(1/2) I tried intermittent fasting for over a year. Benefits, downsides & my mistakes

(1/2) I tried intermittent fasting for over a year. Benefits, downsides & my mistakes

Can intermittent fasting really improve your health, performance and help lose weight? Or can it have the opposite effect? I tried it for 1.5 years and made lots of mistakes along the way. Here are my pros and cons.

Two years ago, I was studying, working and training all at the same time. Long shifts at shitty part-time jobs were completely destroying my eating patterns. On breaks in the middle of the night we would stuff ourselves with whatever was served – usually whatever was left in the restaurant that day. It wasn’t horrible food, but it wasn’t healthy either and when you have 15 minutes to eat after hours of starving, you can never really control yourself. It wasn’t even possible to bring your own meal, as many places lock your things away in a separate room and you can only get them back at the end of the shift.

Such eating patterns were making me feel horrible and sick. When you don’t sleep much, and work most of the time it’s very difficult to control your diet, so I had to come up with another solution. Intermittent fasting seemed ideal.

  What is intermittent fasting?Intermittent fasting is a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of fasting, with either no food or significant calorie reduction, and periods of unrestricted eating. It is promoted to change body composition through loss of fat mass and weight, and to improve markers of health that are associated with disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.” (Source) The periods of fasting may span from a few hours to days, but time-restricted feeding seems to be regime most popular among athletes. This means that you only eat during an 8-hour-long, or shorter, window every day. Depending on their preferences, some people limit this to one meal per day, six hours per day etc. Intermittent fasting also allows you to decide when during the day your feeding window is placed. Most people seem find it easier to fast in the morning and start eating later in the day or even in the evening. This depends on your training times too, as generally if you train hungry you may be hindering your progress. Intermittent fasting diets often rely on the assumption that it doesn’t matter when you eat, as long as you stick to your calorie limits.

First Attempt

Initially, I have tried intermittent fasting for a full year.

My eating window spanned from 12 am-8 pm, if I trained at noon or but most days it was from 3pm-11pm when I trained in the 6 pm class. The noon meal was a small one – usually a yoghurt with oats and fruit – since it was right before training. The 3 pm meal was a large one to fill me up after a whole day of fasting.

The First 3 Months

My part time jobs were mostly waiting staff gigs that took place in the evenings, so I used the mornings for university studies or my own projects.

It was very convenient not to worry about breakfast and get busy straight away while sipping a cup of coffee. I could concentrate better and my attention span seemed to be prolonged. Fasting made my mind clearer. My morning work sessions became much more efficient.

Because I had my last meals late in the evening, I didn’t even feel hungry early next morning. During the first half of my day I felt light and focused. It was slightly more difficult to fast later in the day.

I made sure to drink enough – water, tea or coffee, with a tiny bit of milk, but never sugar. This made it easier to refrain from eating outside the window. I was feeling good and it was easier to juggle meals and work. Apart from general well-being I didn’t notice any changes in my training performance.

While I still had little control over what was being served at work at least I wasn’t  overeating anymore. Mindless snacking during the day was eliminated too, which was saving me a lot of money.

The start was promising, but I have soon noticed some worrying changes.

  1. Naturally, I was getting very hungry towards the end of fasting periods. This resulted in increased cravings for high fat and sugar foods, which were increasingly difficult to control as I continued to eat this way. The quality of my diet slowly deteriorated.
  2. Due to the length of my fasting periods the sensation of hunger was so strong that it was difficult to stay within a healthy calorie limit once I started eating.
  3. Having all my meals in the afternoon decreased the quality of my sleep. Constantly feeling tired made it even more difficult to fast.
After eating this way for 1 year the downsides were outweighing the benefits. I felt tired and bloated. The effects of a bad diet were becoming more apparent and were reflected in my performance in training. I decided to stop. Returning to my old eating plan – small meals every three hours, allowed me to quickly get back to my level of fitness. This was my first attempt at intermittent fasting. It didn’t go very well, but as I soon found out that was due to my own mistakes. A few months later I came across an article outlining a different approach to it and this time the results are amazing! More on this in part 2.

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