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.