I wrote an informative blog post about intermittent fasting on my blog about a year ago (called IF going forward). It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle where a person eats during a certain window in the day, usually between 8-4 hours long, and fast for the rest of the day (16-20 hours). I was IF’ing while it worked with my lifestyle. It is always important to feel you are doing what feels right for you at the time, you should never force yourself to do anything you don’t feel works with your lifestyle. That’s why we call it a lifestyle – it comes naturally and you don’t need to cling to every “rule” like Scrat from Ice Age did with the last acorn. It is better to adjust your eating habits to your lifestyle and not the other way around. And that’s exactly what I did…
I’ve always been the woman who eats 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks in addition to that. To keep the metabolism active, right? Yet I am always hungry. It is difficult to not eat after the last meal and I was ready to kill for breakfast, that’s how hungry I was in the morning. Sound familiar? There’s an explanation to this and you’ll be surprised!
Ever since growing up we have been told to eat breakfast! The most important meal of the day and preferably the biggest meal as well. So why do people who practice IF skip breakfast and what effect does it have on our bodies? Why is it more effective to have a longer pause between meals to burn fat? The biggest fear people have when it comes to IF? Hunger. In reality, it’s actually quite the opposite. You do not feel hungry when you’re fasting & your body finally starts burning fat!
One of the biggest benefits of IF is lowering the levels of insulin in your body. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in our blood. Therefore insulin gets released when glucose enters our bloodstream. The more glucose, the higer levels of insulin; in other words the more carbs you eat, the higher are the levels of glucose in your blood and the more insluin is needed to transfer the excess glucose from blood to our cells. Insulin helps use that glucose as energy or store it. Glucose is stored in liver and muscles. However, if our glucose levels are full, the rest of it gets stored as fat.
Different foods have a different effect on our insulin levels. Fat causes the least insulin release, carbs, on the other hand, do the opposite. The faster the carb (sugar), the higher the spike in our insulin levels. When you’ve gone without eating for a longer period of time, your insulin levels lower to a minimum, the same happens to the glucose levels. In this case, the pancreas begins to produce glucagon which has a reverse function for insulin. If insulin lowers blood glucose and converts sugar into a glycogen, glucagon raises blood sugar by treating glycogen as a blood glucose. Therefore, if insulin promotes fat storage, glucagon promotes fat burning.
So, if you eat a tiny meal every couple of hours, you will not let your glucagon work and your body does not burn stored fats. The constant presence of insulin increases appetite because our body does not have enough stored energy resources due to high insulin levels and therefore requires supplement glucose. In other words… our body will ask us to eat again because it does not get the energy it needs. Glucagon, on the other hand, reduces appetite and hunger, because our body uses the already stored energy, that is, our fat stores.
This explains the fact that after eating sweets, breakfast cereal, pasta or other processed carbohydrates, we feel quite hungry, although we have just consumed a lot of calories. The level of insulin rises so quickly and so much that even though our blood glucose levels have already returned to normal, there is still a lot of excess insulin that needs additional glucose. And that’s why we feel we need to eat again. And here’s the answer to everyone who has ever asked after a big evening meal (birthdays, Christmas, etc.): “Why, whenever I go to bed with my stomach, I wake up especially hungry?” Because you have quickly overfilled the glucose level of the blood, meaning you also pump up the insulin level. The remaining insulin needs new “food”, and when you wake up in the morning, you feel like you have not eaten for a week since the body wants to get rid of insulin with additional glucose.
Hunger ≠ being without eating for a certain period of time and it also does not increase in time. On the contrary, hunger will diminish over time and eventually fade away. Our body is very intelligent and adapts to our conditions. If you are accustomed to eating all the time, then it will ask you to eat frequently, triggering hunger hormone ghrelin for this. Therefore, hunger is not really hunger, but more the body’s inability to retrieve the stored energy. This is due to the presence of insulin or the habit of supplementing glucose all the time. This is why it is natural to feel hungry when you first start fasting but our body gets used to it in about 4 days. Simply don’t give up straight away and allow your body to get used to the new conditions.
It is also important to talk about a leptin which has the opposite function to ghrelin. Leptin is mainly produced in fat cells and its task is to provide the brain with information about the body’s energy supplies. Leptin is released into the bloodstream when the body’s energy reserves are adequate and it inhibits eating. However, if there is too much insulin in the bloodstream, the brain will not receive the signal to know when it is time to stop eating. This is what happens at Christmas when you eat too much too fast, ending with a nearly exploding gut and stomach pains.
Obesity goes mostly hand in hand with both insulin and leptin resistance. If you want to feel energetic, and not hungry, it is worth keeping your insulin levels low, avoid simple carbohydrates, and not eat too often. This is where the wonderful intermittent fasting comes in all different shapes and forms!
I am not going to explain again why intermittent fasting is good, how to follow it, if you lose muscle mass with it etc. You can read all about that in mty last Intermittent Fasting blog post.
The most “extreme” or most effective way of intermittent fasting is OMAD (one meal a day), meaning you only eat once a day. I started with the 16:8 window and slowly extended the fasting, trying to only eat when I physically felt hungry. After only a week I was able fast for 26h without any problems. That’s when I decided to stick to only eating once a day. For me it means fasting for 23h and then use the remaining hour to fill my stomach. For example, in that time I could drink a smoothie, a meal and a salad; a wrap, a protein bar and bow of soup etc.
Yes, after an hour of eating my stomach feels pretty full, but the biggest bonus? I actually stay full. And I’m not lying when I say that I do not get hungry before 23 hours have passed. I can go through the whole day without thinking about food. Think about the amount of time and energy saved! There is no constant cooking, planning, eating … You sit down and enjoy a decent nutritional meal without worrying about calories because it’s almost impossible to overeat in one meal, as it often happens when you eat throughout the day.
The advantage of OMAD over other IF protocols is a longer fasting window. The longer you fast, the lower the level of insulin and the longer your body burns fat. However, I note that this is a lifestyle and not a diet. Therefore, I only apply it to my life only until it suits my lifestyle. Once or twice a week it happens that because of a birthday or a celebration I eat within an 8-hour window. I am not too hard on myself when it comes to food and I simply enjoy life. And I have to admit – I enjoy OMAD! And I will be practising it for as long as I find it enjoyable.
“How do you find the energy to exercise? Are you not too hungry to exercise? Do you not get dizzy+ Should you not eat straight after exercise to see results?”
First of all, we already talked about how I no longer wake up to an empty stomach and I have a lot more energy and strength than I did before. I was able to do an interval training for the first time at a maximum speed of 18 km / h and for 10 intervals! And I have not noticed any muscle loss… How to explain all this?
When you’ve been doing intermittent fasting for a while, your body adapts to recovering energy from the fat storage. This is why you stop feeling hungry and your body is able to switch between using glycogen, spare glucose, and lastly your fat storage. When I train in the morning after fasting for about 19h my glucose levels are low. During exercise, my body will also empty the last glycogen stores to gain extra energy. And what is left? Fat. Therefore I’m not “hungry” during exercise, because the body is still fed, but at the expense of the internal energy rather than consumed food.
To sum it up, there is so much more I could say on this subject:
If any of this interests you and you have any questions then let me know in the comments below. When there are enough questions you can be sure I will do another blog post! I would also like to know if any of you do IF or OMAD? How often do you eat and/or how long are your eating windows? Do you get hungry?
(Little disclaimer: I am not a health specialist or a doctor and I do not recommend fasting to anyone before consulting with their doctor first. Do your own research before making decisions convering your health and wellbeing.)