Monday, May 21, 2012

My Latest Experiment

For the past month, I've been keeping a secret from you guys. Don't take offense, but part of the experiment was keeping the secret. Let me explain- since the beginning of this blog, step 1 for me was to write about all the things I was going to do or planned on doing, and then as I went along, I would update and report things here. The theory behind this was that if I said it here first, I'd have more motivation to do it, because I know y'all are hanging on every word (ha! kidding). For some things, that technique worked (going paleo), for others it did not (half marathon training). There have been many evolutions and new plans and experiments over the past couple of years. Anyone that has been reading from the beginning (ahem, C, L, big sis) I'm sure is like, WTF is she doing NOW?!?!

I read a lot of health blogs, paleo blogs, crossfit/weight lifing blogs, weight loss blogs, attempted weight loss blogs, etc. The variety of what I read allows me to toss out the 'fringe thinking' or ideas that see, to be fleeting and unsubstantiated, and focus in on reoccurring themes with success and testimonials. March- April I spent some time sort of stalled out, thinking of just exactly it was that I wanted, and how I planned to get there. During that time, almost like fate, a reoccurring concept kept popping up in the things I read, and it was nearly across the board, making it seem less 'fringe' to me.

Very uncharacteristic of myself, I dove head first into the intermittent fasting (IF) pool. Luckily for me, the pool was WAY deep. I just decided one Monday 4 full weeks ago, that I was going to skip my breakfast, workout at lunchtime like I normally do (only this time fasted) and eat my first meal after that. Day one went ok, so I decided to see if I could stretch it out for a week. Sure enough, it fit into my schedule with ease like I never could have imagined. After my first week, I took some notes on how I was feeling. After week one, I decided I would give it a full 4 weeks of testing before I came here to write about it, and that is exactly what I did.

Below are my weekly notes. I tried to note only the new things that I notice each week, and not repeat any (but some notes are just different ways of saying the same thing) so, all four weeks is more of a cumulative list.

First week notes:
More energy
Improved mental focus/clarity
Easy fit with my schedule, less preparation
Better sleep
More activity (in all rooms of the house. ahem.)
General lack of interest in food
Heightened enjoyment of food when I do eat
Feeling hungry does not have to signal that something is "wrong" (and therefore I should eat)
Scheduling my eating around my life, not my life around eating = less stress

Second notes:
Frequent pee (including waking in middle of night)- usually a sign of me losing weight
Get full on relatively normal amounts of food, i.e.- I'm not making up for long the long period of not eating by gorging myself
Clothes fit better, but scale isn't moving- eventually it has to
Able to get through workouts, but feel kinda sluggish- hoping this is just an adjustment period to fasted workouts
Very thirsty
Sort of "slacking" with my eating- need to clean this up/ begin counting calories/macro nutrients/alternating macro nutrients on rest days
Hunger level significantly less before noon

Third week notes:
Began counting calories this week.
Acidy feeling/tummy uncomfortable occasionally during workout (not enough to stop the PR's though- booyah!)
Seem to "use" food quickly. 1-2 hours after eating, I feel like I've burned through it, not hungry, but definitely feeling like my tank in starting to get empty? IDK- hard to explain.
Still thirsty
Staying at or below calorie goal takes focus currently. I really was out of touch with just how much I was eating.
Watching calories is really making me think twice about what goes in my mouth, paleo or not
Get full faster- on smaller amounts of food
So relaxed...I never realized how much thought I put into what I was going to eat until I stopped. So freeing.
Starting to get the hang of calorie counting again.
Really trying to focus on changing up macronutrients based on whether its a rest day or workout day.
Weight has started to move downward- although I have noticed signs of fatloss around my body before this
For the first time in a long time there is a (tiny) gap between my thighs.

Fourth week notes:
Good, deep, sleep
Still thirsty
Morning hunger not as apparent- I treat any stomach grumblings with BCAA's, definitely feel like I've broken the habit of eating first thing in the am
Clothes looser, body changes more apparent
Really enjoying not having to think about/prepare food for breakfast. Fasting for 16 hours then working out fasted fits incredibly well into my schedule.
Seem to be spending less money on food (since I'm eating less) preparing for the day is SO easy- pack one good sized meal with me (usually dinner leftovers).
Caught a bit of a cold, but its not slowing me down/preventing me from exercising- slight sniffles, scratchy throat, dry cough- nothing too crazy. No body aches, no brain fog, just annoying not feeling 100%!
Scale continues to tick downward

Between ease of execution and seeing good results, I plan to continue. My absolute #1 focus is retaining muscle mass while losing fat. I know this means weight loss and body changes will be a slow process. However, I do feel that focusing on fat loss only is a much more efficient route to where I want to be than focusing on losing weight only, and THEN having to focus on building muscle. I have a solid amount of strength now, I want to keep that.

Due to my goal above, everything I read regarding muscle retention/fat loss lead me to paleo combined with intermittent fasting. The only thing left was for me to test it out on MYSELF. As much as I love food, I thought I was going to have a tough time with not eating for 16 hours (9 of that is sleeping though..). I was apprehensive about training fasted. I thought I might go crazy with meals once I was in my feeding window. I was under the false impression that I needed to be eating every few hours to keep my metabolism "going."

I was surprised on all fronts. The fasted workouts took some getting used to, and although I felt sluggish during the workout, my times proved that I was still in line (or better) than my fed workouts. I adjusted very quickly to not eating in the morning- it was always such a chore for me to have stuff prepared, and then eat it, blah blah. Not eating is SO much easier. In the mornings I focus on bringing my post workout lunch, and that's super easy, since I just grab dinner leftovers. I'll drink my amino acid energy drink and take some BCAA's, and I'm good! Yeah, occasionally I'll get some stomach grumblings before my workout, but since I'm at work, I find if I just busy myself with something else, I soon forget about them. I've been drinking a TON of water. The first week or so, my first meals of the day tended to be larger, but now, I find I fill up pretty quickly on what I would consider to be normal amounts of food.

So, how does it work? Like I said, I dove into this head first. I barely did any real research on the topic before deciding to try it. I read enough to see that I should fast for 16 hours, end my fast with a workout, and keep my protein intake high. Since then, I have done quite a bit more reading on the subject. At first I was like, well, duh, of course people lean out, they are eating less in a day by fasting for a period of time. Well, turns out that is not the driving force behind the results people see with IF. The difference is not in the total calories consumed, but the timing of when those calories are consumed.

Let's take a previous normal day for me food/workout wise so you can see what I'm talking about:
Wake up 6:15am- eat breakfast at 6:45-7am
Snack at 10am
Workout at 12pm
Lunch at 1pm
sometimes snack at 3pm
Dinner at 5-6:30pm
In bed by 9:30

This schedule roughly breaks down to 12 hours fed state/12 hour fasted. During the fed state I would rarely go more than 3-4 hours without eating.

Currently my day looks like this:
Wake up 6:15
Workout at 12pm
First meal @ 1-1:15p
Dinner @ 7
Sometimes snack @8p
In bed by 9:30

Now my schedule breaks down to 7 hours fed state/17 hours fasted.

So, what's up with this? Why does reducing the window of eating matter? There is a whole bunch of science-y stuff dealing with insulin and gherlin and fat storage that you can do the research on your own if you are curious. The abridged version is that when you extend the regular period of fasting that we all do (sleeping) for a few hours longer, you are giving your body even MORE time to rest/repair/recovery. Afterall, that is what is occurring in our sleep- we are recovering. The absence of being in the fed state allows other processes to take place in our bodies, and eventually, the body begins to tap into its fat stores. By extending that time, the body is essentially running on empty and using whatever energy is available. THEN, when you end your fast by a high intensity workout, you really blast your body into tapping into fat stores because then it has used up what is readily available. After this workout and associated fast, the food you eat replenishes depleted stores and it has been observed that insulin sensitivity increases (source below). We all want better insulin sensitivity.

I do want to add that I am practicing IF along with my regular paleo eating (high protein/high fat/veggies/low sugar/no processed crap) and in the second week I began counting calories. Just like anything else, IF is a tool. The way my body composition and metabolism are right now, there is no way I could simply change my eating window and eat whatever I want in those 7 hours. I still have to eat the foods that work for me, and in reasonable amounts. The way I see it, IF simply makes better use of the diet I was already adapted to.

Oh, and on Saturday, I was out in the sun for 2 hours from 11-1 pm doing yardwork in shorts and a t-shirt, no sunscreen, and yep, you guessed it- no sunburn.

IF pages of interest:
Mark's Daily Apple- search IF
Free the Animal- search IF
Angry Trainer
Robb Wolf- search IF
JAG's Fitness Blog



  1. LOL @ "attempted weight loss blogs" ;-)

    I think your experiment is AWESOME! I am still having an issue not eating before my workouts, because most days I am out of bed at 5:30 but not working out until 9. If I could get up and be exercising 45 min. later I think I could do it. When I have worked out on an empty stomach (weekends) it's gone okay but not great; as you & I have talked about, I think it would take a couple of weeks for my body to fall into sync with that but it could be done if my schedule were more in line with that. So I've been eating something small about two hours before I get to the gym (like a 5-bite serving of something) and then I eat after I get home, between 10:30-11AM most days. Definitely done eating by 7PM. That's as close I can get to "real" IF for now. In the fall, when both Spawn are off by 6:45 I can give the real thing another go.

  2. Fantastic experiment, After Norma wrote about it, and you commented I went and read up on it and I just started this week as well doing it. I am usually done eating by 7 the latest, I think I will have to adjust it when I finally find a job, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, eating around 11 is working for me and I work out around 9ish. I feel like working out fasted is great, the bcaa's help though definitely.

    1. Yes! This is what its supposed to be about- sharing ideas, testing things, and data! I love that we are all experimenting with IF together!