Thursday, May 16, 2013

Playing with pauses

Playing with pauses on *sparklingly [ http :// ]
{ A little Versace place-setting action at The Plaza Hotel  |  NYC  |  April 2013 }

I've been doing a little experimenting with Intermittent Fasting (IF) recently. May sound a bit nutso at first, but I did lots (and lots) of reading on the science behind it and the biologic and physical benefits that may come from it before I gave it a try. IF is the idea of giving your body a break from routine ("conformist") eating for a set period of time. The only "rule" you introduce into your daily life is choosing when to eat. If you already eat a clean diet, great, if not, well that's still okay—the only change you make is the times of day when you enjoy a meal.

[ This may seem faddish, but if you think about it, regular fasting is a way of life for many diverse religious groups (Catholics at Lent, Muslims during Ramadan, etc.), so it's not really a new idea. ]

There are tons of ways to do this, and naturally, many have created brands around their philosophies, e.g.,:

+ The Fast Diet / 5:2 Intermittent Fasting: Eating normally 5 days of the week and much less (i.e., 500 calories) 2 days of the week. This has taken off in the UK.

+ Eat Stop Eat: Eating normally apart from one or two 24-hour fasts each week. Doing this means you still eat every day, but the day you're fasting you don't have two meals, just one, i.e., you have dinner on Tuesday night at 7PM and then give your body a break until you have dinner on Wednesday at the same time. I like this premise because it means you don't go to bed on an empty stomach, which sounds like a whole lot of not-fun-at-all to me.

+ Leangains / 16:8: Geared toward athletic, muscle-building individuals and proposes 16-hour fasting windows and 8-hour eating windows every 24 hours. Followers also plan their workouts at the very end of their fasting window to break the fast with a feast right after intense physical exertion (the program also recommends specific ratios of macronutrients depending on your windows and workouts—it's a lot more involved than other "brands"!).  Most adherents eat their day's meals between 12PM and 8PM so this really just works out to not eating breakfast (or a different meal, depending on your "feasting" window).

+ Fast 5: Similar to Leangains, but they promote 19 hours of fasting and 5 hours of eating.

+ And then there are just people that listen to their bodies and eat intuitively, when they're hungry.

There are lots of reasons to minimize the times of day when your body is eating, digesting and metabolizing food, but for me, it all came down to wanting to: 

+ Break nonsensical food habits: Sometimes I make breakfast or have lunch just because it's "time" to eat, even though I'm not hungry. To be honest, I do love the ritual and pomp of proper meal times, but it seems silly to take the time to prepare a meal if I'm not really hungry and only because it's a certain time of day. I also tend to get "hungry" when I'm bored, and it's annoying to give in to that.

+ Increase energy levels: This is something I am still struggling with (and the main reason I began tweaking how I live, exercise, sleep and eat a few years ago). From all that I've read, it seems like most people feel more energetic and are often able to set personal records in their training when working out in a fasted state (i.e., being able to do more reps with weights, or being able to run faster), which seems counter-intuitive, but according to research it's true.

+ Promote greater secretion of growth hormone: Growth hormone stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration—more GH = more fat burning, cleansing of our systems, rejuvenation of our bodies and, ultimately, creating an environment that does not breed disease or suffer the effects of aging. Who wouldn't want to encourage their bodies to pump a little more of this (especially people like myself who are hitting a milestone birthday later this year...).

+ Increase productivity: If you're a fan of fresh, from-scratch dishes, it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare three good meals at home and carry one to work. While fasting you get that time back (which for me went directly to sleeping later or spending that time reading / knitting!) and because your systems aren't focused on breaking down food and funneling nutrients around, your mental cognition apparently goes way up (which is something that really intrigued me).

+ Build muscle: This is a big one. We've been told to never skip meals because your body will start attacking your muscles for energy. Tons of recent research disproves this. When your body needs energy it metabolizes your fat deposits first. I've seen lots of great results by changing how I work out and the way I eat, but I wouldn't mind becoming even stronger.

+ Lose weight (by losing fat, not lean muscle mass): By reducing your caloric intake, of course you'll lose weight—that's the point of dieting. But fasting, which is not dieting but a lifestyle switch, ensures you're not only consuming less over the course of a week, but you're giving your body long stretches of time to recover, clean itself out, and recalibrate. We've also been told that eating constantly (the often-touted "grazing" method of eating every few hours) keeps our metabolism up, but research has disproven that, as well. I'm currently in the best shape I've ever been in from a physical / visual standpoint, but I think that better balancing my muscle-fat composition may help with my energy levels and help me "age" a little more gracefully (and, of course, looking good / better in my clothes would be a nice perk, too).

+ Decrease insulin levels: The presence of insulin inhibits lipolysis, which is the process that releases stored body fat for energy. When you don't sleep well, your insulin levels go up. When you fast and eat and sleep well, your insulin levels go down and your body starts lipolysis to burn body fat for energy.

There's lots of other reasons someone else might do it, but if this is something you're interested in, do a little Googling and see if what you find makes sense to you. It did for me (and the reasons above were the most provocative), so I started playing around with 24-hour fasts 1 to 2 times a week and the other days enjoying my meals during a shortened period of time (usually 12:30PM - 8:30PM) a la the 16:8 routine.

Here's what the first few days were like:

Rather than mess with fasting and feeding windows, I decided to do one full day of fasting as a bit of a total reset to start. For my "last supper" I went to dinner with a friend after work and enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir, olives with labne and harissa to nibble on as we perused the menu, a calamari salad to start, followed by savory lamb chops with a Persian lime yogurt sauce, and then a tasty Kanafeh to round out our lovely meal. We were paying our bill a little after 8:30PM, so I used that as the start time for my fast.

Once home, I read and watched a little TV and then went to bed feeling nice and satiated.

The next morning I let myself sleep in until 1 hour before I had to be at work—without all the rigamarole that comes with one of my breakfasts, I didn't need to get up as early as I usually do. After I got situated at work I made a cup of black tea at 10AM and another at 11:30AM. I felt a little bit of a hunger pang before the second cup of tea, but no serious discomfort, and the tea helped.

Around 2PM I had a green tea. Feeling pretty hungry now, especially with everyone around me having lunch. But still manageable.

Around 3:30PM I was really super hungry. Reading my "foodie" list on Feedly (testing it out since Google Reader is going bye bye) did not help one bit. I was going to take a nice walk through the pretty sun-lit day to a nearby coffee shop for a proper cappuccino (many people who have studied the benefits of fasting have learned that having a little bit of milk/cream with your coffee or tea during a fast doesn't halt the clean-up processes happening within your system. Knowing that, and that this was my first time trying it, I thought a yummy, frothy cappuccino would be a good idea). But I got busy at work and just kept drinking water and straight-up tea until 5:30PM when I had a bottle of Harmless Harvest Coconut Water (which would have been equivalent to a cappuccino, in terms of tax to my system). Then, at 6:30PM I headed home on foot.

As soon as I arrived I started prepping dinner and sat down to break my fast just before 8:00PM.

It actually wasn't super difficult until the afternoon—perhaps because I had mentally prepared for it and knew it was coming, versus a situation when you're traveling or have back-to-back meetings and unintentionally skip meals.

Since that first day, I've incorporated IF regularly over the last few weeks (of course not while on vacation though!). What I've noticed is that after the first day it was really easy. Eating breakfast in the morning is "normal", but I'm not always hungry then. And sometimes I come home from work and I'm not hungry, so I either have something light or some tea, rather than forcing myself to have dinner because it's time. This is a big change for someone who used to believe she was "hungry" like clockwork every day at 8AM, 1PM and 7PM!

Other than realizing it makes lots more sense to eat when I'm hungry, I haven't noticed any drastic results on the energy front yet. But, I have noticed a slight change in how I sleep (a little better / deeper), a general "tightening" across my entire body and more regularity ( <---awkward! ). All of which are good starts, so I'm curious to see if I give this lifestyle a little more time any other improvements, particularly in my energy level, level of strength and general health / physique show up (and if any negatives start appearing!).


  1. J that was a really great summary of fasting approaches. I have been thinking about this and was thinking to do the 24 hour once a day fast and the idea of eating when you're actually hungry is a curious thought. There are plenty of times I'm just not hungry in the morning and feel forced to eat... Sometimes in the evening too. So for sure if you're still full and you find yourself eating just to eat... I get that... But there are also plenty of times where I used to "forget to eat" bc of being so busy during the day that I ended up binge eating for dinner. So in those instances I needed to eat regularly to keep myself from starving myself and then eating to compensate... Any thoughts on that? In general I feel lighter and just better eating less (regardless of time and approach) I think actually eating til your stomach says full is quite a task of awareness (bc there's he whole I have to finish my plate business) and typically going beyond the first signs of fullness ... That's when I really feel tired or weighed down... And totally agree about fasting being a way to help alleviate some of the cooking times... It's a lot of work and any way to help give yourself some easy wins really helps it to stick

    1. Thanks, dear!

      Re: "forgetting to eat"——I've personally never had to worry about it because I don't think I've ever forgotten to eat! (I get seriously snipe-y and sour when I'm hungry, so it's crucial to self-preservation for myself and others that I eat when I'm hungry)'s just the loop of sitting down to eat when I'm NOT hungry just because it's "time" that seemed silly to me and was part of this little experiment of mine. But, I do know how it gets when you're super hungry and overindulge to compensate. It's tricky I think, just about trying to pace yourself and breathe in between bites. In the end it may still happen, but every time it happens less, that's a win!

      Agreed about awareness. It even ties into simplicity and tamping back on excess——like, I usually over-buy groceries and then get in a mad rush to cook up everything and force us to eat it before it spoils (or freeze portions, but then get sick of having so much of the same thing), when I really should just buy a little less. True for so many things!

      All this to say, I have enjoyed and been feeling better (physically and mentally) by working in regular 24-hour fasts and having longer "overnight" fasts. Will be curious to know how it works for you!

  2. very interesting... (have you heard of the leek soup weekend? from "French women don't get fat" book)
    I'm surprised that even this stuff is not causing a energy spike!!!! For sure it's nyc then. for sure...

    1. if you don't mind, I'd love to share this on the fb group. I know nesli is also researching these...

    2. Hey there!

      I remember reading that book in college, but I wanted to experiment with fasting mainly to see if longer periods of dedicated metabolic processing (vs. digestion) would improve my energy/sleep and if delaying meals after workouts would increase my strength/muscular definition, not for the slimming aspects, which I think is what that book and the Leek Weekend is all about (I do love leeks, though!). And, I agree, it's looking more and more like it's NYC (you'll see more evidence of that later this week). :/

      And, re: sharing, sure–—thanks for asking! If you think it might help someone in the group, feel free to (although perhaps you could emphasize that I'm still in my "anonymous" phase? ;) ).

  3. Yeah for me I'm guaranteed an energy boost the moment I shed a pound or two, so these have always been tied together in my mind. But it's true what does one do if they DONT need to loose any pounds ;)

    1. Ah, I see, that makes sense.

      And, you've already revealed the answer to me——"Leave NYC!" :)
      (I'm trying, I'm trying!)


  4. i think the big point in all this too... is that it's different for everyone and it's a big learning process to gain awareness, listen and see what really seems to impact your own situation and body...

    1. Completely agree! The biggest "get" for me with this newest experiment of sorts was realizing that sometimes my hunger doesn't align to the clock——huge realization! :)

  5. and there's nothing like emotional strain to make one tired!!!


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a note—you're about to make my day!