What did I learn from 2 years of practicing Time Restricted Eating ?
What does TRE mean?
TRE or « Time Restricted Eating » is a form of intermittent fasting also known as « IF 16:8 », which I have been practicing for the past two years. The idea is to ask yourself « when » to eat and not anymore « what » to eat. So I eat 5 days out of 7 within a time window of 8 to 12 hours, which means that my digestive system can enjoy some rest (fasting time) during 16, 14 or 12 hours. The remaining 2 days, my eating schedule is free and more open to social life. Most of the time, I eat within 10 hours and fast the remaining 14 hours. Basically for TRE, you count hours not calories and allow your body to get some extra rest and recovery time from digestive mode.
The idea behind TRE is related to the research on the circadian rhythm (24h solar cycle) and how it affects the body’s metabolism, thermoregulation, hormonal cycles and immune system… Satchin Panda (twitter @SatchinPanda) from the Salk Institute in San Diego explains in a recent article (Washington Post March 27, 2018) that « humans’ circadian rhythm is not designed for a world with 24–7 access to food. If you’re eating all the time, it messes up that pattern. » he says « Instead of focusing so much on what we eat, we should pay more attention to when we eat ». « We evolved to consume food according to the 24-hour solar cycle. For humans, this rhythm involves eating during the day and sleeping after sunset. »
Who I am? and what I am doing?
I am Director of Education at Blue Lotus, the learning center for plant-based cuisine in Thailand (IG bluelotushuahin), so eating continuously is part of my job description. I work 10 hours a day (from 8am to 6pm) minimum 5 days a week. I am an avid runner, which isn’t part of my job description. Thanks to the hot tropical humid climate of Thailand and my working schedule, I run most days either at the sunrise (6:30am) or right after sunset (07:30pm). Since I kind of prefer to « walk the talk », I have been enjoying a plant-based diet for the past 12 years. By personal taste and for my work, I am mostly into whole food plant-based, prepared from scratch, ideally fresh, local and seasonal. I have been a kind of nomad for the past 5 years and I have been living abroad most of my life. Six months out of the year, I manage the school remotely from La Palma, a small volcanic island lost in the Atlantic Ocean part of Canary Island archipelago (Spain). While staying in my tiny village of Tazacorte, I experience a drastically different way of life and rituals from my months in Thailand. I ended-up with two very distinct eating patterns well adapted for each location and context.
Why Fasting? And Why Time Restricted Eating?
Any chef, cook or culinary instructor will tell you that it’s pretty hard to conciliate healthy eating habits while having to taste food constantly during your working hours. So maintaining a healthy weight, exercising on a daily basis and staying somehow fit are definitely challenging. Therefore any practical solution that can help without any calorie restriction or any limitation regarding certain types of food was more than welcome. Honestly speaking, I started by curiosity and following my genuine attraction for self-experimentation. I have to confess that I had no specific goal like losing X kilos.
I know, it’s so disappointing to adopt intermittent fasting not to lose weight! I have to admit that the idea of being fit, feeling well versus being extra-lean or at a peak-performing weight, can be perceived as very disappointing. But that’s the way it is, and yes part of my life and ideas are terribly boring. I do believe that « we are what we do daily ». Therefore I am more inclined to adopt a healthy habit than going for a crash diet on a short duration, a detox here and there or a water fasting each year. You can adopt TRE every single day regardless of what you do, work on or train. That element was decisive for me to give it a try.
How I restrict my eating window ?
For most people, it’s a no brainer to skip their breakfast if they want to limit the duration of their eating window. Yet for me, it is! Especially when I have to start working early in Thailand, and knowing that I have the chance to enjoy a breakfast buffet at the resort where I am working.
So yes it’s simple and practical to skip your breakfast and start around 11am or 12 to eat and then have your dinner around 7 and 9pm. Yet especially while in Thailand, I have an early breakfast at 8am and stop eating by 4pm or 6pm.
When fasting, you drink water, infusion, black coffee or any tea without sugar or milk. By experience, the more my eating window is centered on day-light, the more benefits I experience like a better sleep, more energy during my runs, more attention at work… I wouldn’t recommend fasting during the day and eating during the night.
In Thailand, I run at sunrise (06:20am) and have my breakfast at 08am. From there I eat, taste, check dishes continuously until 4 to 6pm. In La Palma, I run and/or swim after sunrise then enjoy my morning coffee black. I start to eat around 11am and enjoy a glass of red wine with my love at dinner around 7–8pm.
What I appreciate with « Time Restricted Eating » or « Intermittent Fasting 16:8 »:
- There are no rules regarding what you have to eat and no caloric restriction. Basically you don’t have to change your current diet. Which I couldn’t anyway while working.
- TRE gives enough time for your body to rest, recover and regenerate. Rest and recovery are critical in endurance sports, I still don’t understand why it took me so long to realize that it was as important for the digestive system.
- I like to run first thing in the morning. I feel best when I run on empty.
- I prefer the idea of a healthy habit, that is easy to adopt on a daily basis, versus going through 5 days of water fast or a detox every 4 months.
- Eating during a shorter duration gives some extra time for things that matter. It’s interesting to think less often about food, especially when your work and passion gravitate around cooking and eating.
- My body gets a chance daily to remember that I diligently stored fat for it to use.
- It’s a shift in the mindset to realize that you don’t have to eat constantly. TRE is a practical way to feel relief from any stress related to « not eating ». I realized that « not eating » should be the normal and that eating is a conscious decision.
- It’s ok to be hungry. Our brain needs to get opportunities to send us the message that it’s now time to eat.