Intermittent fasting (IF) has played a key factor for my running success, and without it I would likely be heavier (and slower) than I am today. I want to share the basic strategy of IF and its benefits, but as a disclaimer I am not a dietician. This will just be my personal strategy and thoughts / opinions on the topic, and why it works for me. It won’t work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with appetite control, I think it might be worth considering.
Before diving into what IF is all about, let’s get one thing straight; the RUNGER is real. Runger, or running hunger, is the increase in appetite you feel as you increase your mileage and the calories you burn. It’s a pretty simple formula; more running + more calories burned = bigger appetite. Your body has a good idea of what it needs, and as you burn more fuel it pushes you to replenish that fuel. The problem is, some people (myself included) have a hard time turning that hunger impulse off. Once I start eating, it’s hard for me to stop.
That’s where intermittent fasting comes into play. Intermittent fasting is a dieting strategy gaining in popularity that can be a beneficial option for people who have a hard time keeping their appetites in check. It takes some discipline to get into the habit, but once you do you will be able to continue to eat foods you enjoy in the portions you enjoy them, while not gaining weight.
IF involves a long period of fasting, and a short eating window. A common ratio of fasting to eating for people following this strategy is 18:6, 18 hours of fasting with a 6 hour eating window. An 18 hour fasting window may seem daunting, but it’s actually not as difficult to attain as you may think.
Let’s consider the normal daily schedule of a hypothetical person named Bob. Bob goes to bed at 10pm and wakes up at 7am. Bob doesn’t eat a couple of hours before going to bed, so he is done eating for the day by 8pm. So from 8pm – 7am Bob doesn’t eat. That’s an 11 hour fasting period, which many people probably already do. Bob also skips breakfast, electing to only have black coffee and water throughout the morning (black coffee is both great for waking you up and for suppressing appetites). By doing this he can hold out until a late lunch before eating. So if Bob eats his first meal at 2pm, he can eat all his daily calories within the period of 2pm – 8pm.
Now, you may be thinking that sounds miserable; waiting until the afternoon to eat your first meal. However, you can adjust the schedule to fit your needs. If you love breakfast and lunch, but can do without dinner, flip the schedule so your eating window is in the morning and afternoon, and stick to tea / water at night. As long as you go about 18 hours straight without eating, you’ll be practicing IF.
I don’t want to sound like I’m pressing this on people or make it sound easier than it is, so let me explain why it works for my specific situation.
I am horrible at controlling my appetite. When I start eating, shortly after getting full I’ll become hungry again. This would be a serious problem if I were eating all throughout the day. So instead, I’ve trained my body to not eat until after my daily run in the afternoon. I sip coffee all morning, and since I almost never eat breakfast my body doesn’t expect it and doesn’t crave it when I wake up. I’m also able to run on an empty stomach without issue, so as long as I can make it to my afternoon run, then I have the rest of the day afterwards to get my calories in. As big as my appetite is, it’s not easy to consume 3,000+ calories (my total daily energy expenditure given my size / gender / activity level) in a small period of time. So I can still have a big dinner, and a big second dinner, and come in right around my caloric goal for the day.
Now, some people say eating many small meals throughout the day is healthier and key to losing weight, others say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The fact is, different eating habits work for different people, and at the end of the day if you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning, you’ll lose weight. Some people like to micromanage exactly what they consume, and that’s great! I wish I could be that scientific about it, but I’m not. I’m a slave to my cravings, and I’ve found that by at least controlling when I allow myself to eat, I’m able to keep how much I eat in check.
What do you guys think about IF? Do you have any experience with it, or do you have another dieting strategy to help you control the runger? Let me know!