Forget everything you have ever heard about healthy eating. The new “fasting diet” is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to lose weight and maintain that loss, and it turns almost all of our “rules” about dieting on their head.
I have been doing intermittent fasting for almost a year now. I started when a friend told me about it. I watched her lose a fair amount of weight and start looking about 15 years younger. Everyone was asking her what her secret was, and she swore it was intermittent fasting.
My first thought was to scoff. I have been dedicated to health and fitness for most of my adult life and have always been told that eating six small meals, never getting hungry and making breakfast the biggest meal of the day are all the ways to lose weight (and keep it off). But I agreed to try it, and the difference has been no less than staggering. Now it seems others are catching on.
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A recent article in The New York Times highlights the way that fasting diets are growing in popularity. There are a number of ways to take them on. Some people do a 5:2 model, where they eat as they want five days a week and calorie-restrict the other two (500 calories a day is the norm). Others do what my friend does, which is to limit the times they eat. When I started it last spring, I decided to do it this way and limit my eating to only between noon and 8 p.m. “So this is just skipping breakfast?” my husband asked when I first started. Sort of. But it is also so much more.
According to the Times, this is nothing new. For thousands of years, philosophers and experts have recommended eating less as a fountain of youth. We evolved as hunter-gatherers whose food sources were limited and largely dependent on what we could get on any given day. Three squares a day was hardly the norm. Our modern culture has invented that way of eating. In other words, “We’ve evolved with livers and muscles that store quickly accessible carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, and our fat tissue holds long-lasting energy reserves that can sustain the body for weeks when food is not available.”
The change has been dramatic for me. Prior to the diet, for months I’d been sluggish, and suddenly I wasn’t anymore. I had seen the doctor three times prior to starting to fast. As a runner, I had noticed getting started on my long runs was a huge challenge. I had no energy and was mostly lethargic. I was diagnosed with both a vitamin D deficiency and low blood pressure. When my friend promised that not only would my weight go down but that I would also have more energy, I was game to try.
Almost as soon as I started restricting my eating, I noticed a difference. I no longer had to drag myself out of bed for my runs. I decided to practice sugar and carb restriction on the weekdays as well as cut out all alcohol from Monday through Friday. I lost weight quickly, but it was more than that too. Suddenly I had a spring in my step that wasn’t there before. I was waking up before my alarm and strapping on my sneakers without the usual lethargy that had been holding me back for months.
Within about two weeks, I’d lost the five pounds I’d held onto since having my third child and found that I was no longer hungry in the mornings. Over the last 10 months, I have found the energy to make my twice-weekly yoga practice a daily event (in addition to my running), finally enter a program to start training to be a yoga teacher (after saying I’d do it for years) and win two local 5Ks. Getting up at 5 a.m. is no longer an issue, and my body weight has stayed stable for almost a year.
Unlike my friend, the diet has not taken years off my face, nor has it made me as svelte as I’d like to be. But I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I am no longer weighed down by food and almost never feel that horrible bloated, full feeling that comes from eating too much.
The Times says the diet is growing in popularity, and some celebrities swear by it. From a scientific perspective, it really does make some sense. So try it. If you hate it, stop. But how can it possibly hurt to try something for a couple of weeks? It really is the miracle I’ve been looking for.