Many folks just pass right on by when the topic of IF (intermittent fasting) comes up. It sound hard, even punitive–when you’re already low-carbing for the first time, it sounds scary! Isn’t giving up potatoes enough? IF is a tool in the dietary toolkit. For some people, it is an essential tool. For Type 2 diabetic cancer survivors like me? There’s too much riding on good health to pass up on a potentially life-changing habit!
As I do with anything I want to learn, I write about it. I’m sure it won’t get the kind of traffic that the crispy pork with palmini noodles gets, but if the only person I help is myself, then “keto on.”
From the Hype to the Help
Intermittent fasting is concerned with constraining the time window in which we consume calories. This gives the body a needed break as I explain in the previous post on IF. Researchers (and many keto proponents) suggest that IF helps speed weight loss, breaks weight loss “stalls,” and helps us turn our bodies into “fat-adapted” calorie-burning machines! Booyah! Sounds amazing but we have to get beyond the hype to the health.
My first experience with IF was intermittent indeed! It seems like I would start, then life would get hectic, and I’d miss one of the appointed days, then a week then bam. I wasn’t doing it. It’s hard to remember, I lied to myself. (No, it was hard to give up my midnight snack habit. That’s what was hard). After about three months, I chucked it in. But I hadn’t had cancer and wasn’t diabetic back then (in 2012). I was losing weight regularly and I felt so much better, that I was happy without doing anything further.
There is much more research evidence that IF is good for T2 diabetes and for fighting cancer.
Now, older and having put back on the weight after REALLY falling off the wagon during the cancer surgeries, I know I’m going to need more tools in the tool kit. I am using CarbManager to track. I’m going from simple LCHF eating to full on dirty, lazy keto. I’m adding more exercise. I’m determined to get up to my best health ever.
The question is: What KIND Of IF is right for me?
There are short forms of IF and there are long forms. The longer forms are a 24 period or LONGER of abstaining from food. One would eat dinner and then skip breakfast and lunch the next day. But you’d get to eat dinner that day. I could do that maybe once a week but probably not twice or three times a week that’s often recommended. (This is how I failed my first go-round). Thirty-six hour fasts–where you eat dinner on day 1 and then skip breakfast, lunch AND DINNER on the second day, eating again at breakfast on day 3, seemed like too far a reach!
A second form (popularized by Dr. Michael Mosley in his book, The Fast Diet) allowed you to eat 500 calories a day on the fasting days. You had to fast two days a week. It’s called “5:2” in the hipster discussions of IF. 🙂 I failed at this one too–because 500 calories is simply not much food. I barely gave this one a shot before giving up in frustration. Figuring out satisfying 500 calorie meals was an overwhelming task. LCHF foods tends to be higher in calories. I never developed the knack for this one (though I must admit, I didn’t try real hard.)
Lots of different kinds of IF diets are referred to by the formula of X:Y with X being the fasting time (in days or hours for short-form IF) and Y being the size of the time window that you can eat.
Newer forms of short-term IF (less than 24 hours) are much more sustainable by most people. They are very popular. Research seems to indicate that all forms of IF can provide weight loss and health benefits. It’s a matter of choosing the right style.
Three Kinds of Short Term IF
The most helpful article on IF is this detailed guide to IF from the Diet Doctor blog. This blog post explains that we need to take a break from the “feasting” state to allow our bodies to fall into a “fasting state” — where our insulin levels are lower and we’re more likely to begin consuming our stored fat. There are three popular methods covered in this article (and I’m sure there are more beyond that!) But these three are certainly interesting!
Leangains or 16: 8
This is the most popular form of IF and is supposed to be done every day. I am given to understand that people do take a day off of this regimen (probably on Saturday or Sundays, depending on what’s “party nights”). This diet (popularized by a body builder, Martin Berkand) involves skipping breakfast. Coffee, tea, water or other no-calorie beverage can be had for breakfast. The rest of one’s “feeding period” needs to be squeezed into an eight-hour time window. So if I skip breakfast (but have coffee with stevia) and don’t eat lunch til, say, 11.30, then I have 8 hours to eat the rest of my food (til 7.30).
This seems more or less do-able. SIX DAYS of this though? Every week. Hmmm. This would seriously change how I eat (which might be a very good thing).
The Warrior Diet or 20:4
This is an “alternate day” fasting for three days a week. It involves skipping breakfast AND LUNCH and collapsing all of one’s eating into a four hour period at the end of the day. Created by Ori Hofmekler, this schedule is said to result in “a deeper level of fat adaptation” and improvement of insulin sensitivity.
I might be able to manage this twice a week. It’s under consideration–but only if I find some way to deal with Lunch Hour at work –which is a social time at least once a week (and it’s spur of the moment so hard to plan). I also really treasure lunch, often my biggest meal of the day. This one would require more significant changes in my daily routine. But maybe — if only twice a week.
Eat Stop Eat or, if there were a hipster shorthand, 24:24
This involves going entirely without calories for 24 hours, then eating whatever you want for dinner the next day. This is another fasting schedule from a body builder. (How this is going to work for a ‘mature,’ and pillowy woman like myself? Hmmm.) This is quite difficult and should only be done two (NON-CONSECUTIVE) days of the week. Like the Warrior diet, it’s supposed to provide deeper levels of fat adaptation.
The idea is you eat dinner at 8, then don’t eat again until the following day (at 8pm). This might be good for dealing with a company dinner but it’s hard to plan. Our Christmas dinner was supposed to be at 2pm — it didn’t really get started til nearly 5pm. (And there were all day long appetizers–what I think of as the Cavalcade of Calories!). Not do-able if you’re dealing with MY family! 😀
Some Tips on Fasting
The best advice is from the Diet Doctor blog post by Dr. Tom Naimon, MD. This post REALLY gave me the reassurance that I needed to even consider IF as part of my journey. He writes:
With all of these fasting methods, the goal is to skip breakfast, avoid snacking, and consolidate calories near the end of the day. All of these methods are quite effective, and you can in fact mix and match these as much as you would like. I would highly recommend keeping it flexible. Fast for as long as is convenient on any given day, and break your fast whenever you need to or want to. Anything beyond a 12 hour window is going to be at least somewhat beneficial towards anyone’s goals.
If you planned on fasting 16 hours but only make it 13, that’s ok and you are still much better off than if you had eaten all day long with early and late calories plus lots of snacking. I think a good goal would be 24 hours per week of additional fasting (additional to the standard 12:12 baseline). This could be 2 days of 24 hour fasting (Eat Stop Eat), 3 days of 8 hour fasting (Warrior Diet), or 6 days of 4 hour fasting (Leangains).
You could also mix and match as desired. Keep it flexible and go with whatever best suits your schedule and your lifestyle and your current level of fat adaptation.Dr. Tom Naimon, MD, “Time-Restricted Eating: A Detailed Intermittent Fasting Guide. In Diet Doctor Blog. Updated 14 September 2018. Accessed 27 Dec 2018.
My Current Plan
I’m planning on starting with the 16:8 plan, FOUR days a week–and try to stretch it out to fit in at least 15-18 hours a week of additional fasting. It’s all about the babysteps for me. If I do this every other day for a whole month, then it will be easier to stretch out until it’s routine. My real problem remains the late-night snack. That is really going to need some adjustment on my part! But I know it’s a needed change.
Happy New Year! Here’s to our (improved) health!