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You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting, the diet plan where you don't eat for periods of time. It sounds like torture to most, but a lot of people have experienced weight-loss success thanks to this method.
There are a few ways to try it, one of the most popular is the 16:8 regimen: 16 hours of fasting with an 8-hour period where you can eat. Intermittent fasting, or “IF,” has been linked to multiple health benefits, including reduced inflammation in the brain and reduced blood pressure. Though experts warn that it could encourage binge eating and extreme dieting.
So what is like to actually try it? TODAY asked two NBC Universal employees to document their journeys on intermittent fasting for a whole month.
David Torchiano was interested to see if intermittent fasting would help him reduce his cholesterol levels, while Marnee Muskal was looking to manage her weight.
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What a nutritionist taught them
Before they began, they consulted New York City-based registered dietitian Keri Glassman, who had a few important notes to share:
- Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. Some don’t respond well to being very hungry and might indulge their cravings when they finally can eat, thinking that the fasting makes up for it. So it’s important to recognize your habits before and/or during the process.
- During your time of eating, choose healthy foods. “Loads of vegetables, healthy fats, high-quality lean protein and then maybe one or two high-quality, high-fiber, starchy carbohydrates, so something like brown rice or a slice of Ezekiel bread,” she said.
- When you’re fasting, you can have water, tea, black coffee or seltzer. Avoid adding milk to your coffee for best results, and try not to drink too much seltzer as that could leave you feeling very bloated.
- Drink plenty of water!
- What to avoid: Products high in sugar, for example juice. A glass of alcohol every now and then is OK. “Like anything else, the more you put into it, the healthier you are, the better results you’re going to get,” said Glassman, who doesn’t encourage calorie counting.
- If you break a day, that’s OK. Just try again tomorrow.
“I’d say the biggest benefit to it, is that it can control your eating in general. When you reduce the amount of hours that you’re eating, you often eat less," explained Glassman.
What it was like
Both Muskal and Torchiano preferred to eat from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the weekdays and a similar schedule during the weekends. Torchiano started his day with hot water and lemon or black coffee, while Muskal chose to only have water or tea until she could have her coffee with milk, with her first meal.
Surprisingly, starting off wasn’t as hard as both thought it would be.
“My stomach growled at the beginning, which is embarrassing in meetings. But it sort of went away,” Muskal said.
“The more that I do it, the easier it becomes,” Torchiano said during week two of the challenge.
The hardest part
The weekends were the most difficult time for both of them, mainly because they didn’t have their routines to stick to.
“I have to admit, the weekend was a little bit harder than I thought. I think being around the kitchen and food and not having work to distract my brain from food definitely made it harder for fasting,” Torchiano said, adding that when he traveled for work he also found fasting more challenging.
“I slipped up and actually had a bagel on Sunday morning, but what are you gonna do?” he said. “Back on track today, Monday.”
Muskal had similar difficulties.
“My only trouble was really on the weekends, when I'm making breakfast for my kids. And my husband likes to eat breakfast, so that's where it became a problem for me,” she said.
As a result, Muskal found that avoiding the kitchen while her family ate breakfast was easier.
“I felt like I didn't want to be in the kitchen in the morning. So I sort of lost that time with them,” she admitted.
One of the biggest takeaways for Muskal was that her clothes fit better.
“I did notice that, even though I was maintaining my weight, my clothes were fitting me better. And so for that, I think it was successful. (The nutritionist) did say, like, 'Don't worry about the number on the scale. Because you will see other benefits,'" Muskal said.
However, she did say that she felt more tired while fasting. Moving forward, she continues to try to limit the hours of the day that she eats, but has incorporated a healthy breakfast like two hard-boiled eggs and coffee with milk, back into her morning routine.
The challenge has made her more conscious of what she eats and has also encouraged her to exercise more. She lost about four pounds over the course of a month.
“I would say that intermittent fasting got me walking more. I get off the subway a stop earlier to walk further to my apartment and to work.”
Torchiano also said his clothes fit better after a month of intermittent fasting. While his cholesterol levels didn’t budge, he said it was likely due to genetics.
“(My doctor) said not to be discouraged about my cholesterol (levels), because fasting has been proven to have other benefits,” he said. “And while this hasn’t impacted, at least in this lab result, my next step is to do some exercise.”
In the process, his wife started doing IF with him. And like Muskal, he is now eating better.
“I feel like I've gotten more conscious about what I'm eating,” he said. “I’m less inclined to eat junk food at night after dinner and I have not had a chocolate croissant since I started fasting!”