After my sophomore year of college, I felt bloated, hungry, stressed and stumped. After four semesters of dining halls, booze, severe dehydration, and a tad too much exposure to dormitory fluorescent lighting, all I had was bad skin, newly diagnosed IBS, along with a desperate desire to get my health finally back on track. As I'm sure we have all experienced, our freshman and sophomore years of college is the time to understand what it means to live healthy, be happy, and feel great--while coping with booze, stress, drama and schoolwork. College is the time to fully adapt to an adult and practice lifestyle habits that we will soon carry with us once we graduate. As I recognized my daily night-time urge to carb my heart out, as I gave in to every sweet, sugary craving between classes, as I woke up to only feeling hungry from the drunken night before, I understood that I needed to find not just a diet, but a lifestyle change in my eating. I no longer wanted to surround my day around unhealthy eating addictions and most importantly, I did not want to surround my day around food---period.

As first semester of junior year was approaching me in the heat of August, I slowly began to workout and practice healthy eating (hint: slowly). Like every other 20-year-old female, I gave into food fads including a severe obsession to cauliflower pizza, CHOP'T eatery (only because of its convenient location 10 minutes away from my house), avocado toast, kale chips, GG crispbread and quinoa. As each fad came, conquered, and left my stomach, I still felt empty and not fully refreshed after having meals throughout my summer days. I then began researching healthy diets that one could go on in order to regulate one's eating methods. Intermittent fasting appeared within my google searches and social media news feeds, as I saw influencers, celebrities, and health gurus give the fast a trial-run for a month or two. As I began my extensive research, I realized that intermittent fasting was the ideal lifestyle change for me. What grabbed my attention was that it was focused more on when you should eat during the day, not what. As I was already on a low-carb diet and was going to the gym 5 times a week, I knew I didn't want to cut any food group out of my diet. The most important thing to me was maintaining a healthy low-carb lifestyle and suppressing my need for sugar and salt late at night. At the end of my meals, I was aiming to feel contently full, refreshed, and not bloated. 

For any of you who are new to the term, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles from fasting periods to eating periods. It's most commonly known to promote weight loss and regulate calorie intake. However, I saw it as an opportunity to completely cut off any late-night snacking, along with an urge to have a big meal before I usually go to the gym the next morning. I chose to go with the most common eating pattern: the 16/8 method. Basically, you fast for 16 hours, typically from early evening to the early afternoon the following day. From there, you have an 8-hour window to eat, while taking into consideration what you are eating. Due to my school schedule, I chose to conveniently have my eating window from 1 pm to 9 pm. Obviously, if you utilize that 8 hour period to binge to your heart's desire, the method will be ineffective. As I began testing intermittent fasting, to my surprise I realized that there were proven additional benefits as well, such as lowering insulin levels, promoting cellular repair, and increasing hormonal growth. These additional benefits, along with the supposed claim that the fast lowers the risk of cancer, were only pluses for me as I experienced the fast in my first few weeks. 

End of First Week:

Breakfast; Gone but Not Forgotten

Not going to lie to you, when you're a breakfast-fanatic like me, intermittent fasting the first week was like taking a bottle away from a baby. It was painful to push through my breakfast cravings of bagels, eggs and cereal-galore. Instead, I soothed my morning yearning with green tea. Green tea quickly became my go-to to get my day in order to get my tummy feeling full. It not only woke me up but fully hydrated my body. By around the fourth or fifth day, I was realizing my body wasn't craving for food in the morning, it was craving for water. Although breakfast has always started my mood off right in the day, by noon I was always craving for more food that consisted of empty calories. The whole reason I was eating breakfast before was to fill myself up for the rest of the day. However, breakfast was only making me hungrier after a couple of hours. By letting my body first hydrate itself, I felt full and refreshed. By the end of my first week, my breakfast cravings started to subside. I made sure to eat a nutritious lunch when I finally began eating at 1/1:30pm and not just stuffing my face with empty calories. An added bonus was that I didn't feel full and bloated once I started hitting the gym at noon. Instead, I was hydrated and ready for my workout. Plus, it motivated me to workout so then I could reward myself with a delicious (yet nutritious) meal afterwards.

One Month:  

Eating for Sustenance, Not Taste

After one month (and a couple of cheat days), I saw a significant change in my workouts, mood, weight, and muscle. At this point, I was going to the gym 5 times a week and sticking with 8-hour eating window. After several weeks, I realized in order to get a little more energy out of my workout, I had to eat a banana or a piece of fruit around an hour before. Due to scheduling, I pushed back my eating window from 12pm-8pm making sure to intake some nutrition before I went on my run. Once I was done with my workout, I realized a significant positive change in my mood, energy level and hunger. By the time it was 2/2:30, I was ready for a full meal. My lunches usually consisted of salads with a lean protein or a veggie wrap with hummus. Naturally, my body no longer began to crave empty calories like bagels, croissants, or salty breakfast sandwiches. As I realized those quick go-and-grab foods didn't fill me up long enough, my body naturally began to steer towards craving substantial nutrition at lunchtime.

After lunch, I was only then hungry at 8pm, where I then only wanted a nutritious dinner, preferably with a healthy carb because of my morning workout being the next morning. After filling myself up at 8pm, I felt less urge to snack late at night. It was only on nights of going out with alcohol in my system when my body craved junk food like chocolate or french fries. This first month was a total wake-up call for me. Looking back at my eating routine pre-intermittent fasting, I came to the realization that I have always been eating for the sake of eating, not eating for the sake of sustenance. As I fell into the routine of intermittent fasting, I began to see food in a completely different light. Finally, I was seeing food as a source of energy and a way to rejuvenate my body, not as a source of taste, mood level, and excess consumption. Pretty zen, right?

Five Month: 

A Lifestyle Change

Now, at my five-month mark, I can admit, on the mornings where I am hungover and exhausted from my previous night-out, I will always crave a filling breakfast a nearby diner. However, on the nights where I have gotten a restful sleep and have gone to bed at a reasonable hour, I wake up and start my day off right. Instead of reaching for the cereal shelf, I'm drinking tea with a small grab-and-go fruit. My workouts are more consistent and my body is fully ready to go that extra mile at around 12 or 1. Throughout the day, I'm happier for a variety of reasons. For starters, I feel how I've wanted to feel for years -- healthy, happy and energized. I only eat when I feel my body genuinely needs to. I'm also naturally more aware of when I'm full or when I'm not. If my body is signalling that it needs something in between meals, I listen. If my body is signalling that it may need a bigger breakfast, I listen. Either way, I am more responsive to my body's needs, not my mental needs. As a result, I'm more fit, more refreshed and more regulated in my eating patterns. Intermittent fasting has truly changed my health and my happiness. It's only made me run further, workout harder, get stronger and be happier. I used to see it as a way to lose weight, but now I only view it as a way to change my health for the better. I can gladly say I am fully ~~one with the body~~.