My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
December 20, 2019
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
Most of my life, I’ve carried around more pounds than I should. My doctor says that, for my height and build, 200 to 210 pounds is where I should be. Evern since high school, I’ve never been much below 225. My highest was in college, when I got all the way up to 270. Upon hearing that number when I was weighed in a fitness class one time, I decided to make some changes. A lot of swimming and salads later, I was back to 230 or so.
In 2016, I landed the job where I still work as of this writing. The main down side is that it’s a desk job, and is full of people who like to bring in food. Plus, there are a few restaurants nearby, and more that are happy to deliver food. Thus, my calorie intake has increased these last few years. I also started using an Apple Watch in 2016, and its fitness features let me combat the flood of food to a degree.
Now, at the end of 2019, my weight is 227. That’s down from 232 at the start of November, though, and I hope to keep that trend going. How? I finally found a diet that works.
Before I continue, I have to add this: * I AM NOT GIVING ADVICE*! Nothing I say here should be taken as a suggestion that you, too, should try it. What works for me may not work for you at all, and could even be dangerous. Only proceed with any drastic lifestyle changes like what we’re talking about here after talking to a medical professional.
First of all, you have to understand something: I love to eat. Eating, to me, is more than just fueling up. I look forward to a good meal, or bag of candy, or tray of cookies the way some people might look forward to a day off work or working on a favorite hobby. Eating something good is something I really enjoy doing, and with how easy good food is to get, I find myself doing it a lot. From pizza for lunch, to ordering a few pounds of jellybeans on Amazon, the draw of food is too hard to ignore.
More than that, a diet that limits my carb, sugar, or other specific intake would reduce my enjoyment of life. I simply enjoy eating too much to cut myself off from it. I’ve tried it, and I know I can’t do it for more than a few weeks. When I dropped all that weight in college, I did so, in part, by having only a salad for lunch every weekday. I quickly started dreading lunch, knowing I’d have to force down more salad, and skip the sugar cookies or chicken salad panini with bacon. I’ve tried cutting out all sugar, and that barely lasted the month I’d set as my goal. I’ve tried eating only meals, and not having any snacks at all. Nothing was sustainable.
On the first Monday of November, 2019, I had some routine blood work scheduled. I needed to fast for twelve hours before the 8:00 AM appointment. On a whim, I decided to give intermittent fasting a shot. After my blood had been drawn, when I would normally have stopped at a fast food restaurant for breakfast on my way to work, I simply… didn’t. I went straight to work instead. I decided on the rules for my experiment, and that Monday became the first day of my new diet. It’s been amazing!
I came up with the rules for this diet after a bit of calorie calculations and some research. I also consulted with a dietician, just to be safe. Here is what I’ve been doing:
My high intake (i.e. normal) days are Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On these days, I eat anything, though I try to be more conscious of what I eat. I also try to add in more vegetables. Still, there are no real restrictions.
My low intake days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On these days, I am allowed a lunch of anything I want, with an optional dessert if I really, really want one. That meal, though, is it. No breakfast or dinner, no popcorn at night, no cookie or piece of cake. I am not allowed dessert on low intake days before lunch, nor can I have it much after. If I am going to have it, it must be immediately following my meal. I also won’t plan ahead for it. If there are cookies in the break room at work, and there are still some left by the time I’m done eating lunch, I will have one or two. If they’re gone before then, too bad for me. If they show up half an hour after lunch, again, too bad.
I’m not stupid. I often go to the gym and/or for a walk after work, so I’ll have a protein bar or shake. When I get home, I might have some vegetables, a glass of milk, a piece of fruit, that kind of thing. I’ll only do this if my body feels like it needs it after my workout. Some days I really need that protein bar, and some days I’m happy to skip it. I want to reduce calories in a way I can sustain, not deprive myself of fuel when I need it.
I allow myself some cheat days, despite having such days four times a week. The week of a food-heavy holiday, I’ll normally only designate one of Monday, Wednesday, or Friday to be my low intake day. The rest of the week, I’ll enjoy the desserts, special meals, candy, and other goodies the holiday offers, and I’ll do so with no guilt whatsoever.
That’s it. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I only eat lunch, though that meal can be whatever I want, not necessarily only something healthy. If dessert is handy after lunch, and I really want it, I’ll have it. I’ll not have any other food those days, save when necessary to keep myself fueled for working out. The rest of the week is business as usual.
There are a lot of uses of the phrase “whatever I want” in the above rules, and that’s intentional. By not restricting what I am allowed to eat when I can have food, I am able to keep myself going. Sure, I’m really hungry now… But lunch is pizza. Suddenly, it’s easy to get through the hours until lunch, because I’m not dreading the salad or some tiny portion that will be gone in thirty seconds.
I’ve found an amazing thing these last six weeks: hunger, and my reaction to it, is all in my head. We all know this intellectually, but it’s real in a whole new way now. On high intake days, I get annoyed at hunger, and can sometimes feel edgy if I have to delay food for some reason. I know I can eat, but something is in my way, and that’s frustrating. On low intake days, I can stand right next to a cake or box of chocolates, and calmly think how good they’ll taste tomorrow. I can walk into a house smelling of warm cake or pie and be excited for the next time I get to eat it, without any annoyance whatsoever. Yet, when the same food presents itself on high intake days, I want it because I can have it. Not having it is irritating, yet not having that same food on low intake days is no trouble at all.
That’s what makes this diet so successful for me. I seem to be wired such that I do best on complete restriction. If I were allowing myself a maximum of, say, 600 calories in junk food a day, I’d quickly shoot past frustrated, and would abandon my rule inside a week. Flipping the switch between “have whatever” and “have nothing at all”, though, works perfectly. I can enjoy anticipating the food, or easily let it go should it be gone before I am allowed to have it. So long as I know I absolutely may NOT eat it in the moment, I’m completely fine. Having only a little, though, would lead me to excuses for having more and more.
Now, here are the numbers. Some rough calculations tell me that, at 3,000 calories per day (again, roughly), I eat 21,000 calories per week. Looking at calorie intake by week, I need to cut out about 2,800 calories to get my average intake to 2,600 a day. That level, though, would mean I maintain my 232-pound weight, and I don’t want that. I want to lower that number, not keep it where it is. Let’s say a daily intake of 2,500, or 17,500 per week, will be a good goal.
Let’s assume my caloric intake on high intake days goes up to 3,200. There are four of these days each week, giving me 12,800 calories of my 17,500-calorie goal. This leaves me with 4,700 calories still to go, split across my three low-intake days. I could eat 1,500 calories on those days, and still be under my target!
This lets me do a few things. First, I can enjoy junk on certain days, knowing my intake has that margin. Second, it means that once I’m closer to my target weight, I’ll have the flexibility of modifying my rules. Maybe I only skip snacks on low intake days, or skip lunch twice a week. I can afford to eat more calories, since I’ll be aiming to maintain my weight, not lose more.
Knowing that I do best when I don’t allow myself to eat anything, and knowing that I react extremely well to this, gives me the confidence to use fasting as a dieting tool which I know will work. Is it ideal? No, of course not. Ideally, I would be eating far less junk food, and more vegetables. Were I to do that, though, I know I wouldn’t be able to keep it up long-term. I’d choke down my small salad, then make myself feel better with some pie.
Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is something I can do quite easily. No other diet has been as simple as this one, nor has any other lasted this long without me getting frustrated or resentful. It works for me, letting me drop about a pound a week. In exchange for steady weight loss, all I have to do is give myself extra free time and money by not eating a few times a week.
For me, this has so far proven to be the ideal diet. It may not be for you, but then again, you won’t know until you try. (Again, PLEASE talk to your doctor before you actually try any fasting!)
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