“From an evolutionary perspective, it’s pretty clear that our ancestors did not eat three meals a day plus snacks,” Dr. Mattson said.
Across the world, millions of people fast periodically for religious and spiritual reasons. But some are now looking at the practice as a source of health and longevity.
The clock strikes 5:00 PM and I take my first bite of the day.
I’ve been waiting for this moment but not with as much anticipation as you might expect. At noon I had been feeling fine, sipping on my water and my latest cup of coffee. By 1:00 PM my colleagues were finishing up eating their lunches at their desk and I couldn’t help but notice their food out of the corner of my eye. I raise the volume on Spotify to drown out their munching. Once three o’clock rolls around the hunger pangs become more persistent: it’s been nearly 20 hours since the last time I ate and I’m starting to visualize my food. And then it’s 4:00 PM and my energy has dipped. I’m feeling sluggish, weak, and irritable but my will is strong enough to hold everything off — I lose myself in my work. It’s part of the exciting challenge to see how strong I am against my body.
Then my watch vibrates 5:00PM and the wait is over.
I’ve been doing fasting like this since the middle of February, 2018. The dates are all a bit hazy since my first child was born on the 22nd. After realizing that if I didn’t do something drastic (or just something at all) I might not be able to keep up him as he grew I turned to fasting. I’ve tried other diets in the past — going vegetarian, cutting eggs, eating more eggs, running a lot — but nothing ever stuck or got the results I wanted in the time I wanted them.
Then I tried intermittent fasting and the results came quickly and they keep coming.
Intermittent Fasting Results
As mentioned I practice a 20-hour fasting regime and have been since the middle of February. My eating time starts from 5:00PM and lasts until 8 or 8:30PM. I don’t believe that the time of day you eat matters all that much but I don’t like to sleep too soon after eating. The image of my Fitbit data below shows the results I’ve achieved thus far.
After being close to hitting the 230-pound mark I’m flirting with 200 with a good chance of sinking lower in the near future.
This new lifestyle is finally working for me. And yes, I think it is a lifestyle change. I don’t recommend starting things only to quit them a few weeks or months later. Being committed to repeatable, testable, processes is important for transforming your current life into the one you’ve always wanted.
There are several key reasons why fasting works for me
1. It just works
I’ve tried diets in the past and they’ve always failed — this simple strategy works.
Simple, but not easy. One of the trickier aspects of this lifestyle change to master is to refrain from binging during the hours you allow yourself to eat. It’s tempting to buy and eat an entire cheesecake after fasting all day…but use that extra discipline and refrain. Or better yet prepare the meal you’re going to eat for the next day after you’re done with your fast today. This will help ensure the food you eat tomorrow is planned and not the result of an emotional reaction.
2. A rule requiring little thought
3. Fasting provides a challenge, everyday
The fast adds a new aspect to my day, a challenge, a game. Every day that I successfully fast is another day where I’ve accomplished something. Sure some days hurt more than others. But I feel more connected with my body and my mind. There is something to do today, fast! I better understand the value of delaying gratification to get the things that I want out of life.
Build your character and overcome a challenge today.
4. It broke my emotional dependence on food
I have always envied those people who just naturally see food as fuel.
For much of my life food was an emotional crutch as well as a biological need. Food was comforting, reassuring. After a bad day I could settle down with a hefty submarine sandwich and a bag of chips and make myself feel better. I didn’t need to eat and being hungry was besides the point. The point was that I wanted to eat a lot of food. And after graduating college and beginning work I could afford to buy a lot of really unhealthy food. And I did. I bought that food because it reassured my soul.
But this kind of dependence is unhealthy because like an addiction it was short-term and started wearing on my body. Clothes seemed to shrink every time we did a wash. I’d sweat more. I’d find myself becoming distracted in work meetings because I had just eaten a carbohydrate heavy bagel and my body was processing it.
Fasting flips the script. Food is necessary but no longer plays a leading role. My other goals and support structures in life, the ones that I always said were important to me, have finally become my main motivators. The chips can stay on the self.
5. Food tastes good again
This is one of the greatest kept secrets about fasting. Prior to fasting putting food in my mouth, a lot of food, was my primary concern and not how it tasted or how it made me feel. After starting my fast I don’t waste time with empty calories, fluff, superfluous items. When it’s time to eat I want to eat healthy delicious and balanced meals. I don’t have time or energy to waste on low-quality foods and besides I’ve saved some money from not buying breakfast, lunch or various snacks throughout the day.
Eating after being hungry is an amazing feeling that fewer and fewer people experience because we don’t allow ourselves to feel hunger anymore. As soon as a hunger pang crosses our mind (yes, it’s mental) we reach out to the nearest shelf to satiate it.
Do yourself a favor and eat a healthy delicious meal after being hungry all day. You’ll enjoy yourself, I guarantee it.
Different kinds of fasts
Dr. Mattson’s interest in intermittent fasting grew out of work on animals that showed that alternate-day fasting protected mice from strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and consistently extended their life spans by 30 percent. Dr. Mattson and his colleagues found that alternate-day fasting increased the production of proteins that protect brain cells, enhancing their ability to repair damaged DNA. Fasting, he said, acts as a mild stress that makes cells throughout the body stronger, shoring up their ability to adapt to later insults.
As mentioned I follow a fasting regimen wherein I skip breakfast and lunch and consume all of my calories within a few hours at the end of the day. The author of this massive webpage on intermittent fasting calls it the Warrior Diet but it’s probably better known as Time Restricted Eating. Other fasts like the 5:2 fast allow someone to choose specific days where they eat very minimally.
And there are other permutations and combinations of fasting regimens that might work for you. If they do please reach out and let us know we are interested in hearing all stories. We just note that they haven’t worked for us, because we haven’t attempted them…yet.
The next challenge
Slowly evolving the lifestyle
At first I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted at 5:00PM as a reward but also in recognition that if I was too miserable with this diet I would fail. If I put too many rules in place right from the beginning I would have lost and done nothing; I’ve been able to stick with intermittent fasting because I did not commit everything all at once. Instead of celebrating the results posted earlier I would be back to wondering what I could do for my weight and my health. I’d be watching my son grow stronger, more energetic, more alert everyday while I grew weaker, slower, duller with each passing day.
And now I’m afraid I’ve reached a plateau with my weight loss journey.
The next evolution of this diet involves focusing on the quality of calories consumed
Over the past several weeks I’ve started introducing other rules. At 5:00PM I now eat a keto focused diet. This means wiping out the carbohydrates that have long sustained me and replacing them with fat. I don’t know yet if the keto diet will work for me — it’s worked for many thousands of individuals thus far and I’m willing to stick it out for awhile.
Note that I’m still not limiting my calories, maybe that will come next but right now I’m enjoying my intermittent fasting results.
You can see in the chart I posted that I might be starting to plateau. It is bound to happen as the body looks for a new homeostasis the question is whether when you hit it are you satisfied with where that plateau is set.
Taking the first baby step
So if you’re finally ready to attempt intermittent fasting then I recommend taking baby steps. What are you doing this upcoming weekend? What if, just for Sunday, you skip breakfast and lunch. How did that make you feel…was it easy/hard? Maybe if missing those meals on Sunday wasn’t too bad then you try it again on Monday. Or you don’t need to skip both breakfast and lunch, what about just breakfast and then eat a lighter lunch a bit later in the day?
The goal with all of these scenarios is to get you thinking about the first tiny baby step you can take towards changing your lifestyle. Do it incrementally and if you’re consistent you’ll eventually find that you have control over your body, mind and spirit.
Other resources on the web
This has got to be the single most impressive webpage on intermittent fasting. I don’t know when it was written and the site looks a bit dated but it must have already helped thousands on their intermittent fasting journeys. The post is littered with informative and persuasive diagrams that make the benefits of intermittent fasting clear.
Then Dr. Fung over at intensive dietary management has a whole series on fasting and regularly cites histories and stories around it. This history of fasting part 1 is a good place to start. Interestingly Dr. Fung draws from history and notes how different cultures and philosophers across time have advocated for this lifestyle change as a way to lead a better life.
Finally if you are interested in finding community around intermittent fasting you couldn’t do better than checking out the intermittent fasting subreddit. Folks regularly share stories about their intermittent fasting successes and setbacks. If you want more inspiration or have a question that you want answered promptly then you should check out that subreddit.