A 7-day Intermittent Fasting experiment

fasting-plate

I’ve been interested in Fasting ever since I saw the Michael Moseley Horizon programme in 2012, not just for weight loss reasons, but rather the claimed health benefits – lowering the risk of developing diabetes, dementia and cancer.

Fasting purportedly diverts energy and resources away from food digestion, focussing instead on doing useful housekeeping things like cell repair, reducing insulin levels and generally ridding the body of toxins and other debris. It also re-teaches the body the lost art of deriving energy from fat, as opposed to from the carbs in our belly – a process called Ketosis. Most of us carry enough fat to survive several weeks without food, which is why fasting is safe, and why many people have successfully conducted 21 or 28 day fasts without any harm.  It’s also popular in many religions and spiritual practices – Islam (Ramadan), Buddhism, Bahá’í, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism … the list goes on.

Even outside of religion and spirituality, fasting has been a natural part of human existence for as long as we have been around, primarily because food was scarce and so early man had to eat when he/she could, forced to fast in between hunts and catches. We are therefore designed to cope well with fasting, it’s in our genetic make-up, even if it does feel a little alien to the modern psyche which has been raised on the 3 square meals a day regime (3SMAD). The introduction of 3SMAD has its roots traced back to 19th Century America – it was a symbol of civilisation to sit down with friends and family at fixed times to eat, an attempt to differentiate the ‘civilised’ white man from the indigenous natives. It could therefore be argued that fasting is more natural to us than 3SMAD.

Nevertheless, many people will still argue that 3SMAD is best for us and that fasting is sheer madness. People will claim they feel ‘shaky’ if they miss lunch, and cite this as evidence they need to eat, but there is a counter-argument that your body has just become so dependent on deriving instant energy from food carbs that it’s forgotten the lost art of ketosis which fasting allows.

I therefore decided to give it a go for a week. Instead of the traditional 5:2 diet which I followed for a year or so but found rather difficult, I decided to try just eating one meal a day, every day, limiting my calorie intake to a couple of hours each evening. That means eating nothing whatsoever for 22 hours – no sugar or milk in tea, certainly no snacks or fruit, just water, tea and an occasional black coffee. You could call this the 7:0 diet – a little extreme maybe, but if the theory of ketosis is sound, I figured it wouldn’t be anything more than a psychological challenge. If you want more detail on this, I got the idea from the following video Eating Once a Day.

Important to note I placed no restrictions on what I ate (or drank) in these two hours. I didn’t cap calories or consciously cut out any food groups.  I even allowed alcohol because I know if I had banned it, I would have fallen at the first hurdle. What is interesting, is what happened:

My Diary

Day 1 – not surprisingly this was easy, after all I had a corpulent body full of yesterday’s 3SMAD excess calories to keep me going. I didn’t want any alcohol and just ate a moderate plate of veggie grub.

Day 2- felt good, loved waking up and not having to worry about food all day, a feeling that persisted throughout the week. Interestingly I only had (only wanted, only needed) a light meal, although it was accompanied by a glass of wine. Day 2 was a Friday, and had I banned alcohol in this experiment, I may have felt resentful and rebellious. However, without any alcohol ban I was free to enjoy a glass, and because I felt good about the fasting, I wasn’t tempted to drink any more, ending the evening feeling unusually virtuous and sated.

Day 3 – felt good, went for a long walk during the day (4 miles), had a veg stir-fry for dinner plus two glasses of wine (it was Saturday night). I didn’t really enjoy the second glass of wine – one would have been enough but in a perverse mindfcuked reasoning kind of way that only I could muster, I convinced myself I should have a second glass to prove to myself I wasn’t restricting alcohol.

Day 4 – hard, very hard. Perhaps it was the wine? Who knows, but I had a persistent headache all day, felt tired and sluggish despite sleeping well and craved food throughout, occasionally staring balefully at the cheddar cheese in the fridge. I only just made it through to tea-time, but interestingly didn’t have (or want) any alcohol. Veg Thai green curry (no noodles).

Day 5 – much better. I was busy which helps a lot and I just had a light veg dinner. No alcohol. I definitely felt lighter and I’m definitely sleeping better and eating much healthier food through choice/desire. No cravings whatsoever for junk food (odd for me) and most surprisingly of all, despite not restricting alcohol, I’ve only had 3 glasses of wine in the first 5 days, including a weekend, and anyone that knows me will know that’s quite uncharacteristic.

Day 6 – all went well, seems to get easier. Had a light veg based dinner, no alcohol. Sleep continues to improve. Once again my focus and concentration was immense, far better than usual and my work productivity has undoubtedly increased. Managed a 2.5 mile run.

Day 7 – felt harder. Perhaps knowing this was the last day made me psychologically weak, like I sensed the finish line. But that makes it sounds like it’s been a hard slog and it really hasn’t. I’m only stopping today because I set myself a 7-day target for this experiment and the more I look at it, the more I believe I could continue further. I survived and rounded off the 7-day fast with an oven baked jacket potato and cheese like mama used to make. Enjoyed a 3-mile walk.

In summary

I would say on average I have consumed well under 1,000 calories a day, probably closer to 600-700, and interestingly have eaten smaller portions and higher quality evening meals than I ever did on 3SMAD. I also rarely craved junk food and 3 glasses of wine was well under par for me for a weekly total. I also ate total vegetarian – due in part to a bountiful supply of garden produce, but certainly not a conscious action at the outset of the experiment, perhaps this was pure coincidence.

Of course 600-700 calories a day isn’t sustainable long term, but I guess that’s where ketosis comes in, at least in the short term. I have AMPLE fat stores to draw upon, as do most of us fortunate enough to live in the western world, and so such a challenge over a relatively short period of time is only ever a psychological one I think. This was never going to be, nor ever planned to be, sustainable, I just wanted to check if it was doable, and it was. It’s foolish to draw any firm conclusions, but it has proved to me you don’t have to eat at set meal-times, it’s OK to skip a meal (or two), and in fact it might even be good for you to listen to your body rather than the chimes of the clock.

I have no idea what it has done for (or to) my health, all I can say is I felt better afterwards than I did at the beginning. I felt like I had more energy and my brain was definitely sharper – I could concentrate for longer and didn’t feel sleepy during the day. For the record I lost 3.4kg (7.5lbs) in weight. No doubt much of that will go back on when I return to normal eating, although, and here’s the crux, I’m not entirely sure I will return to my normal 3SMAD eating, but perhaps somewhere in between.

I’m certain many of you will think this was a silly and dangerous thing to have done. All I can say is I survived and as described above I felt better than I did previously. Best of all I believe I now have a much better perspective and handle on my, admittedly rather quirky relationship with food (and maybe also drink).

 

 

It’s all about me … (yawn)

Friends of mine will already know I’m a bad sleeper.  It’s one of my favourite dinner party conversations.  All I need is someone to make the first move … “I didn’t get much sleep last night” … and I’m in, like a ferret up a ginnel.  I sometimes talk over them in my enthusiasm to tell them how badly I sleep all the time.  My lack of empathy knows no bounds as I take control of the conversation droning on about how I manage to get off to sleep but then wake up at 3am and can’t get back again.  My routine can be quite funny, I’ve been practicing it for years now.  I explain how I don’t really have much to worry about when I wake, and at this point I look around the dinner table to gauge people’s reactions to this amazing fact.  I’m such an enigma.  I tell anecdotes about how my mind obsesses over trivia, like cutting the grass or shredding paperwork (snigger). As you can imagine it’s quite hilarious, I’m quite hilarious.  Meanwhile the poor sod who first broached the subject about being knackered is consigned to being a spectator, unable to counter my tsunami of funny sleep stories.

I do the same with booze stories. Tell a tale about your hangover in my company, then step aside, because Andy’s in town. You think my sleep disorder stories are funny? Wait until I tell you about the time I shampoo’d the walls at university with Geordie Graham, or that time in the late 90s when I walked home from the Oktoberfest by following the train tracks, walking inside them to keep in a straight line. I did live near the train tracks at the time in Munich, so it wasn’t as stupid as it sounded, although of course it was ridiculously dangerous and very, very funny. At this point I have to resist telling even more anecdotes, for there are many, but I risk falling into the trap about about which I write, my narcissism.

In my defence, I try to be a funny narcissist, and I can be quite entertaining in small doses, but I do tend to overdo it.  I also inherited a gene which means I tend to inflate my tales somewhat, perhaps to heighten the interest, to assuage my guilt at having dominated, nay, stolen, the dinner conversation conch shell from some other poor soul.

My sleep, for example, whilst it has always been poor, had never been a serious problem.  Yes, I had difficulties getting off to sleep, and yes, I had a habit of waking in the early hours and struggled to get back, but generally I muddled through. Just like millions of others, most of whom don’t bore all and sundry with their sorry tales of mild sleeplessness at dinner parties.

This past month has been different.  My sleeplessness has been much more severe, much more prolonged.  Initially this gave me a huge pile of stuff to bang on about.  I had closed my Facebook account so couldn’t post hilarious 3am threads any more (as was my wont), so instead I told my family and friends, even people at work, at every occasion that presented itself, I went on a diatribe relaying my latest poor sleep exploits like a splurge gun.  I was on a roll with all these new tales of woe. “I literally had 2 hours sleep last night” and I would wait for the pitying replies … “Poor you”, “You must be shattered!”, “Take care mate”.  It was comforting, I was struggling, people needed to know, I was like a pig in shit.

The quality of my sleep continued to decline and plumbed depths I have never been before and I went beyond being “knackered” to feeling really quite ill.  I had phantom pains, I was occasionally hallucinating, I could barely string a sentence together.  I ended up at the doctors out of sheer despair.  My work was suffering, and suddenly it wasn’t funny any more, not even to me, the king of sleep comedy.

I am too tired to tell my witty sleep anecdotes any longer, I am sick and tired (very tired) of hearing my own voice bleating on about how bad my plight is.  I now have a proper sleep problem, one which requires medication and scares the shit out of me.  I’m seriously scared that I may never regain the art of sleeping naturally and soundly again, and that’s why I will never hijack dinner parties with my banal sleep stories any more.  Sleep is no longer a comedy routine of mine, it’s a serious, debilitating issue, and so if we do ever meet, over dinner or elsewhere, if you want to talk about your sleep problems, I promise I will keep my mouth shut and just listen.

Mr Big

The thought of prison scares me, it always has.  For as long as I can remember I’ve had a recurring fear of being jailed and then serially gang raped in the communal showers by “Mr Big” and his cronies.

I have no idea where that fear comes from.  As far as I can recollect I have never been raped, nor have I ever had sex with another man, consensual or otherwise.  I lead a fairly conventional life and I’ve never been to prison, either as a visitor or as an inmate.

And just to be clear, it’s not jail itself I fear, it’s the potential for physical and sexual abuse in jail from other men that bothers me. I don’t worry about the isolation or the incarceration particularly, although I am sure that gets to you after a while, what troubles me most is the potential for physical violence and sexual abuse that I imagine is rife in there.

When I have expressed this fear to friends of mine, they have suggested that I must have latent homosexual tendencies, that I harbour a desire to be violated by a burly bloke, but isn’t that a bit like saying, if I fear having my eyeballs gouged out with a rusty fork, that I must secretly desire to be blinded?  It worries me though, what if my friends are right?  Damn you, so called friends.

Getting old bothers me and will no doubt be covered in other blogs, but one advantage I see of getting old is that if I did ever go to jail, I would become less sexually attractive to the other inmates.

But hang on … as I get older, I get weaker, less able to fight back, so perhaps I become MORE accessible with age and MORE of a target to testosterone filled young men with a pathological bias towards sex and violence.

Angry, violent men with no outlet for their sexual tension except for the quivering old bloke in the corner …. Oh God.