Like many people, I actually discovered intermittent fasting purely by accident. The first occurrence was during my senior year of high school, at the age of 17. Looking back at this, it makes plenty of sense that my body naturally took to IF, as I had ballooned up to 230 pounds during this time. My body was constantly aching, and I was always feeling tired and bloated. At this point in my life, I wanted to lose weight, but I knew nothing about nutrition or calorie counting. However, I did know the basic tenet of weight loss: eat less and move more. Although, it’s very hard to move more when you can barely find the energy to roll yourself out of bed in the morning.
One morning, I arrived to school too late to eat breakfast. Our school actually provided free breakfast to all students, which normally consisted of a sausage biscuit, breakfast burrito, bagel, etc. I was upset at myself for missing breakfast, since I knew it was the “most important meal of the day.” I knew that I was going to have trouble concentrating in my morning classes and would be absolutely starving by lunch! Well folks, I have to tell you, this one little misstep ended up being one of the most transformative days in my young life, especially in my weight loss journey.
Needless to say, I did not experience the brain-fog, dizziness or overall wretchedness that I expected from missing breakfast. I actually felt just fine, although my stomach was definitely growling by the time lunch rolled around. So I ate lunch as usual and went on about my day. Lunch usually consisted of pizza, Frito-pie, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with cheese, or a sub sandwich – whatever was available to purchase at the school’s snack bar. Since I was trying to eat “healthier” though, I did make an effort to eat the free choices of fruit that were offered as well. For the next few weeks, I decided to experiment and continued to purposely skip breakfast to see how my body reacted.
After skipping breakfast for a few weeks, I noticed that I was feeling lighter and more energetic in the mornings. It actually felt good to have an empty stomach and allow myself to feel “real hunger” for the first time in years. Plus, I loved the convenience of not having to rush to school to make sure I got breakfast in. I didn’t own a scale at the time, (yes, I know that’s shocking, but I was not a very body conscious teenager,) but I could swear my clothes were also fitting looser. I figured that if I was losing weight, it was probably due to eating less calories by skipping breakfast. It made perfect sense – eat less + move more = weight loss.
One day, I had to cram for a biology exam that I had “forgotten” about until the day of. Fortunately, it was my last class of the day, so I figured I could study during lunch. The only problem was, no food or drinks were allowed in the library. I was already used to skipping breakfast, but there was no way that I could survive skipping lunch. I figured I could always buy a snack and scarf it down between classes, but studying for this exam was definitely priority. So, I reluctantly passed by my friends’ lunch table and hunkered down in the school library for an hour to study.
I wish I could say that I was super focused and studying was a breeze, but not even IF has that type of power! As usual, I was unorganized and probably did a horrible job of cramming in as much information as I could so that I could pass my dumb test. Although I love to read and learn new things, school was never my forte. My stomach was also growling the entire time, which probably didn’t help my concentration any. In any event, I pushed through and attended the rest of my classes for the day, and took my Biology exam. I honestly don’t remember if I passed it or not!
Although I don’t remember the outcome of my test, (or any of the information I studied!) I do remember noticing that my hunger had actually passed after a while. Even though I was starving during lunch, my stomach had now stopped growling and I didn’t feel like passing out, as I thought I would. That being said, I knew it was dangerous to skip too many meals. I saw that episode of Full House where D.J. faints from starving herself to try to lose weight. The last thing I wanted was for my big butt to pass out in class and have my peers start whispering that had an “eating disorder!” I would be mortified!
So, ignoring my body’s cues, I grabbed something quick from the snack bar and scarfed it down in-between classes as I had originally planned. Once I got home, I continued to eat dinner as usual. But over the next few weeks, I noticed that there were times I just wasn’t hungry by the time lunch rolled around. In fact, I was sometimes surprised that it was lunch already, because I was so focused on my school work. I wasn’t looking at the clock every five minutes or counting down until lunch like usual. I chalked this up to the fact that I was a senior and probably maturing and getting ready to be out in the “real world.” Pffft, as if college were the “real world!”
So one day, I decided to follow my body’s cues. I found it awkward to sit in the cafeteria with my friends and not eat while they were all eating, so I made an excuse that I had to study or read or whatever and made my way to the library instead. Once there, I felt strange. What would I do with myself during lunch if I wasn’t going to eat? Fortunately, I was an avid reader and artist, so I was able to find several books that I wanted to read, and on the days I didn’t feel like reading, I would sketch. At first, this time felt very, very strange, and almost shameful in a way. I should have been in the cafeteria eating with my friends, but felt so out-of-place not eating when I was not hungry, that I chose to hide out in the library instead. Shame! Shame! Shame! (Cue Cerci walking through the town square naked.) OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but that’s how it felt at the time.
After a couple of weeks, my friends started asking me why I was spending so much time in the library and what exactly was I doing. I admitted to them that I really wasn’t studying or doing anything important, I just wasn’t hungry during lunch and found it awkward sitting in the cafeteria “not eating,” while everyone else was eating. Plus, I didn’t want to influence their decisions as to whether they should eat or not.
Like good friends should, they simply laughed when they heard my reason for going to the library every day during lunch and even offered to join me, if I wanted. When I told them that I didn’t want them to “not eat” on my account, they enlightened me to the fact that everyone eats in the library, and it really wasn’t a big deal. They would much rather join me in the library during lunch and eat a sacked lunch than a crappy Frito-pie from the cafeteria snack bar. Furthermore, my decision to eat or not eat was my own, and they wouldn’t infringe on my decision unless they felt it that was affecting me negatively, which they didn’t. Wow, did I feel stupid for not giving my good friends enough credit!
And so this continued for the remainder of my senior year. I spent my lunch hour in the library most days and was usually joined by my closest group of friends, as well as others, unless they had other commitments or simply felt like eating in the cafeteria that day. And my decisions to eat lunch or not eat lunch wasn’t impacting anyone in a negative way, as I feared it would.