"I don't eat on Mondays." Try dropping that little bit of personal info on a first date.
But that's how I've lived for the past three years, ever since I heard about intermittent fasting. A diet that could have some positive effects on weight and disease risk, without the practical difficulties of sticking to a restrictive diet every single day? I liked this idea: part-time dieting. But liking something is different from actually doing it.
What does "part-time dieting" actually mean?
You may have heard of intermittent fasting, popularized in part by a book called The Fast Diet, by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. The idea is what it sounds like; you fast intermittently, and not just when you sleep. The Fast Diet version is also called the 5:2 diet, because each week, you eat what you want for five days and fast the other two.
On the days you fast, you eat 500 calories (for women, 600 for men) or fewer, and once you reach your desired weight, fast one day a week for maintenance.
I wouldn't have to count points every day, like with Weight Watchers? Ain't nobody got time for that. And I wouldn't have to give up entire food groups like those Atkins and Paleo people do? Losers. Life isn't worth living without bread.
Why the hell was I considering this at all?!
I wasn't "fat" by normal standards, but I was heavier than I wanted to be, and was reminded of it constantly at work. Since I was a local news reporter at the time, I was on TV every day -- it really does add 10lb. It felt like I was always just out of reach of where I wanted to be, and my love of food was really setting me back at every effort I made. Yet the diet solutions and health advice in the zeitgeist -- like Paleo and Weight Watchers -- weren't going to work for me.
So I bought the book, and it clicked. The research on intermittent fasting is relatively new, but it goes way beyond weight loss, and may even have effects on the brain and heart that resemble exercise.
Not eating wasn't as bad as I thought it would be
I had a lot of anxiety before my first fasting day: am I going to be hungry? Am I going to miss out on important nutrients? What is this going to do to my body? Am I going to get a migraine? Why am I doing this? Maybe kale isn't so bad after all?
Planning is essential, and I put together my menu well ahead of time so I wouldn't excessively dwell on thoughts of food the day of my fast: a small breakfast (about 150 calories), no lunch, big-ish dinner (350 calories).
It was tough, but I got through it. I didn't pass out. I didn't bite my co-workers' heads off. My metabolism didn't slow down, I didn't hold on to fat, and I wasn't so ravenously hungry that I consumed double the calories at my next meal. All those things "health experts" put in my head about what happens when you skip a meal, I learned, are bullshit. This concept is very liberating.
When the second fasting day came, it was easier. The next week, those two fasting days were easier still, and the remaining difficulties subsided as I kept at it. Before I knew it, I was eight months in and lost 25lb! Goal reached.
Three YEARS is way different from eight months
Now to maintain it, I only fast one day per week. I've been doing that since October 2013, and I haven't looked back. After fasting two days per week became second nature to me, fasting once per week is effortless.
Breakfast is relatively easy. I have my go-to foods:
- A medium-sized banana has about 95 calories
- Most single-serve packets of oatmeal have 110 calories
- Eggs have 90 calories each
- A yogurt cup (depending on the brand) has anywhere between 80 and 150 calories
- A Krispy Kreme original glazed donut has 190 calories!
- Coffee and tea have NO calories! (I like a tablespoon of 2% milk in my coffee, but that's only 10 calories.)
On the fly, I can fashion a breakfast under 200 calories with a combination of these foods. For example, a Krispy Kreme original glazed (190) + cup of coffee with milk (10) = an amazing fast-day breakfast.
As for lunch, there is no lunch. It's the simplest choice I have to make all day.
At dinnertime, I can always pull some breakfast options, but it's usually not necessary. Most broth-based soups have fewer than 150 calories per cup. Frozen diet dinners can also offer some good options under 300 calories, if you want to eat pre-made meals.
When I have the time and desire to cook something, a 3oz chicken breast and some steamed veggies do the trick.
So you have to skip lunch one day EVERY week?
I know you're probably still not over the skipping lunch part, so let's talk about it.
Skipping lunch isn't as bad as it sounds. When you plan to eat nothing, then there are no hard decisions to make over whether to go to Chipotle, the falafel cart, the dollar menu, or [insert your favorite lunchtime spot here]. It saves money. It saves time, too. I don't have to interrupt my work to go out and get something to eat.
Since I'm not eating lunch, I usually don't go for the Krispy Kreme donut on a fasting day. I like to eat something that's going to keep me full longer, and that, by default, means I'm eating healthier since loading up on sugar isn't going to provide enough sustainable energy throughout the day.
The best part of this diet is that I don't necessarily have to skip lunch -- I could distribute my calorie budget differently for the day. I could consume 150 calories for breakfast, another 150 for lunch, and 200 for dinner, but I choose to do without lunch.
So I fast on Mondays. What do I eat the rest of the week? Whatever the hell I want, that's what! Seriously, you should see what I actually eat. Admittedly, I treat Tuesdays like a "recovery day," and there have been times when I've woken up with residual "hanger" from Monday and tried taking down a monster breakfast. It did not go well. It's as though my stomach is smaller on Tuesdays and I have to listen to it a little closer and let it tell me when it's ready for food. If you're trying to get a handle on portion control, though, that could be a benefit.
Don't take this as the gospel
I realize intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, but it is for me. I'm not a health expert or doctor, so don't take what I'm saying to heart. Do your research, consult a doctor, and make your own decision before you try this at home.
Personally, I feel like I won this weight game I’ve been playing my entire life. I diet one day per week. ONE! I’m under 120lb and the rest of the time I eat whatever I want completely guilt-free. When I think about what I'm really missing out on, it comes down to lunch on Monday. It's a pretty great trade-off.
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