Friday, January 1, 2010

Intermittent Fasting

Natasha asked about the intermittent fasting I've been doing, and my answer was too long for a comment, so I'm posting it here. She asked whether the fasting got easier as you went along.

Actually, the intermittent fasting is a lot easier than I thought it'd be, and has been from the beginning. It might be different for other people, but for me, just knowing that I'm not eating anything for twenty-four hours makes it much easier to completely ignore the whole concept of food for that period, whereas trying to eat every day but eat less or only eat certain things means I'm focused on food but having to restrain myself while eating, which for me is difficult to impossible.

I've been thinking about it as being like an addiction. Figure, if someone's an alcoholic, and you said to them, "Okay, you have to have one beer in the morning, and one glass of wine at noon, and a shot of vodka in the evening. You can't skip any of them but you can't have any more than that either," wouldn't you expect them to fail? We expect that the only way for an alcoholic to control the addiction is to have no alcohol, period, and that any slip is likely to lead to a binge.

But if someone's addiction is for food, they can't just go cold turkey, or even work up to never eating again. It's exactly like the program above, only with food instead of alcohol, where they have to indulge the addiction just a little bit, but then are expected to back off through sheer will power, multiple times per day. That's not how addictions work, or rather, that's not an addiction control strategy which is at all likely to be successful. It makes a lot of sense to me that it just doesn't work for most people who have this issue. The intermittent fasting lets me go cold turkey a day at a time, every other day. It's not quite the same thing, but it's close, and it works.

I get hunger pangs once or twice on a fast day -- not just the munchies or whatever, but real, hollow-ache-in-the-stomach pangs -- but if I ignore them they go away in five or ten minutes and then I'm fine. And on days when I eat, I just eat normally and don't feel the urge to binge on twice as much food as I'd usually eat, which was something I was sort of expecting when I started. My "normal" is more than most people, but then I'm 5'11" and muscular, aside from all the fat, so trying to cut back to 1000 calories a day wouldn't be healthy for me anyway. My normal amount, cut in half by the every-other-day pattern, seems to work nicely.

And because I always know on a fast day I can have whatever I want tomorrow, I can out-stare whatever goodies we have around the house, because it's not forever; I can have some tomorrow. Or right after midnight, if I'm still awake and still want to. I've only blown it -- planned to fast and should have been able to do so, and then broke down in the middle of the day -- once, when we had leftover bacon in the fridge. :P

When I had that awful gastritis back in March, I tried to go back to fasting after about a week or ten days, and that didn't work, but that was something else. It wasn't a matter of breaking down over some particular item; I got the hunger pangs and several hours later they were still there and had gotten a lot worse. I figured, "Okay, fine, I'm still recovering from being very sick. My body wants food, so I'm going to feed it." I was eating light and bland anyway, because my stomach was still delicate for most of that month, but I waited another couple of weeks before trying the fasting again. I still lost weight that month, with no upward spikes in the middle, so I'm sure I did the right thing.

Another key component of the program (I got all this from Steve Barnes's 101 Program by the way; the diet-and-fitness is only part of it; scroll down a bit to sign up for the 101 for free) is to increase your exercise level while restricting food intake. If you only diet, then your body's metabolism will naturally slow down to accommodate what it registers as a famine condition. If you only exercise but ignore what you're eating, your body will make you hungrier to balance the increased energy expenditure and you'll tend to eat more without realizing it, and level off on your weight. Doing both at once helps keep things balanced to burn fat. I've fallen off on the exercise part and didn't lose anything significant over the last three months or so, so I need to work on getting back to that. Still, I'm pleased with the total result for the last year.


[ETA: Comments closed because of spam.]


Natasha Fondren said...

Oh neat! I read something on it, a year or two ago, that made a lot of sense to me. I just might try this!

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess I'd be worried about what it would do to my intestinal processing.

Angie said...

Natasha -- definitely give it a shot, noting that it's most likely to work if you're exercising (including resistance exercise) at the same time. [nod]

Charles -- let me find... here, my husband found this article shortly after I started the fasting. He was concerned too, and went poking around. There's some concern among the traditional medicos about it, but all the more recent research -- where they actually studied people who are fasting, rather than just extrapolating or making assumptions based on normal eating patterns -- show that it's not unhealthy, and actually has other benefits than weight loss.

Note these bits:

occasionally going without food or reducing calories daily makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which helps maintain normal blood sugar levels


Fasting was also linked to a lower incidence of diabetes.

Those perked me right up. There's diabetes in my family, and I've been sort of waiting for it to hit, especially when I was over three hundred pounds. :( If the fasting can help prevent that, and help me lose weight (which is also a risk factor) then I'm all for it.

It makes sense to me that humans would respond well to fasting. Figure, we were running around as foragers for much longer than we've been farming/herding/ranching, and so the body would've had that much longer to evolve and adjust to irregular eating patterns. The whole three times a day thing is very recent, relatively speaking.

I guess the bottom line, for me, is that I've been doing it for almost a year now. I've lost weight, I feel fine, and nothing bad has happened. I'm not going ot swear that it's the perfect mode or solution for everyone, but it works for me. I think it's probably worth at least trying for any other otherwise healthy person who wants to lose weight.


Anonymous said...

Intermittent fasting is a great way to live. I've been practicing intermittent fasting for over a year and have released 35 lbs!

Angie said...

Paula -- hey, congrats! And I agree, this is the only diet-type thing I've ever been able to stick to for over a year. [nod]


Anonymous said...

I have been trying out Eat Stop Eat and Fast 5 over the past few weeks and am really finding them much easier than a "diet". I have A LOT of weight to lose and I think this way could be better for me. I've been asking myself why this is easier, and I think I have found my answer in your post (which I came across by chance): It's the cold turkey thing. With intermittent fasting I am able to go cold turkey for limited periods of time, which I'm finding much easier than facing up to the siren call of food when I am eating more often. Thanks for the a-ha moment!

Angie said...

Anon -- you're very welcome. :) I have a lot of weight to lose too (over a hundred pounds) and this is the first time I've had a really long-term positive result. I hope it works out for you too. [crossed fingers] Don't forget to exercise!


George @ Gain Muscle Now said...

I have used Intermittent Fasting for 3 years. Here are some things that helped me...

*Just do it 2 times per week, but make that one meal an average sized meal. This will make it two days where you are eating low cal. This creates a weekly calorie deficit and works really well.

I used to do one big meal everyday...

What I found is that you wind up with roughly the same amount of daily calories and it is harder to create a calorie deficit this way. It also is harder socially.

Drink Green Tea on fasting days...

For some reason this really curbs the appetite. It also is a great source of energy and antioxidants.

Workout on your fasting day, before dinner...

Your body will have no choice but to burn body fat, since you have no food energy at this time. You will drop fat like crazy.

Intermittent Fasting works extremely well if done strategically!

Hope that helps,

-George D

Angie said...

George -- hey, whatever works for you. :) For me, the whole point of a fasting day is that I'm not eating, so the references to a "meal" or "dinner" on a fasting day had me kind of blinking.

Going down to two days per week sounds like a good plan once you've reached your goal weight, but it's going to be a while before I get there. I'm looking forward to it, though.


Anonymous said...

Hi! Just ran across your post here and am very inspired! I've read about int. fasting before and I'm with you, it seems easier to me to go completely "cold turkey" every once in a while than cut back a little bit every day. Right now I've determined that I'm gaining weight b/c of meds I have to take, so I'm trying to find the best way to counter-act this. Could you tell me how often you fast? And way to go! I'll definitely have to keep following :) Blessings! ~Jen

Angie said...

Jen -- I fast every other day, generally. I'll go off it for things like vacations, meaning actual travel vacations, not just weekends and stuff. :) But generally it's every other day; I do midnight-to-midnight because that seems most convenient for me.

Bummer about the meds. :/ I've had some yucky side effects myself, so I know how frustrating that gets. I don't know how much harder that'll make it for you, but good luck!

The trick, though, is that you have to attack both sides at once -- diet and exercise. If you only diet, even the intermittent fasting, then your metabolism lowers until it matches your intake. If you only exercise but ignore what you're eating, you'll feel hungrier and eat more without noticing. You have to do both: eat less and exercise more. I've been slacking off on the exercising and I plateaued, and even gained some back, while still fasting every other day. :( It's not magic; you have to do both. Gotta get back to the work-outs.



Anonymous said...

yeah ive tried 24 hour fasts. That is eating 1 meal a day. I feel great, just drinking water throughout the day. Mental and physical energy is up. I am staying on this.

Angie said...

Anon -- this is the only thing I've been able to stick with long-term. [nod] Luck!