My Experiment With Time-Restricted Eating
I’ve appreciated the way Peter Attia M.D. has organized thinking with his nutritional framework. As he describes, there are three levers you can pull to make improvements in how you eat:
- You can choose what you eat or don’t eat.
- You can choose to eat more or less.
- You can choose when to eat or not to eat.
For much of the last year I’ve been playing with limits on when I eat to see how that affects how I feel and how I perform.
When I Eat
Starting sometime last year I was conscious of trying to finish eating a least 2 hours before bedtime. Then I limited to eating with a 12 or sometimes 10 hour window. For the last 2 months I’ve reduced it down to an 8-hour window, from approximately 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.
What I Eat
Within that 8-hour window I eat whatever quantities I want. I already have fairly strong boundaries on what I eat. When it’s time to eat, I do feel hungry and it’s important that I have those foods handy that I want to be eating.
Outside of that time I only drink water, my own replenishment drink (20 oz of water, squeezed lemon quarter, pinch of sea salt, teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, and 2 teaspoons of magnesium powder) or herbal tea.
It seems like my stomach has shrunk with the extended time being empty each day. I don’t feel like eating as much as I did before, though I am training as much or more than usual. I understand that digestion can only move along so fast. With a smaller window to eat in and a smaller stomach, I can’t just keep eating and eating.
I most often eat a big salad by 2 or 3 pm and sometimes (especially on training days) I eat more after the salad. This then leaves me no very hungry at 6 pm when I only have one more hour to eat. This is another way the quantity is restricted by the time restriction.
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash
My Body’s Response
When I wake up, it’s been around 12 hours since I ate last, but I don’t feel like eating. It does fluctuate somewhat but in general, on those morning I don’t have training it might be 10 am before I start to feel hunger. On those mornings I do train, I might finish before 8 am and I might start to feel hungry by 9 am. However, it is quite bearable. When I was younger I had extensive experience with fasting (weekly 1 day, periodically 3 days or 5 days and once for 21 days) so I am quite familiar and not alarmed at all over the sensations, and I am quite confident I can go days, let alone a few hours.
Usually my training times are in the morning in a fasted state. And I feel the most energetic at that time, in that state and my mental and physical performance reinforces it. My understanding that the discomfort of hunger like this has a positive stimulating effect on the cellular level makes me view it as positive part of my training.
By 11:00 am my mind (supposedly trained by the routine) is getting distracted – I’ve usually got a lot of cognitive tasks to do so I think it is partly chemical and partly mental that I feel I need to have better concentration and thinking.
Despite the fruit and vegetable fiber, nuts and fat and whole grains, my 11:00 am breakfasts may tend toward more glycemic content and this may be the reason I often encounter a disruptive brain fogs about 3 hours after my breakfast. I desperately want to take a quick nap and if I can that does a wonderful thing for my brain and I am ready to go again the rest of the day. However, my wonderful boys are at home with me all day, my office offers no escape, and I can’t quite relax with them and the risk of noise and issues I must deal with. So rarely do I get that nap.
My apology to any who don’t like clinical talk about bodily functions… but my body develops a reliable pattern of digestion and movement when I stay on a consistent eating pattern for a few weeks (fairly consistent in timing, content and amount). When I shifted from a 12-hour window to an 8-hour window of eating it took a few weeks for my bowels to figure out their new routine, but its all good now. Being a mostly plant-based eater really helps.
What I Am Aiming For
It’s always important to ask a person what they’re trying to achieve before evaluating and critiquing their practices. So, I should ask, “What am I doing this for?”
Resilience. Voluntarily including small and varied forms of discomfort in my daily life builds resilience against stress, both physical and mental. Letting my body and mind feel the discomfort of a little hunger each day increases my tolerance and self-control. We expand our comfort zone by regular dosages of discomfort.
Rejuvenation. There is a lot of attention on the positive effects of time-restricted eating (which might also be called ‘intermittent fasting’ though I hear some debate on the use of that title). I understand that allowing the cells of my body to experience a little metabolic stress like this triggers some good, longevity supporting things to happen on the smallest scale.
Metabolic efficiency. By regularly making my body deal with (a slight) scarcity of easy fuel (glucose) it is provoked to get better at using the resources inside already (fat). I buy the argument that our bodies were developed to optimize health and performance under conditions of periodic caloric scarcity, or – stated in the opposite – an abundance of food is literally killing us slowly.
Better sleep. I just feel better at night and sleep better when I don’t have food in my stomach when I go to sleep.
Lower stress on the digestive system. The digestive system is allowed more time to work on less food, and I believe, have some time to rest each day.
What I may modify
I wish I could shift it all one hour earlier, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm to give me more time before bedtime. But it really only works for my family to eat between 6 and 7 and I don’t want to add more complications for us all.
I would like to keep working on making a non-processed, low-glycemic, plant-based breakfast. It’s quite a challenge to combine those features in several ways. But I will keep working on it.
And, along those lines, I could continue to experiment with the content of food at the beginning, middle and end of that window. My instinct says I should aim for heavier foods in the morning and make the lightest in the evening – to make it most pleasant during the sleeping hours.
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Thanks for describing your experiment, Mat.
Because of not being able to swim during the pandemic, I’ve tried to cut my meals down to twice daily with some success as I certainly don’t need the calories of three! This might be a better alternative.