I’ve never been a big fan of fasting. Basically because I enjoy consuming food. But in 2012 the 5:2 ‘diet’ of intermittent fasting became mainstream due to a BBC documentary on the topic. Since then, there have been many spin off diets as well as published research on the subject. Much of the research on fasting is pretty interesting. Restricting calories can improve mental health function, increase life span, reduce inflammation, reboots the immune system, regulates adaptive stress responses, improves glucose function, improve mood, improves sleep patterns, improves cholesterol, and promotes weight loss. Whoa that’s a ton of benefits!!! So why aren’t we all fasting!? Well keep in mind that these are ‘proposed’ benefits. Some have been shown, but most have limited data to really back up the claims. Also, fasting is tough! Let’s be real, eating a little less is hard enough for most people, but not eating at all? Eek. The 5:2 style refers to alternate-day fasting; eating normally five days a week and restricting calories on two days a week. While this is a more manageable approach to fasting, it still seemed daunting to me. Intrigued, definitely, but I’m an athlete! I need food and I need it daily. I never thought I could take on fasting and still maintain my training schedule. However, now that I have a real training schedule, it actually seemed doable to work fasting days into my routine without sacrificing athletic performance.
So I took the plunge.
Before I share my experience, lets go through the 5:2 basics.
Eat normally five days a week and on the other two, limit intake to 500-600 calories; 500 for women, 600 for men. The plan centers on how much is consumed and focuses less on what to consume. I’ve read several people’s accounts of fasting day intake and online ‘fasting day meal plans’ to get an idea of what I was in for. One magazine editor recounted feelings of extreme hunger, irritability, and stress on her first day. She also spent 80 of her 500 calories on a shot of whiskey. Other sources suggested consuming sugar free jello, spreads of low fat cream cheese, and other ‘diet’ packaged foods to get the most out of their restriction. To be honest, this had me a bit nervous… was I subjecting myself to two days a week of complete anguish and over processed foodstuffs? NO! I would not. I was going into this with an open, but positive mindset. I was also determined to keep my nutritious integrity and choose my calories wisely, from real whole foods.
Wednesday Feb 8th : Fast Day
I decided I would stick to 600 calories since I had 2 workout sessions for that day; a 1 hour easy spin + 45minute roller ski. Since these were short workouts (under 90 minutes) they did not require specific fueling. They also were not key or intense workouts, so I was not worried about my performance being on point. In the future, I will stick with the 500 calories for all rest days or ≤ 90 minute workouts and give myself the extra 100 calories when doing ≥ 90 minutes of training. Training is a priority so I am not interested in putting performances at risk. I also plan to keep my fasting days to light training or rest days as well. Fasting workouts help improve your body's response to burning fat during the workout, which is another potential benefit of including fasting!
The night before I wrote out a meal plan… when I woke up that meal plan went out the window, in a good way. I ditched the banana I had planned for breakfast as starting off with carbs seemed like it might doom me. I also let my body decide what it wanted as the day went on and kept calorie king + my phone calculator on hand at all times.
To see exactly what I consumed, watch the story unfold below.
Throughout the day I felt really good. Mentally I was clear and focused. While I did find myself getting hungry in the late afternoon, it was actual hunger; stomach rumbling kind, not the HANGRY kind of low blood sugar than leaves one irritable and craving a sugar fix. I consumed some hot tea and the feeling subsided until I ate my next ‘meal’. A ripe, salted fresh tomato was meaty and flavorful. I savored each bite. My roller ski workout went well, no feeling of bonking or fatigue. Afterwards I was feeling quite clear and invigorated. I planned on having my ‘dinner’ as soon as I got back, but life got in the way; emails, chores, etc… and suddenly it was 7pm and I had yet to eat. Oops. In the future, I will be better about this as I think it would be best to consume more calories early in the day. I was offered a drink, and for a minute, thought about it.. hey I did have an extra 90 calories (skipped my morning banana) so that could be a shot of whiskey… but no. I shook the temptation and remained true to my nutritious quality commitment. Instead I added 2 oz of roast beef to my bone broth soup to make up my extra calories. I found my large bowl of soup: 2 cups bone broth + 1 cup water + 1 cup broccoli + 2 carrots, to be very filling and even left a bit in the bowl. I went to sleep feeling satisfied and really proud of accomplishing my first fast. Also, I slept well.
The next morning, I awoke feeling much more hungry than normal. This is a warning of fasting, you should eat normally on your non-fast days, resisting the desire to overcompensate. I also weighed myself as I usually do first thing in the morning. Up 1 pound! Not really the result I was going for and I admit, I was a little bummed. But I had to shake it and remember that results are not immediate and also, I had consumed a LOT of fluids the day before. This isn’t a one day magic diet plan and I am not only in it for weight loss. I made my normal morning latte and savored that for a couple hours like I typically would before I made my next full meal. The rest of the day was normal, with no cravings or overconsumption.
It was a learning experience of how my body and mind react to restriction. I’m still a little nervous for the next fasting day (planned for Monday Feb 13th). Maybe that one day was a fluke of excitement and the next will be terrible… eek… Also, I’m not accustomed to counting calories. The act takes me back to days of over analyzing nutrition and focusing more on the ‘how much’ over quality of food and isn’t something I advise people to do. However, to adhere to the caloric restriction, I need to know every calorie I am consuming and how to balance the calories with macro nutrients they supply. Having enough protein is key with any weight loss, calorie restricted plan. Micronutrients are not a concern as two days a week are not enough to create deficiency and as I’m including a range of vegetables and herbs, I should be just fine. If you try this and are concerned, include a multivitamin to cover your bases. Also if you try this, definitely seek out a dietitian to give you a restricted plan that attempts to promote nutrition and calorie timing as much as you can.
I’m off to check calories and make a plan for my next fast day! Thanks for reading about my experience!
Would love to hear your experience with fasting, or any questions you have for me!!
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