This year has been tough. I came back from maternity leave, started a new role at work, and turned 40. It seemed like in some ways my life had changed completely, and in others it was completely stagnant. If mid-life crises are a thing, I definitely had one in 2019. I have struggled all year with feeling ok, eating ok and generally being ok. In November, I felt like I needed something drastic to overhaul my life, and so I decided to start with my diet.
But what to do? My first thought was to go raw for a week. I made my intention, asked for ideas in our Facebook community one morning, and set off. But by 4pm that day, my body went completely against me. I have an autoimmune condition, and I was in a full on flare. Unable to function, I abandoned the idea of raw less than 24 hours after I started.
Defeated, I called my rheumatologist the next morning. “Are you eating and drinking?” Well, no because when I’m flaring, I lose my appetite completely. “That’s to be expected. It’s your body’s way of dealing with the flare up, since fasting helps to fight inflammation. Just listen to your body, but make sure you stay hydrated.” So completely unintentionally, that became 24 hour fast, day one.
What is a 24 Hour Fast
To clarify, a 24 hour fast doesn’t mean you don’t eat. Simply put, you limit your food intake to one meal per day. In addition, I’m doing a wet fast, which means that I still drink. For the first 18 days I only drank water, but now I have coffee occasionally as well.
Most days, I have:
- Water all day
- Hot water with lemon in the morning
- One main meal and fruit for “dessert” midday
What I’ve eaten each day changed a lot in the first few weeks as I found my feet, but now I’m in a rhythm and feeling more attuned to what my body needs.
Day 1 – 5: Crisis
My first five days of IF (intermittent fasting), I was in an active flare up. My joints hurt, my eyes and mouth were extremely dry, and I struggled to move. I couldn’t take time off from work, but I slept whenever I wasn’t at my desk. The medical term is fatigue, but it’s such an understatement of how you truly feel. Autoimmune related fatigue doesn’t mean you’re tired. It means you simply don’t have the capacity to stay awake. It’s like narcolepsy. One minute you are awake and the next minute you feel like you will fall over if you don’t go to sleep right now. In a state of fatigue, I can’t even form coherent sentences. The only positive is that I breezed through my first five days of 24 hour fasts. I simply didn’t have the energy to eat more than once a day.
Day 6 – 10: Detox
Finally on day 6, I feel like I can function. I decide that I’ll try to help my body heal by incorporating some exercise into my routine. I make a commitment to cycle to work each day that week. In 5 days, I cycle 87 miles! It’s the most I’ve ever been able to cycle consistently. Normally, due to my autoimmune condition, I have to space out my cycling. I’m prone to muscle cramps, sometimes severe enough to cause bruising. But Alhamdulillah, I don’t cramp up at all, and I feel great by the end of the week.
However, this part section is called “detox” and that has nothing to do with cycling. During this period, my body is removing a lot of excess “stuff” for lack of a better word. Without being too TMI, I will say that I experience a lot of changes in the digestive area. Consistency, frequency, and patterns all change during this week. I start having very efficient “sessions” within 30 or so minutes of eating. By the end of the week, my stomach is noticeably flatter.
Day 11 – 17: Rhythm
I’m cycling. I’m eating once a day and I don’t feel hungry. I sleep better. I feel better. Work is great. Life is great. I jump on the scales at day 15 just to have a peek. I haven’t lost any weight, but I don’t care. It’s not about weight loss, even if initially it might have been. I have clarity and focus. I can see why intermittent fasting was the preferred way of eating for our Prophet (pbuh). For the first time in a long time, I feel at peace. I start looking at Sunnah foods and how I can incorporate those into my diet.
Day 18 – 25: Distractions
Of course, with it being December, there are engagements. End of year work dinners, gatherings with friends, Winter Wonderland. I give in. Some days I don’t do my 24 hour fast, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I have coffee for the first time since I started my fast, with cream. Although I know that I cannot have grains because they trigger flares, I slip a few days and have pasta. I pay for it all. I feel bloated and lethargic. For the first time in years, I get a migraine. My body starts to reject me again. I get a cramp in my leg cycling home from work one evening. My insomnia is back. I hate my husband. It’s incredible the effect that food has on us, especially when we are excessively consuming it. I reflect. I make my intention, say bismillah and start again.
Day 25 – 30: Reflection
I’m back, this time with a plan. I make sure I take a whole food vitamin and magnesium daily. I’m diligent about taking cod liver oil 2 – 3 times per week. I plan out my meals. Most days, it’s salad and a soup for lunch and a full punnet of low GI fruit, like berries. I love eating salads and soups because I can add as many ingredients as I need to in order to meet my nutritional requirements. I vary my meals now so that I don’t get bored. Some days I extend my eating window to more than one meal, but I generally feel like I don’t need as much food anymore. I’m sleeping well again. I wake up before fajr with no problem. I’m present at work and at home. I feel ready for the new year and eager to tackle it.
Day 30 & Beyond
I’m now on day 41. In total, I’ve had about six days where I haven’t done intermittent fasting. It’s been a learning process along the way, but I’m glad that I decided to do it, and I will continue it for as long as my body tells me it’s needed. Best of all, I haven’t had any flares so far, even on my cheat days. I’m still cycling 16 miles a day during the week, and I’ve decided to turn in my Oyster card and use my bike as my primary mode of transportation. Even if I stop my 24 hour fasts, I will still keep 18:6 or 16:8 fasts in the future. I feel completely different on the inside, if that even makes sense. Eating less has made me realise how much of my time was consumed by food, and I am happy to have that time back so that I can put it to good use iA.
“…eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.”