When I first heard people were intermittent fasting to lower inflammation, prevent disease, and lose weight, I was horrified. A perpetual snacker, I love nothing more than lying in bed with a good book and a bowl of popcorn right up until it's time for my head to hit the pillow. Yes, my sheets are pretty crumb-prone, in case you're wondering.
I couldn't fathom going 12 (much less 16 or 20) hours without eating. Surely there had to be another way to get these health benefits! But as I did more research, I started to think intermittent fasters were on to something. I've always been a little alarmed by how desperately I feel like I need food. Logically I know I'll survive if I don't have my green smoothie within half an hour of waking up—truth be told, I'm not even that hungry yet—but my brain has a hard time getting there. Plus, eating late at night had started bothering my stomach and keeping me up at night. As a lifelong insomniac, I wasn't exactly thrilled with this development.
In early February, I decided to give intermittent fasting a try. For one month, I told myself, I would fast for 15 hours every day—my last meal would be at 8 p.m. and my first meal would be at 11 a.m. Six months later, I'm still doing it. Here's why.
I feel less desperation surrounding food.
Hunger and I don't go together well. As a kid, the second I felt a hunger pang strike I would head straight for the cookie jar, and as I became more health-conscious in my 20s that cookie jar started looking more like an almond butter jar. Regardless of my jar of choice, I was never far from food.
What I realized when I started fasting was that a lot of that desperation is mental. I'm actually not all that prone to blood sugar crashes, it's just the idea that one could happen that scares me. Lo and behold, waiting a few hours to eat in the morning hasn't been a big deal at all.
I gained greater self-control.
Regular fasting has given me mental strength that I can now apply to other tasks in my life. For example, when I feel the urge to scroll through my Instagram feed instead of finishing a project at work, I remind myself that if I can resist those late-night vegan ice cream sessions, I can probably push through my work as well.
I save time in the morning.
I've always been someone who prepares her breakfast the night before, but before I started fasting I ate it at home. This took about 15 minutes from start to finish, which never seemed like a huge deal. But since eating my breakfast at my desk while catching up on emails and reading the news, I have 15 extra minutes at my disposal before work that I can use to sleep, meditate, or do a short yoga flow. That's what I call a win.
My workouts are stronger.
The idea of falling asleep and going to work on an empty stomach never sounded pleasant, but the concept of exercising on an empty stomach flat-out terrified me. Where would I get my strength if it wasn't from food?!
While I don't usually exercise in a fasted state because I prefer evening workouts, when I do getting a morning run or cycling class in, they're some of my best workouts ever. I don't consider myself an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but Dr. Dominic D'Agostino, Ph.D., B.S. at USF health, says that some of them find that their best performances are after 16- or even 20-hour fasts. "Cognitively, people tend to feel more lucid and focused," he says. "The more frequently you fast, the easier it gets and the more benefits you'll derive from it."
I sleep better.
Just as we sleep better when we power down our electronics and spend some time relaxing before bed, our digestives systems need a little bit of time to wind down before going into sleep mode. While I know there's a lot of science to back this up, for years I refused to get behind it. Wasn't it worse if my stomach was growling?
Truth be told, my stomach never growled much in the late hours of the night, and once I made 8 p.m. my food cutoff time I started falling asleep more quickly and sleeping through the night. Of all the positive changes I've seen since I started fasting, this one is probably my favorite.
Yes, I've lost weight.
While I didn't have weight loss in mind when I started fasting, only two weeks after I started I noticed my pants were looser. It seemed to plateau after that, but I don't mind—I'm already at a healthy weight. I've kept that small amount of pre-fasting weight off, despite the fact that I fall off from time to time. Because yes, that definitely happens (if you don't have late-night pizza once in a while, are you really living?), but I don't beat myself up. I drink a glass of water, go to sleep, and try again the next day.