For 3 Weeks, I Gave Up Intermittent Fasting For Intuitive Eating, and Here's Why I Hated It

A year after having my body fat percentage taken at the registered dietitian's office at my gym, I went back to see if healthy eating and CrossFit made a difference — I lost two percent body fat! I met with Kerry Detweiler, RD, LD, ATC, LAT, to discuss my goals, which were to continue to have energy for my workouts so I can get stronger, and to also continue feeling well digestion-wise. The last time I met with her, I talked about how eating sugar and grains makes me super bloated, and even causes abdominal pain.

Why I Follow Intermittent Fasting

I told Kerry how I've been continuing to do intermittent fasting (IF), usually 18:6 or 17:7 (eating between the hours 12:00/1:00 p.m. to 6:00/7:00 p.m.), with a "cheat day" on Saturdays — this is how I have eaten over the past two years. IF helps prevent the uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing bloating I've experienced. Both my former habit of eating all day long (I work from home and it is so easy to graze nonstop), and my history with binge eating the last few years, were definitely contributing factors to the bloating. In the years I have been intermittent fasting, it has helped not only to regulate my hunger, but it also prevents me from craving the sugar, which I have previously pinpointed as messing with my stomach and digestion in general.

For background, I've had an issue with struggling to lose weight since gaining 40 pounds in college (in 2000). I was binging a lot in those days, eating tons of sugar, refined carbs, and barely eating any healthy foods — the only veggies I ate were french fries. When I started eating healthier, doing yoga, and running, I was able to lose the weight. But it took considerable effort, every single day, to maintain.

In 2015, after two pregnancies in 2010 and 2012, I was still trying to lose the baby weight in my belly, so I started doing CrossFit, thinking I'd be ripped in a few months. I found those intense workouts caused ravenous hunger, so I ended up gaining weight — and it wasn't just muscle!

Then, in February 2017, I started intermittent fasting (IF). It was life-changing! Within a few months of eating 16:8, with my eating window from noon until 8:00 p.m., I could see my body composition changing, and my torso getting leaner. IF also helped me sleep better, and doing fasted workout in the morning made me feel so light and energetic.

Why I Tried Intuitive Eating

Kerry isn't a huge fan of IF since, as she explained, "Intermittent fasting can be seen as a form of restriction." The interesting thing is, though, it actually helped me gain control over my unhealthy eating habits of overeating and binge-eating. She brought up intuitive eating, which I'm familiar with through the podcasts and books I've read about it. The goal, she said, should be to eat the foods you love, when you want to eat them, and to stop when you're full. She said that IF doesn't really support that if it's creating restrictions on when to eat.

I told her I've tried intuitive eating before, for about a week, but it ended up making me binge and feel bloated from eating all the foods I'm not used to. Kerry explained that "intuitive eating is a journey," and it can take several weeks or months to adjust.

My Plan

Although I told her I was worried that intuitive eating would make me feel out of control without any clear boundaries, Kerry suggested I try it for a month, and those urges should start to go away once I got used to the freedom of eating what I wanted when I wanted, and I'd be able to listen to my body. So as soon as I walked out of her office, I committed to one month of giving up intermittent fasting for intuitive eating.

Week 1: Bye Bye Intermittent Fasting
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

Week 1: Bye Bye Intermittent Fasting

I went all in. I left Kerry's office at noon on a Tuesday and ate a granola bar that was in my car just because — I wasn't even hungry for lunch yet. I came home and raided my snack cabinet, ate my meal-prepped kale salad, and then baked chocolate banana oatmeal bread AND pumpkin pillow cookies with my kids. I probably ate three huge pieces of the bread along with four cookies. Obviously, I wasn't even hungry for dinner, but I ate it anyway.

I realize that this is NOT intuitive eating done properly, but Kerry explained that there's a transition period, that can last from a few days to a few weeks, where you might just go all out and eat chocolate cupcakes for dinner and devour an entire bag of tortilla chips with guac. She said that after a while, you know eating that way won't make you feel good, and self-regulation will kick in. You'll be able to indulge your cravings when you want to, but for the most part, you'll feel compelled to choose healthy foods, stick to appropriate portion sizes, eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're full.

That night I felt like absolute crap — so bloated and with abdominal pains from overeating, that I had a terrible night of sleep. I woke up still bloated and in pain, so I had to skip CrossFit. I ate all that day, and all through the weekend — no restrictions on what foods I ate, how much, or when.

By the end of the first week, I was hating intuitive eating because it brought back all my old habits. I was having trouble saying no to certain foods I normally would easily turn down, knowing they'd make me super bloated, and I was eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. But I pressed on, hoping by week two, the self-regulation Kerry talked about would begin.

Week 2: Wanted to Give Up But . . . There Are Bagels the Size of My Face!
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

Week 2: Wanted to Give Up But . . . There Are Bagels the Size of My Face!

Week two was more of the same as week one. I baked and cooked a ton, went out to eat, found bagels the size of my face, ate chocolate with my breakfast. I ate dessert practically every night whether it was an enormous brownie sundae or just a handful of Trader Joe's dark-chocolate-covered almonds.

It was magical, actually. I hadn't felt that sense of freedom with food since before I went on my first diet when I was 12 years old. To give myself permission to reject diet culture and eat whatever I wanted felt exhilarating.

OK, so emotionally, I felt free and alive, but physically, I felt like absolute sh*t. My bloating was out of control, I didn't feel like exercising, and just felt foggy-headed and lethargic from eating all day long. The worst part was that I felt stressed and out of control. Self-regulation was definitely not happening for me.

Week 3: Vacation!

I was heading out on a family vacation to Boston, making it easy to keep going for a third week. I was excited to eat roasted peanuts at Fenway, try out new restaurants like Veggie Galaxy (a vegetarian diner!), and to hit up the vegan ice cream store FoMu. I ate everything from vegan stuffed french toast, to brownies, to cotton candy. Eating late at night became the norm. (Remember, I used to stop eating around 7 p.m.)

By the end of that week, I felt like I did Boston right, but man, I felt even worse than I did after week two. All that sugar and processed flour I wasn't used to eating was really hurting my belly, and because I didn't feel good, I was irritable, had low energy, and did not feel like my happy, energetic self.

Intuitive eating was not working for me at all. I know eating a ton of crap until you feel sick is not intuitive eating, but I really couldn't figure out how to listen to my body. By the end of the third week, I ended up gaining seven pounds, but what's worse is that I felt lost over how to make healthy food choices.

Week Four: Meshing Intuitive Eating With Intermittent Fasting
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

Week Four: Meshing Intuitive Eating With Intermittent Fasting

I know I committed to this experiment for four weeks, but for my physical and emotional health, I had to go back to intermittent fasting. I was worried that another week of trying intuitive eating would make it impossible to gain the control over the unhealthy eating habits that I worked so hard to get over the past few years.

Intuitive eating does make so much sense. Eat when you're hungry, eat the foods you love, stop when you're full, and that's it. Seems so simple and easy, but for someone like me with a history of weight issues and binge-eating, I needed some parameters. The restrictions that define intermittent fasting actually make me feel both freedom and control, if that makes sense.

Not thinking about food all day long, not having to make decisions about what to eat — and how much — from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed is refreshing. That's because I'm just not able to self-regulate for that long. I like knowing I'm only eating from 12:00/1:00 to 6:00/7:00 — it works for me. This six-to-seven hour eating window doesn't feel strict to me at all, because that's what makes me feel my best and allows me to have energy to work out.

Through this short three-week experiment, I realized that I could probably mesh the two philosophies. I was already doing that by incorporating a "cheat day" on Saturdays where I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. But maybe I could add in another day like that if I feel inspired.

And I could also incorporate a couple more treats throughout the week, and just be really mindful about enjoying one and stopping when I'm full. I could still enjoy my lunchtime tofu and kale salad, but I could also have homemade pizza when I feel the urge.

As Kerry said, this is definitely a journey, and I'm excited to see what happens in the next few months as I incorporate intuitive eating into my intermittent fasting routine.