I have a long-awaited overseas holiday coming up in a couple of months and with the anticipation of hotel buffet breakfasts every morning and meals out every night I recently realised that some serious effort was required to shift a few kilos before departure day.
My midlife weight has comfortably sat in the overweight bracket for my height for a number of years now. A couple of years ago (and also a few years prior to that) I managed to lose enough to get me back in to a healthy weight range, but both times it just slowly crept back on over the following months when I lost my resolve and returned to old eating habits.
I’m not a lover of exercise, never have been and most likely never will be. I’m also well aware that the amount of committed exercise required to move even a small amount of stubborn fat is well beyond my reach. So controlling my diet is really the only way I am ever going to lose weight and manage it in the longer term. I don’t want to move through my fifties piling on a few more kilos each year to find that I am seriously unhealthy by the time I reach my sixties. And as a dedicated lover of food that is something that is quite likely to happen.
Over the last few years I have periodically heard about intermittent fasting in its various forms – 5:2 (5 days regular eating and 2 days restricted), alternate day fasts (every other day restricted) and shorter fasts on a daily basis. I’ve watched Michael Mosley on TV achieve tremendous results and reverse his pre-diabetes from implementing a 5:2 diet, and more recently I have been inspired by a close friend move from midlife plump to midlife slender in a few months with daily fasts.
I started reading more about the benefits of fasting including the many non-weight related health benefits and my interest was totally sparked. So just over four weeks ago (after one false start because I was unwell for an unrelated reason and quickly gave up) I started my intermittent fasting journey.
I decided that the method I would prefer is a daily fast of a minimum of 16 hours, which would give me an eating window of 8 hours allowing for both lunch and dinner. I find this type of fasting more appealing than the feast then famine mentality of 5:2 or alternate day fasts. I can use my willpower to fast for a portion of each day knowing that I will be able to eat something delicious and healthy later on.
Since starting my journey I have increased my fasting window to 18 hours on most days followed by a shorter 6 hour eating window. I usually open my window at 1pm and close it at 7pm which gives me plenty of time for two meals, one at work and then another with my family in the evening.
I always fast clean as I have read that this is key to achieving good results. A clean fast ensures that glucose levels are kept in check and your body turns to its stored fat to meet energy requirements. It’s a complex process but I will try to explain it simply.
When you eat food your pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is needed in order to convert the glucose in the food you’ve eaten to energy. If you are not doing enough activity to burn all of the energy your body has made, the glucose is stored in your fat cells so it can be accessed later when more energy is required. But if you never need to access this extra energy the fat cells get bigger and bigger and as a result you get fatter.
When you fast your body turns to its fat stores to meet your energy requirements resulting in the prize of weight loss. Even artificially sweetened drinks and foods such as chewing gum can trigger the insulin response, hence the need for a clean fast. So what can you have in a clean fast? Black coffee or tea (unflavoured) and plain water only.
The first few days were really tough but I got used to it. Even after a month of daily fasting I still get hungry especially during the last few hours of each fast. But I’ve come to realise that hunger comes in waves and I just need to ride it out. Black coffee is my friend and it really helps me get through the morning.
There is a school of thought that if you fast clean you can eat pretty much what you like during your eating window. I don’t subscribe to this theory. It might work for some (younger?) people, but being 50 and perimenopausal puts a different spin on things. I definitely still need to watch what I eat if I want to see decent results. Fortunately my food of choice is 90% healthy anyway. I am vegetarian and love eating vegies and wholegrains. I have reduced my sugar intake to a minimum and am watching my intake of white carbs closely.
It’s working! So far I have lost about 4.5 kilos (just under 10 pounds). I feel so much better already. My goal is to lose about the same amount again, which will return me to the weight I was in my late twenties. Other benefits I have experienced so far … my tummy is much less bloated, the inflammation in my hips (which both have osteoarthritis) has reduced significantly, I am sleeping better and I don’t really have any desire to eat junk food (well not very often) any more. And when I eat I am appreciating every mouthful of food, it all tastes so darn good!
My go-to book for inspiration on the intermittent fasting lifestyle is “Delay, Don’t Deny”, by Gin Stephens. I thoroughly recommend it. There is also a fabulous Facebook support group – just search for “Delay, Don’t Deny: Intermittent Fasting Support”.