It has been exactly two years since I first wrote about my experience with Intermittent Fasting, and since then, the response has been overwhelming. At first, I feared that people would think I had some kind of eating disorder or that I was trying to attain some unreasonable weight or shape. If you know me at all, you know that I am far too committed to my health to knowingly do anything that would adversely affect it. And you may know that I also committed my health to God as a spiritual act of worship, so to harm my body is to offer a lesser sacrifice to Him, something I wouldn’t want to do.
In the last few years since I adopted the Intermittent Fasting (IF) lifestyle, my discipline and practices have evolved and I have settled into a pattern that works very well for me. I feel good, my weight is easily and steadily maintained at a healthy, comfortable number, my workouts are strong, and it doesn’t have a negative impact on my family, my work, or my schedule. In fact, my husband has joined me in the IF lifestyle and I am so proud of him. Like I have done, he told his doctor that he was trying it and his doctor said as long as he feels good and remains healthy, he has his MD’s seal of approval. Newer to the game, my husband is still finding his rhythm, but I have to say it has been wonderful having my best friend and partner in life join me in support. And I love him far too much to watch him do anything that would potentially cause him harm or be unhealthy.
To the contrary, as we watch his father, my father-in-law, disappear deeper into the clutches of Alzheimer’s disease, the evidence suggesting IF can slow aging and prevent dementia gives me more hope that maybe, hopefully, our story will be different. I take his health just as seriously as I do my own because we are better together when we are strong and healthy.
I hope you will first read, if you haven’t, the first post I did about IF, because this is meant to be an update. I’ve had considerably more experience with it, made a lot of observations, and have come to believe more strongly than ever that for me, it is the most maintainable, most effective, and most rewarding thing I have ever done for my physical and spiritual health. Maybe, if you’re looking for your path to a healthier life, it could work for you, too.
3 Years Later…
I had to play a little with my schedule. At first, I only practiced IF a few days a week at work. On weekends, I let myself fall into a more regular eating schedule. Then, I had a pretty strong epiphany on Memorial Day in 2018. That morning, since we were both off work, my husband and I decided to walk to one of our favorite downtown cafes and have brunch. It was a special occasion, right? I still tried to eat fairly healthy — avoided the cinnamon roll I so badly wanted — opting for protein rich eggs and complex carbs in the way of oatmeal. By the time we finished and walked home, I had absolutely no energy. I was zapped.
By that point, I had fallen into a “one-meal-a-day,” (OMAD) pattern, typically breaking my fast after work at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. And anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I have plenty of energy most days, unless I am sick or under general anesthesia. But that Monday, I sat in a recliner and watched an Office marathon on Comedy Central. ALL DAY. I literally only got up to use the restroom or to grab some food when my sugar got low. I actually looked forward to getting back to work the next day and back to my IF routine. That was the day that I determined that I felt better fasted. I have more energy, my blood sugar is level, and my head is clearer when I follow my IF routine EVERY DAY. I was reminded of Mother’s Day, just a few weeks earlier, when we had met my extended family at one of our favorite restaurants, Ivanhoe’s in Upland, IN for lunch. I ate lunch because it felt rude to not eat lunch. And the rest of the day, I chased my blood sugar, which at one point, later that day, fell dangerously low.
Experiences like that convinced me that even “special occasions,” aren’t worth feeling so awful. Now, I practice IF every day, even the day we went the IN State Fair — I decided to eat NOTHING that day, extending my typical fast by a few more hours, and I felt great. Last week, we took a mini vacation to Chicago, where food temptations are everywhere, and I had determined that I would maintain my schedule. I skipped the hotel-provided continental breakfast. I didn’t have a Chicago dog for lunch or deep dish pizza for an afternoon snack. I waited to eat anything until dinner each day, at which time I ate pretty much whatever I wanted.
I came back from 4 days in Chicago nearly 10 pounds lighter, between the all the walking we did and maintaining my IF lifestyle. 10 pound lighter even though, while there, I indulged in:
- chicken wings
- ice cream
- donuts from one of the bakeries I had wanted to try
- a HUGE piece of 8-layer chocolate cake from another bakery I had wanted to try
- various other indiscretions…
But I ate all of that after 5:30 p.m. and before bed, during my typical eating window. The smaller time frame to eat organically limits the amount I am able to eat and I believe 100% that the fasting itself helps my body to metabolize the foods I do eat and mitigate the damage.
So, now, I would best describe my IF lifestyle as “One Meal a Day” (OMAD), 19:5, that is, I fast for 19 hours every day, and eat for 5 hours. Many days, though, if I have something going on after work, I will wait until even later to break my fast. So on some days, I have more of a 23:2 or even 24:1 routine. I find those extended fasts once in a while help me feel less bloated and if I have put on any extra pounds, help take them off.
Even better than the number on the scale is how I feel. I have, for years now, suffered from chronic episodes of low blood sugar, especially an hour or two after eating a lot of low quality carbs (my favorite foods, like donuts, cake, etc.) But, when fasted, my blood sugar stays perfectly level. I don’t have to worry about my sugar falling low, sending me scrounging for my glucose tablets before I pass out.
I have used this information to lead me to fast any time I can’t risk an episode of low blood sugar. If you aren’t familiar with what such an episode is like, I get cranky, hot, shaky, confused, sweaty, and have even lost consciousness a couple of times. It’s about like (and perhaps as dangerous as) being intoxicated. Imagine if that happened while I am leading jail ministry, which no access to food? (I had actually received special permission to take glucose tabs in with me to avoid a medical emergency.) Instead, I choose now to skip dinner before jail ministry and my blood sugar isn’t an issue.
I recently spoke at women’s retreats 3 weekends in a row. I would hate to have an episode of low blood sugar while speaking on stage. So, a few weeks ahead of my retreats, I attempted a longer fast to see how I did. Then, for those weekends, I fasted from Thursday night until I was 100% finished speaking, Saturday evening. And I felt GREAT. Those were 48-hour fasts. I was sharp, clear-headed, and energetic, with no fear of or hint of low blood sugar.
Those were the physical signs, but spiritually, it also inspired me to draw my energy and my joy from the Holy Spirit. And He didn’t let me down.
Benefits of Fasting
I want to share some benefits of fasting not only supported by medical research, but my own experience. I don’t accept these based only on a research study or book I read — I base these on what has been true in my life.
- One benefit I enjoy is the freedom to “indulge” during my eating window without paying significant consequences on the scale. On most days, I try to eat fairly health (lean protein like chicken, eggs, and complex carbohydrates). But I love a good donut now and then, or to go out to eat for a great hamburger or chicken wings. I can do that once in a while, during my eating window, and my weight, if it goes up at all, rebounds to a comfortable place very quickly.
- I have actually gotten to a weight and body composition I never thought possible. When I weighed 287 pounds, I would have been happy at 140. But with my eating habits, my commitment to exercise, and by enjoying treats moderately and within the confines of my IF lifestyle, I have maintained my weight between 110 and 115 for nearly a year now and my body composition is 17-19% body fat, which, for a woman, is considered, “athletic.”
- Here is the big one — AUTOPHAGY. Maybe that is a new word to you — it was to me, but the definition is, “a normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells in the body. It maintains homeostasis or normal functioning by protein degradation and turnover of the destroyed cell organelles for new cell formation. During cellular stress the process of Autophagy is upscaled and increased.” But what does that mean? I think of it like the body’s system for taking out the trash. One way autophagy helps is in tightening excess skin. After I went from 287 pounds to 120 pounds, you better believe I had significant excess skin, especially around my stomach. My arms and legs rebounded better (I believe also helped by my commitment to strength training.) Autophagy is the body’s way of “taking out the trash.” I had actually consulted with a surgeon about having some of the skin on my abdomen removed, but didn’t want to undergo another surgery, especially one as notoriously painful as that. But in 3 years of fasting, I have noticed a significant decrease in the excess skin — to the point that I wouldn’t even consider surgery now. I won’t be modeling swimwear, but that’s OK with me.
- My prayer life, my relationship with Christ, and my awareness of The Holy Spirit have grown much stronger. Jesus Christ modeled fasting as a spiritual discipline, just like prayer. For that reason, I undertook the practice not only as a physical experiment, but as a spiritual exercise as well. Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned from the practice of fasting is the reminder that I am first and foremost a spiritual being, then a physical being. I can call on the power of the Spirit in me, which is so much stronger than my physical impulses. I don’t have to give in to the slightest rumble of my tummy or even human habits of eating at certain times of the day. I am stronger than my impulses and that is incredibly empowering, life-giving, and encouraging.
I am stronger than my impulses.
Where to I go from here?
I never want to get complacent in my wellness efforts. There is always room for improvement, always room to grow more disciplined. I have been inspired by some of my “heroes” in the field, like Gin Stephens, author of, Delay, Don’t Deny, (a book I have gifted to dozens of people who have asked me about the practice) and Jason Fung, MD, author of The Complete Guide to Fasting. Based on their advice, I want to take my fasting to another level and really test my commitment to discipline. For me, that means I am now committing to “cleaning up” my fast as these experts recommend. In all the time I have practiced IF, I have done what the purists would call a “dirty fast,” or really not achieving a fasted state at all because I drank liquids with artificial sweeteners, like Crystal Light, diet soft drinks, or artificially sweetened iced tea. Though these drinks are all calorie-free, there is evidence that suggests that even the taste of something sweet may trick the body (and the pancreas) into thinking you have taken in nutrients. To keep a clean fast, you do not want your body to produce insulin at all.
Honestly, I don’t know enough about it to say for sure, but I do know that the artificial sweeteners are not great for me and to drink pure water, black coffee, or black tea would certainly be more wholesome to my body. And to “clean up” my fast would certainly be a stretch to my discipline. So starting Monday of this last week, instead of bringing a gallon jug of sweetened beverage, I brought a gallon jug of ice water (and unsweetened tea one day). I am doing so in order to challenge myself and to test how much more the IF lifestyle might benefit my health if I undertook a pure and clean fast. My biggest immediate hope is to tighten more of my excess skin, and my long-term goal is that it would slow my aging process considerably.
And I have struggled — mightily. It has been harder for me to eliminate the sweetened beverages than to get to the point that I didn’t eat all day! Before, I had no problem drinking a full gallon every day before I left the office, but every day this week, I have taken half of it home with me. It’s harder for me to drink water when I’m not thirsty. I think I’ve been a little dehydrated this week as a consequence of that. Wednesday night, I had terrible cramps in my shins, calves, and feet, possibly due to dehydration.
I’ve continued to have artificial sweetener during my eating window, but eventually, I would like to eliminate it from my diet altogether. Baby steps. I’m humbled at how difficult this week has been for me. I assumed I would tackle this hurdle with ease. Nothing worth doing is easy though. I’m not going to give up for two reasons:
- I’m worth it.
- I’m stronger than my impulses.
Stay tuned — I will report on my progress, as well as the results I see.