Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Intermittent Fasting - a Report from the Field

In the wake of Thanksgiving dinner, I read some reports on the benefits of intermittent fasting.  In addition to weight loss, there were some claims that alternate-day calorie restriction might have some of the life-extension, health-enhancing benefits of permanent low-calorie regimes.  I passed them on to a few friends and thought no more about it over Christmas.

Then, early this year, one of those friends announced that he and his wife had picked up on my suggestion, had now been on the plan for a few months, and had already lost 20 pounds.  He continued, "We are psychologically content knowing that a 'famine' day will soon be followed by a regular day... as soon as we wake up in the morning. This is the first plan that we've been able to follow without feeling deprived."  Even better news, my friend had just received good results from his last tests for cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

I decided it was time to take a closer look.  My friends were following a plan developed by Dr. James Johnson as a result of research he had been doing on calorie restriction.  Their progress sounded promising.  And besides, how hard could it be?  In my college days, I'd once gone over five days with no food, just to see what it would be like.  Compared to that, a single-day fast seemed like a piece of melba toast.

I had had some success over the previous six months by switching to a more vegetable-rich, lower-starch diet.  Quite effortlessly, I had lost a little over a pound a month since the change, and was feeling good.  But I still wanted to lose another 20 pounds or so, and was looking for an edge.  This seemed like it might be the ticket.

I had a feeling my wife might be attracted to the structure of the diet.  Eat next to nothing one day;  throw away the calorie counter the following day.  When I approached her, my suspicions proved correct.  On top of the attraction of the diet itself, there was the appeal of not having to think about food at all on the "down" days.  She generally took on meal planning for the family, and the thought of fewer meals to plan proved irresistible.

So, we decided to try it out.  The rules were pretty simple:  limit calorie intake to 500 calories on day, relax all restrictions the next, repeat in two-day cycles.  At our friends' suggestion, we made one change.  To better fit the fast days to our weekly schedules, we ran the cycle for six days, followed by a "half fast" day on the seventh -- this last day soon came to be called the "half assed" day.  As it turned out, we would soon have to make an adjustment.

I also started accumulating calorie counts for some of the smaller servings, dishes and snacks that I figured we'd have to focus on during the fast days.

My wife and I both took some measurements and set some targets for ourselves.  Independent of one another, we both had set goals of losing exactly 10% of our current weights.  The race was on!

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