Whenever people notice my quirky eating habits (that is, how rarely I eat, but then how much I do eat when I eat), I explain that it’s because I do intermittent fasting. That usually only leads to more questions, though, so I’ve decided to share my experiences on it …
How I Started
Up through my early 30’s, I was the guy who had to eat every four hours. Among my friends — and especially my significant others — it was well known that if I wasn’t fed in a timely manner, I would become an incredibly unpleasant person to deal with. For years, I just accepted that this was just the person I was.
But then, I started to hate that I was such a slave to my stomach. I hated that if I ever got annoyed with anything around my friends, they would roll their eyes and say, “Oh, it looks like Dennis needs food again.” I hated that my appetite was their punchline.
I decided that there had to be some way to overcome this. So I started pushing my body a bit. Without actually knowing anything about intermittent fasting, I decided to skip breakfast a few days a week, just to see how my body would respond over time.
It was rough at first, and I did find myself being inordinately grumpy in the mornings. But hey, that’s fine. This was when I was a teacher at a continuation school, so I just channeled my grumpiness into … er, strictness, I guess.
Whatever. It worked for the time being, more or less.
After around six months, I noticed that I was feeling less and less hungry each morning. My body was getting used to the skipped meal, and my mood was improving noticeably. More importantly, my overall energy level wasn’t fluctuating anymore.
To continue pushing myself, I started eating later lunches, while also making an active effort to avoid late-night snacking. At this point, I would go for around 12 hours between my last meal of the night and my first meal of the next morning. The fasting period wasn’t a conscious thing, though. It just seemed to work, so I stuck with it.
And then two years ago, I stumbled on the idea of intermittent fasting. I realized that that’s basically what I’d been doing for years already, so I decided to crank it up even further. Three or four days a week, I started eating only one meal for the day. This pushed my fasting window to around 24 hours.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. As long as I timed my eating schedule so that my sleeping time coincided with the hours I’d be the hungriest, I was able to “power through” the night, as I started calling it. Nowadays, I’ll even push up to 36 hours every now and then. Once I got used to the 24-hour fasting window, pushing to 36 hours or more was totally doable. Essentially, I just had to work up to it — like one would do with any new skill.
Whenever I explain my eating schedule nowadays, people often express amazement and mention that they could never do that. But here’s the thing:
This took me literally a decade to train my body to do. With some persistence, I do believe anyone can do it.
Why I Do It
So why do I fast intermittently then? A few reasons:
1. It makes my day so much more efficient
Some time ago, I decided to keep track of the time I actually spend eating or just thinking about eating. Let’s say I’m sitting at my desk, working. Half an hour (or more) before mealtime, I start thinking about what I want to eat. Once mealtime rolls around, I have to leave my desk to get food. And then of course I spend time eating. Afterwards, I return to my desk, but it sometimes takes half an hour (or more) to get back into the work rhythm I had before I got up.
After adding everything together, I realized that I was probably spending 4-5 hours a day getting ready to eat, eating, and … uh … basking in the afterglow of eating?
Cutting down to one meal a day has freed up a huge chunk of hours in my life.
2. It allows me to eat anything I want when I do eat
Given how much I naturally eat anyway, this has been the coolest aspect of intermittent fasting. The idea is that when it’s time for me to eat, I can eat whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about limiting my calories during my meals, because the fasting itself is the limiting factor.
You know what that means …
Oh yeah. You bet I will happily skip two meals a day if it means I can have four of these milkshakes in one sitting. (For the record, I don’t. I’ve maxed out at “only” two.)
3. I don’t have to work out anywhere near as much as I used to
First off, this is what I looked like in April, 2016, right before I started training for a bodybuilding competition (more on that here if you missed those shenanigans the first time around):
At this point in time, I was lifting two or three times a week and hitting the climbing gym once or twice a week. Point being, I was exercising fairly regularly (though not super-intensely), and this was the physique I was maintaining.
And here’s what Melissa and I looked after five months of the most intense training we’d ever done in our lives. This was seven days before the competition:
Here we were on competition day:
And — okay, fine, this is just to show off now — here are two shots from a photo shoot we did the day after the competition:
I’m proud of what we achieved while prepping for a contest (obviously). But here’s the thing:
To look like that, I had to work out for 1.5 hours a day, six days a week, and also weigh every piece of food and track every calorie I ate …
… for five fucking months.
It was miserable. And in retrospect, it’s probably not something I would ever do again.
Don’t get me wrong. We know plenty of people who compete regularly and feel awesome about it. More power to them. I just realized that I personally don’t have any desire to maintain that level of commitment to my workouts. I looked great, but I felt like shit. And ultimately, I wanted an exercise and nutrition routine that was sustainable in the long run.
And that’s where intermittent fasting comes in. Here’s a selfie I took just yesterday:
Nowadays, I lift weights once (sometimes twice) a week, for 30-45 minutes each time, and basically do no cardio, aside from a moderate amount of swing dancing once a week.
Obviously, I’m at nowhere near the physique I attained for the bodybuilding competition. [Cue sad trombone sound] Sure, I wish I was still this ripped:
But you know what? I’m totally okay with it. My physique today is sustainable and accommodates my love of milkshakes and all things frozen. Plus, I actually look better than I did before I started training for the competition, when I was lifting and climbing regularly, but not fasting.
Intermittent fasting itself does take discipline, but for me at least, it’s far more manageable than the level of exercise I would need to engage in so that I could eat anything I wanted.
Basically, yes. Intermittent fasting works for me because it lets me eat like a pig.
Anyway, if you’re curious to try it for yourself, here’s a beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting. It’ll explain the science behind the process, and if you don’t think you’re quiet ready to starve yourself for 36 hours straight, the guide will at least point you in that direction.