A writer’s tale … one month in

About a month ago, I was corrupted by YouTube. I’d watched a couple of health-related videos, and as a result YouTube started pushing me videos about intermittent fasting … to the point where I came to believe it was a world-wide phenomenon on the scale of Elon Musk and funny cat videos.

I was experiencing a few pandemic-related eating problems and anxiety, so I thought, What the heck? Not eating at all for 18-20 hours a day seemed to me an achievable goal (whereas cutting down consumption of chocolate was not).

Intermittent fasting has made a noticeable difference to my life in the first month, so I thought I would share with you my experience to date.

My problem

I’ve always had a slender frame. When I was younger I could eat as much of whatever I wanted and still stay skinny. As I’ve gotten older, though, my frame hasn’t changed, but the way my body accumulates and distributes fat has … largely to my belly and face.

Add to that the pandemic-related loss of access to a gym, and close access at home to a kitchen full of assorted (and delicious) fats, carbs, sugars and proteins, and the net result is a chronic lifestyle problem that requires a quick fix, ‘head it off at the pass’ solution.

My intermittent fasting routine

I’m not about to write a comprehensively-researched or definitive guide to intermittent fasting; just share with you my own story. The basis of my approach was YouTube videos by self-proclaimed experts (including doctors), underpinned by (I must admit) a rather lackadaisical plan (once again, blamed on the pandemic).

Essentially, daily intermittent fasting means choosing to go 16 hours without eating, followed by an 8 hour eating window; or 18 hours without eating, followed by a 6 hour eating window; etc, etc. This can help with improving glucose control, lowering cholesterol, reducing fat around internal organs and reducing overall body weight – along with associated benefits to energy levels, sleep and overall health.

I started off by ceasing eating at 8pm each night, then having a meal the next day at 2pm and one at 7pm (including a small chocolatey snack) – ie an 18/6 intermittent fast. But I also allowed myself a little cheat to ease myself into it: a small soy latte in the early morning. This was critical for me, as I could quite easily forgo breakfast; but coffee is a habit/addiction, that, if I disobey its call, can threaten my whole program by making me feel I need to eat.

Within the first week I felt good about being hungry and what it was doing for me health-wise, so I changed to a 22/2 routine (finish eating at 8pm; start next meal at 6pm the next day). For the past 3 weeks I’ve basically been on this or a 23/1 routine (notwithstanding the morning soy latte).

Just one final note about the routine: I drink water with a few drops of lemon juice in it during the fasting period, as well as one black coffee. (I started having a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar too, but this seems to give me an upset stomach, so I’ve halted that for the time being.)

The results

Surprisingly, it’s quite easy for me to fast from 8pm to 7pm the next day. I decided upfront that I would treat hunger as a good thing (ie a sign that my state of health is improving), whereas previously I viewed any tummy rumble as permission to eat – and eat I did! In fact, previously I found I was eating even when I wasn’t hungry – sometimes when my stomach was full – so it was obvious I had developed a mental disorder towards eating. If you don’t know how to convince yourself of something through self-talk, then I recommend you put some time and practice into this, as my experience has been that it’s critical for success.

The best motivator to continue something is continuing success. My perceived successes in the first month include:

  • More energy: I don’t physically feel like I have more energy, but I find myself doing more stuff around the house and garden, rather than lying prostrate on the couch. This morning I mowed the lawns and swept the pathways for the first time in a month, and there was a noticeable difference in my lack of fatigue during and afterwards.
  • Greater cognitive ability: For a long time I’ve found it hard to concentrate on reading and writing – and this has become a concerning problem with the planning of my new novel. In editing Dark Farm, I could do bits at a time and concentrate hard to get things right, but creating a whole new world for the next book requires next-level cognitive ability. Mid-way into the month of intermittent fasting my mind started coming up with new ideas and, more importantly, it connected and smoothed out disparate ideas which had previously been frustrated by writer’s block. The other indicator of better cognitive ability is that when I hear certain music or read or observe certain things, I have flashbacks to my own linked memories – often things I haven’t thought about in a long time. (I actually love this, as I’m addicted to nostalgia.)
  • Improved mood: I mentioned earlier my anxiety. I’m an introvert and I have an important, busy job, so anxiety (including social anxiety) are par for the course with me. But in the past month, I’ve seen my anxiety retreat. I don’t worry about things that might happen next week; I don’t get frustrated when I have to line up at the shop; I don’t get emotional at the state of the world; I don’t worry about getting old – in a nutshell, I feel calmer and more optimistic.
  • Reduced bloating: This is a physical thing that indicates better digestion and reduced internal inflammation – both important prerequisites for good overall health.
  • Weight loss: I never aimed to quickly lose the extra 5 kilograms I’ve packed on during the pandemic, but I did have the aim to gradually reduce my excess weight through the intermittent fasting regime and improved diet/reduced sugar. I’ve been impressed by how quickly the weight has slipped away, particularly considering I still eat 50-100 grams of chocolate as part of my evening meal.

Finally – seeing as this website is about writing fiction – I can report that the perceived benefits of intermittent fasting to writing include more ideas, less writer’s block, greater world- and character-building ability, more energy to write, and less sensitivity to criticism. Well worth the few hours of agreeable hunger during the day!

takeaway message

If you think intermittent fasting might be right for you, my advice is:

  • Research and plan a routine that suits your mindset and lifestyle
  • Motivate yourself by paying close attention to your mind and stomach – be wary of what they might be telling you, and create for yourself a replacement narrative
  • Try it, adapt it and monitor the results
  • Celebrate your success (eg by writing a post about it).

I’ll be posting future updates on my own progress. Best of luck with your journey.

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