In my last years of reading and understanding how to be healthy and fit, I ran multiple times into the strategy of intermittent fasting. Reading about intermittent fasting techniques has always been fascinating for me but I never found the mental energy to give it a try...until COVID-19 came! We all know how drastically our life and our society changed because of this pandemic issue: people have lost their job, companies have gone bankrupt and all the world is in lockdown.
On a less dramatic note, people needed to change their habits: living in their apartments 24/7, working from home, no gyms, (almost) no friends. My life had these similar challenges: I had recently left the apartment where I was living alone in the last three years to move back in sharing a flat with another colleague; the rationale was simple: I wanted to save a bit of money considering that my life as a Googler was spent almost always in the office (not only for working, don't worry!) - I was literally using the apartment only for sleeping, so it seemed reasonable to backtrack to renting just a room instead of the entire apartment.
When all companies closed their offices, my mood went really down: I decided to leave an entire apartment all for me because I was not using it and now suddenly it turns out that it would have been comfortable having it while working from home. What a coincidence. My new room was incredibly small (everything was chosen considering that I could mainly benefit from the short distance to the office) and so me and my flatmate had to re-arrange the living room to an office room with two desks. It was bad for a simple reason: I joined Google just 6 months before and all my 12-month plan of growing and benefitting of the Google office amenities completely failed. (one of the goals of the year was to go up to 85% with 10-13% of body fat and although I was on track that goal has been screwed up as well).
I had to do something to keep my mental health in good shape: I did not want to lower down my morale or turn my life as a workaholic. This is when I decided to welcome Intermittent Fasting in my life. Intermittent Fasting is a way of alternating periods of eating and fasting at regular intervals in a way that you feed your body during a shorter time frame compared to the fasting time. Typically, you would fast for 16 hours and eat during 8 hours: there are no particular restrictions on when to eat even though the most typical scenario is that you would start eating at 12:00pm and finish eating at 8:00pm.
Intermittent fasting is a very popular technique because it is meant to eventually improve your health, mindset and lifestyle. It can also eventually help you live longer.
One interesting fact that I like to say about intermittent fasting is that historically humans have always experienced long fasting time periods: when we were fighting and hunting for our food, we were well prepared in surviving without eating for many many hours and perhaps we also had enough energy to still fight.
What happens to you during intermittent fasting?
First of all, intermittent fasting drastically increases the levels of growth hormones which helps fat loss and muscle gain; on the same level of importance, the level of insulin drops drastically which helps your body in accessing stored body fat easily. There are many other advantages (triggers cellular repair process, hearth health, anti-aging...) so I would recommend watching YouTube videos and reading articles about that: it is a very interesting topic!
My experience with intermittent fasting
I decided to run into a 30-day intermittent fasting with a 16-8 rule: regularly eating from 1:00pm to 9:00pm every day and fasting for the rest of the time: on a general basis I would not force myself to eat less (even though sometimes you inevitably end up eating less because you have less time to eat).
Everything started on a monday morning and here's a first thing that perhaps goes a bit out of the rules of intermittent fasting: my mornings would start with a coffee and bit of foam milk! Milk is actually not allowed during fasting time because it eventually "contains calories" but I still did it sometimes to cheer me up since I was going to face the day without having breakfast (which is my favourite moment of the day).
First day was a bit weird: I was more focused on checking the time and checking how I was doing rather than thinking about working, but this soon changed into something that became a regular habit.
My meals during the 8 hours were still regulated by my usual techniques: plate splitting with a portion of carbs, proteins and healthy fat (usually 50-30-20). I never exaggerated or ate outside my 3-4 meals. I was quite happy and satisfied my mind attitude in following the plan and making intermittent fasting part of my routine. I guess I was able to achieve the main goal: since I had to stay home 24/7 with less sport and no gym I had to find a way to be disciplined with food (and avoid snacking all the time) and keep my mind motivated with new experiences. One little trick that helped me is that when I started to have cravings I would usually drink water or coffee and soon cravings would go away like magic.
But soon I started realizing that this was not the life I wanted. I was missing my porridge breakfast so much and I was actually doing something funny that had little or no sense: When I was getting close to my 9pm I would actually conceding myself a bit more food because I was "annoyed" by the idea that my next meal would have been in 16 hours therefore my stomach would deserve a little bit more food. This was definitely wrong because it was purely a mental bias.
So I eventually finished the entire month and I guess I can tell you that the best moment of the entire intermittent fasting experience was actually the FIRST DAY right after when I could finally have my lovely breakfast! I was so happy and grateful to have it back. This actually recalls a concept (for which I will perhaps write another article) about the joy of having something back that is simple and normal but that actually becomes very important and you appreciate it a lot just because you missed it for a while...
As if this was a technical doc, I'd like to give you my pros and cons about the intermittent fasting.
- It really helps you in being more disciplined with food and regulate your calorie
- It gives you mental stability especially in cases where you would easily have access to food at every moment of the day
- You really understand your body, you understand when you are actually hungry or not
- It helps you staying fit even when you cannot train
- It makes you realize that hunger works by peaks. Sometimes you feel very hungry, then you drink water, wait 10 minutes, and you are not hungry anymore.
- It helped me eliminate some myths that I created myself like “I can't start the day without my breakfast”.
- You learn that you don't have to be a slave of food. You can function without it even for many hours.
- (This is a personal cons...) breakfast is incredibly important, for my body and
for my mind. I missed it a lot.
- It turns out that sometimes you eat more because of the stress of knowing that you are not going to eat in the next 16 hours (as if you would find a way to suffer less)
- My body did not change that much, in one month I didn't see any change / improvement and I guess this is because I would say my life is pretty much already healthy enough
- (This is a personal cons...) I did intermittent fasting while staying home and training less. I would have some concerns in applying this technique to me when I actually need a lot of (mental and physical) energy in the morning (I usually wake up between 5.30 - 6.00 am, start working and go to the gym).
In conclusion, I don't think I would re-do intermittent fasting again, but I was happy and proud that I gave it a try.