The wellness world is a fickle place. Trends come and go with staggering frequency, and while some of them are easy to adopt (a scoop of collagen in our coffee? Sure, we’ll try it) others require a bit more commitment. Introducing our new column, “I Tried It” in which our intrepid reporters take on a wellness practice and report back on whether it’s a trend worth trying (we’re looking at you, meditation), or a hard pass.
Back in the cold and decidedly un-spring-like days that were April 2018 I was sick and tired of feeling, well, sick and tired. Those close to me know I eat very healthy plant-based foods – usually raw and prepared at home – exercise frequently, spend time outdoors, take excellent supplements and generally sleep soundly. So what was up? Whether it was the effects of the course of antibiotics I was forced to take in the winter, a low-lying but nefarious bug that made itself at home in my body, or something altogether different, I knew I had to take drastic measures to feel like my happy, energetic self again.
What Is Intermittent Fasting
You might have heard about intermittent fasting – a big practice among the bio-hacking set – from your favorite wellness blog, a yogi friend or a tech article. But for most, the details around this super trendy style of anti-inflammatory abstinence are often vague and can be confusing.
Thankfully, the major tenets of intermittent fasting are actually pretty simple: spend 16 hours (or more) every day not eating or drinking anything (water and black coffee are allowed, praise be.)
Intermittent fasting should never be confused with dieting, which is often bad for the body and mind; it’s a centuries-old technique of boosting energy and immunity (as well as, yes, losing weight). Hugh Jackman did it for his Wolverine physique and tech stars in Silicon Valley can’t stop talking about the crystal-clear mental clarity it provides them.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Research and data show that when you fast for 16 hours or more per day, the body enters autophagy, where it destroys old and damaged cells that create inflammation and creates brand new healthy ones. It also produces ketones by breaking down stubborn fat and sugar stores that the body doesn’t have time to get to when you’re snacking and eating, which bolster your immune system and fight inflammatory woes like arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
Intermittent fasting also creates more brain cells, boosts mental clarity and memory, combats insulin sensitivity and creates powerhouse mitochondria that power your cells to give you the cleanest, most efficient way of going about your day. Sounds like a panacea? It might very well be the golden road to health our ancestors knew about and practiced so long ago.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Every body is different and with most of our hectic lifestyles, it’s important to know yourself, your routines and prepare for fasting accordingly. I launched into two weeks of intermittent fasting alongside a serious detox that completely cut refined carbs, processed sugars, alcohol, outside foods and more.
- Think about your day and night routines to try and choose a 16-hour window that you’ll be most likely to stick to, even when food cravings are at an all-time high (because in the beginning, they likely will be.) I found it easiest to have my last plant-based, high fat, high fiber meal by 7:30pm or earlier, and not eat again until noon the next day. I would often let me extend my fast to around 18 hours.
- Yep, there’s an app for that. The most popular app out there – and the one I stared at and counted down with for 15 days – is Zero. It was created by the famous tech entrepreneur and angel investor Kevin Rose (Digg, Twitter, Square and others.) Set your desired fasting time – I chose 16 hours as my baseline – and tap “start fasting” as soon as you’ve finished your last meal and last beverage.
- Plan your grocery shopping and meal prep accordingly. You want to be consuming the healthiest, most natural foods that will fuel your body and keep you full longer. Say goodbye to processed foods which will spike your sugars and leave you cranky and hungry shortly after. Healthy fats like virgin oils (olive, coconut), nut butters (almond, tahini), avocado, and other such ingredients, should be stars in your diet along with nutrient-dense and high fiber foods like dark leafy greens, legumes, oats and apples.
- Get busy! Sitting around will only make your cravings worse and magnify the withdrawal effects you might experience during the first few days. The days when I had tons to do all morning and mid-day made me nearly forget I was even intermittent fasting.
- Enlist friends and family to support your efforts, or at least not battle them. If you regularly socialize in the evenings, especially with food and alcohol, sticking to your fasting schedule and staying healthy and alert will be nearly impossible. Think of this as zen time, you time.
How I Felt After Intermittent Fasting (+ Detoxing)
No joke, I had to stop myself from dancing in the streets I felt so good! The first week was undoubtedly difficult and though I missed my dark chocolate, red wine and Starbucks almond milk cinnamon dolce lattes, the excitement about getting healthy again outweighed all my cravings. I was sleeping deeper than I had in ages and had sky-rocketing energy throughout the day.
I was so happy it was probably obnoxious and my recently fractured ankles weren’t swollen or painful anymore. The redness in my skin was nearly gone, I had lost weight, my appetite was under control and I literally felt like I could do anything. I felt like I wasn’t back to my old self – I was my new best self!
Though I stopped intermittent fasting after the 15 days, I recommend a two-week stint to anyone and everyone who feels like they need a reset. Ditto for the detox. You may love intermittent fasting so much that you fast for 16-plus hours every day for the rest of your life but it’s okay if you don’t. I believe in balance and as someone who is obsessed with food, I definitely indulge.
[Ed Note: If you have any serious health issues, a history of eating disorders, are pregnant or nursing, or are under 18, consult with your doctor before embarking on this or any other dietary practice]