Until recently, I had always eaten breakfast. My mother would not let us leave the house before we finished our oatmeal. While my younger sister (not a breakfast eater nor a fan of oatmeal), cried over her bowl of oatmeal, I was enjoying my breakfast. I continued to eat something fairly soon after rising for the rest of my life. Often, it might have been just a piece of toast with jam, but I always ate a little something. That habit was also reinforced with the constant reminder from nutritionists that breakfast was essential to starting your day.
My mindset around breakfast didn’t change until I began collaborating with Dr. Kathryn Waldrep on a weight management program for Prime Women which became PLATE, an acronym for Portion control, Lifestyle, Accountability, Timing and Exercise. In her research, Dr. Waldrep began to read in her medical journals about the benefits of intermittent fasting, as well as, eating according to your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock. They run in the background and carry out essential functions and processes. While the sleep-wake cycle is the best known circadian rhythm, they also affect eating habits and digestion.
Dr. Waldrep believed that intermittent fasting might be an important key for the postmenopausal women in losing weight. With metablolism dropping 10 to 20% per decade after 50, eating less food is an absolute must to not gain weight. However, with the typical three meals a day and snacks regimine that so many of us bought into, you coudn’t help but consume too much food. That’s where circadian rhythms come in. If we trained our bodies to only eat when they were naturally hungry, the window where we consumed meals would shrink and we would consume less food. Intermittent fasting would be easier if we followed our body’s rhythm. Simple, right?
We’ve all known people (you may be one of them) that are never hungry in the morning. They can’t even think about food much before noon. For them, a good time to eat is likely noon to 8:00 pm. They are practicing intermittent fasting withIn that 8 hour window, assuming they don’t go on eating well into the night (which often happens). But what about us breakfast eaters? A better time for intermittent fasting would be then to start eating at 8:00 a.m. and having our last meal at 4:00 pm. While I would have no trouble with that, my husband wants to eat dinner every evening, and pre-COVID, have several dinners out a week with friends, so that plan was not an option.
For me to try intermittent fasting and reap all the great attributes, i.e., weight control, building your immune system, reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and a myriad of other great benefits, according to a recent Harvard Medical School Journal, I would need to alter my circadian rhythm.
The first thing I did was cut my window for eating down to 12 hours. Since I usually didn’t eat dinner past 8:00 pm, that seemed like a good cut off, which meant breakfast couldn’t be until 8:00 am, regardless of when I got up. Easy peasy. Waiting an hour or so after my normal breakfast time was no big deal.
Second step was to cut the eating window down to 10 hours. That was a little tougher. My stomach growled at me and drinking more coffee was not a good idea since I have an acid prone tummy. But I stuck to it and over a period of a month or so, it became my new normal. I would take my bowl of yogurt, blueberries and a dab of granola to work with me (don’t eat oatmeal too often these days) and eat at my desk.
Third step, and the big one I thought, was to cut the hours down to an 8 hour window. As it turned out, it was actually the easiest step I took in the process. Once I had trained my body to no longer need or want breakfast shortly after rising, the battle was won. I easily made it to noon and sometimes as late as 1:00.
Since I didn’t eat a bigger lunch than I ever had, I did find that I was hungry by 3:30 or 4:00. An easy way to resolve the problem was to eat a light “breakfast” that I had skipped in the morning. A serving of yogurt with blueberries and a tablespoon of granola was perfect. I easily made it to 7:00 for dinner and found that I ate less than normal. A perfect outcome!
The harder part of this new regimen was to be sure and STOP eating and drinking by 8:00. I didn’t realize how often I went for a piece of dark chocolate and maybe a little refill on the glass of wine I had enjoyed with dinner well after 8:00. The answer for me to was back up my dinner to 6:00 or 6:30 P.M. so I could still successfully meet the 8:00 cutoff. However, I found that my “breakfast” had to be pared back or else I wasn’t hungry for dinner that early. Soon I found myself skipping the 4:00 p.m. meal all together and THAT is where the trouble began.
Prior to skipping the 4:00 meal, I had dropped weight, eating the same amount of food I had prior to intermittent fasting. Losing weight for me always involved cutting back on what I ate and giving up the wine. But intermittent fasting actually increases your metabolic rate by 3.6-14% so you still lose weight even if you consumed the same number of calories. This was the perfect eating plan! And I felt great. It was like I could feel that recycling process taking damaged parts of cells and repairing them, eating up the fat along the way. Read about this process called autophagy here. It’s fascinating!
While skipping the 4:00 mini-meal would not seem like a big deal (eating less, right?), that’s not the way it turned out. I ate too much food at dinner because I let myself get too hungry and rationalized that I could have extra chocolate and wine late because I had not eaten the 4:00 meal. The weight loss came right back on. Lesson learned. I went back to my original 12:00, 4:00 and 7:00 mealtimes and voila! The weight came back off.
Want to give intermittent fasting a try? Take a look at Prime Women’s PLATE program. The app takes the guess work out of how much should be eating and alows you to change your meal times as gradually as you wish with reminders to start your fast. Now available in an app on Apple or Android.
Intermittent fasting certainly isn’t for everyone, but for many, it may just be the key to keeping weight down and inflammation at bay. You might also want to read The Definitive Guide to Intermittent Fasting.
This article is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before beginning any intermittent fasting program or making chnages in your eating habits.
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