the wrong message to our readers. At PD we’ve always maintained that calorie isn’t equal to a calorie, so to now be counting them felt wrong and confusing. Also, I wasn’t trying to lose a substantial amount of weight, but wanting to see if I may feel a bit more spring-ready, lighter, and have more energy.
And finally, I’ve actually been following a rough pattern of IF-style eating for the past several months, so I wanted to simply expand on my own system. Here’s how it all started: 2-3 days a week, I’m out all day teaching Pure Barre, and I prefer to teach on an empty stomach. Even in between classes when I could reasonably eat a lunch or a snack, I have no appetite, probably because I’m amped up from being active. On these days, I eat a Lara bar on my way to work, around 7:00 a.m…and then I don’t eat anything besides water until 9 p.m. Once I come home though, I eat a pretty big meal. Some days it might be a big bowl of vegan pasta, or (in a pinch) aloo gobi jeera from the best Indian restaurant in NYC, which happens to be around the corner from my apt. 🙂
For the past week I’ve been consciously alternating between fasting and regular eating days, with fasting days being about 20-50% of what I eat on regular days. Read on for what I found out!
Definitely a “feast” day: I have eaten about 1.5 times the amount of food I normally do. Normal breakfast (Lara bar, a decaf soy latte) but then I went on to make this creamy vegan pasta with broccoli for lunch before yoga class. Then because I thought I was having dinner alone, went to my favorite cafe Silvana and had a hummus mushrooms with 2 glasses of wine (#TGIF). And then when I came home, my boyfriend surprised me with a vegan BLT sandwich and a chocolate cupcake from Terri in Flatiron. Dinner #2. And yes I ate it all!!! (Don’t judge). Glad for my “fasting” day on the morrow.
My boyfriend was gone the entire day, and I taught in the morning, which made fasting a breeze. I grabbed a Lara bar before barre, and came home by 2:30 p.m. I made a grapefruit ginger smoothie–so refreshing, and filling! I was pleasantly surprised by how full I felt–until an hour later, when I was absolutely starving. I made a cup of miso soup with seaweed–just boiled water and a tiny bit of seaweed, and a teaspoon of miso and sprinkle of nutritional yeast. That warmed me up and held me over while doing taxes, cleaning the apt–so full of focused, productive energy! I ate another grapefruit, a “Healthy Fasting” tea from Yogi, and yet another cup of miso soup before bed, feeling either lucid or slightly edgy from hunger.
My eyes opened quickly from that slight edge of hunger carried over from previous day. Yet I didn’t feel ravenous, and breakfast (after a long run in snowy Central Park) was normal: a Vega shake with banana and almond milk. I ended up eating almost exactly what I always do on Sundays–hummus and crackers for late afternoon snack, and a big vegan minestrone for dinner. It was Downton Abbey finale (love Mary’s new love interest!) and a great night overall.
I had a morning work session at my cafe with a decaf Americano, then grabbed a Lara bar on the way to Pure Barre. I always have a ton of energy all throughout my classes. But by the time I got off the train at around 8:30 p.m., I was starving and weak. I stopped by vegan takeout place in Harlem called Uptown Juice and bought a spinach cheeze roll, which I split with my boyfriend at home. I also made a big pot of vegan pasta (though containing more vegetables and rather less actual pasta) and ate until my stomach actually hurt. Oops.
In the morning, another Americano, and lunch was another of those same pasta things with broccoli and tahini, followed by same snack of grapefruit. I’m so boring generally. I did a fitness tutorial and kept pounding through work until dinner, which was brown rice pilaf with chickpeas and spinach. I ate a normal amount–until I’m full but not uncomfortable.
Lara bar at 7 a.m. and then I taught 3 classes, and finally took a class. Famished after the last class, on my way home around 6:30 p.m. I bought Lenny and Larry’s chocolate chip protein cookie, and that held me over until dinner: brown rice with carrot ginger dressing, black beans, kale, and tofu. Absolutely delicious! Mmm I love macro dinner nights.
Since I’ve been consciously doing IF in the past week, I *do* feel definitely lighter and especially less bloated around my midsection–a surprising fact perhaps, given how much I do eat when the occasion calls. The fasting intervals were also a great chance to examine my sweet tooth and actually reach for other soothing solutions or even just water, before auto-piloting to chocolate. I also didn’t really suffer from hunger, unlike when I do straight 3-4 day cleanses. Your mood stays stable and your energy levels high, especially if you only reduce your “fasting” day intake to around 50% of your normal days. I also realized I actually enjoy feeling hungry occasionally when my body feels like it can reset, instead of just constantly feeding it. For me, this is an extension of intuitive eating I’ve been practicing for years now: when I’m active and not feeling as much hunger, I don’t eat. When I’m in relax mode and do have appetite, I eat.
I would definitely continue this as much as it feels natural to my swing of things–I especially enjoyed having a chance to rest my digestion on Saturday, which made me feel better heading into the new week. Finally, getting a quick burst of energy through miso broth and herbal tea is something I’ve forgotten for a long time–a habit I’ll gladly pick up again.
Would you try intermittent fasting? Do you eat the same way every day, or differently according to days of the week?
More Diet stories: I Tried the Goop Cleanse
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling