The Unexpected Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Choosing the life that we want to live

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Yes, I too, jumped on the bandwagon of Intermittent Fasting (IF). I’d been contemplating my goals and intentions for the new year and decided this was the time to lose those ten pounds that had crept up on me over the past few years. I had planned to just eliminate the extra calories in my diet by eliminating wine, snacks, and limiting desserts. The trouble was that I had already converted snacks to healthy ones (like a handful of almonds or pistachios) with my glass of wine and my dessert was limited to two mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups after dinner. I already had a healthy diet and a good exercise routine. So, the idea of trying something new that might help me lose those extra pounds and was good for my long-term health was appealing.

I read up on IF and started with the recommended 16/8 split between fasting and eating hours. I also eliminated wine and kept snacking to a minimum, but kept my two dark chocolate peanut butter cups for dessert (a girl has to have chocolate). However, I quickly found that doing an 18/6 fasting to eating ratio worked well for me. Basically, I wait until 12:30 p.m. to eat my first meal and finish eating by 6:30 p.m., fasting in between those two times.

I’ve been doing this for a month now and I’ve lost four lbs. I’ve also adapted to IF pretty easily. Although I really only eliminated breakfast and my before dinner wine and snack, I have felt quite hungry before my first meal and before dinner throughout the month. This is normal for the first month of IF and has not been particularly difficult to deal with. I have experienced most of the benefits that IF is touted for, such as increased energy and greater clarity in the mornings, better cognitive functioning, less bloating, and no indigestion. (If you’d like to know more about the science behind IF, weight loss, and health benefits, check out this article by Paul Spector, M.D. here on Medium.)

What I found more interesting during this first month of IF were the unexpected benefits that I experienced…specifically, a re-examination of my patterns, intentionality about the use of both my time and my food choices, and an increased level of curiosity, creativity, and gratitude.

Re-examination of Patterns

This re-examination of my patterns started with the very first morning of IF. If I wasn’t going to groggily fix my oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast, what was I going to do? Then, later, if my first meal was at lunchtime, was it breakfast or my usual lunch of veggies, hummus or garlic dip, and pita chips?

Intentionality

That led naturally to more intentionality about how to use my time and what food I wanted to put into my body. Since I was waking with more energy and clarity, I used my breakfast time to fix my cup of tea, do my usual morning routine, and get to work on projects earlier. I had more energy and clarity to write articles that I had been thinking about and complete projects that had been left unfinished.

I would take a break from 10:30 to 12 to take my dog out for our long walk. Then I’d prepare my first meal of the day. My morning breakfast morphed into brunch. On some days that was a smoothie with blueberries, greens, a little yogurt, and some protein like almond butter. On other days, particularly the days that I do weight training in the late afternoon, I would have my usual veggie plate with hummus or garlic dip and whole-grain pita chips, but I’d add an egg for more energy and protein.

Creativity

I found myself trying new things with the change in routine. I looked up new smoothie recipes and decided on new veggies to add to my diet. I used those chia seeds that have been languishing in my cupboard and threw some cocoa powder in my smoothie just to get my chocolate fix and see how it tasted with blueberries and greens. I paid more attention to the ingredients in my food choices. (Trader Joe’s, please replace the canola oil in your wonderful garlic dip/spread with something healthier.)

Change in Other Habits and Behaviors

This creativity spilled over into other habits and behaviors. Changing things up in terms of our habits and routines tends to make us question not just one particular habit (breakfast at 8 a.m., wine & snack at 5 p.m., etc.), but many others as well. Do our other habits and behaviors serve us well? Do they focus on the things that are most important to us? Are there other habits that we want to change or break (time spent on social media, viewing shows, etc.)? Are there habits and routines we’d like to establish or strengthen (reading books, having meaningful conversations with our loved ones, getting outside, or serving others)? What do we want our days, weeks, months, and years to look like?

Gratitude

Trying IF was the result of wanting to lose 10 pounds and go further in establishing healthy habits, but it also served as a reminder to think about my daily choices and to make them intentionally. Even the hunger pangs were a good reminder to me of the abundance that I’m privileged to have…food on demand; high quality, healthy food choices available at a moment's notice when others all over the world go hungry. The hunger pangs remind me of abundance, which leads me to gratitude, which then leads to a desire to be generous, which leads to questions about how I can be mindful and of service to others near and far.

So, if IF leads to a healthier life and greater longevity, let it also lead me to more fully embrace and live the life I choose to live, one that reflects my highest values.

Patricia is a writer, psychologist, and life coach. You can find more of her writing at patticmarshall.com.

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