I've been trying intermittent fasting for the last 6 months as my latest health experiment. It has had a surprisingly positive impact. I've wanted to find more ways to share the concept with others, so here is my story.
I am always looking to apply experiments to my work in software development. In the same way, I've tried different health and fitness ideas over the years, with some short-term success. My wife and I did a strict Paleo diet for 9 months several years ago. Although we didn't continue eating strictly Paleo, the experience helped shift our diet to more real foods and less carbs.
Since my oldest child was born 2.5 years ago, however, I've found it hard to keep a regular exercise routine going and to keep weight off. Also, I've watched my cholesterol and blood pressure reach the high side of acceptable. I tried simply cutting calories with no success. So I decided it was time to make a change.
Over the last few years, I'd heard about fasting a few times on various podcasts, but I never tried it. It sounded difficult.
After hearing about the app Zero, however, I decided to give fasting a try. I would stop eating at sunset and fast for a minimum of 13 hours. Using the app allowed me to track my progress, get alerts, and see some early results correlated to fasting.
To learn more about the science behind fasting, I read The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung specializes in kidney diseases and has focused on how fasting can reverse Type-2 Diabetes. This is a fascinating book that I highly recommend.
A major part of the book is Dr. Fung's explanation of how eating affects your body, particularly related to insulin. Your pancreas produces insulin each time you eat, which then triggers your body to store reserves. This also prevents your body from using fat stores for energy.
Conversely, a high fat, low carb diet combined with fasting allows your body to more easily enter Ketosis, where it burns stored fats for energy.
When we eat frequently, even if only small amounts, our bodies produce insulin which is used for energy instead of fat, thus making it difficult to get rid of fat stores.
Tweaking My Routine
Armed with this knowledge, I started doing 24-hour fasts (dinner of one day to dinner of the next) three times per week.
I expected to be extremely hungry while fasting, but I found that just drinking some water, coffee, or tea when I felt a wave of "hunger" was all that I needed to get back on track. Other than a few such waves, I've found that I actually don't feel that hungry while fasting. As the book explains, "hunger pains" are more related to routine than to our bodies really needing to eat.
Reaping the Benefits
- Weight loss
- Grocery bill savings
- Simplified morning routine
- Energy level
I feel great on fasting days and don't miss any fellowship with my family, as I can eat whatever we are having for dinner. I also save time by not eating breakfast or packing lunch.
Doing calorie reduction diets in the past has left me feeling lethargic all day, but while fasting I feel energized. I have no food coma after lunch, and I have an increased metabolism (BMR).
And while still eating normally (mostly Paleo) and not counting calories at all, I've lost significant weight: 35 pounds in 6 months.
Since the 70s, dieting has become a marketing-driven industry and, what do you know, nobody makes money off of you when you just don't eat. Fasting seems to be making a comeback, though, and I am glad to see more people learning about this simple strategy to improve health.
After doing it for half a year now, fasting simply makes sense to me. Almost every world religion has a history of fasting, and I can see why, given the benefits. It feels like unlocking a major lifehack that both saves time/money and improves my wellbeing.
This coming year, I'm planning to try some seven-plus day fasts. I would love to hear if you've tried your own fasting experiment!