Could intermittent fasting help Elif Mazi lose weight or would it trigger her compulsive binges? Here’s what happened when she tried it
When we hear the words intermittent fasting… or just fasting, a lot of us immediately run the other way. Isn’t that just starving? Who’d want to do that?
Certainly not me and my first reaction was to put off trying it for another week. Food is my source of comfort and I didn’t want to feel restricted. But intermittent fasting has always been something I’d been interested in and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried it.
Intermittent fasting (IF), which generally means taking a break from food for 14-16 hours a day or restricting calories two to three days a week, is not only a brilliant way to lose weight, according to studies, it also has many health benefits, from increased energy and mental clarity through to lowered blood cholesterol and has even been shown to reverse diabetes.
We’re so used to eating three meals a day and snacking in between, we don’t even question it, but this way of eating is relatively new. In Roman times, for example, they only ate one meal a day at midday and then they’d call it quits.
As humans we haven’t always had food readily awaiting us as soon as we wake up. Which means we’ve evolved to ingest food only at certain periods of the day and to be in a fasting state for the rest of the day.
Why intermittent fasting is good for health and weight
Intermittent fasting works for two reasons, say the experts. First, less time to eat means you tend to take in less calories. And secondly your hormones work more efficiently.
Drip feeding our bodies a steady supply of food throughout the day, as we do when we when we snack or graze, leads to repeated spikes of insulin. Insulin is the hormone that unlocks energy from our food but it is also reponsible for fat storage.
The more often you trigger insulin by eating the more prone your body will be to storing fat, say nutritionists. Whereas a regular fasting period gives your body a break from the insulin rollercoaster and trains your body to burn fat for fuel.
So how many hours do you have to fast for? The answer is for as long as you want, but the most popular method is the 16/8 fasting schedule. If you eat your last meal at 7pm, then eat your next meal at 11am, you are technically fasting for 16 hours (don’t gasp just yet, you’ll be asleep for eight of them).
My life as a compulsive eater
As someone who has been battling with my weight since my childhood and had compulsive overeating habits for at least ten years, I wanted to see it would work for me, but I was also worried that feeling deprived could trigger my overeating. I don’t want to find myself back where I was a year ago, when I was regularly eating at least 4,000 calories a day, mostly of junk food and snacks.
In the past, whenever I’ve restricted food I’d almost always end up bingeing later. The more I diet food, I more I think about food, the more I eat. It’s a vicious cycle. Would intermittent fasting act as a trigger in the same way as other diets? It was time to see.
Since I tend to stop eating pretty early anyway, and because I was only testing the diet for a week, I decided to turn it up a notch with the 18/6 version. This meant I had a six hour eating window throughout my day. I would begin eating at 12 and finish by 6. Read on to find out what happened.
Is this the start of my intermittent fasting journey or the END of my happiness? This was the main thing on my mind this morning, when I woke up and started freaking out over skipping breakfast.
As someone who adores food, and has an emotional attachment to it, I felt like I was saying goodbye to a lover or lifelong friend. Well, that’s a bit dramatic, but when it comes to food I’m definitely a bit of a drama queen.
In fact, I was stressing out about not eating before I’d even got out of bed. Not the greatest of starts.
I woke up at 6:30, and by the time I got into work and settled at my desk I realised that I only started feeling hungry at 9:45.
I probably had around 1000 calories in one go. It wasn’t even because I was that hungry, but because my logic was – if I can eat, I’m going to eat.
Before embarking on this journey I knew that the first day or two would be hard, but it wasn’t even midday yet and I was ready to call it quits.
I know, I know. I sound like such a whiny brat. I felt like one too, so I kept reminding myself that there are people in the world that can’t afford to eat.
This kept me going until my eating window started at midday… and I definitely need to give a shoutout to the cup of green tea that was steaming in front of me (it was Pukka Clean Matcha Green if you’re wondering). My tongue got burned from gulping it down too quickly, but it helped.
Now this is where things really went downhill. It was finally 12 and when I started eating I just couldn’t stop. I probably had around 1000 calories in one go: two slices of brown bread with roasted veggies for lunch, followed by biscuits, crisps and chocolate, until I started to feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t even as if I was that hungry, but because my logic was – if I can eat, I’m going to eat.
Of course, because I’ve had a long history of overreating my response to skipping beakfast is a little bit more extreme than it would probably be for the average person, so please bare with me.
After eating I was full for several hours, so much so I got a bit ahead of myself and thought It’d be very easy to go home, have a light dinner, and call it a day. But that was not the case.
By 4pm my mind was on the biscuits available for everyone to share in the office kitchen, and for some reason I just couldn’t shake the fact that I knew they were there.
Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen, opening the lid to the biscuit tin feeling guilty about the chocolate digestives I was about to eat and fishing out Jaffacakes instead (they’re an office favourite which always finish first so I took it as a sign from the universe that it was okay to eat them), and made my way back to my desk.
[Editor’s note – we share an office with another company that make premium menswear. They shall remain names but suffice to say, it’s not the team at Healthista HQ that ate all the Jaffa cakes]
Another ten minutes later and I’ve sneakily fished another two to gobble down before I headed home soon later. I feel like I’ve landed myself back to a year ago when biscuit binges were a regular feature of my day.
The verdict: skipping breakfast was emotionally and physically exhausting, so I got a bit too excited when I could eat. Mental note to self: eat nutritious foods that will fill you up and don’t snack.
By 10 am I’ve only just started to feel hungry. Will today be better than yesterday? I was hopeful. I wasn’t running to make a cup of green tea and my mind was more focused on work than food. Who am I? It was only day two and I already felt like a changed woman.
Okay, I’m exaggerating just a bit. But I was definitely more enthusiastic about fasting.
Forty minutes before my eating window began a wave of deep hunger suddenly hit me, but because I knew I was able to eat soon, it wasn’t unbearable.
while hunger could creep up on me, it also left just as fast
Half an hour later and a second wave of hunger hit me – so much so I started feeling sick. It wouldn’t hurt to eat ten minutes before my eating window, surely?
But I kept at it and waited until midday anyway. What I quickly understood was that while hunger could creep up on me quickly, it also left just as fast. It’s a matter of being patient and not giving in to your body straight away. At the end of the day, you’re not restricting calories but rather time – and you’ve got to train your body to understand that.
I’m also learning to figure out whether I’m truly hungry or just bored. I’ve figured out that if I’m truly hungry I can’t focus, so I’d better eat. But if my brain is still firing on all cylinders then it’s likely just boredom that’s leading me to the fridge.
I used this as a model to understand whether I’m genuinely hungry or bored, and turns out I was genuinely hungry ten minutes before my eating window.
When it was finally time to eat I had a small portion of leftover spaghetti and tomato, cucumber and chard salad. The salad really filled me up and I was completely full without any desire to snack. I went home had some more leftover spaghetti for dinner and called it a day. Easy.
The verdict: understanding when I’m truly hungry and when I’m just bored is key.
Today was a bit different because instead of going to work, I came down with a fever and had to stay home. This meant that I was asleep for most of the day.
Now, normally when I have to spend the whole day at home, I get distracted with all of the snacks and foods I could eat. There’s so much more temptation.
But on this day, I slept a lot and didn’t have much of an appetite so sticking to my eating window was easy peasy.
In fact, forcing myself to eat was the tough part. I had a light breakfast at midday and dinner (mother’s lovely vegeable soup) at 5 or 5.30 and fell asleep until the next day.
The Verdict: sleeping is the best.
Back to work today. Before I even left the house I was starving. It was 8am when I began having that same sickly feeling, like I was going to throw up. I assume it’s because I stopped eating early the day before, my body probably felt deprived.
This is going to sound crazy but you know how us women sometimes feel bigger on some days even though we haven’t gained any weight?
Well, I think the opposite happens to me too sometimes. I hadn’t weighed myself but ‘felt thinner’. I’m not saying you have to lose weight to be pretty or anything, but this past year I’ve lost 12kg and and I wanted to lose another 5kg.
For someone wanting to lose a bit more weight feeling thinner during this whole intermittent fasting thing gave me an ego boost and the confidence to keep going. I also had a wedding to go to on Sunday where I’d be wearing a lace dress. I wanted to feel my best.
I began having that same sickly feeling, like I was going to throw up
As soon as I got into work at 9am I made myself a cup of green tea. It was definitely needed.
By 11:00 I was so hungry. I kept having thoughts like ‘I stopped eating early last night so it won’t matter if I break my fast early today… right?’ But strangely once again by 12 I was hungry but not as much as before. In fact, I felt like I could go without eating but I still ate, of course.
Fifteen minutes later, as I was digging into last night’s leftover paella and tuna salad, but before I’d finished, I realised that I wasn’t hungry anymore. I chose to stop eating and save the rest for later.
By 4pm I was hungry again so I finished my lunch off. I still had a few biscuits to satisfy my sweet tooth and I felt really happy.
This day was more extreme as I happened to only have a four hour eating window instead of six. I felt super satisfied, however, and was able to go the rest of the day without feeling hungry whatsoever.
The Verdict: the key is to eat a sufficient amount of calories during your eating window so that you’re fully satisfied. Not thinking about food becomes easier when you do this. Also, veggies are great and make you feel super full. Eat as many as you can.
Woke up starving as never before. This is a first, I never wake up feeling hungry, it usually takes me half an hour or an hour. This time I woke up starving. Does this mean I’m not eating enough then? During my eating window I feel fully satisfied though so I kept reasurring myself that it was fine.
Now I’m sure most of you want to get to the nitty gritty. Did I lose weight and how much? I told myself I wasn’t going to weigh myself until Sunday, but I couldn’t help myself and weighed myself on Friday instead.
The night before my friend took a photo of me from behind and I felt like I was looking especially thin. I know it’s ridiculous to think I’d lost a considerable amount of weight in only four days, but I genuinely think people know their bodies best. I tend to lose weight very fast but I gain it very fast too.
So I weighed myself, and though I started off at 66.5 kg on Monday, I was now at 65 kg. How great is that?
The past month before starting intermittent fasting I was struggling to shift even a kilo and though it may just be water weight that was lost, as I was burning through the gycogen stories in my muscles, I was very happy when I stepped on the scales.
As soon as I got into work I debated whether I should give myself a cheat day and start eating from 9. What’s the harm? I thought. But this is what happens when I lose weight, I tend to slack off with healthy eating and go for sweets instead. When I know I’ve lost a bit of weight it’s almost as though that gives me permission to binge. My mind is a strange place.
I can eat soon, I’m so happy
Anyway, back to Friday. It was almost midday and even though I wasn’t starving, knowing I could eat soon made me happy.
I remember saying aloud ‘I can eat soon, I’m so happy’ to which my colleagues laughed.
When I began eating after those seven minutes which actually went by pretty fast, I ate my lunch slowly without any desire to shovel the food down, and ended up enjoying the food with all my senses, rather than just my mouth.
The final verdict:
It had been only five days but already I feel like my body is adjusting to the changes of only eating at in a resticted time frame. There were two hard parts of intermittent fasting for me. Firstly, the emotional attachment I have to food. Because of this I consumed more sweets than usual intially, but I quickly adapted and by the end of the week I was eating less junk than I normally would eat.
Intermittent fasting also helped me to distinguish between hunger and boredom, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I started to regard food as fuel and spent far less time day dreaming about it.
However, mornings are hard. Some people can go the entire morning without feeling hungry but I’ve always been a big breakfast person. I looked forward to my eating window with every ounce of my body, tongue tingling and mouth dripping with saliva and yes it was hard to focus before that first meal.
After my first meal of the day, when I could think about something other that eating, I felt way more productive this week and I definitely attribute that to intermittent fasting, it was as if that first meal calmed me down and helped me focus.
Also I looked bloody fantastic at the wedding on Sunday. The gown fit perfectly and matched my sexy mood.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt throughout this week is that the hunger comes in waves. Sometimes you’ll feel so hungry you’ll feel like throwing up – but luckily there’s nothing to actually throw up.
At other times, you’ll feel completely okay even when you haven’t eaten for 18 hours. Whichever it is I now know I can get through it. I don’t need to freak out when I feel hungry. I’m not going to die.
I still had the choice of eating whatever I wanted which put every other diet I’ve been on to shame. This gave me a sense of freedom and I didn’t feel restricted or limited in any way.
Would I recommend intermittent fasting? Yep. Give it a go for a week like me and see if it works for you. It’s been another week since then and I’ve kept at it, and plan on doing it for a few months more at least.