It’s almost over – recovery week in which I avoided (almost) all cycling, running and swimming. I participated in the classes I taught, but my workout hours shrank to a mere 5 hours – down from more than 20 in the height of Ironman training. Even these past weeks after Ironman, I’ve been doing 10-15 hours of training leading up to the last 70.3 of the season, completed on September 7th. My body feels great and I’m eager to start running again – tomorrow.
What this week also afforded me was a chance to be a little more aggressive with intermittent fasting. I extended the fast to 18 hours several times and feel great. I’ve also had a chance to research a bit more about this process and why it’s effective. Here’s what I’ve found:
1) It’s an effective weight-loss technique as limiting eating times is far easier than curbing intake at multiple meals. During the 6 to 8 hours a day I do eat, I don’t limit myself. If I want ice cream, I have it – a burger? Grass-fed and humanely-raised please. It’s not that I gorge, I just listen to my body and to what it wants. Sensible, non-disordered eating – what a concept!?!
2) Slavery to the eating schedule ends. Instead of looking at the clock and thinking, it’s time for lunch – I should eat, you listen to your body. If I’m hungry, I eat – if not, I wait. It’s that simple.
3) IF better fits the human condition. We aren’t designed to eat three meals per day and two snacks. Feeling a little empty makes food taste better so when I do eat, it’s satisfying. Many people naturally skip breakfast – the only thing with IF is that you avoid all insulin-spiking foods for the 12 to 18 hours. This includes a glass of juice or a bit of creamer in your coffee.
4) Provides good stress. Our bodies react well to stress – it helps us grow stronger and more resilient. This is why exercise is beneficial. IF may work in much the same way by bolstering immunity and optimizing longevity. Of course, there’s such a thing as too much stress. IF provides a good type of stress, provided you don’t abuse it. Starving yourself for days at a time, or failing to listen to your body’s needs during feeding periods makes IF a process of disordered eating that could be harmful.
5) Regulation of insulin. In people with normal blood sugar levels (read this as non-diabetics or metabolic-syndrome patients), fasting for 12 to 18 hours allows insulin levels to retreat. Too much insulin flowing through your system encourages fat storage. If you have a medical condition, you must consult your doctor before trying this protocol.
6) Clearer head/lighter body. I feel more energized and alert with this protocol. I’m rarely hungry (okay, this morning – I’m hungry) and have not felt overwhelming fatigue or irritability. That being said, IF isn’t for everyone. If you find yourself dragging, feeling fog-headed or snapping at all the folks in your life – this isn’t for you.
As I move into marathon training, the IF protocol will morph to support workouts. I’ll try to stick to a longer 16-hour fast three to four days per week, but am likely to shrink other days to 12 to 14 hours so I don’t compromise energy or performance.