why i stopped intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is a popular diet approach – for good reason. I went in full tilt, as I often do to learn and explore different approaches to nutrition. As a coach, that’s the best way to figure out what might work for my clients as well as for myself.
I’ll break down why intermittent fasting works so well – and its limitations – in a moment. But here’s how it went for me.
intermittent Fasting and Testosterone
I’ve always had low testosterone, so I keep my eye out for ways to boost it naturally. And I heard anecdotes from others that intermittent fasting helps with testosterone. (Which turned out to be misleading – more on this below.) I was also working on healing my gut, and it seemed logical that eating less frequently, with longer fasting windows, would give my digestion a rest.
So I downloaded the Zero app (no affiliation), got started, and was pretty strict with it for 18 months.
Can I Change My Eating Window While Intermittent Fasting?
Yes, absolutely. In my case it took some trial and error to find the window that worked best for training. I began with skipping breakfast and doing more like a 10-6 or 12-8 window. This quickly didn’t feel good, as my training window was always earlier and I didn’t like training fasted. My body seemed to want food earlier in the day and less so later in the day.
During this time, the COVID pandemic hit early on in my fasting experiment. This meant my lifestyle was simple since I was stuck at home. With very few evening social or dinner obligations, I found myself just eating earlier and earlier.
Eventually, my window started to look like 6am-2pm.
Effects on sleep, training, and Energy
Once I figured out how to avoid training fasted, my training felt normal. Fasted cardio works fine for me, but a full training session requires more fuel.
Not eating close to bed was great for my sleep. Cutting off eating about 3-4 hours before bed led to a restful night.
Eventually, though, a strict eating window was just a way that my body was controlling for calories. I didn’t allow myself to eat extra calories outside my window, even when it seemed like I needed it.
Restricting calories drained me during my training efforts. I also got quite lean, which turned around those restful nights and began impacting my sleep. Some food before bed would have been helpful – but I didn’t allow it.
intermittent Fasting and Family life
Even if you’re looking at nutrition through a fitness lens, food choices are social, emotional, and cultural. And intermittent fasting definitely had an impact on my family life.
We were on totally different schedules. I ate breakfast before the kids and my wife woke up. And I stopped eating for the day before they wanted to have dinner.
Once COVID restrictions ended and we had more family dinners with my parents and friends, it became an issue.
I had to push my eating windows around. One day was 6am-2pm, then the next would be 6am-8pm. This meant a longer fast into the next day, so I’d go hungry at breakfast time.
Why I Stopped Intermittent Fasting
Ultimately, the downsides of intermittent fasting outweighed any benefits I felt.
I needed to break the belief that intermittent fasting was the reason I had achieved some of my health and body composition goals.
The truth was that I wasn’t as energetic in the evenings as I wanted to be for my family.
I was skinny and needed to start building back my body. And I wanted to be able to have dinner with friends and not have to skip breakfast to do so.
Furthermore, evidence from respected coaches showed that intermittent fasting doesn’t do much for Testosterone after all. In fact, it can make it worse – which became clear when I got my blood results back. It turns out you can achieve many of the reported benefits with other dieting protocols too.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
So why the hype about intermittent fasting? And why has it worked so well for people?
Look closely at any popular diet approach, and you’ll find similarities. When you unpack what makes any diet work, you’ll be able to make much more informed choices about what to try for yourself.
Whether you’re inspired to try intermittent fasting, plant-based, carnivore, or any other approach, there are 4 keys that make all of them work. Or ultimately that cause people to burn out if they don’t follow these core principles.
So instead of being swayed by the culture, the buzz, or the app that goes with your chosen change, keep these in mind.
4 Keys to Any Successful Diet
1 ) Repeatable and sustainable.
If you go hard on a diet for 3 weeks and then stop all together, then it wasn’t a long term success. You might have lost 5 lbs of water weight and 2 lbs of fat to fit into that outfit for the party. But then you went right back to the old body shape and size – because none of those 3 week habits were aimed at sustainability. This is why it is super important to find foods you like, and only commit to a level of self-discipline that is within reach for a long time. A successful diet is one that you can do for years.
2) Controls caloric intake.
All diets that help people lose or manage their weight effectively have one thing in common. Some aspect of it helps the dieter control their calories. Fasting, for example, removes a window of time from your day to consume calories. Gluten-free removes a category of calorie-containing foods from your diet. High protein diets help curb hunger, leading to fewer calories consumed overall.
The key is to make sure you have a clear understanding of why these “rules” are helping you control your calorie intake. If you don’t understand this deeply, then over time you will find a way to cheat the system and overeat. Therefore, in addition to sustainability, these habits should help control the number of calories you consume each day. And you should know why they help with that process.
3) Supports building and/or maintaining lean muscle mass.
Muscle is a key driver of metabolism and will dramatically impact how many calories you burn over any period of time. Furthermore, when you have more muscle mass you are stronger and more likely to be active and move. The combination of movement with quality diet habits is essential for long-term success. Adequate protein is the first key here, and we’ll get into more detail in a follow-up next week.
4) Addresses your food quality.
Food delivers both energy (calories) and nutrients (minerals, vitamins). Most people rightfully focus on the energy component. This has the greatest impact on weight loss and weight gain, especially in the short term.
However, if you become under nourished from foods that have poor nutrient density, then over time your energy levels, mental sharpness, and overall mood can suffer. Someone who has low energy, a depressed mood, and isn’t thinking clearly will not be able to sustain their diet – and will revert to bad habits. Therefore, focusing on food quality has to happen at some point in your nutritional transformation.
Should I try Intermittent Fasting?
Given the points above, you can see why I stopped intermittent fasting. So how do you decide whether to give it a go?
The reality is that there are many places you can start, depending on your background and nutritional IQ. So a simple follow up is, what’s the easiest?
Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Is it simple and sustainable for you to eat during restricted windows? How about to weigh, measure, and count every macronutrient you eat? For some people with a lot of practice with these things, the answer is yes.
Others can stand to gain a lot from simply avoiding packaged foods and controlling for calories in some way. One simple habit will always have a greater likelihood of success than changing 10 things at once.
Consider how you think about making nutritional changes. Have you been overly ambitious in the past, only to find nutrition unsustainable? How much mental room do you have to try new approaches?
These things will help guide you to changes you can keep as your foundational practices, long after the fad train has moved on.
How can we help?
If you have a question about nutrition, reach out and let us know (just use the chat bubble on this page). Functional Bodybuilding is here to help guide you, wherever you are in your health journey. Have a great week and get out there and move!
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