Fasting No More

I mentioned back in July that the hubby and I had started Intermittent Fasting (IF)…basically, eating within an 8 hour window every weekday (no food outside of that), and then eating “normally” on the weekends. We’ve been doing that for just about two and a half months now, and I’ve had great weight loss results, losing 7lbs (which is more than I’ve been able to take off steadily in over 10 years).

Problem is, my body is not happy. It’s convinced that I’m starving to death (uh…no), and has decided to shut off all non-essential functions, which is problematic, to say the very least. At first it was just sleep interruptions – I started having a hard time staying asleep at night. Then came the hot flashes, which I attributed to blood sugar swings (hubby gets a mild version too). I figured those would normalize eventually, but they only got worse over the weeks.

My hormones were destabilizing, and among other things no one wants to hear about, I started noticing more hair falling out in the shower than normal, and acne that I haven’t had to deal with much since I was in college started flaring up again.

Throughout all of this, my head felt pretty good, aside from a few headaches here and there. My mind was clear, my focus was good…no issues there. But my body kept throwing me more and more signals that it was in crisis mode, and finally this weekend after doing some more research and reading a bunch of anecdotal stories similar to mine (that’s all there is, unfortunately – there haven’t really been many/any human studies on IF, only studies with mice that are somewhat scary if they translate to human physiology, which they at least partially appear to do given the anecdotal evidence), I decided that regardless of the progress I was making with weight, I have to stop and hope that I haven’t permanently damaged anything internal.

Hormones and the organs that regulate them are a persnickety bunch – extraordinarily sensitive to change, and even moreso for women than men. Apparently men don’t tend to have as many problems simply due to how their bodies work (though they can still have issues, obviously).

In any case, my body says I need to eat regularly in order for it to not freak the heck out, so, fasting is out, aside from the occasional blood test or cold-induced broth-fast.

Now I’m left trying to figure out how to reallocate the reduced calories I was eating while fasting over a longer period of time, so that I can keep the calorie deficit up but give my body the steady energy it needs at the same time. I want to keep losing, and I definitely don’t want to gain that 7lbs back, so just adding another meal won’t work – more calories will just equal weight gain again. My body and I disagree on what the metabolic “set-point” should be, and while I can’t win an argument with my hormones, I do think I should be able to manipulate/sweet-talk them into going along with my chosen set-point (about 20lbs less than what it is now).

So I’m working on spreading less calories out over a 24hr span instead of trying to condense them into 8hrs (so my body knows it has a stable supply of energy throughout the day). Breakfast wasn’t too bad – I just moved my dish of prunes from lunch to morning, and added some drinkable yogurt and my vitamins. Lunch depends on what we’re having, but I just need to be cognizant of carb intake and keeping my servings small. I cut my afternoon snack in half (peanuts), and the other half of those calories will move to my after-workout or late-night snack (depending on the day).

Dinner will be my hardest meal, simply because I love food, and I have a hard time keeping my portions small. But, I’m going to do it. Keep the protein and fiber portions high, and cut the carb portion in half. If we’re having a pasta dish, I’ll have half of what my eyes think I need. I can add extra veggies if I think I need to, but I shouldn’t, because I’ll be eating again in just a couple hours anyways.

Weekends, all bets are off. Because who wants to think about what/when you’re eating on the weekend?

My workouts will stay the same – yoga four mornings a week, an extra stair climb at least once a day at work, and then weight/resistance training three nights a week after I walk the dogs (that doesn’t really count much for exercise anymore – neither of the dogs can handle long walks at this advanced point in their lives, sadly). I may try to add some cardio in, but I’m not sure where.

In any case, I’m bummed that the fasting isn’t working out for me, but I’m hoping that the panic/starvation signals subside quickly, and that I can keep the downward weight spiral going. We shall see, I guess.

Resolution Check-In
Sleep 6 hrs: Still a little dicey some nights, on account of the hot flashes (dammit). But overall, improving.
Goals check-up: No check-in *again* because I forgot until this very moment, and I need to get to sleep. Must set my reminder alarm for a day ahead of time. Or maybe Sunday…

Writer’s notes for this week

Food, Panic & Fasting

Confession: I missed two days of doing one pushup last week. Mostly because I just forgot. I have a reminder set now, so I’ll definitely do better this week (did 8 last night)!

I’m actually very motivated to do well with that goal, because I’m finally, after years of being stuck at the same basic weight, losing again. The thing is, I’ve always had good luck with keto-style diets (where your body burns fat instead of sugar/carbs for energy), but it’s not a sustainable diet if, like me, you enjoy a wide variety of foods and food preparation techniques. I’ve never been all that keen on giving up natural sugars like fruit either – there are good nutrients in fruit, and not all carbs are bad, IMO.

There’s a new-ish trend that’s becoming more popular called Intermittent Fasting, and while I’m not normally one to jump on various trendy bandwagons, this one appealed to be mainly because it’s largely how I ate all through high school & college. I was never overweight back then – in fact, I had trouble keeping weight on. But I never ate breakfast, and went from vending machine to taco bell and back while being on my feet for more hours than not during the day.

Also, genetics. When I was young, they were on my side. Now, not so much. *sigh*

Obviously, I didn’t eat all that well back then, but I also didn’t eat all that much, which was the key. And when you love food like I do, and you have enough money to buy food (like I do now), it’s incredibly difficult to just “limit calories” for three meals a day. Also, not much fun.

The thing about intermittent fasting is that if you fast for enough hours in the day, your body will switch to fat burning when it runs out of carb energy. And if you work up to longer fasts, you can ramp up something called “autophagy”, which, from what I read, is when your cells start cleaning themselves up (dismantling the old, dysfunctional or otherwise mutated bits and turning them back into usable “parts”). There are other potential benefits as well, but those are the two I’m most interested in.

So, after a lot of research, the hubby and I decided to try it. He was interested first, so he was already basically following the no-eating from around 7:30pm (when we normally finish dinner) to lunch the next day, though he’d have a light snack late at night, and occasional snacks at work in the morning (so not a true fast). I, on the other hand, was eating round the clock, and I knew it would be more of a mental challenge for me to change than a physical one.

Mostly because, before last week, I panicked if I got hungry. Something about that hunger hormone (gherlin?) hit my brain and told me to eat asap to keep my blood sugar up! Don’t go without! Don’t starve! Very bad things will happen!!

Hormones are drama queens, and can’t be trusted. My brain knows this, but still responded with the appropriate panic to hunger signals. Which was really annoying, once I put it in perspective. My body was controlling me, not the other way around. And that made me want to take control.

Being a control freak isn’t all bad. Sometimes, those powers can be used for good…

To start, I cut out my late-night snack (a half-cup helping of yogurt, granola, hemp & chia seeds, and maple syrup). I have (had) trouble sleeping on an empty stomach, so I was prepared for a struggle, but I managed to make it through to the next morning. Then I started pushing my breakfast back, first by an hour, then another one, and another, and another. The first day was really rough, because that “hunger hormone” kept firing off every time I would normally eat, and the more I didn’t eat, the more insistent it was, so I was hungry pretty much all day – even when I was eating.

The lack of salt in my diet didn’t help – my electrolytes went really low and gave me a whopper of a headache, which wasn’t pleasant. A little sea salt in water did fix that problem, and I’m more attentive to getting a little salt in daily now to combat that (salted peanuts).

In any case, after the first day, things got a lot easier, and now I’m doing 15 hour fasts regularly Mon – Fri, and pushing towards 16 (which is the goal). We don’t fast on the weekends because our schedules are just way too variable, but we still only eat a couple times per day – morning and evening, often skipping lunch.

According to the scale, I’ve lost two pounds in the last week and a half. Which is pretty amazing, all things considered. If I can keep losing a pound a week (or even a pound every other week), that would be incredible. I have a good 15-20lbs to lose, and slow and steady would be perfect (and not leave me with too much loose skin).

I do have to make sure I get enough fiber, which is kind of a challenge with a smaller eating window. But the longer I go without food, the easier it gets, so I’m really not hungry during the fasting window any longer. And I don’t feel the need to eat a lot during my eating window either…so I don’t “binge” to catch up, which is also good. My body is running on less overall, and doing just fine with that, and I don’t have to work at it all that hard, now that I’m through the adjustment period.

I try to stick to a fairly low-carb diet anyways, and I’m still doing that too. But I haven’t been too strict about it lately, and I’m still losing weight, which means in the fasting parts of my day my body is definitely burning fat for fuel. I want to keep that going, and I imagine when that starts to slow down, I’ll be able to go stricter with the low-carb thing and get some extra loss out of it to keep my metabolism revved.

So…a good experiment so far, and one I’ll continue for as long as possible/feasible. One more weapon in the arsenal against the bad genes in my makeup. Here’s hoping it’ll make a long-term difference.

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