Intermittent Fasting

I am again following the thundering herd of fad diet enthusiasts. After a long holiday season of drinking, eating, and general sloth, I am hopping back on the never-ending weight loss wagon ride. A new year, newfound resolve, and all the rest. Throughout my weight loss adventures, I have utilized many techniques and strategies to achieve my goals. Weight loss is painful for a variety of reasons, and work schedule ranks at the top of the list. Having switched to a job where I can graze on food all day has led to some interesting obstacles. Untangling the multiple variables in my own weight loss equation is a challenge, but I think I may have hit on what I have been missing.

Intermittent fasting is one of the new diet crazes that is being discussed. It has been growing in prominence for the past few years and has recently gained some interesting scholarly research to back up some of its claims. The idea behind intermittent fasting is to glean the benefits of long-term fasts, without the arduous work. They include positive and lasting hormonal changes including, decreased blood insulin levels, an increase of human growth hormone, cellular repair, and changes in gene expression. Human beings, in the not so distant past, did not have round-the-clock access to food as we modern humans do. Going without for periods of time was the norm. The body evolved mechanisms to adapt to that environmental reality. Constant eating throughout the day may foul up our natural biological rhythms, leading to snowballing effect of adverse outcomes.    

Intermittent fasting can take various forms. The simplest is just skipping breakfast. Sleeping counts toward fasting, thus the name “breakfast.” The standard breakdown for this type of intermittent fasting is called 16:8, meaning 16 hours fasting and eight hours feeding. Other variations include the 5:2 fast which consists of two 24 hour fasts and five days of normal eating throughout the week, and another which alternates every other day. There are others as well, but these are the most common.

The alleged benefits of this type of diet lie in the hormonal changes they bring about. Lower blood insulin levels are said to decrease food cravings leading to lower caloric intake, along with switching your body from fat storage to burn state. Increases in human growth hormone are reported to facilitate fat loss along with muscle gain, raising the basal metabolic rate. Furthermore, research suggests other hormonal changes are responsible for shifting the body from cell production to cell repair and changes in gene expression, advancing the body’s natural detox functions, along with positive impacts on aging and immune function.

In reflecting on portions of my weightloss journey, I realized that I had been following this type of diet, albeit loosely.  I have always enjoyed eating large meals and simply could not feel satisfied without eating at least one normal meal a day (full fat, large portion, and seconds if I felt like it). For much of my weight loss, I followed a tip from—what I believe was—the south beach diet. I would eat only lower glycemic index fruits for breakfast, mostly berries. This was essentially a fast with a crutch, so long as you stay 100-200 calories. Lunch would usually consist of a garden salad or roasted vegetables, more fruit in the afternoon, lots of coffee, exercise, and a nice evening meal. This type of schedule would consistently keep me under 2000 consumption calories and exercise was for enjoyment and further positive hormonal effects (I don’t like to focus on calories out so much).

I think I have identified where I went off the rails a bit. Last year I began weightlifting which led me to a realm of nutrition advice that was less than optimal for my goals. I shifted from thinking about calories in and focused more on calories out, ostensibly to build more muscle. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to get as much out of my workout if I wasn’t fueled up. This is where my appetite started to get out of control. Coupled with a work schedule that made it easier to munch throughout the day, I found my hunger patterns becoming increasingly voracious. While this was happening, I was not as focused on the number of calories I was taking in. Calories add up quick, leading to evening situations where I couldn’t have my customary sizeable decadent meal (and maybe some beer or wine).

Trying intermittent fasting again has left me blown away with the difference in my hunger patterns and energy levels. Sometimes I get fleeting hunger pangs, but I can always steel myself with thoughts of what exactly I am going to do to food once I’m in my feeding window. I have been surprised to find that eating around 1800 to 2000 calories is a chore. I come away feeling fuller, longer. I have also noticed higher energy levels, and I am drinking less coffee, springing out of bed earlier, and seeing fewer mood swings and more focus at work.

My goal is to stick with this diet program until May while re-approaching resistance training and perhaps reporting back on the findings. I gained 25 pounds over the course of last year. I knew that I was missing something based on the way I felt, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. How I feel now is the way I felt when I lost most of my weight. I hope the diversion amounts to a concrete lesson. One of the challenges of weight loss is that it is a long-game endeavor, and it’s easy to forget what has worked in the past, as new information is always coming in and goals change. Two steps forward one step back, I suppose.

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