The skip breakfast experiment

 Before lockdown, I was working towards getting my weight down to ninety-two kilos.  Then lockdown hit and I put on six very unwelcome kilos, pushing my weight up to one hundred kegs.  This had to change, I knew what to tweak (stop eating cake, drinking alcohol and get back on the mats).  To turbocharge my weight loss I decided to start intermittent fasting.

In this article, I am going to share what I know about IF, how I am doing it and my results so far.  As with anything health-related, please seek professional medical advice before trying it. 

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting (IF) or “skip breakfast” as I think of it, is the practice of not eating for a set period of time, then eating for a shorter period of time.  I think of these periods as my “fasting window” and my “eating window”

There are quite a few different IF methods/ models/ plans out there.  I have listed the most popular methods below.  If you are looking for more details on the methods, this article from Medical News Today is one of the better summaries out there. 

  • 12:12 plan: fast for 12 hours, eat whatever for 12 hours
  • 16:8 plan: fast for 16 hours, eat whatever for 8 hours
  • 5:2 plan: fast 2 days a week (consuming only 500-600Kcal on fasting days), eat whatever the other 5 days
  • Alternative day plan: 1 day fast (consuming only 500-600Kcal), 1 day eat whatever
  • 24 hour fast: only drink calorie free liquids for 24 hours 

What can I eat?

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is not a traditional diet, in that it does not limit any food groups or make you count calories.  When I dug into the nutritional does and don’ts of IF I found that most sources say something along the lines of you can eat what you want in your eating window.  Then in the next breath something similar to but it helps if you are eating a healthy balanced diet i.e. fresh fruit and vegetables, no refined sugar, no alcohol, etc.

Another theme I noticed is that (apparently) you can eat your daily calorie intake within your eating window and still lose weight.  The only real hard and fast rule is consuming calories within your fasting window.  In a nutshell, most advice says the only things you can consume are no/ low calorie drinks e.g. water, tea, black coffee, green tea.  Some articles say having a splash of milk in your English breakfast tea is ok as the calories are negligible. 

What are the perceived benefits of IF?

The reason I say “perceived benefits” instead of “benefits” is because the research into IF whilst promising is still young.  Hopefully over the next five years more studies and clinical trials will be completed allowing conclusions to be drawn. 

For now, the following are thought to be the benefits of IF:

  • Weight loss
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Improved thinking and memory
  • Improved physical performance
  • Prevents diabetes and obesity

My really crap summary of the science behind IF

Ok, so I am not a scientist and I think there are far too many charlatans on the internet claiming expertise when they should be researching and reading.  I claim no expertise, this is my simplistic understanding based on what I have read. 

Eating food kicks off your body’s digestion process, carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose (sugar).  This pushes up your blood sugar level and triggers your body’s insulin response.  The insulin in your blood sends glucose to tissues where it is consumed as energy, any excess is stored as glycogen.  Guess what, when your body has enough glycogen, then it stores the rest as fat!

Now, when your body doesn’t get any glucose from food it has to look elsewhere to keep going.  Firstly, it uses up all the glucose in your bloodstream, then it secretes a hormone called glucagon which uses your glycogen reserves.  As these two are depleted, your insulin level comes down.  This is when your body stops burning sugar and starts burning fat, this change is referred to as “Metabolic switching”

During the metabolic switch, your body secretes fat burning hormones which convert fat into energy to keep you going.  Now your body is in fat-burning mode.  A by-product of this process are Ketones (fatty acid molecules) which provide energy to your vital organs (brain, heart, etc).  Ketones are thought to be why you are more focused during your fasting window. 

Finally, your body switches into a state called Autophagy.  When you are in this state your body repairs and recycles old or damaged cells.  This apparently increases the lifespan of your cells and improves their efficiency. 

So how does Intermittent Fasting fit into this?  Intermittent Fasting defines the time when each of these phases takes place based on your last meal. 

  • +11 hours after eating, metabolic switch
  • +12 hours after eating, ketosis
  • +14 hours after eating, autophagy

The theory of Intermittent Fasting is that the longer you are in these states the more fat you burn and the more optimized your body is. 

My research into Intermittent Fasting

There is a plethora of information online about Intermittent Fasting, Dr Google has a lot of answers.  On top of that there are plenty of people cashing in writing books about it.  Due to the fact that the practice of Intermittent Fasting is pretty simple, I didn’t bother buying any books on it.  To get some insight into the “why” behind it and cut through the bullshit I asked a doctor pal what he thought about Intermittent Fasting and what credible information he had come across on the topic. 

The links below are from him (thank you Gerard) and what I consider credible sources (in my inexpert opinion).  I found the Johns Hopkins Medicine articles to be the most insightful.  They explore the benefits, whether or not it is for you, and most importantly the why behind it.  Anyway, don’t take my word for it, have a read for yourself.

Getting started with IF

For the past four months I have been experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.  The purpose of my experiment is to see how quickly I can lose weight when fasting. 

I have dabbled with Intermittent Fasting in the past and know that to an extent it works for me.  A lot of my past success with Intermittent Fasting came down to habit and accountability.  Indeed a few of the studies I read noted that one of the reasons Intermittent Fasting is hard to test is because people struggle to stick to it.  To make myself accountable I set myself my first goal “Get to 94kg” i.e.  get myself back to the line where I was before lockdown.  I achieved this fairly recently (it took about three and a half months) my new goal is “Get to 92kg”.

I wanted to track my fasting progress properly so I could measure the results.  I had a look at the app store and found this excellent free(ish) app called Fastic.  Fastic is awesome, not only does it track where I am with my fast but it tells me which of the different stages my body should be in based on how long I set the timer for (metabolic switch, ketosis, autophagy, etc). 

The app has some other cool features to keep you engaged e.g. you are awarded stars for completing and surpassing your fast, these let you buy a frosty which is equal to a cheat day.  As well as the mini-economy game, the app has some nice charts built-in to track your progress over time. 

I need to call out some other diet changes I made around the same time.  These changes have probably tainted my test but fuck it they were healthy decisions to make.  Firstly, I was inspired by a friend who is doing a year without booze.  I decided to have a go at this goal too for a variety of reasons.  Secondly, I cut down on the amount of sugar I was eating (namely the brownies my wife makes for her business).  Undoubtedly these two changes will have contributed to my success so far… which makes me question… does IF work because of the science behind it or because it introduces positive behaviours (healthy diet) and a calorie deficit?

Lastly, I chose the fasting plan I was going to follow.  This part was easy, I naturally don’t miss eating breakfast so I chose to use the 16:8 plan.  I know from past experience that I will not fast properly if I have to get up early, which I do on Fridays and Saturdays, so these are my non-fasting days.  

My IF Hacks

Here are the things I have found help with starting on and sticking to IF:

  • Track your progress, hold yourself accountable
  • Have a positive mindset (see below)
  • When you get up first thing in the morning, drink 1 litre of water
  • When you think you are hungry drink water, green tea, black coffee, black tea, etc
  • Try bulletproof coffee (black coffee with a teaspoon of coconut oil blended into it)
  • When you break your fast, make sure the first thing you eat is healthy protein with veg.  My favourite is scrambled eggs with avocado

Ok, out of all the hacks I listed above, the biggest challenge is mindset.  Accept that you are going to be hungry when you start fasting and that each day before you finish fasting you will get pangs of hunger.  Know this, the hunger passes.  I find that drinking a glass of water or yet another cup of tea helps me get through it.  One thing I noticed at the start is that I felt colder on the run-up to the end of my fasting window, drinking hot drinks helps with this.

Do it on your terms, you do not need to do this everyday.  Have a day or two days in the week where you eat what you want when you want.  The nice thing about Fastic’s in app economy is you can save up for and “buy” cheat days (without spending any of your actual money).  Another example of doing it on my terms is that I still add a splash of milk to my cups of tea or coffee.  Strict “fast-tards” (as I think of them) will say this isn’t right but I am still seeing results so kiss my hairy arse.  Similarly, when I am in my eating window I eat what I want within reason.  I am not a monk, I enjoy biscuits and deserts, I drink alcohol free beer, etc. 

This is really the key to most, if not all habits I think.  If the habit feels like a penance you will never succeed unless you really push and really want it.  The only example of success is forcing myself to like green tea, I stubbornly persevered with that for months until my taste buds adjusted (more an exception than a rule though). 

My results so far

Since I started tracking my results in June I have lost my lockdown weight more or less.  The graph below is testament to this.  I am back to somewhere between ninety three and ninety four kegs.  At this point I know there are more tweaks I need to make to my diet to shed that last two kilos. 

Line graph of weight loss

One observation is that I became obsessed with weighing myself, to the point that I was weighing myself first thing in the morning, then after id taken a dump, in the afternoon after eating my first meal of the day, last thing at night, after training.  Like I said, obsessed.  Although, it kept me very accountable, jumping on the scales first thing and seeing I am a half a kilo or a kilo heavier than the day before motivates me to fast longer. 

Graph showing cumulative fasting hours

My other observation is around the duration of my fasts.  Some days I go over and end up doing eighteen hours, one day I hit twenty hours.  In spite of that my average according to Fastic is 13.0 hours a day.  This is because on Fridays and Saturdays I do not fast because I get up around 5am.  This is my only issue with the Fastic app, it would be great if I could program the days that I am fasting and the days that I am not fasting for free.  It would be better still if I could see my timeline by day over a few months rather than an aggregated number by month or week.

Conclusions and future experiments

What have I found out?  My experience with intermittent fasting has been largely positive.  Tangibly I have lost nearly five kilos over a period of four months.  There is still work to do but the results speak for themselves. 

Coming back to the perceived benefits I listed earlier I can only comment on some of these because I have my own tangible data to review.

Weight Loss

I do feel that a lot of the success I have had so far is because the discipline of sticking to the 16:8 plan has made me get used to being hungry and eating less.  I have noticed on the days I choose not to fast I eat less out of habit.  Furthermore, I am more mindful of what I consume.  For example, I have a thing for sausage rolls, I still eat them but when I do I mentally note that it is shit calories going into my system (part of me doesn’t give a fuck, they are too damn good not to eat).

The other big contributing factor is not drinking alcohol, the empty calories from beer and wine have been removed from my diet completely.  I think this has contributed to the steady weight loss I have experienced just as much as the fasting. 

Decrease in resting heart rate

I wear my trusty Withings Hybrid watch pretty much 24/7 the only time I take it off is when I train Jits or Wrestling.  I have pretty good data before I started fasting and during fasting.  My resting heart rate and sleeping heart rate have not changed over the past six months.

Improved thinking and memory

I honestly can’t say I have noticed feeling sharper or more alert while fasting.

Reduced blood pressure

I haven’t been tracking this but may start to in the future.

Prevents diabetes and obesity

I haven’t had any blood work done so cannot comment.

To sum up, I think intermittent fasting works, I am not too bothered about changing from the 16:8 plan.  I am quite happy to continue skipping breakfast five days a week.  Although, I might do a 24 or 48 hour fast in the future just to see what that feels like but I am not going full “fast-tard” with this shit.  

I have achieved what I set out, which was to lose weight and establish a lifestyle choice.  The challenge now is keeping that lifestyle choice in place for the next three months.  As my long standing back injury seems to be healing I intend to add more fitness to my routine (compound lifts, running and swimming in the sea).  I imagine once I start with this I will be able to hit my target of 92 kilos.  Staying at 92 kilos will be a test in itself but it is fun tracking my progress and keeps me focused on poor lifestyle choices.

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