On intermittent fasting

Lately I’m having a lot of chats about intermittent fasting and I think it’s a good time to write down my whole experience.

As I kid I was slim, super slim, a tiny skinny kid. Then puberty hit me like a train and I started to gain weight. I tried to put some training in here and there and for a long time I managed to be “not fat“. I was not fit either, more like “kinda OK, actually overweight“, but I was not “fat“. It was a weird limbo: not fit enough to be proud of my body, not enough overweight to address it as a health issue. It was the perfect weight just to keep me slightly sad about my body all the time. Sweet, isn’t it?

In 2015, when I published my first book and started to talk at conferences, I hit my all-time-high: 95kg, that for my height…is a bit too much.

I wanted to do something, but diets have never worked for me. I can fool myself for a while, but then I fall back to the usual bullshit food that keeps me happy in the moment, but overall in the “sad limbo”.

A couple years later I started to have trouble sleeping. Sleeping is very important for me, and I mean it in the “Ivan, you turn into a fucking psychopath” way. I decide to try to fix it, and I experimented with before-bed meditation, with reducing caffeine in the afternoon, with reducing smartphone time, with reading. Eventually, a couple of years ago, I pinpointed the problem down to bad digestion (duh 🤯)

In February 2018, I started experimenting with having dinner earlier, looking for the best time to have dinner and a good night of sleep: win-win. The more I tried the more it looked like I needed to have dinner at 5pm 🤦🏻‍♂️.

I could not have dinner at 5pm because I would have been still in the office at that time and twice a week I would have been training at 8pm: I will never digest before training.

The event

In March 2018, Marcos invited me to a community dinner organized by Twillio. I love this type of events and I managed to persuade Sasa to come along. We reached the venue and the place was lovely and there was a buffet. We started eating, but I was already in “I’m not gonna eat too much otherwise I’ll be sick tonight” mode, so I picked just a couple of things.

After a while, we met Natasha and she introduced us to her friend, a fellow developer. This person was fit, seriously fit and they started eating like a monster, like there was no tomorrow!

We started talking about nerd stuff, but at some point I couldn’t help myself and I went like:

I wish I could eat like that! I’m having problems sleeping and I’m trying to eat less in the evening.

Instantly they replied with something like:

Well, I only eat 2 hours a day and I need to eat a lot, because I train a lot.

I went #instantWTF, I looked puzzled and they started telling me about this thing called Intermittent Fasting, where you don’t stress over what to eat, but focus on eating only in a specific time window:

Focus on when, not on what

I called bullshit, I told them that they were crazy and I changed the conversation topic. (Being rude and in denial, anybody? I know, but if you know me today, you know that I improved a lot since then).

Fast forward to a few days later and my sleeping problem was still there, but in the background, in a very deep point of my mind, my brain was crunching, projecting, guessing and, at some point, it snapped:

FUCK IT! I need to check this Intermittent Fasting thing.

The beginning

I started looking around: Wikipedia, some Google search and YouTube. Mostly interviews and personal stories. I decided to give it a shot:

I’m starting with 16:8 and let’s see how it goes for a couple of weeks.

The basic idea was:

  • Fasting for 16 hours
  • Eating whenever and whatever you want for 8 hours

Pretty straightforward, indeed. Eating for 8 hours seemed OK. Fasting for 16 came with a few concerns:

  • If I only have lunch, am I gonna pass out during training ⚔️?
  • I want coffee ☕ in the morning, but I can’t use any milk.
  • I’m gonna be constantly hungry and when I’m hungry, I’m grumpy. It’s gonna be hard to be around me 🤔

They were fair concerns, but easy to clarify:

  • Yes, no sugar and no milk in your tea or coffee. Basically when you are fasting you can’t get any calories, so
    • All the water you want
    • Coffee, no sugar, no milk
    • Tea, no sugar, no milk
  • No, I never passed out, of course. Our body is waaaay more resilient than we think. I tell you what, my body didn’t give a damn about me having no dinner. I trained without problems.
  • I was not hungry all the time, at least, not in the way I expected.

A few weeks in

At the beginning I was very excited and in a sort of “experimentation infatuation” mode and everything looked fine, but then things started to change for real.

I started to sleep, I started to lose weight and my mood improved. It turns out that when you don’t eat sugar all the time, well, you don’t have mood swing all the time and your blood sugar levels and your insulin levels get healthier.

My eating window opened at 11am and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel guilty to have dessert at lunch. I remember one time, I was with Sasa and I had two different ice cream types because “I want to try them both and I only have 1 hour to eat”.

I was eating like a lion: the 11am became my race start semaphore:

11am!! Green! BAM!!! FOOOOOOD!!

I was eating everything. I mean it: everything! And I was losing weight. It was like a dream come true.

A few months in

After a couple of month something fascinating happened: I started to eat better food. Yep! I started to eat less junk food. The idea of eating two burgers for lunch was not appealing anymore. I started eating more vegetables. I started craving better food and it shocked me. It was quite eye opening:

I can eat whatever I want and I’m eating a salad! WTF!?!?

I wanted to understand, and I started seriously thinking about it: “Why is it happening?”. I don’t have a scientific answer, of course, but my hypothesis is that when you have fewer meals, you want to get as much energy as possible out of them, and you need better food.

A couple years in

It has been more than two years since I started to eat with an intermittent fasting pattern and I experimented a lot to find the sweet spot.

Nowadays I do 20:4, 20 hours fasting and 4 hours eating. I basically have a late breakfast and a nice lunch and I’m happy. Over the last two years I lost about 25kg: on average -1kg every month, that I consider a healthy pace.

Having a scientific mindset, I have been running blood tests every 6 months and my doctor is very pleased. At the last check-up, she went like:

Ivan, your good cholesterol is a bit low: 39, but the usual minimum is 40.

OK… What should I do?

Well, every time you eat a salad or whatever you put olive oil on top, when you think that you have enough oil… add some more.

Ehmm… OK… I’m pretty sure I can do that 😂

I like diagrams, so I also have one of those smart weight scale that tracks my weight and body fat percentage. I like seeing the graph going down and health values going up.

Last year Eugenio suggested an app to track my fasts and I love it: Zero.

Conclusions

Intermittent Fasting helped me a lot, because I work better with “when to eat” than “what to eat”, but it hasn’t been easy from a social point of view.

It completely transformed my life. I don’t have dinner anymore, so I had to rearrange a lot of social meals at lunch: more brunches, fewer dinners… almost no dinners. When I visit my family in Southern Italy it is always super weird being at the dinner table with a glass of water in front of me 😂

Family wise, I spent a lot of evenings looking at my wife Francesca eating. She observed me for months and eventually she started doing it as well and maybe she is gonna talk about that in the future on her blog.

My suggestion is to experiment. Find what works for you and go for it. Even if peer-pressure is a bitch, your health is more important. Make it your focus ☮️

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