11 lessons learned from 4 years of intermittent fasting: The good and bad

“It’s a scientific fact that you need to eat breakfast every morning to lose weight.”

“You shouldn’t skip breakfast or meals, it’s not healthy. You have to eat six small meals every day.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I remember hearing these statements during a short conversation with my friend about weight loss, exercise and fasting.

During this conversation, I tried to share a new way of thinking about weight loss and healthy living. After all, if there’s a different way that could help you achieve the same goal with less time and effort, why not try it?

Just like my friend, I was initially skeptical about trying anything new to improve my weight loss, mental and physical health.

But, after a while, I decided to self experiment with skipping breakfast and an “intermittent fasting” plan.

After 4 years of integrating intermittent fasting into my lifestyle, I can now say that this has been one of the best decisions of my life.

Here’s what I’ve learned with some insights that may be useful for you. But, first, let’s briefly cover what intermittent fasting means.

What is intermittent fasting?

In layman’s terms, intermittent fasting is simply a pattern of eating. It’s not a diet plan, it’s just a conscious decision to skip meals, like breakfast, on purpose.

You would “intermittently” eat during a short time window of the day and “fast” for the rest of the day.

For example, I typically skip breakfast and eat my first meal around 11 am and freely eat till 7 pm that evening. After 7 pm, I purposely don’t eat till 11 am the next day.

This type of intermittent fasting is called the ‘16/8’ fasting because you don’t eat for 16 hours of the day and only eat during a specific 8-hour window.

You can also reduce or increase the eating window on different days.

For example, on my workout days, I typically prefer to exercise in a ‘fasted state’, so my first meal is usually later in the day around 2 pm. In these cases, my eating window is 5 hours and my fasting period is 19 hours.

There are many variations of intermittent fasting including the ‘24 hour’ fasting and so on.

Since this article is primarily about my experiences with intermittent fasting over the past 4 years, I may address the science of how intermittent fasting works for weight loss, health and so on, in a separate article.

Good and bad lessons from 4 years of intermittent fasting

1. Intermittent fasting isn’t a ‘starvation’ diet, it’s a healthy lifestyle.

Whenever the average person first hears about intermittent fasting, they usually say, “oh yeah, I’ve done that before, you mean like starving yourself to lose weight right?” Wrong!

Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle. It’s a way of living that you could sustain for the rest of your life.

The by-product of this is weight loss, improved mental and physical health etc.

So far, intermittent fasting has not been detrimental to my health. In fact, it’s actually improved my health significantly over time.

2. Listen to your body on what you should eat.

One of the most common queries on fasting is about the intermittent fasting diet plan. But, as I’ve covered earlier this is not a diet plan, it’s an eating pattern and a lifestyle.

During the eating window, you can eat any combination of healthy foods.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about ‘what to eat’, is to listen to your body and eat according to this.

For example, if you feel tired and drained after eating rice or grains, you could try eating more vegetables instead. If you feel more energized after doing this, that’s your body’s way of telling you to stick to vegetables and avoid consuming high carb foods.

This is why I’m a strong advocate against a ‘fixed’ diet. Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older, plus, eating the same meals every day increases the odds of developing food intolerance and diseases.

Thankfully, I came across this idea of ‘eating by listening to your body’ whilst reading the work of internationally renowned holistic health expert, Paul Chek — specifically, in his book How to Eat Move and Be Healthy.

The key lesson here is to consistently listen to your body and experiment with different foods for optimal health.

3. Intermittent fasting benefit: it simplifies your life.

Before I practiced intermittent fasting, I obsessed about waking up early to cook breakfast, prep 6 meals a day and so on.

Even though I made some progress towards my health goals — fat loss, muscle gain and so on — I struggled with consistency because this routine was tedious.

Nowadays, my life is a lot more simple. I eat one or two major meals a day, I don’t obsess about what I eat and still make consistent progress to improve my strength and health every day.

Simplifying my life in this way has freed up more time and energy to focus on what really matters to me.

4. Expect your results to slow down after a year or so.

During my first year of intermittent fasting in 2013, I lost a lot of fat and got into the best shape of my life.

But, after my first year, my weight and fat loss, reduced significantly till I no longer noticed much of a difference.

This makes sense, since your body can only lose so much fat till it’s detrimental for your health.

5. Intermittent fasting plus high intensity interval training equals rapid fat loss.

If you want to lose fat as quickly as possible, I’d recommend you introduce any form of training that has high intensity.

For example, when I first started out with intermittent fasting, I introduced 10 minutes of sprinting 3x a week, plus weekly football matches.

You could pick anything you enjoy doing, i.e. Swimming, skipping, jogging, then raise the intensity till you’re gassed out after every workout.

In addition, training like this on an empty stomach also helped to improve my results.

I’m not exactly sure about the science behind why training on a fasted state could aid fat loss, but, I’d recommend you experiment with this as well.

Intuitively, it makes sense why this works. Fasting helps to reduce the amount of calories you consume, whilst the high intensity training burns more calories.

Your daily calorie intake drops significantly and over time you lose more fat. Simple.

6. Intermittent fasting can improve your discipline, focus and productivity.

During my fasting window, up till 1 pm on most days, I get a lot more work done than if I had breakfast when I woke up.

Once I break my fast with the first meal, my energy levels drop, I lose focus and feel lethargic.

For this reason, I’ve scheduled my most important tasks before I break my fast. This allows me to match my peak energy levels with my top priorities, resulting in high levels of productivity.

Another observation I’ve noticed is that the discipline of fasting every day, has significantly improved my discipline across the rest of my life.

Once I started intermittent fasting, I developed the willpower to start new habits — eating healthy, sleep early, reading more and so on.

This is the power of a keystone habit.

7. Intermittent fasting can reduce your discipline, focus and productivity.

This may appear to contradict the previous point, but think about it, a hungry man can also be a grumpy man.

In other words, when fasting, it’s easy to lose focus and get agitated because you’re really hungry.

This is why it’s so important to listen to your body, instead of sticking to a fixed regimen.

I’ve noticed that there’s a sweet spot every day — a time period to stop your fasting window.

If you break your fast too early, you’ll miss out the energy that could have been used to get more work done.

If you break your fast too late, you’ll start to get agitated and lose focus during the day.

Every day is different, so it’s about trial and error.

8. Intermittent fasting could make your diet worse.

Following on from the previous point, when you’re really hungry and break your fast, it’s easy to overeat unhealthy or nutrient empty foods.

This has been one of my biggest challenges with intermittent fasting.

It takes human discipline to fast every day. But, it takes superhuman discipline to fast and maintain a clean diet every day.

The reason is that when you’re fasting, your body is low on sugar and energy. It craves high carb foods with sugar as well.

Whilst, you could still achieve your weight loss and aesthetic goals without eating a clean diet, over the long run this may be detrimental to your health.

The best way I’ve found to prevent this overeating tendency after breaking the fast is to design your environment for success and drink as much water as possible throughout the day.

9. Intermittent fasting could contribute to muscle mass loss or gain.

During my 2nd year of intermittent fasting, I injured my lower back doing back squats and was told to stay off weights indefinitely.

I was already in great shape and figured that everything would stay the same. So, I replaced my weight training with Pilates and stretching exercises.

In addition, I started a body detox program, which involved removing high-carb foods from my diet for a couple of months.

Within a couple of weeks, my muscle mass significantly reduced to the point that my clothes didn’t fit as well anymore.

The detox program and intermittent fasting protocol drastically reduced my daily calorie intake, contributing to muscle loss.

Once I recovered, I restarted my weight training program and increased my carb intake, whilst retaining the intermittent fasting protocol.

Within a couple of months, I regained my physical shape and built back up the muscle that I had initially lost.

The key lesson here is that calorie intake matters — a lot!

10. Intermittent fasting works because you consume fewer calories.

Just like any newbie, during my first year of intermittent fasting, I believed that I had discovered the magic formula to weight loss and healthy living.

I would preach to everyone about how this was the only way to achieve their health goals because it worked so well for me.

Over the years, as I experimented more, I discovered that the reason why intermittent fasting can be so effective for weight loss is simply because it forces you to eat less food.

The less food you eat, the less calories you consume and the more weight you lose.

It’s really that simple. It’s not magic.

Some people who try intermittent fasting dismiss it by complaining that it doesn’t work. But, in most cases, they failed to track their calorie intake.

Intermittent fasting is simply another tool to help you reduce the amount of calories you consume. But, if you choose to overeat junk food after your fast every day, you could actually end up putting on more weight than before!

In other words, as I’ve said before, the amount of calories you consume every day matters a lot.

Intermittent fasting should not be used as an excuse to indulge in your favourite ice cream or lose discipline with eating healthy.

This is why you could also achieve your health goals by eating 6 or more meals a day.

As long as the total calories you consume every day is less than what you use to move and live, you’ll lose weight over time.

11. Don’t let intermittent fasting prevent you from living your life.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned during my 4 year journey of intermittent fasting, is to stop worrying about being perfect and live your life regardless.

During my first year, I refused to break my fast outside of my eating window.

I would travel on holidays to new places, skipping the experience of trying out new food from a different culture because I was “fasting.”

I used to be very rigid and fixed about my intermittent fasting protocol. But, over time, I’ve learned that there’s more to life than achieving my exercise, diet or fitness goals.

I still work towards my health goals every week, but I don’t beat myself up if I’m not up to par.

Sometimes, I have a meal for breakfast instead of fasting. Sometimes, I break my fast at the right time, but indulge in eating unhealthy food.

At the end of the day, I can only pick myself up from where I left off.

Is intermittent fasting healthy? or is intermittent fasting bad for you?

Intermittent fasting may or may not work for you. It’s a healthy lifestyle change that I strongly vouch for because it simplifies my life and frees up more time to focus on what really matters to me.

During the pursuit of our goals, we tend to lose sight of the big picture of life and miss out on memorable moments with the people who matter to us.

Keep experimenting to find what works for you, but always remember to enjoy the journey. Because, you can always lose or gain with respect to your health goals, but you can never get back time.

Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement ideas and proven science for better health, productivity and creativity. To get practical ideas on how to stop procrastinating and build healthy habits, you can join his free weekly newsletter here.