Your mum might have repeatedly told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but there are some schools of thought that challenge this traditional piece of wisdom.
If you’re up to date with your wellness trends, you might have read about intermittent fasting (IF) – a new dieting pattern beloved by certain members of the fitness industry, that promises a whole host of health benefits. While I’m not really one for fads, this one appealed because instead of just changing what you eat, you alter how – more specifically when – you eat.
My main reason for wanting to try intermittent fasting is because I suffer from an upset stomach, and research suggests it could possibly help reduce inflammation in the body (which is beneficial to health in numerous ways) and aid digestion.
There are several different types of intermittent fasting but the 16:8 method is the most common. The rules are simple: you only eat during an eight-hour period during the day, and fast for the remaining 16. For me, this means skipping breakfast and just sticking to lunch and dinner.
Curious? Here’s everything I learned from practising IF for two months…
1. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds
If you’re a food-lover like me, the word ‘fasting’ can sound daunting at first – it screams of deprivation, which is never something I’m on board with. However, the 16:8 method is actually really manageable. Instead of spending all day with hunger pangs, all you’re doing is skipping breakfast, which feels easier than missing other meals of the day. That’s probably one of the most appealing things about IF – it’s not a diet, it’s an eating pattern.
2. At first it’s pretty tricky
Before this experiment, I never really ate big breakfasts and generally stuck to something quick and easy, like a banana. Even so, you should be prepared to feel hungry in the first few days. My body was really confused when I suddenly started skipping the first meal of the day and the morning hunger pangs were fairly severe.
It definitely took a couple of days to get used to the new pattern, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I get grumpy when I’m hungry. Apologies to my housemate.
3. You get used to it very quickly
After just a few days, I didn’t wake up expecting food, so it became easier to hold out until lunchtime. One of the major things I noticed is that I stopped craving breakfast altogether. This isn’t to say I didn’t occasionally have a morning where I wanted to eat a bagel, but nine times out of 10, I put that down to having had a drink or two the night before.
4. You feel better if you break the fast with a balanced meal
This one probably sounds pretty obvious, but breaking your fast with nutrient-rich food is really important. This only really made sense to me when I experienced it first-hand, however. Most days, I broke the fast at around 12:30 with some kind of salad or stew, packed full of vegetables, which made me feel great and gave me an instant energy boost.
However, there was the odd day that I’d opt for a chocolate biscuit before anything else. Take it from me, this is not a good plan; it made me feel really sluggish.
5. You need to be hot on hydration
Everyone knows drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important. As it turns out, if you’re not eating for part of the day, good hydration becomes even more important – unless you want to suffer from raging headaches. Plus, it helps keep the hunger pangs at bay.
6. Don’t skip breakfast if you train in the mornings
When I first started intermittent fasting, I treated every morning as the same. Even on days that I went to the gym first thing, I would battle through and not eat until lunchtime.
This, as you can probably imagine, is a very silly thing to do. I now eat breakfast if I’m training in the morning, because I know that will help me to get the most out of my session – plus it’s not generally healthy to skip meals before exercising, as your body will need the fuel to power through the workout.
7. You feel more sprightly
I realised a while ago that weighing myself isn’t good for my mental health, so I have since ditched the scales. This means I can’t judge scientifically whether my foray into IF has actually changed my weight.
Instead, I go by how I feel, and by this judgement I deem it a success. I wouldn’t say it has magically given me a endless energy, nor have I dramatically slimmed down, but I definitely feel sprightlier and leaner. Above all, it stops me from mindlessly snacking on things I don’t actually want throughout the morning.
8. Work out what’s best for you
There are lots of different ways to do intermittent fasting, so it’s all about finding out what type of schedule works best for you. For me, the 16:8 method is ideal.
It’s really important to bear in mind though, any type of fasting has the potential to trigger previous issues with disordered eating, as it encourages regimental behaviours around food. My relationship with food allowed me to manage this safely, but it’s not a good idea for everyone.
My main takeaway is that you don’t have to do it every day to still get the benefits. I tend to let loose with the schedule during the weekend, because I love to go for brunch, and because balance is always a good thing.