Erin Brodwin / Business Insider
I've been ignoring my mother for a week and a half.
For the past 10 days, I've stifled the small voice she instilled in the back of my mind to remind me that foregoing breakfast is nutritional doom — all for the sake of a hot new diet known as intermittent fasting.
The diet essentially involves abstaining from food for a set period of time ranging from 16 hours to several days — and surprisingly, it has a lot of scientific backing. Large studies have found intermittent fasting to be just as reliable for weight loss as traditional diets. And a few studies in animals have suggested it could have other benefits as well, such as reducing the risk for certain cancers and even prolonging life.
Silicon Valley loves it. A Bay Area group called WeFast meets weekly to collectively break their fasts with a hearty morning meal. Facebook executive Dan Zigmond confines his eating to a narrow time slot; many other CEOs and tech pioneers are sworn "IF" devotees — some even fast for up to 36 hours at a time.
I opted to try a form of the diet known as the 16:8, in which you fast for 16 hours and eat (or "feed," as some proponents call it) for eight hours. With this regimen, you can eat whatever you want — so long as it doesn't fall outside the designated 8-hour window.
Here's how it went.
Before starting my fast, I had a standard check-up with a doctor, and called Krista Varady, one of the first researchers to study intermittent fasting (IF) in humans.University of Illinois at Chicago
Varady is a nutrition professor at the University of Illinois and wrote a book about fasting called "The Every-Other-Day Diet" in 2013. She told me that the most scientifically-supported benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss.
To this end, most of Varady's IF research has involved obese people. Study subjects have lost a significant amount of weight — roughly the same amount they would have on a traditional diet that involves strict eating and calorie counting.
I told Varady that I was trying out the diet not to lose weight but rather to find out how feasible the plan was. She said that while certain people shouldn't try intermittent fasting — those over 70, people with type 1 diabetes, and women who are pregnant or lactating— "most people can give it a try."
Some research suggests that intermittent fasting has a handful of other benefits, from increased focus to a reduced risk of certain diseases. Some studies even suggest it may help prolong life, but most of that research has been in animals, not people.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Anecdotally, intermittent fasters report that their diets have helped them become more productive, build muscle faster, and sleep better. Members of a Silicon Valley startup called HVMAN skip eating on Tuesdays and claim they get more work done on that day than any other.
Varady said that hundreds of people in her studies have reported similar benefits. "But we haven't studied or quantified any of that yet," she said.
With the go-ahead from my doctor and Varady, I was ready to find out for myself. Based on some advice from other IF fans, I chose to break my daily fast at 12 p.m. and stop eating at 8 p.m., giving me 8 hours to eat or "feed."Erin Brodwin / Business Insider
I wanted my last meal before my first 16-hour fast to be good, so I made one of my favorites: home-made pizza. I eat pretty healthy most of the time — for my favorite pizza recipe, I top whole-wheat crust with tomato sauce, a blend of cheeses, arugula, and chicken breast. I gobbled a few pieces and got ready to fast.
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