I had been overweight ever since I was a little girl. I was badly bullied for it all through school. My weight made me shy and prevented me from making friends. I lacked confidence and self-esteem.
After graduating from high school, I tried multiple methods to lose weight. I counted calories, I worked out, and at one point I was even on a prescription weight-loss pill from my doctor. It was frustrating and sank me deep into depression. I was also in an abusive relationship from the ages of 18 to 21. After that relationship ended badly, I felt even more lost than ever, and the weight seemed to pile on even more. Before I knew it, I was at my heaviest: 107kg.
My turning point came two years ago, when my new boyfriend (and now fiancé!) and I went on a short hike.
It was only two km long, but I could barely keep up even a km in. My feet hurt, my knees ached, and I was struggling to breathe. It was embarrassing, and I was so ashamed of myself. Something had to change.
That’s when I sought out more info about intermittent fasting.
My boyfriend was doing the 16:8 method for his own health reasons, and we had briefly talked about it. I was sceptical at first. But after finding an inspiring first-person article by someone who had success using intermittent fasting, I figured maybe it might work for me.
The woman whose article interested me followed the 4:3 method of alternate-day fasting, where she fasts for three days and eats for four, along with counting calories. It was then (on September 5th, 2017) that I decided while munching on a snack of mixed nuts that I would commit to IF.
I decided to start my own method of complete intermittent, alternate-day fasting (ADF), where I would go every other day (or 36 to 40 hours) without eating, also counting my calories as I went.
When I first started ADF I calculated what my calorie needs would be for my body using a total daily energy expenditure calculator. During my first week of fasting, I allowed myself up to 500 calories on my fasting day to wean myself into going 40 hours without food. In reality, I didn’t change much of what I was eating, besides just watching the number calories I was taking in. The second week of fasting, I was able to go the whole fasting day without intaking any calories. Intermittent fasting was a *lot* easier than I thought it would be.
Once I got used to this eating schedule, I started swapping out less nutritious meals for healthier options.
For example, I changed little things, like my 2 per cent milk to almond milk, or started measuring out my pasta per serving instead of just using the whole box. The small changes can really add up to a whole lot of success. Within my first month of ADF I lost 7.2kg. I was elated that I had finally found something that worked for me.
Here’s what I typically eat in a day now:
Breakfast: Overnight oats or banana oatmeal
Lunch: Cauliflower rice with lemon pepper shrimp or braised beef, or spinach with a sweet potato, hard-boiled egg and salsa
Snacks: Mixed nuts, or a protein bar, or I also make my own tortilla chips with high-fibre, low-carb Xtreme Wellness tortillas
Dinner: Two-ingredient dough pizzas or baked chicken with veggies
Dessert: Breyers Low-Carb Vanilla Ice Cream with cookie butter mixed in, or frozen fruit blended in a food processor (healthy sorbet!)
After seven months of intermittent fasting and down 28kg, I decided that I wanted to start adding physical activity into my life.
Before intermittent fasting, I never worked out. Now that I had lost some weight, I didn’t feel as heavy and thought I would actually be able to really push myself and help my body grow even stronger and healthier. I started using a couch-to-5k running app and took my time, not exactly following the program, but it helped tremendously. I went from hardly being able to jog for two minutes, to running for 20 to 28 minutes without stopping.
Eventually, after a year of ADF, running every eat day, and losing 44.5kg, I also introduced weight lifting into my life with the help of my boyfriend. I worked my way up to my current exercise routine. I run on every fasting day and try to walk two miles on my breaks at work. I lift on the days I am not fasting. I’ve found this is the perfect balance for me.
So, I run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and weight lift on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I rest on Sundays.
Whenever I feel discouraged or unmotivated, I remember why I started.
There have been times when I just wanted to give up and not care anymore. IF is not easy; it takes time and patience. Going without eating can be difficult. But it has had so many more health benefits for me other than weight loss.
I've also found that if I am busy on my fasting days, I am much more likely to stick with it. But if you need to, you can eat up to 500 calories without it disrupting anything. You have listen to the signs of your body. But if it nags at you, just eat. It’s definitely okay.
I am not the same girl I was before this journey.
My weight-loss experience has revealed the true me, and I don’t ever want to go back to the girl I used to be. I wish I knew I had this type of willpower and strength in me all along because I have overcome so many obstacles since starting that I never thought I would achieve.
And I also wish I knew there would be people who still criticised me after losing weight. Now, the criticisms I get are not so much about my size, but about my method. People tend to discourage what they don’t understand or don't agree with, and I find that IF is one of those prickly topics. (Note: A fasting plan might not be right for everyone, and there are pros and cons to consider, so talk to your doctor or a dietitian first! This is just what worked for me, and I like to be totally honest with people and my social media followers about my approach.)
When you find what works for you, as long as you're in a good place physically and mentally while you do it, that's great. You just have to ignore them and trust the process. No one can control your life except you.
Since starting ADF, I have lost 48.9kg over one year and two months. I am gaining muscle and my body is still changing every day.
Rachel Sharp, as told to Emily Shiffer. This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.