In my last post I had embarked on an intermittent fasting journey, a new Way of Eating (WOE) called One Meal a Day (using the Gin Stephens method). I am just about through my 7th week, and the benefits have been everything that was advertised. I am so enjoying this WOE that I doubt I will ever go back to eating all day long. Here are some of the benefits:
Weight Loss: the graph below shows a steady downward trend in my weight. Week 3 was a difficult “adjustment week” for me. I experienced a lot of hunger during that time, and I probably ate more than I should have, which may explain the brief upward trend. But by Week 4 that intense hunger had gone and the weight began to go down again. As of today I have lost over 6 lbs in 7.5 weeks, which is a healthy rate of loss. Three days ago I broke out of the 150’s and into the 140’s, having not seen such weights in well over a year (and even then it was only temporary, as I was unable to sustain the needed caloric restriction without being ravenously hungry).
Hunger: as promised by the proponents of intermittent fasting, dealing with hunger soon ceased to be an issue. I still feel hunger sometimes, but it’s a mild sensation that doesn’t bother me and doesn’t last very long. There’s a saying among IF-ers: “hunger is not an emergency”. You feel grumbling in your tummy and you no longer feel the need to drop everything and eat. It’s like passing gas – it’s just something your body does! It feels very freeing to live this way. I’m still amazed at how easy it is to fast for long periods of time (I average 19 – 20 hours of fasting each day).
Satiety: You need a lot less food each day than you might think. Especially if you are overweight. Think about it: if you have all that extra fat – why does your body need so much food? Fasting allows you to burn those fat stores easily, and so you just don’t need as much food as you used to. For example, one day I broke my fast with a rather large snack as my mother had come to visit and we were sitting there eating while chatting. I had cheese, nuts, raisin scones with butter, focaccia bread with olive oil and vinegar, and a pot of tea (with lots of milk and sugar). I was very full afterwards but it was only 3:30 pm (my usual window is 2 – 7 pm). I assumed I would eat dinner, but when the time came I was still full and not the least bit hungry. Part of me thought “this can’t be enough food – I’ll be starving tomorrow!”, but knowing I could get through hunger if I needed to gave me the courage to listen to my body and just not eat any more food. The next day was no different than any other day in terms of hunger, and this was the big “Ah-HA!” moment for me: I realized I can just listen to my body and stop eating when I am full and there are no negative consequences. Now, I no longer worry about how much I’ve eaten – I eat until I’m full and then stop. This the healthy relationship I have always wanted with food.
Obsessive Thoughts about Food: I have spent years battling my obsession over sweets and desserts. I keep them out of my house to avoid temptation, so when I come across them, an obsessive mindset would take over. If you are familiar with “scarcity thinking”, the thoughts were kind of like that (“eat it while you have the chance!”). For example, recently I was at a meeting that had a small buffet table in the corner of the room. It had cookies and little tarts filled with fruit and cream. In the past, there is NO WAY that I would have walked past that table and not taken any of the desserts – besides loving sweets, my mind would say “they’re free! When will I get such an opportunity again? it’s just this one time!”…and of course I’d have to try one of everything. But this time I had NO desire to eat them. They were obviously store-bought and I was quite sure they would not end up tasting very good, definitely not worthy of breaking my fast! (on another occasion, I was offered a delicious hand-made treat from a local bakery – I wrapped it in a napkin and took it home and enjoyed it after my window opened!). As another example, we go to my mother’s house every couple of weeks for a delicious home-cooked meal, and she always serves dessert. I would have 2 or 3 helpings of dessert even though I was stuffed from eating dinner, because the feeling of eating that delicious food was like drugs to my brain – little explosions of dopamine with every bite! Then I would take the leftover cake home and end up eating more before I went to bed, to get rid of the “temptation” as quickly as possible. I suppose I thought of it as “bad food” and since I never allowed myself to have such things in the house, I would feel the need to get rid of it quickly and go back to being “good”. Well, all that has changed now. I can eat dessert every day if I want, but I don’t want to. I don’t crave sweets the way I used to. Yes, I still love dessert and pastries and sweet things. But not only has the “scarcity mindset” gone away, there is a noticeable and significant change in the feelings that those foods arouse in me. There is something about the effects of IF on insulin levels that, I believe, has rid me of those obsessive feelings, the urges that at times seemed so powerful they were beyond my control. The only time I was able to do this before was cutting out all sugar completely. That is not a life worth living!…(as an added bonus, I have begun to feel cravings for protein and vegetables and that is definitely new!)
Home Cooking: for years I have denied myself healthy home-cooked meals, the foods that I grew up with, that bring feelings of comfort, love, and happiness. Why? Because I could not control my portions, because trying to count the calories in a home-made recipe is a huge chore, because eating foods like white rice (a staple in my family’s diet) would cause those obsessive feelings and I would eat way too much of it. Now with IF, I have re-discovered the joy of cooking. I am remembering old favourite recipes, and eating healthy, balanced, delicious meals. Some examples: pork sausages with mashed sweet potatoes (butter and brown sugar!), roasted carrots and green beans (butter, cinnamon, and cumin); curried chicken thighs with basmati rice and stir-fried veggies; classic beef and vegetable stir fry over white rice; “all the leftovers” fried rice; mushroom risotto; pasta with beef bolognese; huge salads with cranberries, avocados, and toasted nuts. I almost always have dessert, but that usually means fruit (it’s Pumelo season right now) and a bit of chocolate (Cadbury has new mini chocolate bars, my current favorite is hazelnut), not because I’m trying to “be good” but because that is what I feel like having. I’m also planning on getting back into baking. I’m a pretty good baker, and I used to really enjoy it, but I could not be around all that sweet food without overeating. Now I’m planning on making homemade bread again, baking fresh buns to go with dinner, or crust for a homemade pizza. I’m also excited about baking Xmas cookies this year – I have some great recipes that I love. With IF and the adjustments in my appetite, cravings, and attitude towards food, I can have these things around and it isn’t a problem.
Mindless Snacking: I would say that a good deal of my weight issues stemmed from evening snacking. It was such a habit that when I was calorie counting, I would deliberately save anywhere from 200 – 400 calories for just that, and it was mostly made up of chocolate. Of course, the problem with calorie counting is that it was easier to justify having just one more little thing “it’s only an extra 60 calories, no big deal”. But with fasting, it’s all or nothing and for whatever reason it has served as the great gatekeeper against evening snacks. Only once in my 7 weeks of IF have I succumbed to the urge to have evening snacks. Otherwise, I simply do not eat after my window closes. But I am now realizing that I would also eat food just because it was there: Leftover lasagna? Better eat that. Oh look, there’s some fruit and yogurt in the fridge, I should eat that. In the past, I would have eaten that food even though I was not hungry. That fact has become crystal clear to me now, and I think “no wonder I put on weight, I was eating food that I didn’t need at all”. I’m continually surprised by how easy it was to do that. Again, it goes back to truly listening to your body: don’t eat if you aren’t really hungry. That was much harder to do before IF, now I find it easy.
So these are just a few of the many benefits of intermittent fasting. It has accomplished my greatest wish – healing my relationship with food. The weight loss is just an added bonus, and I can say with confidence that even if I did not lose weight, I would continue with this WOE because of the healthy mindset it brings around food. Many people doing IF/OMAD talk about “freedom”. That is really a great word that sums it all up. Freedom from distracting hunger, freedom from cravings, freedom from food obsessing, freedom to eat what you love, freedom from calorie counting, freedom to listen to your body and follow its cues, freedom to get stuff done during the day without being a slave to regular mealtimes, freedom to eat less and have it be plenty, freedom to say “no” to “free food” that you don’t even really want, freedom to enjoy a night out at a restaurant or a vacation or holiday feast without any feelings of guilt. The list goes on…I absolutely LOVE this WOE and can never imagine going back. Nobody has ever said that about a diet. But of course this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle.