Intermittent fasting is one of the latest and most popular diet trends to hit the scene. Although it is hailed as a type of long-term lifestyle eating pattern, a quick Google search attests to its popularity as a supposedly quick and easy weight loss method. Part of the appeal stems from its relatively lax guidelines on what you can eat (basically anything goes), with the emphasis, instead, on when you can eat (or, more accurately, when you can’t).
The most generally accepted method is to commit to a 16-hour fast each day, and limit your “feeding window” to just 8 hours. I chose to eat from noon to 8 p.m., followed by the 16-hour fast. According to the Cleveland Clinic, intermittent fasting can help maintain a healthy blood glucose level, reduce cholesterol, and overall have a positive effect on health, so having read all about the supposed benefits, I was excited to give it a try.
It wasn’t hard to force myself to skip breakfast. I grabbed a bottle of water and made it through my first three classes without incident. By the time I got back to my dorm, it was noon, and since I still wasn’t too hungry, I made myself some instant oatmeal and went about my business.
By 3 pm, I realized I should probably eat something else and decided on an avocado egg toast (AKA, the best food in the universe), then thought better of it and made an extra one (because you can never have too much avocado). A dinner of some spaghetti with simple marinara sauce closed out my feeding window at around 7 pm.
At noon, I had my first bite of food — eggs over easy, with some avocado toast (starting to notice a pattern here?) — after 16 hours of fasting. A PB&J sandwich at 2 pm, followed by another at 3 pm, some greek yogurt with honey at 5 pm, and a dinner of instant ramen noodles (because, college) completed the day.
I noticed that I was feeling a bit more hungry throughout this day than the day before, but generally not much was changing, and I definitely wasn’t experiencing any alarming side effects. Nor was I feeling any lighter.
I was halfway to making breakfast when I remembered that I couldn’t eat until noon, so I took a sad, longing look at what could have been my beloved, delicious oatmeal, before shutting it away in the darkness of my cupboard.
Lunch consisted of a salmon and cream cheese bagel sandwich and a cup of coffee (because this is college and sleep is a myth), and that’s when the weird thing happened. All morning, I wasn’t particularly hungry, and even at lunchtime I chose to eat because I knew I had to, but about 15 minutes after finishing the bagel, I was starving.
It seemed so counterintuitive to only get hungry after I had already eaten, so I decided to wait it out, hoping it would pass. It didn’t, so I made myself another bagel sandwich, and though that curbed my appetite somewhat, I was still hungry. I had a snack at 3 p.m. and a huge serving of spaghetti for dinner.
At around 10 pm, I was hungry again, but since my feeding window had closed, all I could do was chug some water.
This is when everything really started to go downhill. I woke up at 8 am and was horribly craving breakfast. Though a bottle of water partly soothed the craving, by the end of my second morning class, my stomach was growling super loudly and the people in my row of seats were beginning to give me weird looks. At noon, I rushed home and had a tuna salad sandwich, followed by a candy bar.
At 3 pm, I was hungry again, and though I had plenty of healthy food to cook with, I was craving junk food. I tried to satisfy myself with an egg and bagel sandwich, but within an hour, I was daydreaming about what I’d have for dinner.
I tried to be healthy and made some buckwheat and portobello risotto for dinner, which was supposed to fill me up. It didn’t, and by 10 pm, I was desperately craving chocolate, which I could do nothing about.
I woke up in the morning and felt incredibly tired. Half-sleeping my way through my first classes of the day, I finally made it to lunchtime, and because I was too tired to cook, I decided to grab something from the campus grocery store (big mistake). As soon as I walked in, I realized that I was starving, couldn’t decide what to get, and felt compelled to buy everything that looked good. I walked out of the store with a bag of chips, a sandwich, a bottle of Sprite, and a tray of Oreos. I’m ashamed to admit how quickly I put almost all of that down.
Within a few hours of eating, I had a headache, couldn’t focus on my work, and kept diverting to Pinterest to look at pictures of food and daydream about when I’d get to make each dish. I was hungry but simultaneously felt nauseated. I knew I wanted something to eat, but couldn’t figure out what it was.
By dinnertime, I was craving something hot and savory, and kept considering whether I should order a pizza. I decided not, and had buckwheat risotto again. It seemed to go down super quickly and I was immediately hungry again. I chugged an unholy amount of water, which only filled me up for about 30 minutes before I was hungry again, and because it was already past my feeding window, it took all my strength not to break the rules and order in. I ended up going to sleep early (like, 9 pm early) so I wouldn’t have to deal with the cravings.
Intermittent fasting was supposed to be a way for me to break out of an eating schedule that revolved around arbitrarily assigned meal times, and instead, listen to my body and eat when I was actually hungry. At least that’s a common goal cited by most proponents of intermittent fasting. Implementing the diet initially seemed easy, and while I can see how this type of eating schedule can work for some people (those heathens who hate breakfast, for example), it is definitely not for me.
Having to restrict myself to a specific “feeding” window seemed counterintuitive to the initial goal of paying attention to my body and my hunger. There were times when I was pushing myself to eat simply because I knew I had a limited window of opportunity to do so, and when I finally did feel hungry, I could no longer eat.
The conclusion? Intermittent fasting does not work for everyone. While it may bring a world of benefits to some, for others, the “anything goes” mentality behind this diet could potentially exacerbate existing eating disorders or lead to bingeing rebounds. The bottom line is, no diet is a ‘one size fits all’ deal, and the best one for you is one that allows you feel good and healthy, and which doesn’t force you to severely restrict foods, calories, or eating times.
With that in mind, listen to your body, do what feels right, and go forth and prosper, my friend.