Wonderfully clear! Thank you for a really fine contribution to the forum.
At this point, after having read part 1, you may have arrived at the conclusion that there may be some merit to intermittent fasting in the form of eating one meal a day, and are interested in how to go about it.
We ultimately want to wind up with a large interval in between meals, on the order of about 20 hours. I don't expect that the precise timing of meals matters, it is the interval that is significant. Having said that, however, I do think that it is best to aim for a large meal in the evening for a number of reasons:
- All of the studies cited in part 1 were performed on subjects observing Ramadan, which involves breaking the fast in the evening. In order not to deviate from the experimental conditions, we will try to maintain the same timing.
- It is generally accepted that during the day we tear our bodies down, while at night we effect repairs, emerging in the morning as a better version of ourselves. With this in mind, it's probably a good idea to have a ready supply of nutrients available at night due to breaking the fast in the evening.
- There is always a social component to our eating. In general, the socially expendable meals tend to be breakfast and lunch. You are far less likely to experience social pressure to eat breakfast than dinner.
- If I had to speculate as to when our hominid ancestors ate, I would suspect that they ate their principal meal around the campfire after the hunting parties had returned with the days catch.
- Eating at night gives insulin levels a chance to stabilize post meal. This is important if your meal is more insulinogenic than you thought. In such cases, the resulting blood sugar drop would make you hungry and more likely to eat if your meal was early in the day. If you are asleep, this isn't an issue. By the time you wake, insulin has stabilized, FFA release from adipose tissues is underway, and you wake up not feeling hungry.
When I was six years old, I had my first and, as it turned out, my last swimming lesson. The pedagogical method employed by the swimming instructor was rather rudimentary and entailed walking my father and myself from one end of the swimming pool to the other, and as we approached the deep end, he suddenly grabbed me from behind and hurled me into the middle of it. By the time my father emerged from his state of shock, my frantic paddling had managed to get me close enough to the edge of the pool to enable me to haul myself out. And that was the last of swimming lessons for me. Were it not for this experience, I might have turned into a Michael Phelps. The world will never know.
We will attempt to avoid this type of approach as we undertake intermittent fasting so we will ease into it in order to give you a chance to become accustomed to eating this way. To this end, we are not going to concern ourselves with caloric content of meals, or macro-nutrient ratios, or any specific menus. Rather, we will focus on gradually increasing the interval between our last meal of the day and the first. We will simply push back breakfast by half an hour a week. Assuming that you generally eat at 7:00 AM, when you start your IF journey, you will initially just have breakfast at 7:30. The following week, breakfast comes at 8:00 and so on. Eventually, we will close in on lunch time. At that point, lunch is basically going to become brunch, since I doubt that you will be able to eat breakfast at 11:30, followed by lunch at noon. This process will take 10 weeks, assuming that you normally have breakfast at 7:00 and lunch at 12:00. We will continue in a similar manner, moving brunch back 30 minutes a week until brunch and dinner coalesce into one meal. For me, that meal tends to happen around 5:00 to 6:00 PM.
While we are fasting, no caloric beverages are to be consumed. If you drink coffee, cream is fine, just keep it within reason. Lattes, I'm afraid, are out of the question ( this has been my biggest regret ). I also find that drinking sparkling water throughout the day helps as the water has a certain degree of flavour to it.
The Madness (or, what you can expect)
- You will be hungry
Realistically, you can expect to feel somewhat hungry, or at the very least, experience sensations that you interpret as hunger. Walking around with an empty stomach is an unusual state for most of us, and we have a developed certain misleading associations with that. For me, I realize that I associated the feeling of an empty stomach with a need to eat. This need to eat was largely psychological, not physiological as I found myself thinking that I should really eat something, while my body was chugging along perfectly fine. The only advice I can offer here is to simply pay attention to the sensations you experience and attempt to differentiate true physiological hunger from hunger formed of habit ( i.e. "it's time to eat" ). Overall, however, the hunger is anything but unbearable, and the meal that breaks your fast in the evening is very gratifying.
- You will have heightened food awareness
Because you are exerting a conscious effort to not eat, you will become rather sensitive to the cultural messages to eat. These messages are all around us, constantly. It is particularly bad if you watch commercial TV, where every 15 minutes you are bombarded with ads, many of which are specifically aimed at trying to convince you not just to eat, but to eat a particular manufacturer's interpretation of food. In addition, because there is a large social element to sharing food, many media products devote at least some time to depicting people eating. Initially, this may bother you, but over time, this will fade. I am at the point now that I can prepare food for others in the middle of a multi day fast. I am also more or less inured to the smell of baking, even during a fast, something that used to make me ravenous in my former dietary life.
- You will probably lose some weight
Since we haven't addressed macro-nutrient ratios or caloric content of meals, you may not experience any change in body composition, depending upon what you do with respect to these elements. However, in general, I would expect that some weight loss will occur. This is due to the inadvertent calorie restriction that happens with IF. The one meal that you eat will undoubtedly be somewhat larger than your customary dinner. Most likely, though, it will not be as large as, or larger than, your customary breakfast, lunch, dinner trio. I may be wrong, and you may have a prodigious appetite, but even so, there is a practical limit to how much food you can assimilate at one meal. Moreover, I have found that my stomach seems to have shrunk, so that I cannot eat the same quantities of food that I could before starting on the IF path.
- You will have more free time
In a former life, I was a pretty serious conventional gym rat, and had succumbed to the prevailing wisdom that advocated eating 6 times a day, every three hours. This is all fine and well, but my life seemingly consisted of preparing, eating, and cleaning up after meals, only to effectively have to immediately repeat the cycle. I do not know where my girlfriend found the source of infinite patience to put up with this, but I am truly glad that she did. Once I adopted my fasting eating pattern, we both felt immediately liberated. This effect is especially pronounced during a multi day fast.
- You may feel rotten
It would seem that not everyone is well suited to fasting. I have had a number of friends and acquaintances complain of various symptoms while fasting, all of which were pretty consistent with hypoglycemia. I am not sure how one can address this. I can say, however, that none of the individuals that complained about this took my advice to ease into the fast gradually, as I've outlined above. Rather, they took the "throw the kid in the deep end" approach, and had pretty much the same success that my erstwhile swim teacher had with me. You may very well be tempted to simply "go for it" and try for one meal a day from the get go. Please don't. You may be able to do it, but I think the gradual approach is best. If nothing else, think of it as an exercise in weaning yourself off the societal mania with instant gratification.
Once you are comfortable and adjusted to your daily IF regime, you may decide to kick in the afterburners on your body recomposition. For this, you will be very well served by the two day fast. There is some very interesting science behind that ... stay tuned for part 3.
I just did the jump in method at around 1 pm or 2 pm. Seems to work for me. I do two meals a day and occasionally snack. But getting better about snacking. I get headaches if I go longer than 2 pm though. I did a lot of swimming though growing up though...
I disagree with taking it that slow by pushing eating back by half an hour increments each week. I think an hour would be better. Some may be able to take it even faster not that it is a race. Those that don't normally eat breakfast will find it a lot easier to do the fasting.
Personally I like to commence eating mid afternoon rather than at dinner time. I think others eat breakfast and lunch and then commence the fast I would find this hard as like you said dinner is the time that is usually social. It's just a matter of doing what suits each individual.
Anyway, thanks for doing these posts. I don't agree with those few on this site that are pooh poohing IF.
For me, when I am feeling rotten during my fasting times (I fast only 12-16 hours) it is a sure sign that I have been consuming to little fat and protein and too much fruit or honey. I don't count carbs or calories, but feeling good during fasts is a great motivator for me to keep my diet centered around meat, fat, and vegetables.
Another good post.
Regarding the feelings of hyperglycemia however, I have a comment. First of all, I think this would primarily be a problem to people who consume a lot of carbohydrate, specifically high-GI carbs. Us paleo-guys, who have become accustomed to a low-GI, low-carb diet, I doubt would have the same problem.
I've only been doing this paleo diet for about a week, but I'm already amazed at how well I've adapted to having very little carbohydrate. I used to get shaky and anxious when I hadn't eaten for a while (i.e. feelings of hyperglycemia), now I don't get that at all. I feel a bit foggy maybe and quite hot (as in temperature wise), but that's it. Very easily ignored. Even kind of nice (I imagine it's my body "burning" fat).
Excellent post I have been eating only an evening meal for about a week and a half (have experimented with different IFs in the past, was doing about an 8 hour window for a while now it's down to four) and I LOVE it. My husband and I both are very pleased with how we feel, we have experienced more energy during the day. My husband is not needing to lose weight so he basically eats two meals within that 4 hour evening period. I don't have a lot of weight to lose but my clothes are fitting better so that's the main thing! I do have coffee w/ cream during the day and then water. So just wanted to give a little shout out and say I am liking this form of "meal timing" and the fasting period of approx 20 hours daily better than anything I have tried so far
I do think, however, that there is a large number of people here who are attempting to nurse a limping metabolism back to health. It is with this in mind that I advocate a conservative approach. If you have been able to ascertain by whatever method that your metabolism is fundamentally healthy, then by all means, feel free to go outside of the guidelines. But, if you are subject to carb flu, have experienced reactive hypoglycemia, or have various gastro-intestinal issues, I think slow but steady wins the race.
I used to feel "hypoglycaemia" often before I started the paleo diet. Since I've started it I haven't felt that once.I think the secret to overcoming that is to eat a good, solid amount of low-carb food from the time you wake up. I suspect that it's not something that takes a long time to conquer. Simply not eating a high-carb, high-sugar meal in the morning is seemingly enough to ensure that you're not setting yourself up for a sugar-crash when you go through a period of not eating (I have experimented with this on CW diets and now on the paleo diet). Another way to look at it, is that it seems that the problem with those uncomfortable low-blood-sugar feelings are not that you have low-blood-sugar, but that you're recovering from having high-blood-sugar. If you never have high-blood-sugar, it ceases to be a problem.
I'm possibly exceptionally lucky, but it only seemed to take my body a day or two to become accustomed to this; although if I have something sweet or bready in the morning (fruit and scones/whatever) then all bets are off. If I do that and fast a bit during the day, I can virtually guarantee I'm going to get shaky, weak and uncomfortable. The solution is to simply not have the sweet stuff in the morning.
I realise that eating a good amount of high-fat, high-protein food from the time you awaken is the direct opposite of what you are recommending for fasting. However, I'm just talking about accustomising yourself to low-carb diets. After a few more weeks, when my body is really dialled into it, I plan to try your advice r.e. fasting.
This is all my anecdotal 2c worth BTW. I'm not claiming any of it as scientific fact. Just throwing it out there for the purpose of discussion.
Curious -- is this how you eat all the time, or do you limit this eating pattern to a certain time frame -- a week, two weeks, two days, etc.? This fascinates me. Here is my experience. I've always been hypoglycemic. However, during times of stress and depression, I stop eating. I would eat maybe once a day, often only enough to keep me going. It is not purposeful, but rather food does not appeal to me. I also enjoy the empty feeling (thank you years of teenage eating disorder). Many call this unhealthy, but given that eating more makes me vomit, it has worked for me in times of great stress, and I’ve never died. I’ve also lost weight that I’ve put on during time of non-stress. So part of me has always wondered if this might be my body’s natural way of relieving itself of weight it doesn’t want (though this may be wishful thinking.)
Given that I can barely go two hours on carbohydrates without eating, I am able to get 4-5 hours between meals when I eat high-protein meals. Getting down to one meal would be amazing, but again, I question is this on a regular basis, or just “intermittently” implemented?