When To Stop Intermittent Fasting

I did intermittent fasting for about five years, until this past March. My version of IF was pretty relaxed — it was basically “skip breakfast and drink coffee instead” — but I liked how easy it was, and I liked the effect it had on my life.

I know the research on IF is mixed and that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. Then again, I started fasting around the same time I stopped drinking alcohol and started eating healthier, so it’s hard to tell what caused what, but over the course of those first few years, I lost about 20 or 30 pounds and felt a lot better. The IF also cleared out part of my day, which I loved: I hadn’t anticipated how pleasant it would be to not have to buy, prepare, and clean up a whole meal (breakfast). It was like emptying out a third of my closet, or a third of my calendar, freeing it up for something else. Also, after years of thinking I could never skip breakfast, it was cool to learn I was wrong and that my body could adapt.

I also liked the sense of control-but-also-freedom that IF offered, and it jibed with my rule-loving personal style: Don’t eat, until you do. Then don’t again. But eat whatever you want. Knowing I “could” eat whatever I wanted ultimately led me to enjoy making healthier choices anyway. It was great!

But then I got pregnant earlier this year, and immediately the IF went out the window.

Basically, I woke up one day feeling super nauseous, like I was as hungover as I’d ever been. I felt like barfing, but I couldn’t, and I stayed in that stage for hours. Days! MONTHS!! (OK I’m exaggerating, but not by much!) Eventually I figured out that eating, especially protein, made the nausea subside, and from pretty much that moment on, I’ve been eating constantly (or like, every few hours, including through the night).

It honestly kind of sucks to come up with so many meals all the time. Like, I can only eat yogurt with fruit so many times a day. I went from spending a little extra care on making two meals a day to now throwing together six or eight random giant snacks. It sometimes feels as if I’m never not eating.

But, at the same time — somehow — mostly I’m surprised at how little effect giving up IF has had on my life. Technically I’ve been gaining a lot of weight and my life feels totally different, but ditching IF hasn’t felt the way I thought it would feel. I think I considered it a real linchpin for my life, and I think I was wrong. If I’d been giving it eight out of 10 credits, I’d now give it more like four.

I think part of me truly worried that my life would spin out of control if I gave it up. I can also see with a little more clarity that I might have been a bit too attached to my fasting routine, maybe crediting it for too many things in my life (health, fitness, well-being), given that in many regards so little has changed since I’ve given it up. Maybe I thought of it as too much of a solution. In that regard, it’s been nice, and humbling, to realize that a routine I felt so attached to probably wasn’t as necessary as I thought it was.

But mostly I miss it. And it’s been good to feel like on a deeper level, I wasn’t tricking myself: I really did like eating and living that way. I wasn’t depriving myself. There’s no starving hunger-demon I’ve been drowning in coffee and pretending isn’t there. I miss the experience of getting hungry and then eating a big, delicious meal. I miss not having to eat all the time. I miss HUNGER. I’m so sick of eating!! I realize I’m tempting fate to say that, but after a while, it’s a drag. It’s like the parent who forces the kid to smoke the whole pack of cigarettes or something. Oh, you don’t want to eat three meals a day? How about eating eight?

The experience of gaining weight has also been totally unlike what I thought it would be. After taking pleasure in losing weight while doing IF, I figured that watching it go back up would feel like undoing my own work, but instead I enjoy seeing the numbers rise on the scale — it feels like I’m doing a good job — and it’s been mostly fun and freaky to watch my body change. I like walking around naked and looking in the mirror!

It’s usually scary for me to let go of a routine — What if I never get it back? What if I forfeit everything I worked toward? What if I lose all control and let my whole life go insane?? — but instead of a loss, this one has felt more like a gain. I guess that’s kind of cheesy and maybe too tidy, but there’s an element of relief, like that crutch I thought I needed in order to walk wasn’t all that necessary after all. But, I still prefer walking with a crutch. Maybe this isn’t the best metaphor.

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