Let me preface this Post by discussing my Life as a little Corn Flake, back in the day. I was a kid who, in General, Mills around and anxiously Chex the pantry for a big-ass breakfast within minutes of waking up in the morning. A kid who Kix away a finished box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch only to tear into a new one. A kid who Smacks his jaws together, excitedly Gorilla Munch-ing away at the Cocoa, Krispy goodness. I was literally Cap’n Crunch at the breakfast table.
^See what I did there?
I loved cereal. And I loved breakfast in general.
I would get nauseously hungry if I didn’t eat within an hour of waking. I would get more and more irritable as each morning minute passed. There was zero cognitive function until food went down my gullet. I literally thought I would die if I didn’t eat breakfast. I was completely dependent on breakfast, and a slave to hunger.
Remember those old Honeycomb commercials? “Me want Honeycomb!!!” That about sums it up.
This dependency even continued into early adulthood, even though I made better breakfast choices. Usually some sort of omelette or anything else involving eggs.
But I was never really aware of any of this until I started experimenting with intermittent fasting. I tried out Leangains in January 2012 and haven’t had breakfast since. Leangains is a 16/8 style of intermittent fasting. And like most people, I made my eating window during the afternoon and evening. Usually starting between 12-2pm and ending between 8-10pm. So this meant skipping breakfast. And you know what? It sucked for like 3 days. I remember thinking about hunger and eating became all-consuming during those days. I would literally count down to the time I could eat. But by day 4, I felt awesome. Even better than before. Even better than I thought was possible beforehand. I’ve gotten in the best shape of my life by far (both physically and mentally) while practicing various forms of intermittent fasting. And I haven’t looked back since.
So here’s the lessons I’ve learned from intermittent fasting over the last 18 months or so:
I have more energy when fasted. I’ve noticed that my energy levels are through the roof when I’m in a fasted state. You might think it would be the opposite, but everyone reports similar experiences. The body uses a lot of energy to digest food, so it makes sense that you would have more energy available when you’re not digesting food.
I’m more focused and alert when fasted. I have laser-like focus. I get less distracted. My concentration is on point. This goes hand-in-hand with the energy levels.
I’ve learned to align my habits with the human body’s circadian rhythm. This piggybacks on the last 2 points. Having my fasting period during sleep and throughout the morning leverages both the advantages of fasting and the body’s circadian clock. Check out the diagram below:
Notice that high alertness is around 10:00am. If you get a big insulin spike/crash from a bowl of sugary cereal, a bagel (or any of the typical American breakfasts), you’ll disrupt this and have the energy levels of a tranquilized sloth. This research/experimentation has also expanded my awareness of the cyclical nature of both the human body as well as everything else in our Universe. Very interesting stuff.
I get more done in the morning. The result of everything I just described above. I get so much done in the morning and feel so on point. I feel like I can get in the zone more easily when I’m in a fasted state.
No more mindless snacking. Going 16 hours a day without food and only eating 2 meals a day has created awareness regarding everything I eat. When I eat my meals, I make them count. So because of this, I have no need to mindlessly munch on foods throughout the day. I just have no interest in it anymore. I don’t snack, I just eat satisfying meals. Because of this, I get way less temptations and stay in line with my health and fitness goals. And it makes me more productive too. See my post on mindless snacking here.
A little hunger won’t kill me. You can go a few hours without starving to death. I broke out of the paradigm of needing to eat every few hours. I don’t snack throughout the day (see above) and I can easily control my hunger. Hunger is usually fleeting anyway, after a few minutes it disappears. Malcolm X even discussed how once you can control hunger, everything else is a walk in the park. Plus most people confuse hunger with thirst, and are chronically dehydrated. Which leads me to my next point.
I drink more water. When I’m not eating for a certain amount of time, I naturally drink more water. It keeps me alert, satisfied, and adds to the detoxing effects of fasting. Water is a higher priority for survival than food, but most people’s consumption habits are the other way around. For some great information on water and health, read THIS.
Fasting is a God-send after a night of drinking. After a night out these days, I’ll usually wake up and drink a gallon of water within a few hours, then eventually eat whenever I feel like it. This makes me feel infinitely better compared to when I would wake up, hungover and full of toxins, only to immediately eat cereal (or whatever other breakfast food). Fasting combined with lots of water is the perfect detox after a wild night.
I get more ravenous once I start eating, not while fasting. I don’t have much interest in food until I actually start eating. Fasting allows me to focus on other things. This is part of the reason why I don’t snack, too. Eating a little bit is a tease for me now. It just makes me hungry for more. We all have the remnants of that instinctual, animal-driven feeding habit. When you get a taste, it sparks a feeding frenzy. And intermittent fasting allows you to have big enough meals to satisfy this instinct. Think about it, when was the last time you had one cookie? Or just one handful of almonds? If you can do that, you have the willpower of a saint. But the truth is, most people don’t, myself definitely included. Which leads to the next point…
Intermittent fasting is a natural eating pattern. As stated above, it plays into both our instincts and our circadian rhythm. Also, do you think ancient people snacked all day? It was a cycle of hunting/foraging and eating after food was found. And do you think our ancient ancestors woke up to a feast right in front of them every morning? Nope. If your world turned upside-down because of what I’ve said about breakfast so far, check this out for more info.
I appreciate food more. And I have a better relationship with food. This goes along with what I said about mindless snacking before. Going 16 hours a day without food, and usually only eating 2 meals a day, makes me appreciate food when I do eat. I no longer eat with distractions. I don’t eat at my desk at work. I don’t eat in front of the TV (plus not having one helps with that haha). I don’t eat in front of my computer. I don’t eat while driving, walking…etc. I fully enjoy my meals either by myself or in the company of friends/family. And now, every meal becomes an experience. My taste buds have gone from black and white to HD. This might be the best thing that I’ve gotten out of intermittent fasting; I truly appreciate food now.
I have an inclination towards big meals instead of snacks. This can be a double-edged sword. Big meals equal more free time, less time thinking about food (unless I’m planning on making something awesome), being more satisfied, and more control over everything I eat. But the drawback of this is bottomless pit syndrome. It took me awhile to learn when to stop eating during a big dinner, but I eventually learned. Still though, I can eat a lot in one sitting these days. But doesn’t every animal do this? And if you can maintain control and use this to your benefit, then do it. I feel like this could be a big factor in whether people stick to intermittent fasting or not. If you like smaller meals, or if you can’t eat enough in 2-3 meals a day to function, then intermittent fasting probably won’t work for you. But if you like to eat until you’re satisfied (which I believe most people do), then intermittent fasting is a dream come true.
I eat less snack foods. Because I just stick to meals and don’t snack, I don’t eat “snack foods.” Most snack foods generally suck. Chips, crackers, popcorn, candy…etc are all health/physique wreckers and about as satisfying as a veggie burger to a tiger. So I never really find myself munching on snack foods, which easily keeps me in line with my health and fitness goals.
Increased body awareness. Controlling hunger, getting in tuned to when you’re satisfied, differentiating between hunger and thirst, going periods without eating…etc. Everything related to fasting creates more self-awareness for me. Body awareness is crucial. This is the only one we have, so I’m continuously getting to know mine better.
I take advantage of the benefits of doing things fasted. There’s a lot of things that have tremendous benefits when done fasted. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio has so many benefits when performed fasted, especially with fat loss. Walking fasted burns more fat and clears the mind. Read about the benefits of fasted resistance training here. The body absorbs many vitamins and nutrients more efficiently in a fasted state (that’s why I drink a greens powder mix before eating every day). Coffee has increased thermogenic (and thus fat loss) effects when fasted. Drinking water on an empty stomach is detoxifying, especially with squeezed lemon, lime, or apple cider vinegar. There’s a whole host of things that produce unique benefits in a fasted state. And I encourage you to further research anything above that sparks your interest.
Makes traveling easier. I usually fast most of the time when I’m traveling. I usually travel in the morning or early afternoon whenever I go places, so it makes it easier. Instead of stopping at McDonald’s because “I need to eat something,” I just drink water and maybe some coffee. This allows me to easily bypass all of the garbage they call food in rest areas and airports. Combine this with the “getting shit done” benefit of fasting and travelling becomes productive. I get a lot accomplished when I travel these days. Reading, writing, brainstorming…etc.
It cuts time off of my morning routine. I can sleep later because I don’t eat breakfast. So it takes me less time to get ready and do anything when I wake up. There’s few pleasures in life better than getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning, right?
Freedom. I’ve gained more freedom through intermittent fasting. I no longer feel like I’m a slave to food or hunger. I always ate every few hours because I wasn’t mindful when eating, and I thought I had to eat all the time. Awareness has created a broader perspective for me. Not only in the dietary realm, but in life in general. And because I realized I don’t have to eat constantly and a little hunger won’t kill me, I feel more empowered. I’m more in control of my thoughts and actions, instead of blindly following conventional logic.
Growth through self-experimentation. Trying different forms of intermittent fasting has helped me step out of my comfort zones (ex/ control hunger), break monotonous patterns (by experimenting with different eating patterns), do things that most people will never do (eat one meal a day for a month, fast for 36 hours..etc.), building discipline when working towards a goal, acquiring knowledge and experience in health, fitness, and my body. All of this adds to my life experience and builds skills that apply to other aspects of my life.
Cui bono? (Who stands to benefit?) This is a great phrase that I now use/ask myself when figuring anything out. Researching/applying intermittent fasting has made me ponder why there aren’t more studies on it and why virtually no “big names” openly advocate it. And the reason is because there is no financial incentive in fasting. Since fasting is merely the act of abstaining from food, an act of not-doing, no one makes money when people fast. This is bad news for all of the cereal companies saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Bad news for all the companies selling 100 calorie snack packs for people who mindlessly snack all day. Bad news for supplement companies selling protein bars/shakes to people who think their muscles will wither away if they go 2 hours without food. I’ve learned to see through the bullshit and form my own conclusions. And I think that’s an invaluable skill to have.
I now question assumed facts. Everyone repeats the same things over and over. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” “You need to eat (every few hours).” (Read this article for fasting myths debunked). And repetition, when done enough, creates a perceived truth that people just assume is correct. This applies to every aspect of life (look at how much everything is repeated on the news). I now question everything, especially assumed truths. This has given me freedom that I never thought possible. I no longer place blocks, limits, or preconceived notions on the world around me. I’m no longer in a box. I’m no longer rigid. I’m able to be like water. I’m able to evaluate the available information and draw my own conclusions.
My intermittent fasting timeline:
June- July 2011- Joel Marion and John Romaniello’s 25 day “Xtreme Fat Loss” diet.
Consisted of 5 (I think) 36-hour fasts. I kinda just threw myself into fasting when I tried this diet. Because I had 0 previous experience with fasting, going 36(ish) hours was tough. It was an entire day without food, including 2 nights of sleep (before and after). I’ll admit, I drank a lot of coffee and tea, chewed a lot of gum, and even had a 0 calorie vitamin water on almost all of these days (chemical-fest 2011!). But I think that just jumping into these relatively long fasts made everything else a little easier to get through.
December 2011- Played around with a couple 24 hour fasts. (See “Eat Stop Eat” by Brad Pilon)
I think I did 2 24-hour fasts according to Brad Pilon’s book. This was more of a mental thing than anything. I fasted from dinner one night to dinner the next night. Getting through breakfast time was tough, but once those hanger pangs passed it was smooth sailing.
January-October 2012- Leangains (When I first consistently fasted)
I fell in love with 16/8 fasting. Skipped breakfast, had a bigger lunch and dinner. It worked well for me both physically and mentally. I started adding aspects of Jason Ferruggia’s Renegade Diet into this as well (by making lunch smaller and carb-free and dinner bigger with carbs, if I worked out beforehand)
October-November 2012- Warrior Diet
I wanted to push things even further. I read the Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler and applied it immediately. I had one main meal a day (and sometimes an apple or carrots in the afternoon as a light snack). I felt so good and so focused all day. It was awesome. But it somewhat compromised my strength and body composition. This could’ve been from not eating enough during my main meal, but I felt like I was eating too much in one sitting to begin with. I really had to work on stopping eating once I got started. So I decided to go back to 2 meals per day again.
November 2012-December 2013- Renegade Diet
Went back to what I was doing before I tried the Warrior diet. This time I followed the Renegade Diet more closely.
January-Present- Carb Backloading
Started experimenting with Carb Backloading variations. See my post on it here. My routine with CBL was similar to what I was doing with the Renegade Diet. The only differences were less fiber and more high glycemic foods on days I chose to “backload.” I do a lot of tweaking with this protocol, and it’s really flexible. The self-experimentation continues…
So basically, I haven’t eaten breakfast in 18 months. And I’m feelin good, feelin great about it.
Links to what I mentioned above:
Eat Stop Eat
People with similar intermittent fasting experiences:
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