Push Yourself…But Not Too Far!

When starting my What IF Diet Plan, I quickly learned that fasting is more about our thoughts and beliefs about food and nutrition, than it is about food itself. First of all, I thought there was absolutely no way that I could go without food for more than 10 hours, unless I had been sedated with a tranquilizer gun. Even then, I would’ve woken up so hungry that I’d eat my own shoe! The sad thing is…I was right!

When I first experimented with IF, I was so used to eating 3 – 6 times per day that I really couldn’t go more than a few hours without feeling like I was going to pass out. My body was so used to using food for fuel, that it was not adept at using body fat for fuel. The concept of using the body’s fat for energy is often referred to as being “fat adapted.” So how the heck was I supposed to try intermittent fasting if I couldn’t even skip breakfast without feeling ravenous?

Well, it turns out that we are actually fasting every day, whether we realize it or not.  Every night, when we sleep for 5, 7, or 9 hours, we are truly fasting. Conventional advice tells us that going to sleep with a full stomach is not healthy because food cannot be digested during this time, and that your body cannot burn calories efficiently, which means excess calories will be transformed to excess fat. However, this is also the only time that human growth hormone (HGH) is released in the body, which is necessary for cell growth and repair. In fact, sleep is an incredibly important process in calorie burning, as well as allowing the body to heal itself naturally.

Conventional guidance also tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While there is indeed some truth to this, it does not mean that breakfast must be eaten immediately upon waking for the day. Popular diets advise us to eat breakfast within an hour after waking to “jumpstart the metabolism” and to “keep our metabolism burning throughout the day.” Again, while breakfast does provide a slight upsurge in calorie burn, it is not a very significant factor in overall calorie burn for the entire day. Also, breakfast provides this jumpstart to the metabolism whether you eat it at 7 o’clock in the morning or 7 o’clock in the evening. Eating breakfast simply means that you are eating your first meal of the day and “breaking” your “fast.”

Therefore, rather than “skipping” breakfast altogether, I suggest simply pushing it back to a later time. Choose a time that is challenging, yet realistic to your current hunger cues, lifestyle and schedule.

For example, if you’re attending a conference that offers breakfast at 8 a.m. in the morning and a coffee break with snacks at 10 a.m., perhaps try sleeping in or taking a morning walk during breakfast, then attending your conference as usual and making the coffee break your first meal of the day. Fortunately, pushing back regularly scheduled meals is much easier when your day is busy.

Personally, I used to eat breakfast at 7:15 a.m. with my kids, then grab a snack from the vending machine or nearby Starbucks around 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. every day. It was usually something “healthy,” such as a bag of mixed nuts, low-fat yogurt, or a low-calorie breakfast sandwich, which I felt kept my metabolism burning hot until lunchtime. So to fit my new What IF Diet Plan in with my personal schedule, I decided that I would forgo my usual breakfast at 7:15 a.m., and simply push back breakfast to 10 a.m. when my coworkers and I partook in our regular morning snack. However, I still drank my usual coffee with heavy cream and sugar-free vanilla syrup throughout the morning.

I must admit, the first few days of pushing back breakfast were hard. My workday started at 8 a.m., and my stomach would be roaring at me by 9 a.m. Even though I was never a fan of eating breakfast, my stomach was used to having something sitting in there to keep it quiet. There were a couple of days that I thought this was too much for me…that I was putting undue stress on my body and ruining my metabolism! However, every time I felt like quitting or giving in and eating the first thing I could shove in my mouth, I reminded myself of how I used to skip breakfast and lunch all the time when I was younger, and how good it felt to not feel full all the time. I also reminded myself of all the wonderful benefits I’d read about fasting.

During these times, I would literally ask myself: “What IF my body is not starving? What IF it is just adjusting to something new?” “What IF pushing back my breakfast is actually allowing my body some necessary recovery time?” “What IF I could learn to stop associating food with pleasure and punishment?” “What IF…What IF?” After repeating these mental mantras to myself for a minute or two, or distracting myself by taking a brief walk around the building or chatting with a coworker, I realized that the hunger pangs would become subdued.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be as hard as I originally feared?

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