I grew up in a house where activities were planned around food. Every day had three scheduled meals with snacks in between. You didn’t skip a meal unless someone was sponsoring you.
By contrast, my wife’s family eat when they remember. Meals are either slotted around activities or they don’t happen at all. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve politely enquired (at 2pm) if lunch is on the agenda. My interest in regular eating became a running joke and the source of much eye-rolling. They seemed to think I was the crazy one for wanting to eat regularly.
I couldn’t understand how they could skip meals so easily. I would feel faint and unwell if I went more than an hour past my normal eating time. Soon after that I would develop a terrible low-blood-sugar temper and lose all patience with the world. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry.
As I looked around I began to notice other people falling into one camp or the other. My brother-in-law got a new girlfriend and I was delighted to discover she was a steadfast meal-eater like me. She looked horrified on the first day where we breezed past lunch time. Meanwhile, I realised there were people at work who just weren’t bothered by food. I’d hear conversations about being “too busy to eat”, which was a phrase I simply didn’t understand.
This stark difference in eating patterns fascinated me, so in the spirit of scientific exploration I decided to try intermittent fasting to see if I could handle longer periods of time without food.
Beginning the diet
I decided to adopt a daily practice where I would restrict eating to an eight-hour window each day. In practice this meant skipping breakfast and eating my first meal around 12pm. I could then eat normally for the rest of the day, provided I stopped by 8pm.
Once you’re over thirty, all new things have to begin patiently, so I eased myself in to ensure I wouldn’t fall over and die. Over a period of three weeks I pushed my breakfast back from 7am to 11am. At no stage was this easy – I was always acutely aware of my hunger and really looking forward to breakfast when it arrived. Eventually I made the leap and removed breakfast entirely, bringing my lunch forward to 12pm (and eating like a starving prisoner).
Weeks passed and it seemed to get no easier. But then I noticed a gradual shift occurring. Even though my mealtimes weren’t changing any more, my hunger patterns were slowly shifting to match. I was no longer ravenous at 10am. I was starting to forget about having breakfast. I couldn’t believe it.
I found it much easier to stick with this eating pattern than any other diet I’ve tried before. I suppose this is because intermittent fasting is about changing habits, rather than focusing on “good” and “bad” foods. It feels like a way of life rather than a short term deprivation just to get results in the mirror.
I was continuing to exercise a few times per week. It was interesting to note the exercise wasn’t affected by any of this hunger/eating malarkey.
Once I started running, I soon forgot about whether I was hungry or not and just enjoyed the feeling of an empty stomach. Even while I was struggling to adjust to the new meal timings, my energy levels for runs were the same as before.
On one occasion, I ate breakfast (I can’t remember why) and went for a run around 10am. I felt so sluggish and lacking in energy, even though it was two hours since I ate. I guess my body was still digesting the food and not ready to bosh out a 5k. This experienced cemented my love of running on empty.
Six months later
Flash forward to today and I’m still following an intermittent fasting pattern almost every day. Apart from water, I only consume black coffee (without sugar) until around 12pm, when I get stuck into some sandwiches with a gusto.
My tolerance for going without food is light-years better than it was. I no longer get physical symptoms of any note when I’m stretching myself a little further than usual. That being said, I’m still aware that I’m not having breakfast. I suppose there’s thirty years of conditioning I’m trying to undo.
A note on weight loss
I’ve not mentioned weight until now, because I started this diet for other reasons. I was aiming to conquer my fear of hunger whilst tapping into the supposed health benefits of spending more time in a fasted state.
My weight has remained fairly constant, although I’m probably a little slimmer when I’m keeping to the practice particularly strictly. I’ve had some periods of pretty heavy eating (over Christmas, for example) and the fasting seems to have prevented me piling on any pounds.
All-in-all, it seems a manageable way to control weight, without having to count calories or get particularly fussy about food choices.