Several months ago I, sort of by accident, started intermittent fasting and I noticed an incredible increase in my energy levels and brain power which was maintained all day every day.
How exactly did this happen “accidentally”, you may ask. To cut a long story short I was very busy with long experiments in the lab where I couldn’t grab a quick bite here and there because the area is restricted from food etc. for safety.
If you rewind to a few weeks prior to this, I was beside myself with frustration because for months I tried changing all sorts of things to stop having food comas. Food comas being the sleepiness that’s felt after eating (usually a lot of) food.
I had tried strictly eating low GI foods and breaking down my lunch into several smaller snacks over a few hours rather than a single big meal. Nothing worked. Even after the smallest healthy snack I would become a lump in my chair and my brain would refuse to concentrate. I was only able to work for about an hour and a half a day in the mid-morning and the rest of the time I was useless.
I was already skipping breakfast so when I started skipping lunch and snacks as well it meant I was only eating one meal a day in the evening. Let me confess, though, that this meal was worth at least four normal-sized meals!
The first few days I felt hungry during the day and a bit light-headed and shaky but this quickly passed. Now I don’t feel hungry during the day at all. I drink a cup of black tea in the morning and afternoon then all my food is eaten when I get home from work. I binge for about three hours after 6.30pm.
I’ve been doing this for about 6 months now and although I was worried about losing weight (I’m already naturally very thin) it hasn’t changed, I think because my metabolism was already high and I eat just so much when I get home. A lot of this bingeing has included chocolate, though, which is something I just keep coming back to. So my calorie intake at night has been extremely dense – nothing new for me.
Even though fasting has been working brilliantly for me, in the background a part of me has been worrying a little about how unhealthy this must be. After all, we were always taught you shouldn’t skip breakfast, the last meal of the day should be the smallest, you shouldn’t eat late into the evening and you shouldn’t binge on chocolate. Well, the last point is true, but the other three may not be as true as we originally thought.
I was aware of some research which showed fasting has huge benefits on the body including increased metabolism, normalizing glucose and insulin levels in the blood and aiding weight loss. I didn’t quite believe my short daily fasting and bingeing could be beneficial to me until I came across some websites and blogs describing 24 hour fasting, which is basically what I’ve been doing daily for the last six months.
There’s also a case study involving two women with bipolar II disorder who were able to manage their illness using a ketogenic diet, which in brief is a low carb, high fat diet that causes your metabolism to use ketones instead of glucose. Ketogenic diets are also used to manage diabetes and epilepsy. In epilepsy and bipolar disorder it seems the slight acidification of the blood due to the ketones is more important for the beneficial effects than regulating blood glucose level.
I’m not sure how ketogenic my diet is. From what I can gather I would need to fast longer and greatly reduce my sugar intake to become ketogenic. I’m experiencing better mood regulation for my bipolar though, so maybe the normalised energy levels are enough for me?
I’m in the early days of researching these things, so I’ll be posting more about what I learn from the scientific literature in the coming weeks.
For now, I’m sticking with fasting because it’s working for me and I’m able to regulate both my energy levels and moods with it. I am, however, starting to limit the amount of sugar I binge on at night. This week I’m bingeing on vegetables and nuts instead. I’ll let you know how this goes and how sustainable it is.