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A Self-Experiment with Intermittent Fasting, and My Lessons in Hunger vs. Appetite

by Lisa on October 24, 2011

As a health, nutrition, and fitness professional, I read about different philosophies and lifestyle (diet, workout, etc) strategies. A. Lot.

Much of the time, the only way I can recommend or suggest/educate people about new things to try is to try it on myself first. I realize that many people hear the word fasting and it makes them twitchy. Either they think it’s a bad idea (and can cite credible references to support this) or the idea of being hungry sounds just plain awful.

My experience with fasting has actually always had some good points (even though I didn’t always fast with health in mind).

The first time I fasted was when my sister died, and it was only because I couldn’t swallow anything. When I wasn’t fasting, I also wasn’t eating the healthiest foods (Lender’s bagels, McDonalds, and Carnation Instant Breakfast…oh, and Easy Mac and Diet Pepsi). It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was healthy, but I had just moved home from Boston to the land of Pizza Hut and Bar food.  The Results: I was skinny—weighing in around 104. My skin wasn’t clear though, and I had a lot of low moods (which obviously had to do with my life events too).

The second time I fasted was as a result of the Break-Up diet. I ended a relationship, moved out of his house…and had a lot of stress (although I was super empowered too so it wasn’t all bad emotionally). I was eating once a day…and mostly not healthy foods. The results? I was thin — weighing in around 111, but this wasn’t so different than before the fast because I had just completed P90X a couple months earlier (review on that coming soon too). Composition-wise, my fat % stayed about the same and my muscle density went down (I measured it with my Tanita scale that I had for work). What I noticed this time was that I actually had a lot of energy and never felt hungry.

The third generation of fasting included Juice Fasts, ranging from “juice till dinner” to 2-6 full days (I did it 4 times over 2-ish years). I always felt hungry at first, but then the “hunger” all turned to appetite, and then that diminished over time too. The most physical results I got were to “de-puff” and maybe lose a pound, and emotionally I always felt more balanced (no afternoon blahs). On day 3 of the 6-day juice fast I felt so euphoric I was convinced I could save the world. I’m not kidding…it was that amazing. I actually started to get nervous that I’d have to eventually eat again and I didn’t want to lose that feeling. (I have lots to say about juice fasting…but that can be later too.)

Now, I’m fasting intermittently because I’ve picked through all those memories plus many resources (and some limited research studies). I want to document it this time—and see how I really feel in terms of energy, hunger, appetite, and body composition.

Currently, my diet is 100% grain-free, and since the results have been wonderful from this, I have no intention of eating grains again (ever). I don’t miss them, and you can read more about that here. My diet is approximately 10-20% carbs, 40-50% fat, and 20-40% protein (depending on the day). My sugar intake is below 20g per day.

I work at home—so I am around (or have access to) food all day long. Emotions tend to make me think I need to eat (all emotions, good and bad). This isn’t hunger—it’s appetite. Appetite is much stronger than hunger for me as a motivator to eat. I don’t enjoy feelings of restriction (really, it makes me crazy…and binge-y). I don’t enjoy craving foods and feeling unsatisfied (which is what a higher carb diet causes for me).

I’ll refer back to one of my new favorite references here, and promise I’ll also talk food details soon (i.e. how to feel satisfied and cut cravings and restriction)—Catherine Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition (along with a book called Nourishing Traditions, and a few aspects of Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint).  I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails asking questions about what I’m eating now, I will be addressing all of them here!

This weekend, I practiced my Intermittent Fasting, and it was pretty easy because I had yoga teacher training all weekend. The only thing I’m changing at this point is that I’m eating during the second half of the day and not in the first. I’m taking a 16-hour fast / 8-hour food approach (but I know the 8-hours will be condensed on most days just because of how I eat).

Here’s a sample day:

7-10am – 1-2 cups of coffee with 2tbsp organic whole milk in each

10am-12pm – water, tea (optional green powder added to water…not sure if I’ll do this)

12pm – workout (workouts happen at other times too, but 12pm workout is more intense)

1pm – meal (content depends on intensity of workout)

3-5pm – snack/meal

5-8pm – optional snack (I don’t anticipate needing this, but it would include a glass of wine if I wanted that, etc.)

I’m going to track my intake at sparkpeople.com at least for this week, and I’m also going to take notes of when I feel hunger and appetite…and how “full” I feel after I eat and at the end of the day. I’m going to track my weight, hydration, and body fat as well, but I may just make general statements about that rather than posting my “stats.”

Why fast? 

Well, it’s an experiment. I want to see what happens. I also believe that the body can heal itself and work on maintenance (instead) of digestion if a person flips the fast:eat ratio the other direction. It’s not calorie-restriction! I read some interesting information about Intermittent Fasting on the Precision Nutrition website, and then I’ve integrated it with my lifestyle and tailored it to fit what I want/need.

Rather than fasting for day(s) at a time, I like the idea of doing a micro-fast everyday (in a healthy way—not just in a “skipping breakfast” way).

I’ll leave you with just a couple pics…

A great after-intense-workout snack for me: higher in carbs (7g per cup), and also good quality protein. What is it? Greek yogurt with stevia and peanut flour.

This guy spent the night on Saturday--we fished (inside) and had a great time. He hates the way I make scrambled eggs, and I keep trying to make them "better" but I have no idea how... We also talked about how Camo (his dog that got hit by a car last week) is now in heaven with his Mom--and his Mom loved dogs so we know they're taking care of each other. Turns out, Jen's dog was put to sleep last week too (she was 15 and only didn't die of a broken heart 8 years ago when Jen died because she went to her "vacation home" to live with some grandparents...)

 

I'm not into Halloween at all...but somehow I'm dressing up this year and we took Matthew to the Pumpkin Walk (1/2 a mile of the Ontario Pathway lined with 2000 lit up jack-o-lanterns!)...I'll admit that was cool.

What do you think? Would you try intermittent fasting? Have you tried any types of fasting?

Do you distinguish between your hunger and appetite?

Are you interested in reading about how this goes for me?

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  • http://twitter.com/CaitPlusAte Caitlin

    How are you able to workout without fuel?

  • http://www.cottercrunch.com lindsay cotter

    i can always relate to your posts Lisa. I think I have been through something every similar. I like to experiment on myself and have found that sometimes the IM fasting helps me define my true hunger. I also found that those bigger meals in the evening make me sleep better. But as you know now, my whole nutrition has changed. I should probably juice for that!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    My plan is to go into that a little bit more in my next post about it—but right now, I’m only doing longer intense workouts (longer than 15 minutes) a couple times a week, and I’ll fuel with carbs after the workout (which sounds backwards, but I have enough in glycogen stores to get me through the workout). The theory behind it is that if you “empty” your glycogen stores with a workout, the nutrients you consume immediately following the workout are absorbed more effectively. Assuming I go into the workout fully hydrated, I’m hoping that it works—if it doesn’t feel good, though, I won’t continue.

  • Alison

    I experimented and read a lot about IF this year and it’s done some amazing things for me.  From figuring out that YES my body can tap into stored fuel for energy and for learning more about the reasons I eat that have nothing to do with hunger.  I also found it fascinating how my body learned to adapt with my new schedule and stopped “expecting” an early breakfast.  (no more morning hunger and this “I. must. eat. now!” feeling as soon as I woke up!)

    I experimented a lot, from 18 to 20 hour fasts and eventually settled on 16 to 18 hour fasts working best for me.  I basically finish eating for the day at 6 and don’t eat again until 10 or 11 the next morning.  Some days I go longer, but 16 hours is usually my norm.

    One of the best things it did for me was break me of late night snacking, and I also liked how I’ve come to tolerate hunger much better now, especially if healthy food isn’t immediately available!  I think IF will be catching on as more and more people come to learn and understand it.  I created a page about my experience with IF on the site when I started trying this myself in the spring.  Nice to see you writing about it, especially your experiences with fasting over the years!

  • http://thehealthybeehive.wordpress.com/ Jane

    Love this!  Thank you so much for posting about this!  I am definitely thinking about trying something similar to this, and would love to hear how it is going.  For me, I think a lot of the time I eat when I am actually thirsty, so I have to prompt myself to drink some water….. 

  • http://fitchocoholic.blogspot.com Gen

    Hmm that sounds very interesting! I’d definitely like to read how your plan works out!

  • http://fitnessfoodandfaith.blogspot.com Sam

    i read some studies on this a week or so ago and was definitely intrigued. i’d love to hear your thoughts when you start to see any changes.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I honestly just don’t think I could do this. I think once I finally allowed myself to eat…it’d be OUT of control! I am totally interested to hear about your results

  • lauren@spicedplate

    I’m so interested in how this goes for you!  I struggle with low blood sugar, but did a few days of just the maple/cayenne/lemon water fast, which didn’t really do anything for me but prove that I had willpower.  I have a hard time distinguishing between hunger and appetite…I know if I’m bored, I get hungry, but if I’m occupied I can skip a meal and not really notice…until I start to feel lightheaded. 

    Munching after dinner is the worst habit to kick for me, too…I’ve been trying really hard for years and go through phases of being “good” with just tea or warm almond milk after dinner to having more food items…although I know it’s not the best for my digestive system I feel like it helps me to sleep better…I’m in a “good” phase right now, though, for the most part.

    Can’t wait to hear more!

  • http://www.thefitnessdish.com Laury@thefitnessdish

    Wow. Very interesting and I really enjoyed reading about it! Honestly though for me, I think it would trigger some bad behavior if I did anything like this. I am glad you are feeling god though! I am intrigued about the whole not eating before working out because I have been taught so different! I like hearing other perspectives and the science behind your thinking too!

  • Lauren George

    This is so interesting to me!! I have low blood sugar and often feel lighheaded if I go to long wthout eating. I definitely have trouble distinguising between hunger and appetite. I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences!

  • http://merigoesround.blogspot.com/ meri

    I don’t fast, but I do concentrate a lot of my eating in the second half of the day, almost all of it, for my energy levels. It’s just become what I’m used to, and I feel better this way. Interested to see how this round goes!

  • http://alexiaku.wordpress.com Alexia @ NamasteYoga

    I love folowing your story, especially because your approach is much different than a lot of the plant based vegan diets you can find in the health blogosphere. I have done a part juice fast before and liked the results. I do believe in the benefits of green juices and love to experiment to find out whats right and wrong for me or to just feel better. I definitely distinguish between hunger and appetite, emotional situations and working from home helps my appetite grow too. If I have learned anything from fasting and trying different diets it is that your body adapts so fast and gets used to what you give it. Its a big mind play….

  • Anonymous

    yes, i am interested to read more about how this plan works for you, lisa! i totally believe that we are all experiments of one. and i totally agree with trying out an idea/a plan and just seeing how it goes. why not?!
    i’ve tried different meal times over the years – what works for me now is a hearty breakfast, grazing during the day, and a hearty end-of-day meal. i could never do without grains, though – > my cereal love is too strong!
    i’ll look forward to reading more in the days ahead!

  • Maria@healthydiaries

    I try to wait until my stomach is “grumbling” a little bit before I eat a meal, but that doesn’t always happen ;-) I’m very interested to see how this fasting goes for you. I have never fasted before so i am interested to read more. Please keep posting about it!

  • http://www.fabfit50s.com Kathleen

    Right now, I see IF as either a tool or a gimmick, depending on how it works for the individual. There are many ways to lose weight. IF is just one.

    But I’d love to know what else IF will do, Lisa. Will it make you healthier? (I have to read the Berardi’s report on PN.) What are the chances of it backfiring? With less food, you’re also getting fewer nutrients. So can it be a bad thing?

    I had an eating disorder years ago, so am not compelled to try it. Fasting, for me, has lead to bingeing and an even greater food obsession. BUT I am very interested in hearing more about your experiment with it. Like, will your bodyfat % change, and how? Will your energy increase/decrease?  

    Love the jack o’lantern photo!

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    I have the same tendencies with fasting/hunger—-if I wait too long to eat, then I lose all rational food-choice-ability! I’m being extra careful to plan (and have ready) the right foods when I’m going to need them (and it’s also good practice for me to try and slow down). It’s not actually a calorie-restriction plan, just a condensed “feeding time” plan…so my calorie intake is going to be the same overall (unless my hunger goes way down?). I’m looking forward to tracking my body fat and hunger/appetite patterns! My findings may not help a lot of people—since I’m not doing it as a weight loss plan. (So far, on day two, I did feel a little yucky around noon…so rather than waiting till my allotted eating time of 1pm, I just ate a few bites of chicken then. I think I was dehydrated too).

    Thanks for your thoughts!!

  • Anonymous

    This is so interesting Lisa! I already workout before eating since I go to the gym at 5:15 in the morning. I never had a problem with it physically and never get sick. I do pretty intense workouts too.

    I would really love to hear more about your journey with this fasting. You should do a WIAW post so we can see what your choosing to eat.

    I don’t think this would work for me now since I workout very early and them work 8 hours after that. Don’t think I could make it till lunchtime without eating.

    I might try this over the weekend though since I get up later and have a smaller appetite during the day!

  • Anonymous

    Also, how many calories are you taking in with this each day and how long do you plan to fast?

  • Susan MacLaughlin

    I’m right there with you about reading a lot, and practicing what you preach. I try most of the various eating plans, and certainly anything I recommend. I have NO experience with fasting. A cleansing diet is about as close as I’ve gotten… Yes, keep us posted.

  • http://www.love-life-project.com Stephanie

    This is fascinating (much like everything else you write).  I’m not sure how I feel about fasting.  I have a lot of respect for people who fast for religious reasons, but I’m not sure about the effects of fasting for health reasons.  I’ll be interested to read more about your experiences and see how it works for you!

  • http://blissfulbritt.wordpress.com/ Brittany

    I have tried fasting for complete days before by not eating anything, and almost always fail because I get SO hungry. I have never tried a fast where I cut out a few items instead of them all! I am most def interested in reading how this goes for you.

  • http://www.carrieonvegan.com/ Carrie

    Hi Lisa, I am so fascinated by this post mainly because I’ve just started reading more about fasting and its role in good health. I don’t think I’ve ever missed an opportunity to eat based upon my incredible appetite, but I certainly think there are benefits to fasting. I am really, really interested in learning more about this topic and your experience.

  • Gina (Candid RD)

    I guess the term “fasting” takes on a whole new meaning for someone who was one anorexic.  The idea of fasting just brings back bad memories, and I know if I did it people would make comments.  And it’s not just the comments, but I think I screwed up my blood sugar and metabolism so much that even if I go four hours without food, it’s not pretty.
    The idea of giving up grains, however, is one that I like.  In fact, the USDA guidelines suggest that I get 6-7 ounces of grains a day, I probably get 1-3 (more like 2, each day).  I feel amazing.

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    It is a very interesting concept…that definitely won’t work for everyone! I almost don’t want to call it fasting because it’s not calorie restriction—just shifting the times of eating to a certain portion of the day. Even if I could come up with a better name, it still isn’t a good plan for everyone! I’m looking forward to seeing what the effects are for me—the good part so far is that it forces me to plan ahead (which I’m terrible at). I make better choices when I have structure—so far, this feels helpful, but I’ll find out after doing it for more than a couple days! On the grains… I am in complete disagreement with the USDA on that one :)

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    So far, I’ve done it for 4 days (with one extra snack on Sunday night since I was flipping the plan from eating in morning to eating at night). The calorie low was 1200-ish (when I was in yoga teacher training—sitting still‹all day) and the high is just under 1700. So it’s not much different than a regular day for me. I can eat up to around 2200 a day without gaining weight (if my carbs are low)…but that’s usually a function of appetite and not hunger when I do that.
    Right now…I’m looking at the clock and realizing I have over four hours till my first meal of the day…and I’ll be honest, I wish I could eat now! But it’s appetite-related, not hunger. So far, in general, I feel pretty good!

  • http://www.pure2raw.com Pure2raw twins

    i believe the best way to learn things is by trying it out for yourself

    lori and i have done all types of cleanses, fasting and sometimes they have been good as others not so much. we recently have done two day fast, eating for little and mostly water, and the reason was to give our  digestive system a break. from all the traveling and eating everything, it just felt right to do. and our bodies enjoyed the break too.

  • http://www.pickyeatingrd.com Allison @ PickyEatingRD

    I am not sure how I feel about fasting. Mostly because I feel like I am very in tune with my body when it comes to hunger vs. appetite. I don’t find myself eating just because the food is there – but I also don’t work from home every day. I eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full (most of the time!). I think I would struggle if I told myself I “couldn’t” eat at certain times. That being said, I am intrigued to read about your results!!!

  • http://nevernotbeautiful.blogspot.com laura @ nevernotbeautiful

    Aside from a 30 day famine (in junior high!) I’ve never tried any type of fasting… that said, I’m really, really interested in hearing about your experiences as you go!

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