Why skipping meals might be exactly what you need.

refusing foodBreakfast is the most important meal of the day.  No skipping meals.  Eat often.  Hunger is to be avoided.  We’ve all heard these truths.  They’re repeated to us and every health and fitness magazine recycles this advice in their headlines in some form or another, month after month. The advice all seems sound.  Logical.   Even intuitive.  Except it’s wrong.

So what if everything you thought you knew wasn’t true?  What if breakfast is not essential, and in fact, maybe while you’re at it you don’t need lunch or dinner either?  Sure, I know, skipping meals is not the American thing to do.  Rather, the American thing to do is eat and eat and eat.  Then eat some more.

Case in point: I recently had to visit a furniture store.  Which, in my mind,  is almost as bad as going to a used car lot.  Halfway through the showroom of this furniture store was the unmistakable smell of movie theater popcorn, all heavily salted and artificially buttered up and nestled in those colorful giant buckets.

But wait, this isn’t a movie theater.  WTF? Lo and behold, there is an actual food court in the middle of this furniture store.  You know, just like Target.  Just in case you or your offspring can’t make it through a couple of hours picking out a new La-Z-Boy and require some sustenance in the form of good old-fashioned junk food.  We’ve got you covered with popcorn, candy and hot dogs.  There there now.  We can’t have people starving, right?

So how is this practice of near constant eating helping us?  Based on the obesity epidemic in this country, not that well.   We’re getting fatter and unhealthier by the minute.  Could the solution to this problem be the opposite of what we’ve been told?  Could skipping meals be a good thing?

The opposite of eating too frequently is fasting.  True fasting is abstaining from food completely, while taking in just water in a state of rest. The practice of fasting is not new.  It’s been practiced for hundreds of years and by many different religions as a way to cleanse the body.

Done correctly, with proper supervision, fasting is both therapeutic and healthy.  Studies have shown that skipping meals results in leanness, a longer life and even more robust brain cells.  Some even show that intermittent fasting can prevent heart disease.

Fasting gives your body an opportunity to heal itself without being distracted by the work of digesting food.  By eating every few hours, the body has little time to do anything other than process this food.

While the research is certainly there as to the benefits of fasting, people are so entrenched in their beliefs of the way things are based on their limited life experiences, they would never consider such a departure.  Surely it must be bad for you not to eat.  Everyone knows that, right?

I began an experiment with intermittent fasting recently.  I am over 11 weeks into my experiment with fasting and I’ve been more successful at losing weight by doing this than anything I’ve ever tried.  In total, I’ve lost 12 lbs, or 9.1% of my body weight.

As a runner and cyclist, I’m acutely aware of my weight.  If you’ve ever ran a marathon you realize the importance of being as lean as you possibly can be.  In the latter stages of an endurance race, every extra pound you carry feels like 20.  Also, every pound over your ideal weight will affect not only how fast you can run (important), but also the rate at which you suffer injuries (essential).

For this reason, and because I’m a bit of a health food nut, I do worship at the altar of ideal body weight.  No, it doesn’t rule my life.  I don’t have an eating disorder.  I don’t obsess over it.  But I do consider it very important, perhaps more so than 99% of the population, to be as close to my ideal body weight as I can.

So I started intermittent fasting to lose weight and body fat.  I began by skipping breakfast. I eat 2 meals a day, and I eat from 11am to 7pm.  I then fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.

Skipping breakfast at first was difficult.  I felt like I was hungry but as soon as I drank some water or became busy the feeling disappeared. So I became busy being very busy.  Bees looked downright lazy compared to me.  After a few weeks, I wondered what the heck I was doing eating breakfast at all for all those years.  I didn’t miss it.

Now,  I don’t typically feel hungry until late morning.  The other day I didn’t feel hungry until around 1pm.

How is it that someone who has always eaten breakfast can, after a few weeks, give it up entirely?  Was I really that out of tune with my body?  Apparently so.  I responded to my external environment, like the availability of food, the smell of food and a 45 year old habit of consuming food at a certain time (in the morning).  I wasn’t responding to an actual feeling of hunger, but something I thought was hunger.

When I do eat my midday meal now, I am truly experiencing hunger.  I feel the sensation in my mouth and throat, not in my stomach.  The other benefit?  Food tastes absolutely AMAZING when you’re actually hungry.  It really does.  It’s hard to put into words but being hungry adds a whole additional flavor profile to foods.  I can taste lettuce now.  I have a new found obsession with papaya, which never appealed to me before.  Foods have such complexity of flavor, now that I am actually hungry when I eat.  What a concept.

Admittedly, the general public won’t run out and begin fasting anytime soon.  It does require a good amount of self-discipline, as well as the desire to educate yourself on the benefits of the practice of fasting.  A good place to start is this recent article by Keira Butler in Mother Jones.  Then there’s this article by Jennifer Marano from TrueNorth Health Center about intermittent fasting and weight loss.

You can choose to believe what you want, of course, about fasting.  You can believe that skipping meals isn’t healthy, or that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Or you can review the research and perhaps give intermittent fasting a try to see what effect it has on you.

Regardless, the important takeaway from an experiment with fasting may just be the ability to understand what true hunger feels like and to only eat when you’re experiencing it.

It’s truly as simple as that.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

3 success tips for intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t a very popular recommendation for weight loss or health.  I have yet to see Suzanne Somers or Bob Harper touting the idea of restricted eating.  You’ll more likely see diet books and gurus recommending the exact opposite.  Lose weight by eating often, up to 5-6 times a day!  Indeed, I used to believe that eating that way would help me lose weight.

The rationale for multiple meals and snacks that I bought into and many people believe is healthy went something like this: by not getting too hungry, one would succeed in avoiding what a large majority of people do in this country – overeat.  By having smaller meals more frequently, one would avoid becoming too hungry and overeating at the next meal.

The only problem with this plan (and it’s kind of a big one) is that it doesn’t work.  According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman in the book Eat to Live, “more frequent eating has been shown to lead to more calories consumed by the end of the week.”

So the more often we eat, the more we eat. Yikes!

Which is why, about 8 weeks ago, I decided to give Intermittent Fasting a try.  Based on some research I’ve done starting with this article from TrueNorth Health Center and also this quote from Eat to Live:

The body needs time between meals to finish digesting.  To maximize health, it is not favorable to be constantly eating and digesting food.

Intermittent fasting differs from 5-6 meals a day as it restricts your eating window to 8 hours and follows that with a 16 hour fast.  So for 8 hours you would eat your normal healthy, vegan diet. Then the following 16 hours, beginning after your evening meal and ending with your next day meal, would be a fasting period.  Fasting is typically water fasting, with no food, only water.  Thus giving your body, as Dr. Fuhrman recommends, time to absorb and digest your food.

I’m just beginning my 8th week of intermittent fasting.  Though I’m certainly no expert, I have broken through some previously difficult weight loss plateaus and experienced some pretty significant changes in my health over the last 2 months.  Here are some suggestions for successful intermittent fasting;

Keep an open mind.

intermittent fasting open mind

Just the word fasting tends to elicit concern from friends and family.  The very American fear of skipping a meal is so ingrained in our culture that the mere mention of going without food is considered either a cry for help or at least the first signs of a serious eating disorder.  But wait, how did we get here?

In this food-obsessed land of ours, complete with full-on food courts in Ikea and Target to 54 different varieties of fountain soda at your corner gas station, we would all do well to skip a meal now and again.    Our food culture pushes the idea that constant eating is not only okay, but a normal and necessary part of a healthy diet.

Keeping an open mind has to do with realizing that although you may not have grown up with fasting as a part of a healthy lifestyle, many cultures and religions incorporate this therapeutic practice.  Whether fasting for healing, spirituality or overall health, many cultures recognize the value of allowing the body a break from digestion.

Being open to new experiences with your health could lead to breakthroughs you weren’t even expecting.  But first you have to be open to challenging and perhaps changing habits you’ve followed for years.  I’ve found this isn’t something that most people are willing to do.  Are you?

Prepare to feel bad.

intermittent fasting feeling badThe first week you may experience crushing headaches, fatigue and a general sense that you really wish you had never heard of intermittent fasting.  This is totally normal and will cease as soon as you stop threatening to kill whoever recommended this (that would be me).

But if you hang in there I swear it will get better.  If you think about it, a few weeks of not feeling your best is really not that much time in the big picture of your life.   Plus, of course, nothing worthwhile comes without a little work on your part.  You’ve spent a lifetime most likely eating too frequently and in too much quantity.  The change involved with this is not going to happen immediately and without a little suffering on your part.

After about two weeks waiting to eat until late morning or early afternoon felt quite natural.  I’m a little surprised how easily my body has acclimated to eating much later than I’m used to.  I’m an early riser so I thought waiting to eat until late morning would be impossible.  I’ve experienced no pain or suffering in waiting to eat, even after a long run or bike ride.

Recognize true hunger for once.

intermittent fasting hunger

Just sayin’.  I know we all think we feel hunger on a regular basis, but chances are most of us have felt hunger much less than we think.  When I started intermittent fasting, I quickly realized the difference between hunger and well, not hunger.  In Eat to Live, Dr Fuhrman calls that not hunger thing “toxic hunger.”

Toxic hunger is the hungry that you feel because of your environment.  You may smell a savory lentil soup cooking as you walk into a friend’s home, or the distinct smell of bread baking as pizzas are removed from the wood-fired oven at your local Whole Foods.  Even though you may not have thought you were hungry a moment ago, smelling and seeing those foods might cause you to think you’re hungry when you’re really not.  You may even experience physical feelings in your stomach and brain that tell you you’re hungry.

True hunger is different.  It’s felt in a different part of your anatomy (in your throat and mouth rather than stomach) and some other symptoms might include:

enhanced taste sensation

increased salivation

With true hunger, you have no trouble deciding what you want to eat.  All food sounds good, and you enjoy your food so much more when eating happens as a result of true hunger.

Ultimately, you may determine intermittent fasting isn’t for you. Or, you may decide (like me)  it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for and incorporate this practice into your life as a new habit.

Either way, intermittent fasting is an experience I would recommend to everyone trying to improve their health or achieve weight loss goals.  Giving your body time to digest and assimilate food is a powerful feeling that everyone should experience.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intermittent fasting for raw food weight loss update.

It’s day 15 of my experiment with intermittent fasting.  Check out day 15my previous post if you’re interested in learning about IF and the reasons why I chose to try the restricted eating window plan.

Weight loss

I’ve lost a total of 3.6 lbs in 15 days.  While this is a good sign, much of the weight loss occurred in the first few days and perhaps was mostly water weight that I lost as a result of also increasing the amount of raw foods I was eating vs. cooked foods.

I’m not super happy about the total.  I would like to see a faster progression given that I’ve cut down the number of calories I’m consuming.  However, I haven’t measured my body fat and probably won’t for a couple of months.  So I may seeing some progress in that even though the weight loss isn’t where I want it to be at the moment.  Isn’t it funny how hard it is to be patient with weight loss?

Forming new habits

Not eating until 11 am came with some challenges in the first week.  I typically at around 8 am, so waiting an additional 3 hours wasn’t exactly easy at first.  However, as time progressed I began to realize that if I was really honest with myself, I wasn’t really actually hungry until later on in the morning anyway.  I felt like I had the urge to eat simply because that is what I’ve always done.  That was my habit.

With my new habit ingrained of eating at 11 am, I’ve noticed my discomfort gradually decreasing.  Though I am certainly ready to eat when I’m able, I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself much anymore.  It’s almost as if now it would feel weird to smash in some carbohydrates at 8 am.  I like giving my body a chance to recover from my workout and to get the day started without having to concern myself with food preparation.  I like just grabbing some water and starting my day.  It’s becoming a habit.

Fasted workout

Many people ask me if it’s healthy to workout as hard as I do without anything in my stomach.  Actually, it feels great.  I was never a big eater before my morning workouts anyway, as I typically start my workouts around 5 am.  Certainly being a runner and cyclist and yogi, I always shied away from having too much food in my stomach prior to my hard workouts.

I don’t feel as if I’ve had better performance in a fasted state necessarily, but I do feel better putting out hard efforts.  I feel lighter and better able to sustain long intervals on the bike.  This may be a result of not eating after 7pm.  Typically I may have eaten more fruit up until 8pm previously, so probably my body has had more of a chance to digest my dinner since I’ve given it another hour to do so.

I do think I’ll see some more gains from working out in the fasted state as my body adjusts to it.  Looking forward to that!

Calorie restriction

I’m not a fan of either calorie restriction or portion control.  My favorite part of eating raw vegetables and fresh fruit is that the relatively low calorie count of these foods allows me to eat until I’m satisfied, rather than eating tiny portions and feeling deprived.  This is why I chose to follow the 80/10/10 diet and why reading this book by Douglas Graham truly changed my life.

However, with IF and the restricted eating window plan, I am taking in less calories.  But not because I’m actively restricting how much I eat.  Simply because I’m limiting the amount of time I’m able to eat.  So though it is resulting in less calories consumed, I certainly don’t feel as if I’m deprived.  I’ve dropped from around 2600-2700 calories to about 2,200.  This should help with weight loss and get me closer to my goal.

Take a look at my youTube video on my IF update to day 15.  Also check out my other videos on various subjects regarding the high carb low fat vegan diet I follow and heartily endorse.

Please post comments and/or questions below.  Any ideas for future videos or blogs posts you would like to see are strongly encouraged.

Thanks for reading.  As always, Eat Plants, Live Well!

Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

An email dropped casually into my gmail inbox the other day that I wasted no time in opening.  Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss read the title. From TrueNorth Health Center.  What?  Was this some kind of joke? And what is intermittent fasting?

TrueNorth Health Center is a company I am very familiar with.  I firstpleasuretrap found them after reading an amazing book by the center’s co-founder, Dr Alan Goldhamer.  The Pleasure Trap is in my top 5 books of all time.  I’m also a big fan of all of Dr Goldhamer’s  and the co-author, Dr Doug Lisle’s youTube presentations.

I’ve even considered doing a water-only fast at their center is Santa Rosa, CA, which was made quite popular by an article last year in  GQ magazine with one of my favorite titles ever, How the Terrible, Insufferable Six Day Water Fast Made me a New Man. I’ve spoken with Dr Goldhamer as part of the initial patient screening process.

The reason I wondered if it was a joke is that I’ve never seen the center endorse any sort of fasting for just weight loss.  Typically, fasting of the sort done at the center is for people suffering from serious medical issues, such as diabetes, arthritis or heart conditions.  Simply wanting to lose weight is not a great motivator for going on a water-only fast for two weeks. Being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease in addition to wanting to lose weight is more of a sufficient motivator to only take in water for days and days and days.

The article, Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss, got my attention because though I’ve wanted to fast at TrueNorth, I have very little reason to go there.  I don’t have any chronic health conditions or concerns.  I am in no way unhealthy or in need of a complete overhaul of my dietary habits.  I’ve even given up my one and only vice of 4+ cups of coffee a day since my initial phone screening with Dr Goldhamer.  Every question pertaining to diseases or health issues was a no.  I didn’t appear to be a good candidate for a water-only fast.

Why Fast?

So why would I even want to fast?  Like many people, I do battle with the numbers on the scale.  I eat a vegan diet of mostly raw vegetables and fruits.  I even had my blood tests completed recently and almost all tests came out near the middle of the range of normal.  Though I’m lacking in Vitamin D, all else if good. But I still hang on to body fat like a alcoholic to his last drink.  Typically, I weigh anywhere from 10 to 15 lbs more than my ideal weight.

grand canyon rim to rim to rim
running Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2013 with Ed

As an endurance athlete that regularly runs marathons, ultras and even tackled the Grand Canyon running Rim to Rim to Rim, I have a very vested interest in staying close to my ideal weight.  Packing around extra weight in the form of fat as an endurance runner really hampers race performance.  Big time. It can make the difference between hitting the wall as I did around mile 21 this year at Boston, or striding confidently across the finish line ready to sign up for next year.

So with great gusto I clicked on the article written by Jennifer Marano D.C. , who it turns out is married to Dr Alan Goldhamer and co-founded the True North Health Center.  I learned Ms Marano suffers from the same difficulty in shedding those last few lbs.  Despite a healthy diet free of added salt, sugar and fats, she can’t get those numbers on the scale to budge. Thus the investigation into Intermittent Fasting, or IF, as a means to lose weight.

Options for IF (Intermittent Fasting).

There are 3 options for IF.  Alternate Day Fasting Plan, the 5:2 plan and the Restricted Eating Window Plan.

Alternate Day Fasting is fasting every other day for 24 hours.  You can have 500 to 600 calories on your fast day, and eating days are unrestricted.  This is the hardest of the 3 options, and really appropriate for those that have a lot of weight to lose.

5:2 Plan is fasting 2 days a week and eating a normal healthy diet the other 5 days a week.  Some plans allow calories on the fasting days but typically one five or six hundred in a day.  If it were me, I would opt to not take in any calories at all.

The Restricted Eating Window Plan is fasting for 16 hours per day and eating 8 hours.  The 16 hours of fasting can be mostly sleep, with  a late start to breakfast (11am to 2pm).  This is the most manageable of the 3, as you are likely just skipping the morning meal so you can still have lunch and dinner with family or friends. This one won’t make you seem like such a freak.

Why IF works for weight loss

Calorie restriction is why IF works.  Though I am not a fan of calorie restriction, as I don’t believe it works long term, it makes sense as it works with IF.  Rather than restrict calories by eating smaller portions, with IF one is restricting calories by either fasting for 24 hours or for fasting for 16 hours every day.  With only an 8 hour window in the Restricted Eating Plan, one will likely not eat as many calories as one does with a typical 12 hour window of eating.

Why IF works for fat loss

It takes 8-12 hours to digest and assimilate the food we eat, according to Dr Marano.  Once this process is complete, the body turns to fat stores to burn for energy, using enzymes to mobilize fat stores.  However, if we don’t ever get to this 8-12 hour period before taking in another meal, the body and it’s fat enzymes never have the opportunity to burn body fat.  With IF and it’s 24 or 16 hours of fasting, it gives the body a chance to burn those fat stores.

While I understand the appeal of fasting, I had difficulty determining whether IF would do the job on my fat reserves and weight loss. Would I emerge as toned as Madonna, with blue veins popping up along my hands and arms and a body fat percentage in the single digits? I could live with that. Could IF be the answer to all my problems, not the least of which appears to be a complete inability to burn off any body fat whatsoever, despite eating a very low fat diet in the tradition of 80/10/10?  The only way to know is to try it out!

My Plan

I’ve chosen the Restricted Eating Window Plan to give IF a try.  I vacillated between the 5:2 and the REWP, but I’m trying the restricted eating plan first, then I may throw in some 5:2.  I’ll be eating from 11am to 7pm, with my workouts happening in the fasted state between 5am and 6am.  I’m likely only going to get in 2 meals during the eating window, as I typically eat a lot (about 1,000-1,200 calories) at each meal.

I’ll keep you posted on progress during the next few weeks of trying out IF.  In the meantime, you can always start your own IF plan if you’re curious about it’s effect on your body weight or body fat levels.