Intermittent Fasting: Does It Actually Work?

When I started university in August 2015, I was warned of the dreaded Freshman 15, the 15 pounds that most college freshman in the US supposedly gain during their first year. I wasn’t worried… until I realised I’d gained about 5kg during my first semester. My roommate had posted a collage that unintentionally displayed how much rounder my face had become. I would look up and try out different diets, but I never lasted more than a week — until I found Intermittent Fasting.

The image that brought me to reality — the top right photo was taken my first week of college, and the top left was taken 4 months later.

My weight fluctuated throughout my time at university — I’d gain huge amounts of weight during the regular school semesters in the states, and end up losing it all (unintentionally) during the summer holidays. By my final year, I had gained a whopping 12kg since I started college, without even realising it. I was only fully aware of the extent of this when I went to the doctor and she compared my weight then to what it was during my first visit a few years prior — she was concerned about me being overweight and the reasons behind my weight gain.

This was when I decided I needed to lose weight — and if anything, to improve my health. While looking through different diet and exercise options, I knew that following a strict diet was unrealistic. I needed something that I could actually stick to and most importantly, would work. I then came across Intermittent Fasting, and after a bit of research, I decided to give it a try.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

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An increasingly popular weight loss method in recent years, Intermittent Fasting is exactly what it sounds like — an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Unlike a diet, it doesn’t affect what food a person eats, but rather when they should be eating instead. For example, fasting for 16 hours of the day, and only eating during the remaining 8 hours.

I spoke to Bonnie Rogers, Functional Medicine Health Coach at The Nutrition Clinic, and she provided a helpful explanation on how fasting works:

“During a fasting period, cells break down proteins and non-essential components and reuse them for energy. Cells also use a fasting period to destroy viruses and bacteria and get rid of damaged structures. This is why fasting can be useful as a dietary intervention, as long as it is done right.”

How Intermittent Fasting Worked For Me

It fit my schedule

In March 2018, I started to follow the 16/8 method, an 8-hour eating pattern. My first class of the day started around 11AM, so I’d only start eating after class, usually around 2PM. This worked out well for me, because that meant my last meal could be as late at 9PM. I’d never been a big breakfast person, so I didn’t have to change my routine much. I also attempted to go to the gym, but I eventually only went a total of three times before leaving the states.

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I ate anything I wanted

Honestly, I didn’t lose any weight during my last few months in the states, but I also didn’t gain anything more. The weight loss actually started in June, when I moved to Seoul for my last semester of university. Throughout my two months there, I was steadily losing a noticeable amount of weight, and by the time I went back to Singapore, I had lost about 7kg. I didn’t actively pursue any form of exercise, the only exception being my walk to class from my on-campus dorm. I’m not too sure if my diet had anything to do with my weight loss — I continued to follow the same Intermittent Fasting pattern, but my class schedule was pretty tight, so my first meals of the day consisted of either salads, kimbap or whatever I could grab from the convenience store. However, I would go out for big dinners and suppers with friends every night, so I was actually consuming much more than I had been in the states. I also found out that kimchi apparently boosts weight loss and your metabolism, and I was eating a lot more veggies and kimchi in Seoul than I had been in the US, where I mainly cooked easy meals like pasta.

My results were consistent

Following the eating pattern was a breeze when I went back home — I had become so used to my eating schedule that the few times I had an early breakfast, I would be full after a couple of bites. Over the next two months, I lost another 6kg, bringing my total weight loss to a bit more than 13kg over 4 months. I maintained this weight for the next year or so.

Before and After
March 2018 vs. January 2019, 13kg later

Honestly, I don’t have many photos of myself before the weight loss started. I became increasingly self-conscious of my weight as university progressed, and would either cover up in photos or avoid being in the picture altogether. The funny thing is, I wasn’t as aware of this back then — when I looked through my photos from the past few years, I realised how few images I actually had of myself before 2019. The above images best display my size before and after losing weight. It may not look like much, but I’m actually wearing the same pair of shorts in both pictures — I went from squeezing into the only pair that fit me to having to hold my shorts up, even with a belt.

Post-Intermittent Fasting

Once I started working, I found it harder for me to maintain my eating pattern. I was waking up much earlier than I had been for the past couple years, and I was spending all day in the office, rather than going back and forth between classes and my apartment. I attempted to start my eating periods in the morning instead, but I’d end up eating dinner at home anyway, and thus ended my intermittent fasting schedule.

Sudden Weight Gain

I felt much more aware of my weight when I was following an eating pattern compared to when I wasn’t — I’d been keeping track of my weight every day. However, after I reverted back to a “normal” eating schedule, I wasn’t as disciplined in checking the scale, as I had maintained my weight for quite some time. I only noticed my weight gain in November 2019, a month after I had last checked the numbers — I had gained almost 4kg.

Why did this happen?

According to Dr. Farrell Cahill, Head of Research for the Medisys Health Group, “Fasting causes the body to enter into a ‘self preservation’ mode, altering your metabolism to conserve energy when caloric intake is severely restricted. Consequently, when you return to normal eating patterns the body begins stockpiling energy, resulting in rapid weight re-gain”.

Health coach Bonnie Rogers also mentions that Intermittent Fasting works differently for different people: “For our clients, we work out what style of Intermittent Fasting works for them and they usually make this part of their lifestyle. Of course, if you fast for a few months and then revert back to a compromised diet — yes, you’ll put the weight back on! It’s not something that should be used as a quick fix — you need to understand your body first.”

Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?

From my experience, it has been the only “diet” I have been able to actually stick to and see visible results. I have since started the same 16/8 pattern during this Circuit Breaker period, and have lost 2kg so far — however, this has also been paired with some light exercise.

Bonnie also has some advice for those who might be thinking of trying Intermittent Fasting out. She works with her clients individually to create customised nutrition plans based on their health, with Intermittent Fasting being a method she has recommended in the past.

Bear in mind that results from Intermittent Fasting vary, and can be dependent on your existing lifestyle and healthiness. Don’t expect immediate results as soon as you start — your body needs time to get used to the process.

Know your body

“I never let my clients jump into fasting without truly understanding their baseline. If a client is eating only processed, high sugar foods, I start by fixing that first. If blood sugar is completely out of whack, fasting becomes incredibly difficult.”

Who shouldn’t try Intermittent Fasting

“There are some clients we never put on a fasting protocol — anyone pregnant, breastfeeding or anyone taking insulin. As such, it is a good idea to check your blood sugar and thyroid levels before you start fasting.”

How to get started

“Download a fasting app to keep track of your fasting window, I like Zero.
Decide on your fasting window, we suggest starting gently with 12 hour windows 3 -4 times a week, gradually working up to 14 hours and 16 hours 3-4 times a week. Fasting works so well for some of our clients they tend to do it every day.”

SHOULD YOU TRY A LONGER FAST?

“You may have read online that some people are attempting longer fasts that last a day or even days. Research shows that regular short term fasting (16 hour fast, 3-4 times a week) has the same impact and is easier on the system than an aggressive, long fast. In fact, I don’t agree with such long fasts, and do believe that they can do more harm than good.”


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