Intermittent Fasting Results: My 12 month healthy lifestyle challenge to improve my health and lose weight fast!- Part 1
With two youngish children, work, and life; diet and exercise have been a little low on my priority list. As a result, I am not in the best shape that I could be and I’ve decided to tackle this in a holistic manner over the next year and hopefully get to where I want to be.
I never do anything in halves. With me it’s all in or nothing at all! Now in my mid-thirties, it is finally time do something for myself, and take control of my eating habits and my body, lose my extra weight, and transform my body to how I want it to look.
With that in mind, over the next 12 months I am going to completely change my diet and exercise habits and share with you what I’ve learnt along the way. I’ll share my results, with updates on how I have achieved them.
Why am I sharing this? Mainly for accountability, but also to prove to myself and you that it’s never too late to be the person you want to be.
Note: Before continuing, let me state that I am not a doctor, nor do I have a degree in nutrition or the like. I am basing my program for myself on extensive reading I have done over the years, and experience I have had practising these in some form. Please consult your doctor and do your own due diligence before using any of the information presented here.
To achieve my goal of losing weight and transforming my body in just twelve months, I’m looking at the whole picture and working to change or improve three major areas:
- The food I eat
- My body
- My mind
The boring stuff – or interesting depending on your point of view
When I was growing up heart disease was the major focus in the media when it came to food choices, and determined what food was put on our table. In 1977 an American committee published the first Dietary Goals for the United States which was later picked up by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This document said that dietary fat was a major concern for heart disease and Americans (along with the rest of the world), should adopt a ‘low fat, high carb diet with appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables.’
These guidelines were founded on the results of a study performed by Ancel Keys, called the ‘Seven Countries Study.’ Keys looked at the data, and the correlation of diet and cardiovascular disease in these countries, and concluded that fat was to blame for a high rate of heart disease. Unfortunately, there were some major flaws in this study. He hand-picked his data from countries that supported his study, leaving out the countries that maintained a high fat diet with low heart disease, and countries that had a low fat consumption but a high rate of heart disease.
This flawed data was enshrined into public wisdom when the USDA published the famous food pyramid, and companies started to produce the ‘low fat’ products we see on our supermarket shelves today. Fat is what gives food its flavour, so companies had to add sugar to their products to make them taste good, so we’ll continue to buy them. A tub of yogurt might proudly proclaim to be ‘diet’, or low in fat, but is the equivalent of eating a candy bar.
So, what’s the problem? By diligently following the prescribed advice we still continue to get fat.
With all this ‘low-fat’ (and consequently high sugar) food on the market it is interesting to know what effect sugar, in all its forms, has on our body. Whether in its direct form as added sucrose, or more indirectly as carbohydrates of all kinds which are broken down into sugars in our bodies, we can only handle a certain amount of glucose at a time.
The pancreas secretes insulin in response to the raised glucose levels in order to keep our blood sugar level stable, and once our bodies immediate demands are met it begins to store glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Once these stores reach capacity the remainder goes directly into our fat cells, making us fatter.
While that seems bad enough, the body is then unable to access these fat stores to burn energy because of the raised insulin levels, which over time leads to a reduction in insulin sensitivity, compounding the problem and potentially leading to metabolic syndrome including type 2 diabetes.
As the raised insulin levels lock away your fat stores, once the body finishes digesting the last meal it has no way to regulate your body internally and blood sugar drops, leading to a crash. It urgently signals though manipulation of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that it needs food, and you find yourself hungry and needing to eat.
Eating once again spikes insulin, the body stores any excess glucose in the fat cells, and we enter a viscous cycle of highs and lows. Do three square meals a day plus snacks come to mind?
An interesting fact about our bodies is that we don’t need glucose to survive. Type 1 diabetics aside, our bodies can produce all the glucose needed on their own through a process called gluconeogenesis, without consuming any sugars or complex carbohydrates.
There is no denying that exercise is good for you. Exercise increases muscle, which in turn burns more calories to maintain itself. It’s good for your brain as it increases the brains productivity, and it’s arguably good for your wellbeing too.
However, our body composition in terms of fat and lean tissue comes overwhelmingly down to diet.
I am going to concentrate on four main things to achieve my goals relating to food:
- Generally eating a keto/low carb diet
- Intermittent fasting & prolonged fasting
- No alcohol, and
- Encouraging healthy gut flora
What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic, or keto, diet is almost the opposite of the food pyramid. It’s high fat, low carbohydrates. This challenges everything that we have been taught and have had pushed on us over the years. A keto diet allows your body to get into the state of ketosis, where your body runs mainly on fat from your diet, or your stored body fat. Your body uses ketones produced in the liver as a fuel source for your tissues and brain, instead of carbohydrates.
As carbs are kept extremely low insulin levels plummet, and our bodies can readily access our fat reserves when needed.
Generally, a keto diet consists of a daily intake of:
- 75% good fat,
- 20% protein, and only
- 5% carbohydrates
While your body becomes fat-adapted, and shifts from running on carbohydrates to ketones, most people experience something called the ‘keto flu.’ It’s a period of adjustment where you feel tired and a little weak, but usually it lasts for a few days or so.
I have used a ketogenic diet in the past as a form of weight loss with success, but it was hard to maintain for a couple of reasons. First, because I was counting calories, making sure I was on a reduced amount of calories to what my body ‘should’ run on. While counting calories works initially, over time your body adjusts to this lower calorie intake as ‘the new norm,’ and your weight loss plateaus. You stop losing weight, and ultimately you give up on the whole process, and the cycle continues. Counting calories is not an optimal way to lose weight and is very time consuming!
My second reason, is my lifestyle. I travel all the time, so I often don’t have access to kitchen where I can make sure I eat a diet that fits into the keto diet parameters.
What is intermittent fasting and prolonged fasting?
Before we had readily available food, we were hunters and gathers, often going without food for long periods of time.
These days we have an ever constant supply of readily accessible food, and never allow ourselves to go hungry. Insulin stays high, and we get fat.
Intermittent fasting for weight loss and prolonged fasting works hand in hand with a keto diet, and for me, fits really well into my lifestyle, and helps me to lose weight fast. So when I don’t have good food options available to me, I simply fast. Or, if I have eaten something that is high in carbs, I can fast to get myself back into ketosis faster.
I’ve been fasting in different forms for a long time, so I am used to it. Some of you might be thinking, how can I do this? I can’t get through the day without my breakfast, let alone days at a time!
If you think fasting is for you, and you have read enough about it that you feel comfortable doing it, start slowly. If you are already doing a keto diet, this will help reach the benefits of fasting quicker, and achieve the weight loss you desire more quickly.
Types of fasting
Here are some examples of different types of fasting. It’s good to mix it up so your body doesn’t get used to one type or way of fasting and plateau.
This is where you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours a day. This is the easiest of the fasting options because most of it is done in your sleep. Most people simply skip breakfast, and don’t eat until about 1pm. They then begin their fast again eight hours later at around 9pm, and it really is as simple as that! Drinking water, tea, or coffee (black is preferable, but I use cream or almond milk) will help to get you through until your eating window opens. I have been practising this for years, but mainly because I have never liked breakfast.
Alternate day fasting
Alternate day fasting is another popular type of fast. An example of this is to eat dinner, fast the next day, and not eat again until lunch time the following day. I will be using this one over the next 12 months.
5:2 or 4:3 fasting
Is where you eat normally for 4-5 days of the week, and fast or eat an extremely low amount for the remaining 2-3 days.
My favourite and what I will mainly be focusing on. OMAD means, ‘one meal a day.’ Again it works well in conjunction with a keto diet, but there are people not doing keto who have success with this diet. OMAD means a single big meal, but many people allow around a 2 hour eating window every day, and fast for the remaining 22 hours. I love this because I only have to think about eating once per day. I do need to ensure I am getting enough variety in my food, including vitamins, macro-nutrients, fat, protein etc, from my one meal.
Probably something to work up to. Start small, maybe do the above first, and then work your way up to it. The longest I’ve fasted for is 8 days. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I still had to cook for the kids which made it hard. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I found myself watching Tasty videos on YouTube before going to bed! I had coffee in the morning, and at times I did have some bone broth and salt in my water, when I felt I needed it.
Water fasting and dry fasting
The most extreme of the bunch. The die-harders refuse to have anything apart from water. No salt, no mineral water, no bone broth – nada! Dry fasting is the same as water fasting, but you exclude water too. I would not recommend this for longer fasts.
Note: Fasting and especially prolonged fasting isn’t for everyone! Listen to your body, if you don’t feel well or are not enjoying it, stop. Make sure you read up on it further, before deciding to do it.
Also I made sure that when I did eat again, I prepared my body for food. I made sure that I kept my food choices light, and ate things that promoted good gut flora (we’ll talk about that later), and eased my body back into eating.
The benefits of fasting
So why fast, what is the point? Plato fasted to improve his physical and mental efficiency, Benjamin Franklin said, the best of all remedies is resting and fasting, and today along with a keto diet, fasting is being used to help people treat and reverse type 2 diabetes.
Its health benefits are thought to include:
- Weight loss
- Retention of muscle
- More energy
- Reduced cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Better physical and mental efficiency
- Suppressed hunger
Dr Jason Fung M.D, is a Canadian kidney specialist who works with people on therapeutic fasting and the reversal of type 2 diabetes. I have read his books and watched lots of interviews with him, and his program is fascinating.
His books are called:
Dr Jason Fung talks about the benefits of fasting and primarily, its effects on reversing type 2 diabetes (which is completely different to type 1 diabetes, and should not be confused). Type 2 diabetes is caused through diet, and through fasting can be reversed. He also talks about the benefit of a keto diet as a partner to fasting, but his primary focus is on fasting itself.
For those of you worried about muscle loss from fasting, he has said that you will lose more muscle on a caloric restriction diet that fasting itself, and that fasting preserves lean body mass.
The hardest part about fasting is the first two to three days, when your body is entering the state of ketosis. Most of the benefits of fasting occur after this point. Also, people think they will get hungrier the longer they don’t eat, but the opposite is true. To help you get over the hunger pains in the first few days, drink water. This will especially help in those times when your body is expecting food, like at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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No alcohol – or reduced alcohol consumption
There are supposedly some benefits to alcohol in moderation, and there are some types of alcohol that won’t kick you out of ketosis. Wine in moderation is okay and so are spirits, so long as you don’t mix them with any sugary drinks.
For the purpose of my challenge though, I am giving up alcohol for the entire 12 months. I like a glass or wine as much as the next person, but I know that over the years I have definitely had more than the recommend amount time and again, and in truth I have been ready for this part of the challenge for a while.
I am by no means suggesting that anyone give up, or reduce their alcohol consumption, that is entirely up to you. Do consider however the overall effects on the body, and drink wisely.
We are only just starting to understand the importance our gut flora has on our bodies, and how it affects the brain. The gut’s flora is smart enough to influence the brain in its decisions about food, by sending messages to the brain to crave certain foods, based on your gut biome make up.
The healthier the food you eat, the more signals your gut will send to your brain to eat healthy food, and the same is said for unhealthy food. If you eat a lot of sweet things, the bacteria that crave sugar will send those signals to your brain to say, give me sugar!
They say that the guts eco-system is so important, if there is something wrong with your guts microbiome, there is something wrong with you. This doesn’t mean we are doomed to always be in this vicious cycle, it’s entirely possible to change your gut flora by what you eat.
The benefits of a good gut biome are:
- Helping to digest food
- Protecting against pathogens
- Providing essential nutrients, like vitamins and
- Helping ‘train’ your immune system by sending it gentle messages
So what foods are good for our gut health and promoting good bacteria? The gut needs a variety of symbiotic foods that fall under two categories: Probiotics and Prebiotics.
Probiotics, which I’m sure most people have heard of, colonise the small intestines, and prebiotics colonise the large intestine.
The foods listed below help to get the gut healthy, by producing an acid called butyric acid. Without this acid for energy, the colon cells will go into autophagy.
Best probiotic foods include
Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, microalgae (such as chlorella and spirulina), miso soup, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha tea.
Best prebiotic foods include
Resistant starches: Oat bran, pectin, guar, banana flour from green bananas (slightly green bananas), rolled oats, white beans, lentils, cold pasta, cold potato (heated then cooled after baking).
Fructans (inulin): Inulin fiber, rye, barley, onion, garlic, jerusalem and globe artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, chicory, dandelion leaves, leek, radicchio, the white part of a spring onion, cabbage, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy, onions and chives.
I will be concentrating on those foods that fit more within the keto diet. The other two items which I will also be taking as part of my diet are, green barley and apple cider vinegar diluted in water (with the mother in it).
These two items are by no means proven scientifically to live up to all the claims people put against them, but green barley is derived from barley grass and is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Where apple cider vinegar (with the mother), is made from fermented apples. The gut loves fermented food, and I love the taste of it in water and sparkling water.
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