I started intermittent fasting three years ago. Multiple studies show that it has benefits for your body and brain, including lower inflammation and better blood sugar control (as well as side effects like weight loss) and increased growth of new neurons in the brain.
The benefits look great on paper. And for the past few years, intermittent fasting has received a lot of attention. The problem is that it is often presented as a silver bullet. Any research into intermittent fasting is still in very early stages or in animal models. It’s unclear whether cellular benefits people may gain from putting the body in a state of stress have physical benefits over the long term. I understand this. Even though I think intermittent fasting is a good solution for me — I feel like it allows me to be more productive — I’m skeptical about all the promises. And yet, I still do it.
Why I started In 2013, BBC journalist Dr. Michael Mosley published a book called The Fast Diet. The book was preceded by a documentary Mosley released in 2012 about intermittent fasting called Eat Fast, Live Longer. But scientists have been studying intermittent fasting for decades — mostly in mice — and early research suggests it could help lead to better aging, among other health perks.
Like many people, I’m interested in trying new things to improve my health, productivity, or just to feel better. I’ve learned that when I am low in energy, I can try all the productivity hacks in the world, but it won’t get me far. Health is an under-appreciated topic when it comes to our personal productivity and performance. Intermittent fasting is a systematic way of approach your eating pattern and diet. I don’t have to think about what and when I have to eat.
I haven’t changed the ingredients for two years. It also makes grocery shopping a breeze. I usually eat my first meal around noon, hit the gym around 3 p.m., and have dinner between 6 -7 p.m. Before my workout, I often eat a banana. Or, if my first meal wasn’t big, I eat a peanut butter sandwich. After my workout, I sometimes have a protein shake or eat some nuts.
That’s my eating pattern. It turns out that it also happens to be a 17-18 hour fast (from 6-7 p.m. until noon the next day.) Many people likely eat this way on accident, due to factors like tight schedules and not being hungry in the morning. For me, it looks like this:
Intermittent fasting is a systematic way to approach your eating pattern and diet. I don’t have to think about what and when I have to eat. I no longer freak out when I haven’t eaten something for a few hours. That saves me mental energy; energy that I can spend on taking care of important tasks at work.
I’ve lost some weight eating this way, but that wasn’t my goal. (In fact, I’ve lost muscle mass.) Intermittent fasting just fits well into my life. I’m not an early riser and I love to eat big meals, so the main benefit for me is that it makes life easy. One of my friends who’s a physiotherapist wakes up at 6 a.m. every day, works out, and then starts work at 8 a.m. He tried intermittent fasting and he didn’t feel well around 9 a.m. That seriously hinders his work, so he’s not going to continue.
If intermittent fasting and skipping breakfast was harmful, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t care about all the “benefits” like the potential to live longer because I don’t really believe in that. The human body is complex. Someone could start with intermittent fasting and eat junk food during the eating window, would that make that person healthy? I’m not the judge of that.
When it comes to a person’s health, things like genetics, diet, and exercise can play an important role. There’s a place for trying health interventions — whether they are a fad or not — if they are not harmful and make us feel better. For me, intermittent fasting is not a hard schedule to keep and makes me feel better. I also think it makes me more productive, but it’s likely not easy or enjoyable for other people.
When it comes to health, most things are common sense. You probably already know what you need to do to feel good. And you also know there are no magic pills. Being healthy requires hard work and constant adjustment. I’m always open to new things and never cling to ideas. If someone gives me a better alternative for intermittent fasting, I will try it tomorrow. I’m not invested in these ideas. I’m only invested in my own health.