Lifestyle Health I Tried Goop's 4-Week Intuitive Fasting Plan — and It Changed How I Eat Now I took a crack at the intermittent fasting plan by Dr. Will Cole, friend and health advisor to Gwyneth Paltrow By Sheila Cosgrove Baylis Sheila Cosgrove Baylis Sheila Baylis is Senior News Editor for PEOPLE's Health vertical; she contributes to print features and directs the digital Health team on stories ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to body image and women's health. She has a Master's Degree in Gender Studies. People Editorial Guidelines Updated on May 13, 2022 03:23 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage What It Is: Intuitive Fasting: The Flexible Four-Week Intermittent Fasting Plan, $27.99, published by Goop Press and written by Dr. Will Cole, functional medicine expert. Who Tried It: Sheila Cosgrove Baylis, Health Editor Update: This story ran in May of 2021, and since that time I have continued to use many of the principles I learned from Dr. Cole's plan. I also kept off the weight I lost last year until the holidays, and then I gained about half of it back. I continued with this devil-may-care attitude through the winter (which I think is mentally healthy for me, to let go of restrictions for awhile), but then it became not-so-healthy, and I realized by February I was eating way too much sugar and gluten. I resolved to go back to the plan in the spring and repeat the four weeks again, something Cole recommends. I asked him for a suggestion for products that could make it easier, so that I wasn't doing as much cooking and shopping. He recommended Kroma, a company where he works as an advisor, which specializes in organic products with no cane sugar, gluten, dairy or GMOs. They sent me the very fancy 5-day reset plan, which is a gorgeous thing to behold. Kroma It is too expensive for most people, at $495, but there are other five-day versions, a one-day version or you can buy the products a la carte. I decided not to follow Kroma's 5-day plan, but to incorporate the products into Cole's month-long protocol instead. This worked really well for me and helped me feel motivated to do the full four weeks again. It's also a more cost-effective option and could work with the a la carte products. Cole agreed that Kroma is meant to be flexible. "When we designed it, we took to heart what I do in functional medicine, which is acknowledging we're all different with different goals," he says. "Everything in Kroma is in alignment with the intuitive fasting program so it's a really good supplement." For me, the box functioned as a treasure trove of options I could go to whenever I wanted sugar, pasta or wine. Instead I would pick up the cute milk steamer and make a matcha (the first matcha I have ever liked). I fell in love with the super porridge, which was a great way to break the fast in the morning. The cookie butter and vanilla cinnamon plant-based smoothie also get honorable mentions, and made the month more delicious and fun. Kroma The four weeks went along much as they did last year, but the fasting was less emotionally dramatic because I knew what to expect. I did lose the weight I had put on over the holidays, but more importantly, I've reunited with the health benefits of the plan: I've gone back to not eating sugar, and I've cut back on alcohol and gluten. The original We Tried It story is below, and I have this to add to the verdict: Cole's plan has staying power; my habits have become healthier in the long term. It should be noted that I have not experienced disordered eating of any kind, and those who have should talk to their doctor before trying it. Posted in May 2021: Gwyneth Paltrow turned to her friend Dr. Will Cole after experiencing lingering symptoms from COVID-19, and utilized his flexible eating plan to feel better and lose weight. The book, published by Goop, lays out the plan in detail and includes recipes and a full schedule for the four weeks. Weight loss is not the primary goal of the plan, rather the focus is on reducing inflammation and re-establishing what Cole calls "metabolic flexibility." "We are all born with some level of metabolic flexibility — this ability to burn both fat and sugar for fuel," Cole tells PEOPLE. But the modern diet, which is typically made up of a lot of sugar and refined grains, causes metabolic inflexibility and insulin resistance. "We see that 60% or more of adults are somewhere on this insulin resistance spectrum," he says. Those on the more severe end of this spectrum "are stuck in sugar-burning mode," and don't have the ability to burn both fat and sugar for fuel. "Not everybody is Type 2 diabetic, even though that number is growing," he says, "but most people are somewhere on that insulin resistance spectrum. There is mild weight loss resistance and fatigue on one end of the spectrum, next there's Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or other hormonal problems for women, and then it's Metabolic Syndrome, then Pre-Diabetes, and then Type 2 Diabetes. That's basically the spectrum." Cole's book includes a quiz to help you pinpoint where on this spectrum you may fall. He asks if "You find yourself snacking a lot and always have an emergency snack on hand," or if "You know you lean on caffeine and sugar for energy more than you should," and includes a total of 25 questions that help determine metabolic flexibility. Courtesy Goop Publishing The Fasting Plan: The fasting part of the plan is pretty simple. The first week, you fast for 12 hours, including the time you are sleeping, so if you stop eating at 8 p.m. you can eat breakfast at 8 a.m. Many people do this already, but it certainly curbs any late-night snacking. Week two is 14 to 18 hours per day. But for all four weeks, during your eating window, you can eat as much and as often as you like — as long as it's from the prescribed food list. Week three is the much more challenging 20 to 22 hours, but you only fast that long every other day. You go back to the 12 hours on the off days. And by week four, you're back to 12 hours. The point of changing up the fasting/eating window is to "train the metabolism to recalibrate," Cole says. "It's a reset that's happening. The [fasting lowers] inflammation levels and starts trying the system, the body, to burn fat for fuel again." It's important that you change the length of the fasting window and that "you're not always in a deep fasting state," he says. "That variability, the eating and fasting variability, maintains metabolic flexibility just like a yoga class. You're not always doing the super hard movements in a yoga class. You have the Savasana at the end of yoga class, and you're just laying back and relaxing, and that's what we're trying to do with this protocol. We're not always doing the hard things. We're doing the easy things too because that's what flexibility's all about." What You Can and Can't Eat NO sugar, artificial sweeteners, gluten, unhealthy fats, alcohol or dairy. (I cheated on the dairy and I'm not ashamed.) Yes to veggies, fruit, healthy fats, whole grains, nuts and seeds, plant-based protein, eggs, fish and high-quality organic meats. Dr. Will Cole. Courtesy Goop Publishing Cole provides a detailed food list with plenty of options and his recipes were easy and delicious. I was a big fan of the lemon-caper tuna salad with cucumber "chips" for lunch and the coconut Thai shrimp for dinner. Although the meals were not complex affairs, you certainly need to plan ahead of time. I did not have ghee lying around, but it turned out to be an important staple and I now feel I can't live without it. While he warns against certain foods, and explains why to avoid them, there isn't a feeling of "good" and "bad" foods. His approach is to avoid the trap of looking at food that way, and instead to check in with your body about how certain foods make you feel. RELATED: Gwyneth Paltrow Reveals She Had COVID-19 'Early On' as She Details Her Long-Lasting Symptoms The Verdict: Cutting out sugar was easy for me because it makes me feel terrible. But taking a break from alcohol for four weeks was tough. It was so worth it though — I had more energy and it was likely one of the reasons I lost weight. The first and fourth weeks weren't too bad otherwise, although I did cheat regularly with organic fresh mozzarella cheese. I had scored "fairly flexible" on the quiz, or mid-range of the spectrum, and I had already started cutting back on gluten prior to trying the plan because it tends to make me feel bloated. Someone who eats a lot of bread, pasta and sugar will probably have a tougher time that first week. The second and third weeks of fasting were difficult. I never did a full 22 hours on the third week, but I did make it to 20 hours. Not eating for that long was a psychological test, and I went through the full range of feelings. There were many times I shouted to the gods, "Why am I doing this?" Cole addresses what to expect emotionally and physically during the long fasts, so turning to the book was helpful on those rigorous days. The experience has given me the confidence to continue to fast on some mornings, although the importance of eating breakfast had been drilled into my head from a young age. I asked Cole about this, and about the widespread idea that fasting can hurt your metabolism. He pointed to all of the research he included at the beginning of the book and said that many people confuse chronic-caloric restriction, or just not eating enough calories for months and years, with intermittent fasting. "Chronic-caloric restriction has been shown to lower the metabolism over time," he says. "This is not about chronic-caloric restriction. This is just eating in specific windows and giving your body a bigger break in certain days, not even every day, to tap into the deeper fat-burning mechanism." About two weeks have passed since I completed the plan, and so far I have kept off all of the weight I lost, about 8 lbs. More importantly, I've really curbed my drinking, going from having wine with dinner most nights to just about three nights a week. For me, the intuition portion of Cole's philosophy showed up around alcohol. I asked myself why I was leaning on the wine-down after work, and did I really need it. I realized that as soon as that 6 p.m. hour passed, I no longer wanted wine, and switching to tea helped me sleep better and feel more energetic the next day. Cole does not recommend this plan to people with a history of disordered eating, anorexia, bulimia or orthorexia because fasting can resurface an unhealthy fixation on food. "My plan is not disordered eating disguised as wellness practice," he writes in the book. "... it is filled with nourishing, nutrient-dense foods, but if you've struggled with one of these eating disorders in the past or currently and feel that you'd benefit from this fasting plan, consult your doctor and eating disorder specialist to make sure they give you the go-ahead."