This is the third and final post in a series on Intermittent Fasting. In part one, Lose Fast. Fast!, I propose a protocol for weight loss and long term nutrition management that employs intermittent fasting. In Part two, Fast Forward – Why Fasting May Be in Your Future, I debunk many of the myths and identify the health and lifestyle benefits of Intermittent Fasting. In this post, I discuss my own personal experience and lay out some strategies you might want to consider if it is something you choose to pursue.
If you’re interested in the whole series in e-Book format, enter your email address in the green pop-up banner that appears at the top of this page and you’ll get free downloadable access.
How I Became a Believer
About 7 years ago, I read an article in a health-oriented magazine in which the author described how he used Intermittent Fasting to conquer the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s is a nasty autoimmune disorder that results in the body’s immune system attacking the sufferer’s gastrointestinal tract as if it were a foreign invader. One might easily see how something like fasting would help with Crohn’s
Thanks to my otherwise stellar gene pool, I have psoriasis which is also an autoimmune disease in which the body is constantly repairing my skin cells even though there is no damage to them. While the symptoms of psoriasis are nowhere near as painful or traumatic as that of Crohn’s, it is annoying, However, in the case of Psoriasis, the treatments are literally worse than the cure. They either involve walking around covered with ointments that are the consistency of Vaseline or taking biologic drugs with side effects that would make Prescott Pharmaceuticals blush.
I did a little more research on the effects of the occasional fast and autoimmune diseases in general. The summary of that research was “there isn’t much research here but try it out and let us know how it works out for you.” So in my role as guinea pig, I gave it a whirl.
I followed the same protocol as the author of the aforementioned article, a 36 hour fast, once a week. I did this religiously week after week. And the result after 4 months was, drum roll please, absolutely no effect on my psoriasis. However, I did lose 20 pounds. This was a surprise to me. I thought I could benefit from losing a few pounds but 20? And now that I knew how good I could feel I decided to keep it up. And I lost another 20.
But something else happened in my case too. While I had been doing regular resistance exercise for almost 15 years, I never really had much in the way of muscle tone. Now suddenly in my late 40s I wasn’t only losing fat; I was gaining muscle. I had abs! Now there is no way to prove that the change in total body composition was because of the fasts. But once I learned the benefits of fasting as described in my previous post, it makes sense to me how and why that could happen.
Seven years later I have experimented with all sorts of protocols for Intermittent Fasting. This allows me to make the following suggestions to you, if you remain interested.
Recommendations for Pursuing Intermittent Fasts
- Unless it’s the only way for you to conveniently adopt Intermittent Fasting, I would not recommend the 36 hour, once a week pattern that I initially followed. All of those benefits I touted in the previous post start to taper off as you go beyond hour 24. It also becomes harder for your body to recover from the fast. And to get the most out of Intermittent Fasting, the recovery and eating period is as important as the fasting period.
- Start off slowly. For example, consider trying skipping breakfast for several days in a row; maybe even for a full week. Get used to what it feels like breaking your regular eating pattern. Then maybe try skipping breakfast and lunch once a week for something that eaquates to between 16 and 22 hours of fasting. Finally, shoot for the full 24.
- Schedule your fast so it works for you. If dinner-to-dinner works best and you finish your pre-fast dinner at 7:30 PM, break your fast the next day at around 7:30 PM. If it is easier for you to go lunch-to-lunch, fine.
- When first starting out, arrange to do it in an environment that works best for you. If you think a hectic day will be best because it will keep your mind off eating, then aim for that. If you think it’s best to try it on a quieter day than go for that. Set yourself up for success.
- Don’t get upset if you have an occasional lapse or if something surprising causes you to shuffle fast days around. Today I was supposed to fast but we had an unexpected visit from someone who wanted to take us to lunch. So I skipped breakfast and decided that was good enough for this week. I could just as well have scheduled for another day this week (Thursday, I got my eye on you). Just be careful to avoid the slippery slope out of Intermittent Fasting nirvana.
- While you’re at it, learn to be around and appreciate food even when you’re fasting. At first it was difficult for me to be around food but once I learned what hunger really was and was not, I was comfortable cooking for my family, watching the Food Network, or having lunch with colleagues even when while fasting.
The basic idea is to make Intermittent Fasting something you want to do; not something you have to do. I do really look forward to my fast days and I look forward to breaking my fast too. The rules of effective fasting are easy but important so once again:
- For fat loss, don’t eat anything for about 24 hours once or twice a week. For maintenance, don’t eat anything for about 24 hours every ten days or so.
- Drink all of the zero calorie beverages you want. This mostly means water, black coffee, unadulterated tea. Yes diet soda and clear broths technically comply but beware of the slippery slope. Also there is some evidence that artificial sweeteners increase cravings and cravings (not hunger) is what you will be fighting in the late hours of the fast.
- When not fasting, eat as you normally would. No more. No less. Obviously a little treat or a little extra at the end of a fast isn’t going to cancel all the benefit. But with fasting, the biggest challenge is a mind-over-matter issue and one of the tricks is to avoid that slippery slope.
- To ensure your weight loss is fat and not muscle, do resistance exercise. This is not absolutely necessary but worth the effort for many reasons. I’ll do another post on how to spend less than 2 hours a week conforming to this without the need for any gym time.
- Extra Credit: For extra health benefit, eat more plants and season them with a variety of herbs and spices. Try and sway the ratio of vegetables to fruits that you eat in the direction of vegetables. And don’t forget nuts and beans. There are other things you could do to tweak your normal diet. You know what’s good and bad for you. But at this stage, don’t feel you have to worry about it. I’ll talk about that more later.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more or other applications of Intermittent Fasting, you should read:
- Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat – The definitive reference on Intermittent Fasting. Pretty dang close to a man-crush.
- Lean Gains – A website that pursues the topic of Intermittent Fasting in-depth. Probably a bit too “bro” heavy for some people’s taste.
- 8 Hour Diet – A book that describes a fasting style in which you restrict your eating window to 8 hours a day.
With any luck, there will be a part four to this series, in which I describe some of your experiences. I only hope I get to call it Fast and Fabulous.
Get More Engaging Health Information with a Free Gift
Signup for my mailing list and stay up to date on the latest information on how to be healthy, happy and save the world. Sign up know and you’ll receive my eBook about intermittent fasting, free. You can unsubscribe at any time. Sign up below.