Throughout the last several months of my intermittent fasting journey, I’ve been tweaking my diet and experimenting with various food choices. I’ve landed on a mostly low-carb diet because, like many people, I feel best when I keep carbohydrates relatively low and eat mostly vegetables, a good amount of protein, and healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil.
Nevertheless, I’m not a typical low-carber. I have not adopted the demonization of wheat and sugar and still have these in moderation. In fact, I’ve found that, since adopting intermittent fasting, I’ve been able to tolerate carbs better and, because of a more normalized appetite, I can consume carbs in moderation.
I also focus on unprocessed foods within my diet, but I don’t consider myself a strict paleo diet follower either. Both low-carb and paleo diets eliminate one or several of the types of foods I enjoy – foods I find a perfectly acceptable part of my healthy diet (such as higher-carb fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods). I don’t have a label for my way of eating, and I’m OK with that. I’ve learned the value of going at it alone and finding what’s right for me despite others’ claims that there exists a diet that’s perfect for everyone.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that it’s more important for me to be consistent with my intermittent fasting routine than to follow a particular diet. Take for example my previous experience with the low-carb Atkins diet. In 2002, at the height of the Atkins diet revolution, I joined the mass of people adopting a very low-carb diet. After four months of commitment to keeping carbohydrate consumption to 20 grams or less, I lost a whopping 40 pounds. Unfortunately, I slowly gained all the weight back (and more) within a few years and trended upward even more over the course of the next decade. Did the Atkins diet work? Technically, yes. Was I able to sustain it in the long term? No.
Fast forward to 2014 and the advent of social media and the deluge of information now available on the internet. I jumped back into the low-carb lifestyle – this time the low-carb high fat (LCHF) version of it. This time around, I was much more informed and supported by an enormous online community filled with those who were successfully losing weight or maintaining their weight-loss by eating low-carb. Armed with more information, recipes and inspiration, I thought I was good to go. However, as time went on I found myself being less strict with my carb limits, going from a maximum of 50 grams of carbs daily (still considered ketogenic), to 200 grams or so – still relatively low, but not ketogenic.
Today, I still eat a mostly non-ketogenic low carb diet, although I no longer count calories or track macros (carbs, protein and fat) so I’m not always certain how far from that goal I stray. The other day, out of curiosity, I looked back at my weight tracker and noted the difference during the month I was more strict with my carb-counting and more recent months when I ate to appetite being mindful of portions but not counting carbs.
Many of my fellow fasters have reported dramatic results after going from eating whatever they wanted during their eating window to a ketogenic diet. I’m not one of those people. As you can see from the graph, during a strict low-carb month my weight-loss had much less variation than during a month when I ate more carbs. Nevertheless, whether I was strict with carbs or not, I still lost an average of five pounds per month.
Might I lose more weight (and lose it faster) if I adopted a strict ketogenic diet – keeping carbs within 20 grams or less and eliminating wheat and sugar completely? Probably. But, my history tells me that I haven’t been able to stick to a strict ketogenic diet for a long period of time, despite my best efforts. I’m guessing I’m not alone.
I’m happy to report that for those of us who have had this experience, there’s hope found in intermittent fasting which has similar benefits to low-carb dieting without the restrictions and fragility. For example, much like a low-carb diet, intermittent fasting induces ketosis – the “fat-burning” mode during which the body uses ketones for energy. Intermittent fasting also normalizes insulin sensitivity and controls leptin levels much like low-carb diets do. The similarities in benefits are many; but, the most significant advantage of focusing on intermittent fasting as opposed to relying on a low carb diet for weight-loss is perhaps the most obvious one – that intermittent fasting is not a diet.
Study after study has shown that a healthy diet consisting of foods such as vegetables, high-quality protein and unprocessed whole foods has a clear advantage over steady consumption of simple carbohydrates and junk food. No way of eating – not even fasting – can negate that fact. Nevertheless, the beauty of intermittent fasting is that it only requires that you strictly control meal frequency thus giving much more leeway for a vast variety of foods including what others might refer to as “cheats.”
In the end, it’s up to the individual to determine what a healthy diet consists of for him or her. Part of that determination is establishing what can be adopted as a way of life in the long-term as opposed to what might produce fast results but be unsustainable in the future. In other word, the best diet is the healthiest one you can stick to. If you’re anything like me, simply knowing that no food is strictly off limits and can be consumed within my eating window is enough to make intermittent fasting very sustainable in the long term.