As readers of this blog will know, one of the challenges in life I grapple with is weight. At my high point I tipped in at 400 pounds. It’s been an up and down journey (mostly down) and I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished. However, I am getting older, and as I accumulate years I see my focus changing a bit.
Because I have been on the journey of being healthy for more than half of my life, my feelers are perpetually out. So, a couple of weeks back I came across the documentary that made a big splash earlier this year, Eat, Fast, Live Longer, by Michael Mosley. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. I found it fascinating. I then purchased Michael’s follow up book, The FastDiet and gobbled it up.
I have long held the idea of fasting in its religious/spiritual context. My one long fast at the end of my 1,000 days of tai chi was about that. What blew me away about this documentary was all the science behind fasting. Specifically intermittent fasting. I realized that I had been holding a lot of ideas about fasting, and starvation, and had swallowed whole a bunch of misinformation around the subject. The idea of doing a day long fast captured my imagination, and the benefits for fending off cancer and Alzheimer’s clinched it. (I have had a lot of fear around both of those things for most of my life, and they have both occurred in my family.)
The protocol that Michael settled on is called the 5:2 diet. What you do is fast for 2 non-consecutive days every week. On a fast day you are not going zero food, but instead you restrict to 1/4 of a “normal” healthy amount. (Roughly 600 calories for men, and 500 for women.) One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is that Michael harps a lot on the idea of finding what works for you. You can take your reduced number of calories when you would like. The fast day does not strictly have to be a day, but could be any 24 hour period (say 2pm to 2pm). He drives home the point, again and again, that you have to tailor it to you and find what serves you best.
On the non-fast days you eat whatever you would like. No restrictions. What some of the doctors Michael interviewed for the film, and follow up book found is that people do not seem to overly binge on their non-fast days. If people were going to make up for the 75% deficit of normal calories for the fast day, math would say they would eat 175% on the follow up days. What the doctors found was that people typically eat about 110% of their normal intake on their off days. Slightly elevated, but still at a net loss. That seems to be one of the primary reasons for weight loss on the protocol.
What interested me more than weight loss though was the drops in certain factors in the body that give rise to things like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. People also report increases in mental clarity, and over all energy, as their body switches from perpetual racing and growing, to repair, recycling, and removal of pollutants.
Michael also deconstructs many of the myths around meal skipping sending people into starvation mode (it takes more than one day), and hunger ever increasing (it comes in waves.)
I decided to give it a go, and so far the results have astounded me. It’s only been two weeks, and I don’t expect miracles, but what I have seen so far has been fascinating. I don’t own a scale so I can’t tell you if I’ve lost any weight. I can tell you my pants are looser. More importantly some of my flexibility is returning. I also do seem to have more energy, and mental clarity. My meditation practice is particularly sharp on fast days.
What excites me more though is that on the days where I do eat I find myself naturally eating slower and enjoying the tastes more. There is wonderful “hollowness” that happens on fast days, and I feel lighter and more buoyant. I am re-learning what feeling hungry actually is, and it’s not bad at all. In fact I am realizing how much of my eating has been habitual. On days when I can eat I might skip a meal, not because I want to lose weight, but because I am not hungry yet. I don’t need the food. That is an amazing relief!
I have been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, and I am used to getting shaky and getting angered easily when I miss a meal. I’ve held that idea for all of my adult life. On my fast days I do not get the shakes, and I do not seem to be any easier to anger than on any other day. I am at a bit of a loss to explain why that shift has been so sudden, but I am very, very grateful for it. Could it be that I was misdiagnosed all those years ago? Or, could I have “grown out of it” and never noticed? Was my shakiness and irritability an insulin reaction? I don’t know. What I do know is that am very happy not to have that excuse in my back pocket to justify snacking when I was not really hungry.
I’m doing my own variation (of course) and currently it looks like this:
- On Thursdays I have a small breakfast of coffee with whole milk and a vegetable frittata. That leaves me a little bit of caloric room for a banana during the day if I get very hungry.
- On Sundays I stop eating at 7pm, and do not east again until 7pm on Monday evening. I game with a group of friends I have had for 20+ years on those days and part of that weekly get together is shared food. (Dona cooks up a wonderful meal!) One of the things about most diets is they can ostracize you from event with friends. With this protocol I can plan for an event and work around it. I don’t have to sacrifice it.
So, here I am on Thursday of the second “official” (I played around a bit with delayed eating and pseudo-fasting as soon as I saw the documentary three weeks back) week and really excited. Going out to a movie tonight with my brother and looking forward to enjoying my bottled water.