My 30 Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge
So a little while back I put together an (awesome) beginners guide to intermittent fasting.
IF has been a hot topic for years. Studies, blogs and personal anecdotes kept hyping up this bad ass eating strategy. People were jumping all over this head first.
So I wanted to see what it was all about.
The guide I put together is all research based. I dug deep, read a lot about it, asked a bunch of questions and summarized it nicely.
But if you’ve been following this blog for any time now, you know that I always take things with a grain of salt. And you should too.
So I figured it was time for another test. Another challenge.
And so for 30 days (straight) I decided to incorporate intermittent fasting into my life.
There’s just no better way to learn about something than to experience it for yourself. To immerse yourself fully. It opens your eyes to the little details and insights that you simply can’t learn from a book.
This is something I preach all the time. Try things. Don’t assume what you read or hear is the real deal. You need to constantly be testing things for yourself to figure out if they suit your body and your lifestyle.
Here’s what I learned from my 30 day Intermittent Fasting challenge…
In part 2 of my intermittent fasting guide, I listed off some of the most popular fasting protocols.
I had to choose one for this challenge.
Introducing the condensed eating window protocol.
Recall from the IF guide:
The idea [behind the condensed eating window] is to condense your food consumption period to a set number of hours, often between four to eight hours. This is your window of time where you can eat. The rest of the day (and night) you fast. This window can be changed to meet your schedule.
For this challenge I chose to go with an eight hour condensed eating window and a 16 hour fast.
1:00 pm – 9:00 pm –> Eat
9:00pm – 1:00 pm –> Fast
I set these hours based on my schedule (I work 8-5 full time). They could be different for you. Again…test.
My eating window consisted of three fairly simple meals.
Meal one was at 1:00pm and made up roughly 20% of my total caloric intake. It typically consisted of meat and vegetables. Nothing too big. Low on carbohydrates. High(er) on protein.
Meal two was around 4:00pm and made up another 20% of my total caloric intake. More often than not it was a protein shake with an apple or two.
Meal three was around 8:30pm and was by far my largest and most filling meal – it made up the remaining 60% of my caloric intake. It was high in protein and moderately high in carbohydrates. There were some differences depending on whether this was a training day or not.
If it was a training day – I would train around 7 to 8pm (so I was training on a fairly empty stomach) – my final meal would be high in both protein and carbohydrates.
If it was a non-training day, my final meal would still be calorically high, but my carbohydrates were moderated. They were still there, but not nearly as high as on training days.
Here’s an example of a typical post-workout meal:
Fish. Eggs. Rice with some vegetables. A juicy salad on the side.
The reason for this set up is simple.
The first two meals of the day were purposely low both calorically and carbohydrate-wise to keep my blood sugar levels and insulin levels low. My last meal was the big one. The monster. It was perfectly timed after my workout when my body was most primed for nutrient absorption.
And I never went to bed hungry. It just worked well for me.
For the purpose of keeping this article shorter, I won’t go into too much detail of my workout. If you’re interested in the details, ask below.
I did strength training twice a week using phase 3 style training I learned from my Visual Impact challenge. I kept my weights heavy, reps low and rest periods long. But I was in the gym for no longer than 45 min.
One thing I definitely upped during this challenge is the amount of walking (or low intensity training) I did on my non-training days. I’ve found this to work really well when it comes to burning fat.
What I Learned
So what exactly happened? What changes did I experience? What did I learn?
Listed below are all the things I’ve discovered (mostly about myself) over the course of my 30 day intermittent fasting challenge.
I’ve lived my entire life with the mindset that breakfast was the biggest and most important meal of the day.
So I was worried a little bit that I’d be overwhelmed with hunger in the mornings. I went from having a huge breakfast in the morning to a single tall glass of water. My first meal got pushed back from 7am to 1pm. That’s a six hour difference!
Kind of a big change. But here’s the thing.
The hunger never came. From the beginning of the challenge I never felt hunger in the mornings. Not even close. I did consume a cup of coffee around 8-9am so that may have helped, but I never found myself wishing I could eat something.
It felt unusual. But good.
My Sleeping Patterns
This was probably the craziest revelation of the entire fasting challenge.
By switching to the three meal pattern and eliminating my early morning breakfast (which has been a standard part of my routine since I was born), my sleeping patterns got thrown completely out of wack.
They started to change from the very beginning.
In the very first week of the challenge I started to wake up early. Like 4am early. Every single morning.
It was very strange. I’d wake up, check my watch and see 4am on the dot every single morning. But I wasn’t tired. Not at all. I felt amazing. Energized. Fully awake.
The first few mornings I tried going back to sleep. On some mornings I succeeded. For most of them, I just ended up laying there. Wondering what the hell was going on.
But I kept with it. I went to bed around 11am every night. Eventually the sleeping patterns started to normalize. I started to wake up at normal times, but there were still random mornings where I had no use for an alarm clock (which is always nice).
So why did this happen?
I tried doing a little bit of research on this to see if anyone else has experience anything similar, but I found nothing.
My guess is that it has to do with the fact that I eliminated breakfast. My body has been accustomed to being fed first thing after rising. All of a sudden that feeding period was gone.
My body got confused.
It associated feeding times with my sleeping patterns. And when the feeding times shifted, so did the sleeping patterns. Remember that my first meal used to be at 7am (as soon as I woke up pretty much). Now, out of nowhere, my first meal got pushed forward by six hours.
And so my body tried to accommodate.
And thus came the 4 am rising time.
Eventually, my sleeping patterns stabilized. I started waking up with an alarm again.
You can see just how quickly the body is able to adapt.
I found the similar effect to be true during my experiment with losing weight. Within a day I dropped my caloric intake from 4,000 calories per day to roughly 1,200 calories per day and it took my body less than a week to adjust.
This is all good news.
It goes to show how quickly the body is able to make adjustments to any lifestyle modifications.
Note: The changes in my sleeping patterns may not necessarily be due to my changed eating times. These are just my thoughts. If you know of some research that explains this or if you’ve experienced something similar feel free to share your links or stories in the comments below.
My Energy Levels
If you recall from my intermittent fasting guide, fasting is supposed to have positive effects on your energy levels.
And I found that overall they did.
There were times near the beginning of the challenge that I felt woozy. Dizzy even. But those feelings quickly vanished.
On average, I felt like I was full of energy. Especially in the mornings. Never tired. Never fatigued.
I felt good.
I had tons of energy for training. Hitting the gym in a fasted state was a little weird at first, but it soon started to feel…normal. I never felt slow or sluggish. More about this later.
In the evenings I felt like I was ready for bed roughly around 11am every night. There were random nights where I felt like I was going to crash, but those were rare and sporadic.
I was expecting to lose weight during this challenge.
I started off at 175lbs. Roughly 12% body fat.
My first week was kind of all over the place.
Even though I thought I was consuming a fair number of calories (especially from my last meal of the day), I wasn’t. Maybe it was a mental thing, but I definitely under consumed my calories on the first week.
And so after seven days I dropped 6lbs.
A little high, but keep in mind a lot of this was water weight due to the decrease of insulin levels caused by fasting.
So I decided to up my calories for the second week. I slightly increased my first two meals (not by much) and really upped my last meal (especially on training days).
And at the end of week two I was back up to 171lbs (gain of 2lbs).
Weeks three and four were fairly consistent. Loss of 1lb for each.
Here’s what my weight looked like over the course of the 30 day challenge.
Overall, the general trend is as expected – toward weight loss. Thirty days is a little short to get a full understanding of weight fluctuations, but it was enough to see that the research holds.
You will lose fat.
How much? Well that depends on a lot of factors. Some of them are in your control. Others aren’t.
The idea isn’t to place all your focus on what the scale says. Instead, focus on changes in your energy levels. Focus on how you feel. If you’re good in these categories you’ll be more inclined (read: motivated) to make better choices throughout. Weight loss will follow.
Recall from the intermittent fasting guide:
When you fast, your body releases more of catecholamines (a stimulant hormone). As a result, mental focus is increased, productivity increases, and you feel like you can take over the world.
I felt this.
I felt sharp in the mornings. Super focused. My concentration was killer. I felt like I c0uld do more with less time (my boss loved this). It was an incredible feeling. (Coffee definitely played it’s part)
But there was something more important going on here.
I felt free.
Free of thoughts about food. Free of cravings.
I used to be hungry after not eating for 3-4 hours. I couldn’t get food off my mind. It controlled me. I felt powerless.
Even when I wasn’t hungry I had food on my mind.
Hmmm…what will I eat later?
Introducing fasting changed this. It took about a week or so to take effect, but I quickly realized that I was in control. I was in the driver seat.
By minimizing my fed state and introducing longer periods of the fasted state, I stopped feeling hungry.
I stopped thinking about food.
I felt free.
My Training with Fasting
I’ve already touched on training a few times in this post, so I won’t say much here.
I trained 4-5 times per week.
Two days of strength training coupled with skipping rope and kettlebell work.
A day or two of sprinting.
Nothing too far off from what I do typically.
Except for one thing.
I decided to add a lot of low intensity training into my routine.
Walking is the perfect low intensity activity for initiating the fat burning energy system in your body. And, when coupled with fasting (especially when done after a long fasting period – in the morning for example), the effects are insane.
This is something I highly recommend whether you’re fasting or not.
Walk. A lot!
My Final Thoughts
This 30 day challenge really opened my eyes to the power of something as simple as not eating.
Introducing short periods of fasting into your lifestyle has effects that go far beyond body composition.
It changes the way you feel.
The way you think.
It teaches you the importance of listening to your body, instead of forcing things into it.
If this challenge has done anything for me, it has helped solidify my belief in the body’s incredible ability to adapt to change.
We think bad habits are hard to break. Impossible even. So we don’t even bother trying.
But that is all in your head. It’s all mental. Your body is capable of adapting very quickly. If you’re trying to instill a new, positive habit into your lifestyle, give it at least a week before giving up. Give it a chance. You’ll see just how incredible the body is.
So where do I go from here?
After the 30 days, I’ve slowly gone back to my old routine.
I’ve introduced breakfast again.
Not because I don’t believe in the power of fasting. But because it’s something I feel works best for me.
Fasting still plays it’s part though. I follow the fasting routine at least two or three times a week. I throw it in after days I felt like I didn’t eat as well as I could’ve.
I give my body time to digest the foods properly. I give it a break from the fed state. And it rewards me by keeping my energy levels high and my mind sharp.
It’s all about balance.
About understanding that you need to work with your body.
Most importantly, I learned not to be a slave to my food. Eating every 3-4 hours is not a priority anymore.
I can now go through periods of not eating for 6-8 hours and feel absolutely fine with it. No hunger. No cravings. No guilt. Knowing that the fast is actually benefiting my body (instead of taking away from its performance) allows me to keep food off my mind.
It’s a beautiful feeling.
I hope you’ve gained something from reading this. I encourage you to try intermittent fasting out for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a full month. Even a few days will be enough to see some effects.
Remember that it’s all about trying things and seeing how your body reacts. This is what building a better body is all about.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!