By Vanessa Hampton
If you know me, then you know that the last three years have been an extensive journey in digestion issues for me.
I have cycled through many different theories, tests, trials, medications and even surgery to try and resolve the issue. Until recently, however, I have been unable to find a solution or find consistent relief from my symptoms.
This changed when I recruited a nutritionist, Jamie Free, of 27 Health & Wellness to help me. After listening to me and talking extensively about my issues, he suggested a plan of intermittent fasting.
I will not lie. I was hesitant at first. The concept of fasting has always been something that I aggressively resisted. Everything that I have ever learned in the fitness world has taught that eating something is always better than nothing and that your muscles and your metabolism suffer when you avoid eating.
I was also taught that the healthiest way of eating is to do it consistently throughout the day.
My idea of fasting pretty much encompassed the exact opposite of all of this.
What Jamie has taught me, however, is that not one of these ways of eating is the correct one. All of them are.
In the same way that every single one of us has a body that is unique on the outside, every single one of us has a body that is different on the inside. This means that there is no one solution that is exactly right for everyone.
Sure, there are some basic commonalities that all of us with a human body share (such as whole foods being better for us than processed foods), but all of our bodies have different needs as far as portions, macro and micro nutrients, and even timing of our meals.
Many people practice fasting and there are many different methods of fasting. I recently watched an Amazon Prime Documentary on different types of fasting called simply “Fasting – the movie.” You can check out more about it here: http://fastingmovie.com/. It is very informative and explains different strategies of fasting as well as the potential benefits and risks.
What I learned from Jamie, and even more in depth from this film, is that intermittent fasting is not about avoiding food but about the
timing of food you eat.
Healthline.com defines intermittent fasting as “an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.”
Different people practice different timing cycles. That could mean eating during an 8-12 hour window each day and not eating the other 12-16 hours of the day (which one would typically be sleeping during part of). Other strategies for an intermittent fast could mean not eating anything from dinner one day until dinner the next day a couple of times a week. It could also mean that restricting calories to 500-600 a day for a couple of days each week.
Some of the potential benefits of intermittent fasting range from protection against disease, weight loss, regulating blood sugar and insulin levels, and giving the body a longer amount of time to heal and reduce inflammation. Some of the potential risks of intermittent fasting are dehydration (because you are not getting any fluid from food), heartburn (because there is no food to absorb stomach acid), and an unhealthy “anything goes” mentality during non-fasting periods (leading to over-eating).
This last one especially is why intermittent fasting, like any other specific way of eating, is not for everyone.
For me, my nutritionist felt like I could benefit from intermittent fasting due to the benefit of reducing inflammation. My primary digestion problems involve food essentially getting “stuck’ in my esophagus. My symptoms are worse in the morning, aggravated by many foods, and always in full force if portions are not controlled well.
Because of all of this, I had resorted to eating small meals several times a day in an effort to get my calories in. When Jamie and I sat down to come up with a plan for me he said that he felt like my digestive tract needed more time to heal itself each day because, with the way I had resorted to eating, there was hardly ever a time when my stomach was not trying to digest food. This meant that any inflammation I may have was never given an opportunity to settle.
He proceeded to put me on a plan that involved waiting until 10 a.m. to eat (I wake up at 4 each morning) and having my last calories around 7. He started me off with limited calories for my first and last meals and had the bulk of my calories between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. when my digestion is always the best. It took me a couple of days to get rid of a headache while my body was adjusting to the later time of my first meal,
but after that I had no more problems with it.
Since then, we have tweaked the timing of my food here and there, but I can honestly say that my digestion has not been this good in the three years since my issues began.
I no longer have problems with most meals, my body feels better in general, and I have dropped a few pounds despite that not being our objective.
One of the most telling things is that I can wear my wedding rings again. I didn’t attribute it to inflammation in my body at the time, but my hands used to stay swollen most of the time.
I still eat healthy foods but can now eat a wider variety of those foods. This is a huge plus because there was no way that I could get in all of the vital nutrients before with my limited food choices before the plan.
One of my concerns with this method of eating was that it would affect my workouts. I typically do all of my workouts early in the morning and was accustomed to eating something both before, and especially after, in order to properly fuel and help with muscle recovery. What I found was that my workouts have not suffered at all. I have not had trouble with any style of workout that I do, and the only thing that
changes in my plan is a few more calories with my first meals on days that I do workouts.
Intermittent fasting has been a game changer for me personally. I am committed to it for the long haul because I feel so much better. This, however, is me. Not everyone could or would be able to follow this eating habit long term. As I said before, every single person is different and every body is different.
If intermittent fasting is something you would like to try, or any type of plan for that matter, don’t do it blindly or based on someone else’s experience. Recruit a knowledgeable and qualified person to help you navigate the plan and do it correctly based on YOU. At the very least, do your research and do a lot of it.
Give any plan a true and honest chance (not just a few days or a couple of weeks). If one thing doesn’t work after real effort, then modify it or try something different until you find what is right for you.
Finally, don’t look for quick fixes. Seek out a plan that is going to help you strike your balance in eating for the long term.