After Thanksgiving I took a hard look at my intermittent fasting (IF) schedule. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a 14-hour fast about 3 times a week. Maybe fasting 5 days a week might help break this plateau? So I started re-reading Dr. Jason Fung’s blog posts on fasting. Sure enough I stumbled upon an important data point that could help me break my stall.
Resetting My Body’s Set Weight
We all have a Body Set Weight (BSW) – a weight your body is comfortable with. During my last physical, my doctor cautioned me that if I wanted to lose more weight I could, but my BSW might be at 185 lbs.
If I was at my BSW and dipped below it, my body compensates by increasing it’s output of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Basically you dip below your BSW your body increases hunger and desire to eat. Your body wants to get back to its set weight.
I have to admit at the time of my physical I thought there was no way 185 was my BSW. I could still see the fat around my belly, thighs and arms. Look, I don’t expect to be super model thin. But I set my sights on 150 lbs. and that’s what I wanted to get to.
Well 8 months later and weighing 185 lbs., I’m starting to believe.
However, what I missed the first time I read Dr. Fung’s fasting series (part 2 specifically) is that I lost weight by lowering my insulin levels by eating healthy. What my low carb, high fat diet didn’t do was address my insulin resistance (IR). My IR is keeping my insulin levels high. It’s also keeping my Body Set Weight artificially high too.
While my 14-hour fast was a good start – I lost 6 pounds during lent — it probably didn’t make that much of a dent in my insulin resistance. Fasting lowers insulin levels, and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. But since I was obese for more than 25+ years I’ve don’t a lot of damage to my metabolic system. Nearly 4 years of eating healthy doesn’t wipe the slate clean. It will still take time to repair that damage, and not necessarily repair it completely. I’m sure I’ll always have some level of IR, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make improvements.
Looking at how many years I’ve been obese, it’s clear that a longer fasting period is needed to lower my insulin levels, improve my insulin sensitivity and deflate my body set weight.
Starting With 24-Hour Fasting
For December, I’ve decided to do a fasting challenge. Two days a week I’m going to fast for 24 hours. During the last week of the month I’ll do one 48-hour fast.
Sound crazy? Not really.
Did you know the world record for fasting is 382 days? Our ancestors never would have survived if we weren’t built to go days (heck, weeks and months) without food. But since the 2000s we’ve been told to eat 5-6 times a day. Well I did that and just got fatter.
Missing a couple of meals isn’t going to kill me. And no, I’m not starving myself to lose weight. Going into “starvation mode” when fasting is a myth. Fasting is perfectly safe and practiced by millions around the world for thousands of years.
My first fast this week started immediately after dinner on November 30. I broke the fast at dinner on December 1.
I’ll admit I was nervous about doing a 24-hour fast. I thought I’d have headaches and feel starved by mid-afternoon. But in reality, any hunger I felt went away as soon as I drank water or bone broth. My fears about a “long-fast” were more psychological. Like I said, we’ve been conditioned to eat often during the day. When listening to my body, I noticed my hunger was pretty mild. For most of the day, I wasn’t hungry at all.
I did notice the beginnings of a headache coming on during the late morning, but I ended that quickly by adding a teaspoon of salt to my broth. When fasting, you do have to use the bathroom a lot, and you lose a lot of salt in the process. You have to replenish your salt levels or bad things happen.
My Keys To Fasting
For me are two keys to fasting. First, drink lots of fluid. I limited my coffee to just 2 cups (and yes, I added heavy cream, but very little). I went through 3 cups of bone broth. But boy, hot herbal tea and water were my first choice of drinks.
The second key was staying busy.
After some writing, a walk and being on dog duty in the morning, I spent 3-½ hours helping out my mom. Staying busy really took my mind off of eating. And I must say, I was surprised by how much energy I had during the day.
2nd Fast Today
The good news is that my husband decided to join me. He’s trying to kick start his weight loss efforts and did an 18-hour fast yesterday.
I think fasting will be easier with the two of us doing it together to support each other.
Today we’re fasting again and won’t break it until dinner tonight. Soon I’ll be out on a light run to our local pet store to pick up some cat food. Afterwards I’m planning on trimming our unruly rose bushes. After that, laundry and dog walks.
I need a busy day to keep my mind far away from my kitchen.
If you want to learn more about fasting, check Dr. Jason Fung’s awesome series, starting with part 1.
You can also watch his lecture: The Aetiology of Obesity (part 4): The Fast Solution.