In order to permanently reach your goals, you need to develop your own food routine.
What you eat is an important part of your food routine.
So is how you eat it.
How many meals you eat in a day, how big those meals are and what time you eat them are all factors in your personal food routine.
The “what” of your food routine is often the easiest piece of the puzzle. Finding a framework of foods that you enjoy and that support your health is sometimes easier than finding the “how” of your food routine. There are thousands of books and websites devoted to the “what,” but far fewer that describe the “how.”
Experimenting with the “how” is just as important as experimenting to find what foods truly work for you.
That’s where methods like Intermittent Fasting (IF) come in.
Fasting protocols are often looked at as something to take your Paleo diet to the next level. They often promise effortless fat loss, which is (probably) the main reason a lot of us are drawn to them. IF provides a template from which to experiment with your “how.”
First. What is Intermittent Fasting?
IF is most easily described as restricting your feeding window (the length of time in which you eat) in a controlled, and premeditated manner. Restricting the feeding window implies that the time when you’re not eating, you’re fasting.
Under the umbrella of IF, there are two methods that are more popular than others: Martin Berkhan’s Leangains method of fasting for 16 to 18 hours a day, and Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat method of fasting for 24 hours once a week. Nia Shanks talks more about these methods and others in this article.
IF offers a rigid structure to be filled by your framework of foods– it satisfies the “how” piece of the food routine puzzle.
Just like there is no food that works well for everyone, there is no one way of eating that works for everyone.
Everyone responds differently to IF.
Some people love the freedom of being able to eat big, satisfying meals in the evening hours.
For some people eating that much food at once can trigger the return of their disordered eating patterns.
There are pros and cons to IF just like there are pros and cons of drinking coffee and eating dairy.
Women in particular need to be aware of the pros and cons of fasting so as to make a conscious decision when experimenting.
Stefani Ruper covers the cons of fasting for women extensively in this article. Men and women’s metabolisms tend to respond differently to IF–due to a different array of hormones. Female hormones tend not to respond as well to IF–resulting sometimes in irregular periods, and other symptoms of hormone dysregulations.
From Stefani’s article, it would seem that IF is not a good idea for women.
But, as I mentioned above, there are cons and pros to every aspect of nutrition.
While IF might cause a change in hormones and metabolism in some women depending on the protocol one follows, there’s also a chance that it won’t. Everyone responds differently.
If you respond well metabolically to IF, it can be a useful tool for healing your relationship with food.
Nia Shanks had luck with creating a healthier relationship with food through intermittent fasting. Eating one or two bigger, filling meals helped her break free from her disordered eating patterns. Nia touches on the Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting in this article.
But there are others who respond negatively to a long period of fasting and a shortened feeding window, or who respond negatively to having restrictions on when they can eat.
The bottom line is that just like experimenting with what foods work for you, you need to experiment with how you eat those foods.
There is no perfect method.
No one method that works for everyone.
Intermittent fasting can be a good place from which to start experimenting to find your “how.”
Just like the Paleo Framework is a good place from which to start experimenting to find your “what.”
I’ve experimented with both the Leangains and Eat Stop Eat methods of IF. I don’t follow either, but I still do some form of fasting…
Eat Stop Eat made me a crazy person. Not eating for 24 hours is HARD. I hated it. I would get really hungry, but worse than that, I would think about food all the time because I was so hungry. In short, Eat Stop Eat was not my bag, baby. I really like eating…and not eating for 24 hours once a week was torture. It didn’t work for me.
I did a formal experimentation with Leangains a few years ago. I didn’t have the psychological response to Leangains that I did to Eat Stop Eat, but I did start obsessing about the fasting window. If I was on hour 15:59 and I wasn’t in a place where I could eat, I would get anxious. So, although Leangains was easier for me, it still wasn’t the right fit. The formal restriction messed with my head.
So, what do I do?
I listen to my body and create my own fasting (or not fasting) routine on a daily basis.
I’m typically not hungry when I wake up in the morning. So I don’t eat. Why would I force myself to eat something to prevent being hungry later? Unlike our caveman ancestors who didn’t know where there next meal was coming from, I know that the longest I’ll have to go without eating is probably at most 20 minutes…and I can manage being hungry for 20 minutes.
I listen to my body and eat when I’m hungry. It just so happens that I’m usually hungry around 12 or 1pm. So that’s when I eat my first big meal.
I tend to get hungry again around 4 or 5pm, so that’s when I eat my second meal– usually a snack of some sort. I eat a post workout meal around 7:30pm, and then dinner around 8pm and go to bed around 11pm.
This routine has been developed over the years through listening to my body.
And it’s changing all the time depending on my activity level, my stress level and my emotions/happiness.
As Nia says in her article:
Bottom line — do what you enjoy and whatever best fits your lifestyle and preferences.
Experimenting with your “how” by listening to your body is one of the best ways to hone your food routine.