As I’m sure many of you can relate to, I did not enter January feeling the best I’ve ever felt about my body. Honestly, forget holiday weight gain—I hadn’t successfully lost weight since a stomach bug last May, and the whole thing was starting to feel hopeless. In 2019, I’d already tried a juice cleanse (painful, results gone within a week), and macro counting (exhausting! very difficult without professional advice on what to eat). So finally, I turned to intermittent fasting. I am in no way a nutritionist, and I cannot tell you whether IF is “good for you,” or give you a scathing review of whether or not the science behind it is legit. What I can tell you is that I had a tough 10 days, and a surprising set of results. If that’s enough for you, read on for my experience with intermittent fasting
What I Expected From Intermittent Fasting
If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind IF (intermittent fasting), or the different ways you can do it, I used these three articles as guides. Like I said, I’m not a nutritionist, and I truly don’t want my advice here to be the last word on whether or not you embark on a major diet change. Please believe me—it is a MAJOR change. I understood the merits of IF in two ways before starting. First, I learned that periods of fasting decrease insulin production and boost growth hormones—both of which mean nothing to me, but they apparently help boost metabolism, burn fat, and gain muscle. Second, by limiting your “eating window” (a term my friends would literally pay me to stop hearing at this point), you’re meant to limit overall calories (e.g. you can’t eat breakfasts anymore; you skip seven breakfasts’ worth of calories per week).
Have some objections to that second point? Yeah, me too—don’t worry, we’ll get there. But just to be clear with my intentions for IF: I wanted to lose weight. Not a drastic amount, especially not in 10 days; I know all too well that that weight just comes right back. But losing maybe 1, 1.5 pounds? If nothing else, just to prove that my body was still capable of weight loss after all the weird diets I’d put it through. So, I decided on a 16:8 routine (16 hour fast, 8 hour eating window), and set off on my 10-day journey.
Actual footage of me putting together diet plans and not shutting the f*ck up about it:
How Fasting Actually Felt
Despite most recommendations for 16:8 suggesting eating 12-8pm (or even earlier), I set mine from 2-10pm. First of all, I struggle way more with snacking at night than I do during the day, and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. Second of all, I have a standing Bachelor date Monday nights, and no way in hell was I sitting through Colton’s journey for love without a healthy dose of wine and pizza. The first few days were mostly the same: I showed up to work around 10 (usually when I eat breakfast) and had unpleasant but bearable waves of hunger until 2pm. This included stomach cramps (worst when I woke up, or when someone ate a delicious-looking bagel near me), and a few headaches. Water and black coffee helped, but honestly more in terms of keeping me awake than making me feel better.
The first mistake I made that week? On Day 3, I went to a spin class at 8am (a disgusting habit I picked up in LA). Not only did I nearly die from hunger that morning, I forgot the parameters of my eating window and ate until 10:30pm that night. While I worried I’d messed everything up, and was starting to question how healthy it was anyway, I woke up on Day 4 “feeling LIGHT” (per my detailed notes). My stomach felt flatter, my digestion was good, and my hunger cramps were clearing up sooner. Everything seemed good. And then, as must happen to all diets, the weekend came along.
I was spending that particular weekend in Salt Lake City, crashing some friends’ ski trip. (I don’t ski, I just wanted to drink in a cabin for a weekend.) In preparation, I switched my eating window for the weekend to 4pm-12am. After all, if I was going to make IF my long-term eating pattern, it had to be something I could do while maintaining a social life. And my social life right now involves ingesting calories after 10pm. (I say “involves,” but really that’s all my social life is.) I also weighed myself Friday morning, but both of the scales turned out to be broken, and both told me I’d gained 16 pounds in the past two weeks.
So, even though I’d woken up Friday feeling light and lean, I spent most of that day questioning reality and trying not to eat my own hand. By the time I could eat at 4pm, my body went into full animal mode, terrified I would fast for another 18 hours at any moment. Basically, I filled the day with airport snacks, a pasta dinner, and bags of Cheetos and mini Oreos the Airbnb host had left behind. Yes, right up until midnight. Saturday and Sunday, I accompanied the non-skiing group to two massive brunches and fasted through both, for which I would like several medals. (Insta proof below.)
Throughout the weekend, I felt like the bloating and general gross-ness I’d kicked during the week was back—but mostly I blamed the type of food I was eating (processed garbage and desserts, yum), and it was more of an internal “yuck” than an “oh sh*t, these pants are not fun to button.” The final few days I focused on drinking sh*t tons of water, eating more real foods and fewer snacks, and bringing my eating window back to a reasonable range. (AKA Monday I ate 4-11; Tuesday I ate 3-10; Wednesday I could eat at 2 again.) But honestly, I never quite kicked the bloated feeling from the weekend and I was still freaked out by the scale disaster Friday. By the time I went back to regular eating, it didn’t come a minute too soon.
Pros & Cons I Felt On Intermittent Fasting
I would need a licensed professional to confirm or deny this, but I suspect that I messed up by making my eating window so late on the weekend. Like I said, I am a chronic night-snacker—which means I’ve read all the advice on how it’s the worst thing you can do for your body and how you’re meant to give your body 2-4 hours of not eating before bed. I’ve also been a yo-yo dieter for years, and heard rumors of starvation mode (when your body’s metabolic rate slows down bc it thinks you’re dying and need the food) if you deprive your body of calories irresponsibly. Again, IDK for sure what happened, but once I started eating from 4pm-12am it felt like my body panicked, shut down any fat-burning processes, and held onto whatever calories I did consume for dear life.
In other words, with a later eating window, my digestion slowed, my usual bloated feeling returned, and it quickly seemed like a terrible idea. And while my 2-10pm eating window had made me feel lighter after a few days, it had also allowed me to stop thinking so carefully about what I was eating. I would try to break my fast with a big, healthy meal, but I was way more relaxed about carb content, afternoon snacking, and eating desserts. As long as I stopped at 10pm, I was still technically on a diet—right?
Yeah, I wasn’t right. People who promote IF assume that you’ll eat fewer calories if given less time, but they’ve clearly never been to a timed buffet. I can’t say for sure whether I was eating more calories while I did IF, but I really doubt I was eating fewer (and definitely not on the weekend). And overeating with 16-hour breaks isn’t a diet: it’s just eating the same amount and giving you a better shot at digesting it properly. By the time I found a less f*cked up scale that Friday, I found I was two pounds heavier from the whole experiment.
BUT—and again I have no way of proving this—I felt like it was possible that part of that weight gain was muscle. I’m the kind of person who can (and has) temporarily gained two pounds from a large meal, and I’m very familiar with what that feels like. This weight gain, however, felt different.
To sum up my very scientific impression of how my body changed during this process, I felt like I was roughly the same size but less jiggly—like my pants were maybe a little tighter in the legs, but looser in the waist. It wasn’t my goal, and I still have five pounds I’d like to lose, but I’ve experienced worse results on more painful regimes.
Overall, would I recommend intermittent fasting, or ever do it again? Kind of! I would recommend trying a few different eating windows and seeing what works best for you, for sure. I might try incorporating a 24-hour fast once a week, since I’d had good short-term results with a few days of fasting. Ultimately, I think incorporating a couple fasting periods helped me shed some bloat and regulate digestion—but extending the fasts and confusing my body on when to expect food backfired. As much as I hate to say it, I have to accept that this wasn’t a “weight loss hack” by any means. If I actually want to see a lower number on the scale, I will have to consume fewer calories. Until then, I’ll be accepting tips on how the f*ck I’m supposed to enjoy an evening at home without eating until the second I fall asleep.
Images: louisabhaus, dietstartstomorrow (2), betches / Instagram
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tracking macros on MyFitnessPal. Initially, I was doing it to try and get back on Keto. (By “back on,” I mean I did it for two weeks before a vacation once.) Unsurprisingly, I bailed on Keto (nothing is low-carb enough!!!). and I then decided my #newyearnewme would be about counting macros instead. I’m currently using this calculator, which I found via this highly reliable fitness Instagram. I’m not even being sarcastic—there’s very good advice on there. My biggest challenge with macros so far has definitely been keeping my fat content in check. Within a week, I realized I knew way less about which foods are high fat than I thought. For example, I had a day of what I considered very healthy eating (salads! oats! grain bowls!), and then discovered my diet had been 60% fat. And this is why I have trust issues. So, I did some research into which of my “healthy” choices were causing that high fat content. I’m not talking about obvious fats—you should all know that baked goods are full of bad fats and avocados are full of good fats. These are the sources of fat you’re not as likely to guess as, say, a fried chicken sandwich or a BLT with mayo.
Disclaimer: Everyone’s dietary needs are different, and many diets may call for higher fat content. I am not advocating for a universal low-fat diet, so do not come for me. Rather, I am hoping this information may be illuminating to some of you (read: I don’t want to be the only one who didn’t already know all this).
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really known a lot about the nutrition content of falafel. It felt like a kind of dietary gray zone. Not as healthy as a vegetable, but probably better than cheese. Right? Not really. While trying to design a low-fat grain bowl at Tender Greens, I was pretty shocked to see that the steak topping was lower in fat than the falafel option. While falafel can be a healthy dish (the ingredients themselves are nutrient-rich), I’d somehow forgotten that it’s typically deep-fried. This adds, in scientific terms, a sh*t ton of fat to your meal. FWIW, the “baked falafel” option at Tender Greens was way healthier—but unless a menu specifies “baked,” you should assume it’s deep fried, and therefore higher in fat.
Tofu is a similar deal to falafel—it’s all about how it’s prepared. While tofu isn’t deep-fried quite as often as falafel (though still more often than you’d think), it’s really good at soaking up whatever it’s cooked in. And given that tofu on its own has just about zero flavor (it’s okay, we can all admit that), it’s usually cooked in a bunch of oils, sauces, etc. So tofu on its own? Low-fat, healthy option. But the way it’s usually prepared in restaurants can make it a higher-fat option than something like chicken.
Okay, this one errs more on the side of “foods we knew were high in fat.” But take a minute and actually consider how many “healthy options” feature nuts as a key ingredient. Protein bars that pride themselves on not adding sugar? Full of nuts. Overnight oats? Probably filled with nut butter (or WTF are you doing). Even a lot of salads and bowls will add nuts as a topping, plus, almonds are constantly touted as the ideal mid-afternoon snack. We also all know the problem with nuts—they are impossible to portion for how calorie-dense and fat-dense they are. And anyone who says they’re full after 6 almonds is a dirty liar.
So, while nuts are full of technically good fats, it’s still super easy to go over on your fat content goals if all the healthy options you’re choosing are nut-heavy. So if my breakfast included 2 tbsp of almond butter (18 grams of fat and it never feels like enough), maybe I don’t also have have a nut-based Lara Bar at 4pm (9 grams of fat), and snack on nuts at 6pm (19 grams of fat). That brings my fat content from nuts alone (not even the fun fats, like sauces and cheese and sugar) to 46 grams, when my daily goal is 48. (Let it be known that my total fat content for that day wound up being 90+ grams. This sh*t is hard!!!)
I know! I said this list would be about non-obvious sources of fat. Yet here I am basically listing the liquid form of fat and saying “surprise! This is fat.” Sue me, but also listen because this is probably the #1 thing that people forget to count in their diets. One tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams of fat. One tablespoon of butter has 12 grams of fat. (The type of fat they offer is different. Here is a long article on different fats and how they affect you.) Even at home, I struggle to cook something edible using less than 2 tbsp of one of these. It can be super tempting to just log the one chicken breast you cooked in there, but unless you’re using a cooking spray, you have to account for the fats it absorbed.
Well, that’s the end of my tirade on fat, and now I never want to look at a nutrition label again! Remember, the worst thing you can do with your diet is eat in a way that makes you miserable, because you know that sh*t won’t last. My fat content is still way too high most days, but I’m figuring out what a low-fat day I can live with looks like. At least it’s not Keto!
After nearly starving to death on Gwyneth Paltrow’s low-carb diet, I decided to try something different for my next experiment. I thought about other celebrities’ diets to try, but they all looked so boring. Ever since I started lifting weights, I began following some female bodybuilders on social media to get workout ideas, and I remember being floored by how they train and how much they eat. Like, these girls look amazing and they’re definitely not ordering a juice cleanse before the holidays. So I thought, is the bodybuilder diet (and lifestyle) realistic for the average person? I obviously had to find out for myself.
I did some research into the typical bodybuilder’s diet, and as you’d expect, there’s a lot of protein involved. Lesson one is macros, which is bodybuilding slang for macronutrients. These macronutrients consist of protein, fats, and carbs, and the typical bodybuilder works with a coach to figure out the exact macros they should be eating each day. But apparently the bodybuilder diet changes throughout the year, depending on if you’re “cutting,” “maintaining,” or “bulking.” From what I’ve gathered by eavesdropping on dudebros at the gym, cutting is getting leaner and losing fat, bulking is gaining a bunch of muscle, and maintaining is staying the same (duh). Basically, you eat according to your fitness goals. Once you have a certain number of each macronutrient, you try to hit that number every day. Plus, in addition to hitting macronutrient goals, most bodybuilders drink a gallon of water each day. That’s a lot of water. I’m all for staying hydrated, but like, all this eating and drinking sounded exhausting.
After a quick Google search, I found an online macro generator, filled out a few things about me, and found out my maintenance numbers for each macronutrient. One thing that bothered me is that I noticed a lot of the products these people love are packed with artificial sugars and additives. There are plant-based, clean-eating bodybuilders out there, but the majority are stocking up on protein bars and Halo Top. I decided to do a slightly cleaner version of the typical bodybuilding diet while still hitting my macronutrient goals.
Anyone who knows me is pretty aware that I like working out. But this week would be different, because bodybuilders follow “workout splits,” where they work certain body parts on each day of the week. They also take one or two days off, or “active rest days,” which basically means light jogging and foam rolling. I did some research on a typical workout split, and decided to break up my workouts into two leg days, a day for back and biceps, a day for chest and triceps, and a day for shoulders and abs. That gave me room for two rest days in which I would stretch my crying muscles and judge all the girls on the elliptical. I even met with a trainer in my gym who showed me the most effective exercises for each body part and told me how many sets and reps I should be doing for each day. I was ready to go.
As I expected, the first day was the biggest adjustment, mainly because bodybuilders usually eat 5-6 meals per day. I had to figure out how to squeeze in my meals, my workouts, and my gallon of water while still being a functioning member of society. Lesson one is that breakfast has to be a substantial meal. These girls aren’t running out the door with half a Kind Bar and a cold brew. I read that it’s important to incorporate proteins, fats, and carbs into the first meal of the day, so I went with a coffee, three sunny-side up eggs, a sizable bowl of oatmeal, and an apple. The eggs provided the fats and protein, and the oatmeal and apple are both carb sources. Bodybuilders don’t eat that much fruit and prefer to get a lot of their carbs from rice and oats, but like, it was 8am and I wanted a piece of fruit. I also managed to get down a liter of water with my breakfast, so I was off to a decent start.
Apparently the next golden rule of bodybuilding is that the most important meals of the day, contrary to what you heard in kindergarten, are your pre- and post-workout meals. It sounds fair, but I struggled with the pre-workout part. I was still pretty full from my breakfast, and I don’t usually like working out while feeling full. I also wasn’t down to start taking the pre-workout supplements that a lot of pros take, but I still wanted to feel that sort of energy boost that a pre-workout drink provides. For dramatic effect. I went with a rice cake, a plain Greek yogurt, and another cup of coffee. IDK what pre-workout feels like, but after two large cups of coffee in three hours, I was sufficiently buzzed.
Then came the workout. It was leg day. Looking back, this day was probably my best workout of the week because I wasn’t sore yet and I had a ton of momentum going. I did a leg and glute workout that resembled this one, but I used heavier weights and did fewer reps to focus on slowing down the movements (instead of getting my heart rate up). I basically did simple barbell squats and deadlifts on the Smith machine instead of using dumbbells, and I took out the kettlebell swings and jump squats to substitute them with the leg press machine and the hamstring curl machine. My legs were shaking by the end, but I felt good about it.
The rest of the day wasn’t that important, so let’s fast-forward to 7 pm. I struggled with dinner because I’m not much of a meat-eater, but I figured I couldn’t go through this week without meat because like, #gainz or something. Plus, meat is an easy source of protein, so I can see why these bodybuilders are pounding steak filets after their workouts. You get like, all your macros in one sitting and don’t have to think about scarfing down Quest bars later on. So, I bought a raw chicken breast from the grocery store and cooked it on a grill pan with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I had brown rice on the side for carbs, and chugged water until I thought I was gonna puke. At the end of day one, I looked in the mirror and still wasn’t jacked. Just full.
I knew I had to be smarter about eating day two, because I didn’t want to get to the end of the day and want to die. I had the same breakfast as day 1, but I skipped my pre-workout meal to feel a bit lighter and more energized in the gym. This day was the back & bicep workout, which basically consisted of a few rowing variations, lat pulldowns, and bicep curls. I was pretty hungry by the end of the workout, but it was still too early for lunch so I went with a post-workout shake. The post-workout meal is supposed to be a protein and carb together, and most bodybuilders avoid all fat sources during this meal because something about fat slowing down muscle-protein synthesis. Bodybuilders swear by their whey protein shakes, but TBH whey doesn’t agree with my stomach. I bought a vanilla vegan protein powder instead, which seems fine. I mixed it with almond milk and had a banana on the side. Protein and carb. Check. And obviously more water.
By lunchtime, I wasn’t even super hungry, as opposed to my regular “about to pass out in the Sweetgreen line” starvation level. I picked up a huge piece of grilled salmon with roasted sweet potatoes from Whole Foods. Even though I wasn’t that hungry, I basically forced myself to eat the whole salmon because I realized I was way behind in my protein count. Salmon is a protein and fat source in one, and sweet potatoes are carbs. I was killing these macros.
I had leftover chicken and rice from the night before, which came in handy because I was NOT down to start cooking again. IDK how these bodybuilders do it. Down went the chicken and rice, but I kinda wished I was eating sushi instead. I finished the whole portion to hit my macros for the day, but honestly it was kind of nauseating. I def could’ve done without the last few bites, but I wasn’t backing down at that point. I’m a pusher.
If I went through every moment of this week, we’d be here forever. So I’m just gonna sum up the next few days because they were pretty consistent. The first thing I realized was that I was getting super sore from my workouts, so I made sure to stick around the gym for a few minutes after the workout to stretch and foam roll and
take selfies. I also realized that hitting my carb goal was pretty easy, but the fats and proteins were harder to incorporate. What saved me were these vegan protein bars called No Cow Bars, which have like 22 grams of protein per bar and don’t taste like complete shit, so those were helpful.
I also realized that I never wanted a huge dinner, but I always wanted a little dessert, so I had to figure out how to factor that into my macros. I usually have a sweet tooth at the end of the night, but most bodybuilders don’t believe in the whole “one square of dark chocolate before bed” motto that all the healthy celebrities swear by. Instead, most of the bodybuilder girls I found online like to create a sweet concoction with protein powder that helps them hit their protein goals for the day. Most nights I nailed my carbs and fat, but needed more protein to hit my macro goal. I learned that you can mixed a scoop of vanilla protein powder with almond milk and some baking powder and pop in in the microwave for a little makeshift mug-cake. I made my concoction and it definitely came out kinda grainy and weird, but it wasn’t terrible. On day four I caved and bought a Cookie Dough Halo Top. I ate the entire pint in one sitting. That’s the point, right?
I was really fucking happy to reach the last day of this experiment. Every muscle in my body hurt and the thought of that post-workout shake was making me gag. I also have to admit that I was barely drinking any water by the end, so I definitely failed on that front. If it were summer I may be compelled to drink more, but at this point I couldn’t stomach the gallon. It was a lot. I did manage to finish my No Cow bars despite buying a 12-pack, so call me a hero.
The last day was also my rest day, which was convenient considering I could barely sit. I’m also pretty sure I tore something in my left shoulder. The basic betch inside me couldn’t wait to get back to SoulCycle and hot yoga. But first I need like, a three week nap.
After a week of eating a ton of protein and pushing in the gym, I can confidently say that the bodybuilder lifestyle is respectable. It’s also not for me. One positive thing I’ll say is that I really enjoyed the weight-lifting, despite my tragic soreness. The more I learn about weight training, the less I feel compelled to do cardio to burn a million calories. Getting stronger is so much more rewarding than cycling off the cheesecake you ate last night. I intend on keeping up with this sort of training, with maybe a couple extra rest days in between.
I’ll also mention that I weighed myself before and after the week, and I only gained about two pounds. For me, that’s nothing. My weight fluctuates all the time, so two pounds is like, having an extra cup of water before bed. I was pretty pleased with this, not only because I wasn’t looking to gain weight, but because it’s cool to know that by eating a little more and doing less cardio, you’re probably not gonna get fat. I think that’s something a lot of people are scared of (including myself), so that’s important to note.
In the end, I’m retiring as a bodybuilder. Aside from the fact that I’m actually *not* one, I don’t want to live in a world where I crave a salad after eating chicken and rice all week. People obviously get amazing results from eating and training this way. It’s also a huge commitment to be so particular about all the macro numbers you have to hit. I’m not sure I need that stress in my life. And what’s with the bullshit protein desserts? Can’t we just eat cake and not tell our coaches about it? Am I too invested in the role?
Anyway, LMK what I should try next. I’m gonna go eat a carrot stick.
Images: Scott Webb / Unsplash; Giphy (6)