About a year ago when the first national lockdown was announced a month after I had turned 35, and I was coming round to the idea of sitting at a desk for the next few weeks (what little I knew…), I read a couple of articles about how one’s metabolism can start slowing down around about the middle of the thirties. I knew I wanted to nip in the bud any potential mid-life spread.
I started looking around for strategies that would work for me, a typically hungry, regularly exercising, big-eater.
I needed something that wouldn’t require too much will-power to maintain, would be convenient for myself stick to and wouldn’t impose any extra strain on family catering arrangements, i.e. I didn’t want to be having separate meals cooked to suit my requirements.
I happened upon fasting after a friend told me about it, about how he had used it a few times. He recommended that I listen to the Peter Attia podcast, which I did. Attia is a USA-based doctor who very quickly goes well into the detail so if that’s what you’d like to hear, listen to this episode for a good summary, or read this good summary with further links for more detail on his website.
TRF vs IF: A short note on terminology. Peter Attia is fairly advanced with his fasting, including doing a 3 day water-only fast every month. This is well beyond what I think I will ever attempt as it requires the faster to very carefully control their activities and diary for that period. As someone who fasts for such long periods, Attia doesn’t describe describe anything less than 24 hours off food as Intermittent Fasting. He describes what I do, fasting for periods shorter than 24 hours, as Time Restricted Feeding. It’s just differing terminology but best to clarify in case you dig into his site and note the apparent inconsistency.
What Are The Main Benefits?
- In limiting the duration within which I eat, I am naturally going to consume fewer calories. Less calories in, less body fat carried*.
- Ketosis. When the body doesn’t have food to burn it turns to other energy sources, mainly fat, for energy. By dipping into this routinely I light up this fat burning process and get my body used to burning fat for energy, which is very efficient and further supports the maintenance of healthy weight.
- Autophagy. This is a major benefit which comes from not consuming calories for extended periods. When the body isn’t supplied with calories, it eventually goes into a deep cleaning process, burning dead cells and fixing broken ones. This is called autophagy. Benefits of autophagy are reported to include reducing risks of a number of illnesses including cancer and type II diabetes.
* There are exceptions to this, especially if one isn’t taking regular exercise but broadly speaking it’s true and good enough for me.
What do I do?
Having read what I could and tried out some routines, I have settled now on the following:
- The most concise way to put it is that from ~1830 Sunday until 13:00 Friday, I only consume calories between 13:00 and 18:30.
- I eat whenever I want from Friday lunchtime until Sunday dinner, so that I can eat evening tele snacks on Friday & Saturday nights and have family breakfasts on Saturday & Sunday.
Other reasons why I Fast Intermittently
- It feels good. The sense of lightness gives me a feeling of energy.
- It’s not as difficult as it sounds as I am busy in lessons where food is not conveniently available. I am really fortunate in this regard as my environment almost perfectly supports the habit.
- My weight is perfectly in check, if anything I only just about keep it up.
- When I eat, I can eat as much as I like, albeit that I naturally tend to choose healthier options apart from on Cheat Day. By ‘healthier options’ I mean vegetarian options, nuts, seeds and fruit.
- Another benefit which is a positive outcome, although not a reason to do it in itself, is that by not eating for longer, I save myself the time associated with eating.
How do I do it?
- When I started out, I went from evening meal time, about 18:30, to school break-time at 11:00 when I had a couple of bits of fruit. So this was ‘17:7’. When I got used to that I decided to extend it to my first calories now being at 13:00 and I’m on 19:5.
- Was I hungry initially? You bet! And this is my number 1 tip for successful Intermittent Fasting: I replaced eating during the 16 hours off with a zero-calorie alternative. There are a number of zero-calorie drinks that won’t ‘break the fast‘ and no, Pepsi Max isn’t one of them. Coffee and most teas are fine as long as milk isn’t added. Water’s obviously fine. For me, Aldi’s lemon and ginger tea is the perfect appetite suppressant. A little spice and loads of flavour. So I went through a lot of it about a year ago and still drink it now, although am not as reliant on it for appetite suppression.
- I do still tend to exercise during my fasts without impact. Very occasionally if I’ve gone for a longer run I’ll feel slightly light-headed. I won’t risk it (I really don’t want to black-out in front of a class full of students!) and will just eat a healthy breakfast.
I use an app to track my fasting time. There are a few out there but Fastic is what I use. You can download Fastic here and if you do, remember to add me as a ‘Fasting Buddy’. It will track your fasting time for free and offer coaching and more guidance on the paid version, which is about £25 per year.
So we’re all getting older and the metabolisms are slowing. We might need to be prepared to try new things and if you’re looking for a scientifically evidenced method by which to make and keep yourself healthier, I think you can do worse than to give Intermittent Fasting a try. Just start slow….
Note: There are a number of groups of people who really shouldn’t try IF, for example, breastfeeding Mothers and children amongst other. The FAQs section of the Fastic site is worth a read in this regard.