Intermittent Fasting

Natasha over on Blogger 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. 😛

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.


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.