Two-Week Challenge: Intermittent Fasting
 
Planning and prepping is the key to making good choices during intermittent fasting meal times.

Two-Week Challenge: Intermittent Fasting

In an effort to seek out the healthiest diets for a full and invigorating life, Abbott asked Tricia Chaney, a health writer, to take on intermittent fasting and reveal what it was like and how it affected her health. Let's take a look.

The Challenge

I don't follow diets, and I don't count calories. I do watch what I eat and limit processed foods. Lately, however, I haven't always made the best food choices. Since entering my mid-30s, my body seems to be much less forgiving of snack foods. I was in need of a reset.

You've probably heard about intermittent fasting benefits and how the diet approach helps with diseases or breaks that weight-loss plateau. Recent studies have found health benefits to fasting, so I decided to try this out for 14 days to see if any of the hype is true, from better sleep to a slimmer waistline.

So, I turned to the 16/8 method of intermittent fasting: fast for 14 to 16 hours (most of them while sleeping), and then limit my eating window to eight to 10 hours. I spaced my meals to every four hours throughout the day and cut out snacks, especially ones before bed. I committed to starting my fasting window between 7 and 8 p.m.

Fasting isn't right for everyone, and if you have diabetes or other health conditions, you should talk to your doctor before trying anything like this. But if you need the motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes, this type of intermittent fasting may be just what you're looking for.

Getting Started

First, I enlisted my sister to join me and keep me accountable. She has much more willpower than I do.

Next, I prepped. I've found meal plans and food prep are essential if you want to stick with a healthy eating plan. Over the weekend, I wrote a meal plan for each day, shopped and chopped. Every meal needed to have protein, unsaturated fat and fiber, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. For example, lunch might be two slices of sprouted grain bread covered with half an avocado, spinach and two slices of turkey with an apple on the side. For drinks, water or low calorie, non-caffeinated drinks are recommended.

Dinners needed to be quick, easy and kid-friendly most nights. We had things like chicken stir-fry, rice bowls, salmon and sweet potatoes or crock-pot chicken and vegetables.

My Results Are In

The first couple days I felt great. Then, as my body adjusted and realized it wasn't getting as much sugar, I felt a little tired. But toward the end of the second week, I began feeling better and saw results. Check out the benefits:

I'm Not Hangry

Because I normally snack on carbs or a piece of fruit, I end up starving about two hours later. I get shaky and a little frantic. Despite spacing four hours between meals during these two weeks, that shakiness never happened. I was hungry by the next meal but just hungry enough to want to eat another large, full meal.

More severe reactions to hunger, like jitters, irritability (or hanger) and confusion, are caused by a drop in blood sugar. It often happens in people with diabetes. But even without diabetes, many of us feel that personality change come upon us when it's time to eat. It seems as though eating larger, nutrient-dense meals allowed me to keep my blood sugar stable throughout the day, so I didn't experience these more severe drops.

Learned to Listen to Hunger Cues

Part of my poor food choices has been because I'm eating out of boredom. Knowing I set a goal and a meal plan made me question whether I was truly hungry when I wanted a granola bar. Listening to my body's hunger cues made me snack only when I felt I really needed it or when my four-hour schedule was impossible to keep. I made better choices as well, opting for foods that offer my body more nutrients and maintain blood sugar like nuts, vegetables and hummus, instead of empty calories like chips or crackers.

Physical Changes

Although weight loss wasn't a primary goal, I did lose almost two pounds and about half an inch off my waist. Even minimal weight loss can help your body better regulate insulin and stave off diabetes. With many family members facing diabetes, I look for any ways to lower my risk.

Better Sleep

This was a surprise. Most nights I toss and turn for a long time before falling asleep. And I often wake up in the middle of the night. When I stopped eating after dinner, I fell asleep faster and slept deeper than I have in years. More sleep helps me concentrate better while working, and it's key to preventing chronic illnesses.

Fewer Sugar Cravings

I love sweets, and when I get really hungry, I crave them more. However, when I filled my plate with foods like avocados and eggs, I found I didn't want sweets as much. My sister found many of the same benefits, and she had more energy and found it helped to focus on healthy foods.