Wednesday, January 29, 2014

11:18 PM
I have written a lot about the yoga portion of my Fitness Project this month, less about the diet part. Actually I think this is because I really don't like the word diet, so I am changing how I refer to it and calling it my "eating focus". Anyway, just so you know, I have been quietly working on an eating focus this month - Intermittent Fasting.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been showing up in the headlines recently, which is how it caught my eye. A recent Atlantic article summed it up nicely:

On its face, every-other-day diet is a compelling alternative. What if we can be ruthlessly judicious about our diets half of the time, and half of the time eat without reservation or guilt, and actually end up healthier than a full-time dieter?... food deprivation, under professional supervision, is “a great way to practice managing hunger.” One must learn the sensation of "true hunger" and distinguish it from the "sure, I could eat" whims that many of us call hunger.

This concept of IF has a few different versions, but the basic premise is that for some days in a week you eat normally and for the remainder of the time you eat in a very calorie restricted way. Some people do every-other day (eat, fast, eat), but I chose the more moderate 5:2 plan, wherein 5 days a week I ate normally and for two days a week I ate very little for a 16 to 24 hour stretch. Some days were definitely harder than others and not every fast day was successful (when your boss asks you to go out to lunch - you eat lunch, fast day or no fast day) but on the whole I rather liked this fairly simple-to-apply weight management scheme. I think that I may have also lost a pound or two, but it may simply be muscle mass since I dramatically changed my workout habits as well during January (i.e., where I almost exclusively did yoga).

Based on the books and articles I read and my own experience, here are some of the high points of IF:

It appears to work:  In scientific studies, both mice and people showed that they did not overcompensate for a fasting day by overeating the following day. They actually ate only slightly more (i.e., only 15 to 25 percent more). As a result, on the net, IF participants typically ate less than "normal", and as a result lost weight very efficiently. I personally did not lose a noticeable amount of weight this month, but nor was I as strict as I could have been on IF. I did not find myself bingeing or otherwise actively over-compensating for those days when I did eat less, although I looked forward to my meals on non-fasting days with some relish.

It appears to be relatively sustainable: Another positive indication is that 80 to 90 percent of people who tried IF in these same studies reported being able to stick to an IF plan for extended periods of time. This is ostensibly because the diet is simple to implement and because IFers don't feel deprived all of the time. I, for one, plan to integrate some form of IF into the remainder of my "eating focus" elements for the remainder of the year.

The health impacts are significant: According to the data and the testimonials, not only will IF assist with weight loss or weight management, but it has some significant health benefits. For example, fasting has been shown to lessen exposure to a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which is tied to many chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. Other studies have shown that fasting switches on repair genes, increases insulin sensitivity, and enhances mood.

The implementation is very flexible: Especially if you are doing the 5:2 variation, you can work the fasting days to fit in around the rest of your life. Also, since you are only fasting for up to 24 hours at a time, you can do it in a pattern that takes advantage of sleeping hours, busy work days and other things that make the time go by quickly and distract you from any hunger. I typically fasted from 6 PM to 6PM, so I got a nice dinner, a good sleep, and a busy day in to pass the time. It didn't always work perfectly (will power or circumstance collided with my intentions some days) but even a shorter fast of 16 hours has been shown to have benefits.

As I said above, I have rather liked the IF method and plan to continue it into future months, hopefully with some better self-discipline (NO MORE OFFICE PIZZA!!!!)

For reference here are some of the articles and books I read to help inform the design and implementation of my IF focus this month:

To learn more about my Fitness Project, please contact me at,, or connect with me on Facebook.


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