I first started skipping breakfast when I was in middle school. Some time during high school it became routine. Over the last year I would estimate that I have averaged less than two breakfasts per month.
We all know the saying ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. When I tell friends about my diet they tend to respond by telling me how unhealthy this practice is, citing reasons like:
- Your metabolism will be slower
- You miss out on vitamins / minerals
- You won’t be able to concentrate in the morning
All valid reasons why someone should eat breakfast. But skipping breakfast has worked wonders for me. So I usually got frustrated when people told me that I was being unhealthy. It wasn’t until recently, when a coworker told me about the benefits of intermittent fasting, that I was able to put some science behind my results.
I am able to eat relatively anything that I like. I do my best to be reasonable – I might have a salad or two per month… But really, I do eat just about anything for lunch and dinner. Burgers, BBQ, pizza, fried chicken, pasta, tacos, FRENCH FRIES. You name it – it’s probably in my rotation somewhere. I love good, filling food and I know it is something that I would have difficulty sacrificing.
Even with my crazy eating habits, I have been able to maintain an average weight of around 175 pounds for quite some time. I would have to attribute some of that to the regular physical activities I enjoy. I like to play basketball once or twice a week and I also try to run / lift weights once a week. Nothing extreme at all, just very simple exercise.
So how was my diet helping me maintain my weight? Turns out that fasting for the better part of the day has some benefits.
After doing some self assessment, I found that I was fasting for close to 16 hours a day (on weekdays)! Sounds crazy, right? Here is the breakdown of a typical weekday:
- Drink water starting around 9:00 AM
- Eat lunch around 11:30 AM
- Drink water through day
- Eat dinner around 7:30 PM
In some of the links I’ll share later, individuals express difficulty in tuning their bodies to this type of schedule. I think there are a couple of things that have helped me get to this point without losing my mind:
- I like to eat big meals, so I can typically eat 2 – 2.5K worth of calories between lunch and dinner alone. This helps me fend off hunger in the stretch of fasting.
- About 3 years ago, I made a conscious effort to eliminate all snacks from my diet. Eating snacks through the day and when I got home from work was more of an ‘I’m bored’ than an ‘I’m hungry’. So I stopped buying snacks completely.
- About 5 years ago, I had to significantly reduce the amount of soda I was drinking due to blood pressure concerns. This has helped me be OK with ‘settling’ for water as opposed to Coke or coffee. I went from drinking something like 8 sodas per week (maybe more!) to a more reasonable 2 sodas per week.
It still seems a little crazy that for 16 hours out of the day I am fasting. Maybe my friends made a good point about the slower metabolism without breakfast. I set out to understand why I was getting the results I was without breakfast.
Why it works
In my research, I found an interesting person named Martin Berkhan. He started a program called Leangains, and posts about some popular approaches to intermittent fasting as well as his twist on it (what he calls Leangains). Martin found a way to have a reasonable diet without making social sacrifices, like:
- I can’t meet my coworkers for happy hour because I am trying to watch my weight
- I can’t go out to eat with my friends because my special diet doesn’t allow for it
Martin has some neat perspectives on how to be successful with his plan while maintaining a social life.
I also found a really good, online book (called Precision Nutrition) that builds upon the Leangains idea. The author, Dr. John Berardi, puts himself through a number of intermittent fasting experiments and discusses the results. It was a very interesting (but lengthy) read. Here is a summary of why intermittent fasting (Leangains in particular) claims to work [credit to John Berardi, Precision Nutrition]:
- Blood flow to fat cells increases
- Concentrations of epinephrine and norepinephrine go up
- Metabolic rate goes up slightly
- Insulin goes down
- Fatty acids are released for energy
There is a more than diet going on for these results to hold true. Leangains is tough on scheduled exercise and eating.
Keep in mind, however, that getting used to intermittent fasting can be tough. Dr. Berardi brings up a great point in his results section about how difficult it was to cut out breakfast. He said it was “physiologically and psychologically” challenging. He also noted that he had some inadvertent changes in mood / behavior in the morning.
Regardless, simply skipping breakfast has helped me maintain an average weight. I think that makes it worth it!
As always, thanks for the read! Do you think you could handle fasting for 16 hours a day?