Welcome back to Eating for Change. I’m on a quest to find an eating program that works well for me, and prove that there is no single perfect diet for anybody.
This month, I tried the Fast Diet by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. While the book itself proved to be less than I had hoped, putting the theory into practice was something else entirely, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The Whys of Fasting
First, let’s look at the premise of why fasting is good for us. Dr. Mosley has some sound logic and historical precedence for advocating a fast day (or days). Our ancestors didn’t have access to food all day every day like we do in modern society. Like lions, wolves, and other predators, we experienced feasts and famines throughout the year. Fasting isn’t some modern program to torture us. Our bodies are actually made for it, but we aren’t accustomed to it because we’re used to food availability day in and day out.
Though my journey has been short-lived so far, I’ve already learned that the Food Industry uses nefarious tactics to get us to rely on them for sustenance. You may have heard that eating several small meals a day is better for you. Well, you can thank the Food Industry for this “wisdom gem”, particularly snack manufacturers. Actually, eating several small meals could indeed be good for us, if small meals are what we ate. Instead, we, as a society, are gorging on enormous meals throughout the day, and not giving our bodies a chance to feel hunger. We often eat when we’re not actually hungry. Instead we eat because food is there, or in my case, when I’m avoiding some other stress, like working on my book, blog, podcast, or other project.
And while there’s nothing wrong with eating when hungry, there’s also nothing wrong with feeling the stress of hunger either. Stress is an important part of life. We can’t avoid it, and we shouldn’t avoid all stresses, either. Exercise is stress on the body. But we don’t avoid this stress (or at least we probably shouldn’t), as it strengthens our muscles. Eating is also a stress on the body, and not eating is a different type of stress. As long as you don’t overdo it, then the body can use the fasting (and the eating) to make us stronger.
How to Fast Without Being Furious
I practiced the Fast Diet twice a week for the entire month of December. Here’s how it works: five days “off” and two days “on.” The “on” days are your fasting days, and the authors recommend we spread out our meals on those fasting days as much as possible. Eating prevents the body from going into a “fasted” state, and we don’t see or feel the benefits as much. But yes, even on your fasting days, you are allowed to eat. It’s severely restricted eating, but still it is not starving. The authors encourage participants to stay within 500-600 calories on their fasting day, and they urge us to eat nutrient-dense foods. In other words, don’t waste your allotted calories for the day on processed foods, sugary drinks, or meal drinks. Eat low glycemic foods and foods rich in protein and vitamins.
Your fast days don’t need to be consecutive. The authors offered a Monday/Thursday option for starting out, but I quickly discovered that Monday/Friday worked best for me. On my first week practicing the Fast Diet, I didn’t adhere to the guidelines, and I only consumed protein drinks. However, I learned why this can be detrimental when, on the day following my fasts, I tended to overeat. But when I adhered to a nutrient dense salad as my meal, I found the idea of eating somewhat reasonably easier on my next “off” day.
I thought committing to two fasting days a week for an entire month would be excruciating. However, I discovered two amazing benefits that made fasting stupid easy, for me at least.
- After my fast, my weight went down. I weighed myself 4 times a week during my trial (more than the authors recommend, but again, I’m able to use the scale as data, reading the numbers more like a scientist rather than a judge). I noticed the days after my fast the numbers dropped a bit. Then I weighed myself a couple of days after my fast, and while the numbers went up a bit from my fasting weight, they were slowly going downwards themselves. For instance, in my third week, my “off” weight was the same as my very first “fasting” weight. If I graphed it out, it looked like a bad stock market. Which is what I want.
This downward trajectory helped reinforce, and I actually started to crave my fasting days. Especially the day after Christmas when my husband and I ate ourselves into oblivion.
- I practiced strengthening my willpower. Fasting for one day, or two separate days of the week, would not kill me. I learned to check in and see if what I was experiencing was really hunger, or another emotion that we humans often mistake for hunger. Namely, boredom. Procrastination. Thirst. Need for a movement or stretch break. Or the need to sleep.
Hedonic hunger and immediate gratification run rampant in my life. And while I experienced cravings on my fasting days, I easily resisted temptation by practicing this simple mantra: I can have it tomorrow.
This statement is powerful. I’m still at the point where I DO allow myself to eat what I want on my “off” days, but I’m slowly beginning to recognize the power of “tomorrow.”
At the beginning of the month, I shared another program that incorporated intermittent fasting and eating windows, based on my chronotype. I wasn’t very good at staying in my window until I started practicing the Fast Diet. Now, I don’t succumb to temptation nearly as often because I’ve strengthened my willpower from practicing saying “no” on my fasting days and leaning on “tomorrow.” I feel with this success, I can soon start saying “no” throughout the day, or “tomorrow” or perhaps “later” if necessary.
Not Just Food
The biggest ah-ha from this challenge didn’t inspire my nutrition or eating habits, but my productivity habits. If I can see a physical and mental difference in abstaining from food twice a week, how would a social media fasting day work for me? I tried on an “off” day, starting small by only cutting off YouTube for the entire day. I saw an uptick in my game usage, but I did stay more focused on work on the whole. The next day I cut-off the games and Instagram. It was golden. It’s still new, but I feel practicing digital fasting days along with dietary fasting days will lead me to stronger willpower, more patience, and more productivity.
I’m ready for the new year, and new challenges.
For January, I’m going to retry Whole30. I’ve practiced Whole30 a few times, but this time, I’ve been encouraged by my doctor to eliminate nightshades and all gluten. Like the Wheat Belly Detox, I think I can also try to cut out all flours, including the gluten-free ones. This month-long challenge also eliminates dairy, sugars, and normally legumes, but as I practice mostly a plant-based diet, I’m allowing mung beans, tofu, tempeh, and chickpeas.
But one thing I will continue this month is fasting one day a week. The fast seems to work well for me and my psyche. Is it for everyone? No, of course not, that’s the point of my experiment is to figure out what works for ME. If there was a perfect diet out there for EVERYONE, everyone would do it, right?
What do you think? Could you try the Fast Diet? What fears or preconceptions do you have about fasting? What benefits do you think you would discover from trying it out?
Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you all next year!