“It’s a scientific fact that you need to eat breakfast every morning to lose weight.”
“You shouldn’t skip meals, it’s not healthy. You have to eat six small meals every day.”
These were some of the objections I raised to a nutritionist, who prescribed a three month intermittent fasting protocol, during a consultation over four years ago.
The nutritionist was adamant that intermittent fasting would solve the main problems I battled with at the time—weight gain, an unhealthy diet, constant tiredness and poor concentration, to name a few.
Even though I was skeptical, after thirty minutes of listening to the nutritionist preach about the benefits of intermittent fasting, I decided to self-experiment and give it a go.
The next day I skipped breakfast, broke my fast at 12 p.m and ate my last meal at 7 p.m. For next three months, I would adhere to this protocol like a trooper.
On the final day of the prescribed three month period, I walked into a local gym, took off my shoes and placed my two feet on a white weight scale.
I had little to no expectation for results (as a matter of fact, I didn’t keep track of my weight change throughout the three month period). Then, I watched the numbers on the scale go up and up and up, then it stopped. And I was stunned.
I had lost 22 pounds (10 kg) of weight.
Needless to say, I was elated and immediately set out to complete another three months of intermittent fasting. Those three months turned to one year, then two years and today, after four years of intermittent fasting, I’d say it has been one of the best decisions of my life.
Here are eleven good and bad lessons I’ve learned from intermittent fasting, with some insights that may be useful for you.
Good and Bad Lessons from 4 years of Intermittent Fasting
1. Intermittent fasting isn’t a ‘starvation’ diet, it’s a healthy lifestyle.
Most people I’ve shared the philosophy of intermittent fasting with, usually comment by saying, “oh yeah, I’ve done that before, you mean like starving yourself to lose weight right?!”
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet. It’s a pattern of eating. Or to be more specific, it’s a lifestyle that can be sustained for a lifetime.
And as a lifestyle, it’s very important to track and measure your progress.
I’ve personally used flexible measuring tapes to get accurate measurements of my body that scales often miss out on. Lightweight Digital Scales for tracking weight loss are also useful, just make sure to measure yourself at the same times of the day to avoid inaccurate results.
2. Listen to your body on what to eat.
One of the most common inquiries about intermittent fasting revolves around what to eat during the protocol.
From my experience, any balanced healthy meal will suffice. However, a diet similar to the ‘blue zones’ diet could help to sustain weight loss, improve mental performance and health.
The most important lesson I’ve learned about what to eat, is to listen to your body and eat according to its needs.
For example, if you feel tired and drained after eating rice or grains, you could try eating more vegetables instead. If you feel more energized after doing this, that’s your body’s way of telling you to stick to vegetables and avoid consuming high carbohydrate foods.
This is why I’m a strong advocate against a ‘fixed’ diet.
Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older, plus, eating the same meals every day increases the odds of developing food intolerance and diseases.
Thankfully, I came across this idea of ‘eating by listening to your body’ whilst reading the work of internationally renowned holistic health expert, Paul Chek—specifically, in his book How to Eat Move and Be Healthy.
The key lesson here is to consistently listen to your body and experiment with different foods for optimal health.
3. Intermittent fasting simplifies your life.
Before practicing intermittent fasting, I’d spend hours thinking about what food to buy, when to cook and prep six meals a day. This tedious routine caused inconsistency with my weight training routine and my results suffered for it.
Nowadays, my life is a lot more simple.
I eat one or two major meals a day—without obsessing over what to eat—and still make consistent progress towards achieving my health goals.
The Intermittent fasting protocol simplifies life by reducing the number of decisions you’d have to make.
4. Expect your results to slow down after a year.
During my first year of intermittent fasting, I lost a lot of weight, shed a good chunk of fat and leaned into the best shape of my life. But after my first year, my weight and fat loss reduced significantly, and the results slowed down over the years.
This makes sense since your body can only lose so much fat till it’s detrimental to your health.
Make sure to keep track of your intermittent fasting progress on a spreadsheet or a sturdy notebook, for future reference.
5. Intermittent fasting plus high intensity interval training equals rapid fat loss.
If you want to lose fat as quickly as possible, I’d recommend you introduce any form of training with high intensity.
For example, when I got started with intermittent fasting, I introduced 10 minutes of sprinting 3 times per week, plus weekly football matches.
You can choose any form of exercise i.e. swimming, skipping, jogging, and then raise the intensity till you’re gassed out after every workout.
In addition, high intensity interval training on an empty stomach further accelerates fat loss (in my experience). I’m not exactly sure about the science behind why training on a fasted state could aid fat loss, so I’d recommend you experiment with this as well.
Intuitively, it makes sense why this could work as intermittent fasting helps to restrict calorie intake, whilst the high intensity interval training burns calories. Overtime, your total daily calorie intake drops significantly and more fat is shed off your body.
6. Intermittent fasting can improve your discipline, focus and productivity.
During my fasting window, up till 1 pm on most days, I get a lot more work done than if I had breakfast when I woke up. Once I break my fast with the first meal, my energy levels tend to drop, and then I lose focus and feel lethargic.
For this reason, I’ve scheduled my most important tasks before I break my fast. This allows me to match my peak energy levels with my top priorities, resulting in higher levels of productivity.
Another observation I’ve noticed, is that the habit of fasting every day has significantly improved my discipline across the rest of my life. Once I built the habit of intermittent fasting, I developed the willpower to start new habits—eat healthy, sleep early, reading more and so on. This is the power of a keystone habit.
7. Intermittent fasting can reduce your discipline, focus and productivity.
This may appear to contradict the previous point, but if you think about it, hunger can cause irritability. In other words, when fasting it’s easy to lose focus and get agitated due to a grumbling stomach.
This is why it’s so important to listen to your body, instead of sticking to a fixed regimen.
I’ve noticed that there’s a sweet spot every day—a time period to stop your fasting window. If you break your fast too early, you’ll miss out the energy that could’ve been used to get more work done. If you break your fast too late, you’ll start to get agitated and lose focus during the day.
Every day is different, so make sure to experiment and find what works for you.
8. Intermittent fasting could make your diet worse.
Following on from my previous point, when you’re extremely hungry and break your fast, it’s easy to overeat unhealthy or nutrient empty foods.
This has been one of my biggest challenges with intermittent fasting. It takes human discipline to fast every day. But it takes superhuman discipline to fast and maintain a clean diet every day.
The reason is that when you’re fasting, your body is low on sugar and energy. It craves high carbohydrate foods with sugar as well.
Whilst you could still achieve your weight loss goals without eating a clean diet, over the long run this may be detrimental to your health.
The best way I’ve found to prevent this overeating tendency after breaking the fast is to design my environment for success and drink as much water as possible throughout the day.
9. Intermittent fasting could contribute to muscle mass loss and gain.
During my second year of intermittent fasting, I injured my lower back doing back squats and had to stay away from weights indefinitely.
So, I replaced my weight training with Pilates and stretching exercises. In addition, I started a body detox program, which involved removing high-carboydrate foods from my diet for a couple of months.
Within a couple of weeks, my muscle mass significantly reduced to the point that my clothes didn’t fit as well anymore. The detox program and intermittent fasting protocol drastically reduced my daily calorie intake, contributing to muscle loss.
Once I recovered from the injury and restarted the weight training program—whilst increasing my carbohydrate intake—within a few months, I regained my physique and regained the muscle mass.
The key lesson here is that calorie intake matters—a lot!
10. Intermittent fasting is a tool to reduce calorie intake.
Just like any newbie, during the first year of intermittent fasting, I believed that I’d discovered the magic formula to weight loss and getting lean. I would preach to everyone about how intermittent fasting was the only way to achieve their health goals, because it worked so well for me.
Over the years, as I’ve experimented with intermittent fasting, I’ve discovered that the main reason why intermittent fasting works so well for weight loss is because it helps to reduce the amount of time—and thus—the amount of food you can eat.
The less food you eat, the less calories you consume and the more weight you lose.
It’s simple maths really. There’s nothing magical about it.
People who try intermittent fasting and fail, lament that it doesn’t work. But, in most cases it’s because they didn’t track calories properly.
Intermittent fasting is simply another tool to help you to reduce calorie intake, and if you choose to overeat junk food after a long fast, you could still end up gaining more weight than weight you’d lost!
Intermittent fasting isn’t an excuse to indulge in your favorite ice cream or chocolate cookie, without a care in the world.
As long as you ensure that total calories consumed is less than what you use to move and live each day, you’ll lose weight and burn fat overtime.
11. Don’t let intermittent fasting prevent you from enjoying your life.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned during my 4 year journey of intermittent fasting, is to stop worrying about being perfect and enjoy life, regardless of progress towards my weight and fitness goals.
During the first year of intermittent fasting, I refused to break my fast outside of my eating window.
I would travel on holidays to new places, missing the experiences of eating new food from different cultures because I was “intermittent fasting.”
I often looked down on people who didn’t live as healthy a lifestyle as I did, and held fast to a rigid intermittent fasting protocol.
But over time, I’ve learned that there’s more to life than losing weight, gaining muscle and getting in shape. Sure, I still work towards achieving my health goals each day, but I don’t beat myself up if I mess up.
Sometimes, I have a meal for breakfast instead of fasting. Sometimes, I break my fast at the right time, but then, binge eat unhealthy food. At the end of the day, I can only pick myself up from where I left off.
Where To Go From Here
Intermittent fasting may or may not work for you. It’s a lifestyle change that I strongly recommend because of the many benefits it has provided to me—physically, emotionally and mentally.
By far the biggest mistake that prevents weight loss whilst intermittent fasting, is giving up too early. After only a few weeks or months, we get impatient and lose hope, slip back to old bad habits and start procrastinating on healthy good habits again.
But the few who stick to intermittent fasting routine over several months and years, lose their desired amount of weight, feel healthier, happier and better about themselves.
Ultimately, if you keep experimenting through trial and error to find what works for you and remember to enjoy the journey, everything will take care of itself.