DON'T BE AFRAID TO BE HUNGRY
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Ever since we were born we have been trained not to remain hungry for too long. Babies are either fed on schedule or on demand the moment they start screaming their lungs off but the truth is we are tougher than we are thought to be. It’s just that as babies we were defenceless against the incoming mommy’s nipple or bottle’s teat. Through this we have then programmed our internal system to not being able to withstand the slightest hunger pang. As we grow older, we learn to search for snack in between meals. Sometimes we may not even be that hungry but somehow the ghrelin wins every single time. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It’s the one that sends a signal to our brain to begin hunting for food. Back in the Palaeolithic era, you literally go hunting. In this day and age, you just head for the fridge. Or if you’re a millennial, launch the Grab Food or Foodpanda app.
Major religions all around the world recognise this problem hence each has their own form of fasting. Islam with their Ramadhan. Christianity with Lent. I’m pretty sure the Jews have one and so do Hinduism and Sikh faiths. As these fasts are meant to be a divine act, followers are “forced” to perform it and they could. So here lies proof that the human body can withstand not eating or drinking for hours.
I was an advocate of intermittent fasting or IF in short. It’s past tense now because I am no longer practicing it as I realised I was beginning to lose muscle mass and putting on body fat. Mind you I was doing it for close to two years. Sounds like an eternity but in actual fact I only did it correctly after 9 months or so. What I mean by doing it correctly is I was doing a whole lot of wrongs at the initial stage. I started out doing the 16/8. That’s 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding. I adhered to the 16-hour fast fairly easy but boy did I break fast like a king every single day. I was basically rewarding myself every day simply because I felt I deserve it. Also to my horror, I found out that I wasn’t even fasting as I was popping my fish oil capsules during my fasting period. It was safe to say I didn’t see any improvement at the beginning. For the record, I decided to give IF a go because I was fairly overweight at that point and was advised to gradually lose 10kg of body fat.
Once I right my wrongs, I started seeing losses and after 12 months of doing 16/8, I upped the ante and started doing 20/4 or better known as the Warrior diet. With 20/4, you more or less eat one large meal a day. The most important thing I did that resulted in the success of my IF was to ensure my break fast is balanced and healthy. This way the first thing my body digest and metabolises is clean calories. I also waited till the evening to pop all my supplement pills.
By the 22nd month, I have lost all 10kg of body fat and managed to maintain my muscle mass. However all of a sudden everything went pear shaped. Literally. Although this is not a science-backed statement I reckon I’ve gone the opposite direction because my metabolism has slowed all the way down from doing it too long. That’s not to say IF didn’t work. It bloody did but it shouldn’t be for too long.
The biggest challenge I have as a coach in proposing IF to a client is to convince them to skip one meal a day, be it breakfast or dinner, depending on which IF cycle you go for. The most common excuse given on not being able to do IF is the inability to stave off hunger. Some may go as far as claiming they have gastritis issues. My response to that is we all have accidentally done IF once (or more) in our lives before and we survived it. The reason for going that long without food is probably because we were so caught up with some form of commitment be it family, work, studies or social event. So perhaps that’s the trick in starting IF if you’re the reluctant one. Keep yourself busy. In the event hunger pangs you, simply drown your stomach with a glass of water. It’ll do the trick. Trust me. Not for long but enough to shut your mind up. You may have to down a few glasses of water a day in the first few days before it becomes second nature and your ghrelin just gives up on you.
So how does IF work? In laymen terms, from the moment you finish your last meal, your body will spend the next 8 to 12 hours digesting and metabolising the food you just ate. After this last meal is fully digested and metabolised, the brain will receive a new signal to replenish yourself ie another meal. Meaning to say it is unnecessary for us to be eating another meal before that process is over. The meal that we eat again within that 8 to 12 hours will just go into “queue” waiting to be digested and metabolised. This is why sometimes we still feel full at our next meal and unable to eat as much but we ate anyway because everyone else around us are. Therefore if we don’t eat after receiving that ghrelin signal, we will become hangry and this is what separates the men from the boys or the women from the girls. The fat burning phase of IF begins and any caloric expenditure we experience in that period will have to be fuelled from our stored fat reserves as we no longer have food in our body to burn as energy. The longer you stretch this phase the more fat reserves we utilise. I’m not sure who came up with 16 hours but you can just take that with a pinch of salt for two reasons. Firstly, we will never know when exactly does our body begin the fat burning phase. And secondly, we shall not be too strict with ourselves in terms of the timing due to consideration of those around us. You shouldn’t delay a family meal, for instance, simply because you have another half an hour to go to complete your 16/8. The beauty with IF is every day is a new day and you can strictly adhere to it one day and be slightly relaxed or totally skip it the next day and be fine with it. You will reap the benefits on a daily basis.
As for the feeding time, all I wish to advise is to eat normally. Don’t binge as if you have just been rescued from a deserted island. Space your two meals out evenly over the 8 hours and you shall not overeat. There’s also that slight chance that you may be eating below your daily caloric requirement which means that you are killing two birds with one stone ie you would have enjoyed approximately 4 to 6 hours of fat burning process and experience a calorie-deficit diet.
There are other benefits to IF but they are very subjective and honestly speaking I don’t totally feel it. The one that people always rave about are mental clarity and sharpened focus. For me, caffeine does that. IF or not, I’m an espresso junkie. And by the way, if you are drinking coffee or tea during IF, please make sure it’s black and no sugar. Ignore all the bullshit that allows you to put in healthy fats or sugar substitutes like honey or stevia. Nothing should be put into your body that could trigger an insulin response. The other benefit touted for IF is a process called autophagy. To put it plainly it’s a cell regeneration process within our body. Again you can’t really experience this and some even say autophagy is triggered even when on a calorie-deficit diet so you need not do IF to experience it.
And there you have it. To put it plainly, IF works. To see the results, you need to do it long enough but not too long that you start seeing adverse results. Then again there aren’t that many that would go beyond 12 months on IF. Who would I prescribe this too? Definitely to someone who needs to radically lose weight. It just makes sense that by eating one less meal a day, you are already going against your norm. Will you be hungry? Of course. Then again, don’t be a child.
Till next time, persevere and stay determined.