Spoiler alert: Yes.
I genuinely believe that a clean fast is the key to successful intermittent fasting, based on everything I understand about IF. After I explain why this is true, you are going to want to read all of the anecdotal stories from members of our intermittent fasting support groups, which are below my explanation of what it means to have a "clean fast". Their stories are even more powerful than any of the scientific reasoning I am going to share with you in this blog post. In fact, you may want to scroll down and start with their stories, and then read the part written by me. Their stories are that compelling.
I need to confess: this blog post has been long overdue, and I can't believe it has taken me so long to realize that I needed to officially address the concept of a "clean fast." It's discussed in Delay, Don't Deny, though I didn't call it a "clean fast" in the book. If you read the chapter called "Keeping the fast: What can I have when I am fasting," you should get a basic idea of what is allowed, and why. I have also addressed the concept in greater detail in a couple of my blog posts: can-i-have-_______-while-fasting.html and coffee-coffee-coffeehow-do-i-love-thee.html. Both of those posts address some of the most common questions about what may or may not be a problem during the fast, and how to know.
Even if you have read my book and my prior blog posts, however, I think it is important to briefly revisit some of the science behind the clean fast, which I am going to discuss here. Before I get started explaining the science behind a clean fast, you may wonder: where did the term "clean fast" come from? That's a great question. I am not completely sure, but I think we made it up in our Facebook support groups. I believe that one day, someone (it might have been me, but it could have been someone else) described the ideal fast as "clean", and the term stuck. Maybe one of us read it somewhere else, but regardless of where the term originated, I think it is a beautiful way of describing what we are looking for during the fast.
So--what IS a "clean fast"? To understand that, think about WHY we are actually fasting. Believe it or not, intermittent fasting is much more powerful than just being a means to eat fewer calories each day, and there's a lot more to it than the simple fact that we may be eating less food than we used to. It's important to understand that during a clean fast, our bodies are able to do many things that don't happen when we are in the fed state. We can access our stored body fat more efficiently and we are more likely to experience certain body processes such as ketosis and autophagy, which do many amazing things within our bodies related to health and longevity. To read more about autophagy, check out my prior blog post: 2017-the-year-of-intermittent-fasting.html.
Keeping in mind that we want our bodies to have the optimum conditions for both fat burning and autophagy, it makes sense that we want to limit anything that would disrupt any of those processes. The question is: what actually DOES disrupt these processes?
First of all, it is important to understand that we don't want to spike insulin during the fast, because insulin is a storage hormone. During the fast, we want to BURN fat from our bodies. To do so, we want insulin to be as low as possible during the fasting time. Click here for an absolutely brilliant and simple explanation of how this works, with the key being: LOWER INSULIN=GREATER FAT LOSS. From that article: "even small increases in insulin, within the normal range, virtually abolish lipolysis, or the breakdown of fat." WOW. Do you want to "abolish lipolysis?" Not me! BRING ON THE LIPOLYSIS! #BurnBabyBurn
Dr. Jason Fung also has a great blog post that explains this how insulin works at this link, which will take you to his website Intensive Dietary Management. In fact, he has several great posts about insulin on his website. You can search within his blog if you want to read more of the posts that he has written about this topic, and others.
With this concept in mind--excess circulating insulin will hinder or stop fat burning--doesn't it make sense that we don't want to risk spiking insulin during the fast? As soon as I understood that concept, it radically changed my whole approach to fasting.
What spikes insulin release? Eating, of course; but sweet tastes also can cause your body to release insulin, since the sweet taste primes your body to expect food with calories. Your brain doesn't understand that you are actually drinking a zero calorie diet soda. The sweet taste tells your brain: CALORIES ARE COMING! RELEASE INSULIN NOW! Click here to go to a scientific study abstract that discusses how an insulin spike was caused when human study participants swished around an artificially sweetened beverage in their mouths--they didn't even fully ingest it--they just swished it around! I explain this fully in Delay, Don't Deny, so read (or reread) that chapter in the book for more information.
Hopefully, you now understand that your goal should be to do whatever you can to avoid causing an insulin release during the fasting time. This is why I would never drink anything that was sweetened (artificially or naturally), chew gum, or use commercial breath mints or breath sprays. I avoid any flavored products (teas, sparkling waters) that have added "natural flavors", particularly if they are fruity (which means my brain may perceive them as sweet). Bottom line: I don't want to risk causing an insulin spike. (Note: I do brush my teeth during the fast, because that is of very short duration, and I only do it once in the morning and once before bed.)
Besides spiking insulin, we want to avoid protein during the fast, because protein has been shown to stop autophagy. Click here for a link to a blog post about that topic, also written by Dr. Jason Fung. From that post: "What turns off autophagy? Eating. Glucose, insulin (or decreased glucagon) and proteins all turn off this self-cleaning process. And it doesn’t take much. Even a small amount of amino acid (leucine) could stop autophagy cold." Once you understand that protein stops autophagy, you would never want to include anything with protein during the fast. This includes supplements that are often recommended by bodybuilders, such as BCAA's (Branched Chain Amino Acids). What are BCAA's? They are made up of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Wait, didn't we just read the leucine can "stop autophagy cold"? Based on that information, if you are interested in autophagy, it's clear that you don't want BCAA's (or any protein source) during your fast. This also includes bone broth, which some intermittent fasters want to include during the fasting time. Remember: bone broth contains protein. As I already mentioned, if your goal is autophagy, you don't want to ingest protein, so avoid the bone broth. (Note: if you are following a multi-day fasting protocol, bone broth may have benefits. That is not what I am discussing here--I am focusing on intermittent fasting rather than extended fasts.)
What about fat? Can we have fat during a clean fast? That is often a sticking point for many people, because even Dr. Jason Fung "allows" his patients to have a small amount of heavy cream during the fast. If he "allows" it, isn't it okay? I discuss both heavy cream and coconut/MCT oil in my blog post: coffee-coffee-coffeehow-do-i-love-thee.html. Yes, Dr. Fung (who I consider to be an intermittent fasting superstar) allows a SMALL AMOUNT of cream in coffee. Why? I have heard him say that it is for the purpose of "increased compliance." I don't know about you, but I am more interested in the benefits of a clean fast than anything else. Also, even if cream doesn't spike your insulin very much, or have much protein (it does have some protein, by the way), it's still a source of energy that your body needs to utilize before accessing your stored fat. Do you want to burn the fat from your body, or the fat from your coffee cup? I know my answer. Plus, heavy cream makes me ravenous. Clearly, it makes my body think that it's time to eat, and I have heard others report this, as well.
So: what can you have during a clean fast? A clean fast includes plain (unflavored) water, unflavored sparkling water and mineral water, black coffee, and plain (unflavored) teas. There are some things (such as a slice of lemon in your water, cinnamon in your coffee, apple cider vinegar, etc.) that fall into what we call the "grey area," and these are addressed here: can-i-have-_______-while-fasting.html.
In a clean fast, stick to plain and boring beverages. The fasting time isn't supposed to be a flavor adventure.
During the fast, avoid any artificially or naturally sweetened products, including all beverages, water or coffee additives, gum, mints, or breath sprays. Avoid anything that is "naturally flavored". Avoid flavored coffee. Also, avoid anything with sweet or fruity flavors. This includes anything that may be marketed as "zero calorie" or "doesn't raise blood glucose" or "low glycemic." Don't forget: we aren't worried about the glycemic or blood glucose response here; we are working to prevent INSULIN release. Don't use any protein-containing supplements such as BCAAs, or drink bone broth. Also, avoid adding fat during the fast (particularly to your coffee), since your goal is to burn the fat from your body.
Bottom line: the clean fast is much more important than some people in the intermittent fasting community realize. Whenever you hear someone say that sweet tastes don't spike insulin, or that diet sodas "worked for them", or when someone says that they say that they use heavy cream every day and have great results, ask yourself this: WHY are you fasting?
If you are after maximum health benefits and fat loss results, you want a clean fast. Period.
Don't just take it from me. I posted a question in one of my Facebook support groups a few days ago, asking if anyone had anything to share regarding the importance of a clean fast. Even though I understand the importance of a clean fast, the comments still BLEW ME AWAY. So, with no further ado, I am going to share these comments with you.
If these amazing stories don't convince you to make sure you have a clean fast, then nothing will, and you'll just have to stay dirty.
RENNAE: Clean fasting was a revelation for me. Previously, I had used cream & stevia in coffee,
dilute fruit juices, and breath mints. I felt restless and thought of food constantly, and just had to "push through" the fasting period. Clean fasting made all the difference in a hunger free and mentally peaceful fast, with accelerated weight loss! Now my fasting times flow in an unforced rhythm. I had to get out of my old comfort zone to achieve IF's full benefit; I have a new comfort zone!
SUSAN: Hi, I was one of the "believers" that Bullet Proof Coffee was ok during the fast... and finally went clean to black coffee with just cinnamon, I have my coconut oil in my green tea when I open my window and the butter on my corn...I definitely have noticed a difference now in my work clothes getting larger. Gave up my scale 6/4/17 (also clung to that old notion) so can't quote weight difference. Thanks Gin! Sorry it took me so long to "listen".
MARY: I was a diet soda addict for years and I was always hungry. I actually thought I was just the type of person that would never experience appetite suppression. I tried intermittent fasting using the Fast 5 method back in 2012 and I was drinking diet soda during the fast because it was calorie free. I couldn't stick with the fasting because the hunger never settled down. I tried to give up diet soda but I never lasted long enough (just a few days before I would break down and have one) for me to see any benefits. Finally when I read about clean fasting in DDD, I gave up the diet soda but only in my fasting hours. I noticed a slight difference in hunger. My fitness trainer challenged me to give it up entirely for 30 days. Two weeks in, I couldn't believe the drop in hunger. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't experienced it myself. I no longer feel like someone with a broken appetite. I get the normal waves of hunger and am not in a constant state of waiting for the next meal.
STEPHANIE: I was addicted to flavored La Croix! I had tried fasting, with some success, but I was always hungry, and gave up after a month or two. After reading DDD, I ditched the flavors, and it has been much smoother sailing. I was so hesitant to believe my favorite non sweetened beverage was hurting me so much, but now I enjoy it even more during my window. Three months in, and still going stronger than ever.
JENNY: I can't believe I drank coffee with milk for years when right under my nose my mum was drinking it black. She is 85 this year and perfect health and ideal weight, sharp as a tack and my goal. I now also drink black coffee. I'm a slow learner but I feel so good now and am hardly ever hungry.
SARAH: If I break fast or fast incorrectly, my stomach lets me know immediately and my energy levels plummet. Immediately after I started IF, only drinking water or black coffee, my energy levels improved. This was the first thing I noticed. My body now lets me know what it prefers, and truly it prefers to fast all day.
LILY: Initially, I struggled BIG time (hated black coffee with a passion) and did not give up heavy cream in my coffee. Though I gave up my bulletproof coffee (butter, coconut oil, MCT oil, heavy cream and Splenda... which was VERRRY difficult to do...) I kept the heavy cream (a little black coffee in my heavy cream was more my roll)... I chewed sugar free gum like a chain smoker does cigarettes... I lost weight... BUT my eczema, cravings and appetite went nowhere... and though my weight dropped... my measurements, exhaustion and inflammation didn't improve much. I quit the heavy cream, embraced black coffee one careful swig at a time and replaced gum with organic peppermint oil... and VOILA... the weight AND inches dropped. No more crazy cravings or struggling with waiting to eat... I started to enjoy my coffee black (hot and iced). I started to feel and look lighter. I had less pain - inflammation was very obviously reduced... and (drum roll, please...) my eczema went away... even my rosacea calmed down significantly. My body is changing in ways I love. My weight and measurements are dropping. My energy is great and I am not obsessing on food. Clean fasting 20-24 hours (occasionally 16-8 or 18-6) is what works for me.
ANGIE: I understood a clean fast, or so I thought! The 2nd week I developed a cold and didn't think twice about using cough drops to help, I was so hungry and couldn't figure out why until I saw someone mention them as breaking your fast! It's true, I stopped and things returned to normal. I also on a couple of occasions...getting my haircut and teaching at my co-op, felt I needed a mint to cut the nasty breath and both times I struggled fasting and barely made it to my window. I don't have those problems when I do a completely clean fast. It's the only thing I worry about and it hasn't let me down yet!
KELLI: For nearly three weeks, I was fasting "dirty" (before reading DDD) with my diet soda with no success. The same week I quit my addiction I lost about 4 lbs. Since fasting clean I have consistently lost weight and haven't felt better. I haven't missed my diet soda nor those first 4lbs.
MARILYN: Gin said apple cider vinegar is in the gray area of a clean fast. Since I started IF I only drink black coffee during fasting period and it works- no hunger pain until my eating window. Out of curiosity since I miss taking apple cider vinegar, especially in the morning, I tried it during my fast..and after a while it only makes me feel like eating earlier before my window opens because of "hunger pain" like before when I haven't discovered clean fast yet.
INGRID: For the first month of IF I was doing 16:8 but having a bit of milk in my coffee. I was always so hungry. Since I began fasting clean a month ago I'm often able to go much longer without eating and any hunger pains pass quickly.
VINUTHA: I am from India, and I love my tea with milk and sugar. I thought how much harm could a little cup of tea do, since I wasn't eating anything else and limited myself to one cup of milk tea in the morning. But with this I used to be ravenous entire day and I would stuff myself with food once the window opens. But one fine day I thought of giving that up, and now I can sail through my fast easily . My fast is of at least 20 hours and I eat because I was missing food. Not because I am ravenous.
KELA: When I was only a few weeks in to IF, I attended a professional development that included a boxed lunch. I sat with my colleagues but didn't eat the lunch, intending to save it for later. During the very last work session, my swamp breath got out of control. I'd not finished reading Gin's book yet and didn't know that gum was a big no no. Not 5 seconds after I started chewing the gum, I went from easily delaying/clean fasting to dizzy, lightheaded, and ravenous...which I now know was because of the insulin response caused by the minty sugar-free gum. It was so bad I broke open my box of food right there in the session and ate like it was my last meal. That I night I read the section on gum and never again have I fasted unclean.
AMY: I started out drinking lime sparkling water during my fast because I was sure that unflavored would be unbearable. It made me ravenously hungry and I was sure sparkling water just made me hungry! I couldn't get why and nearly gave up on it. There was NO WAY the lime was making any difference! Lime isn't sweet at all! One day I tried an unflavored sparkling water and magic happened! Hunger quenched completely. Easiest Fast Ever. I've never looked back.
MALLORY: I used to HATE plain water, and I do mean HATE it. Diet soda and water enhancers were my go-to beverages. Finally, enough was enough. After 4 days of 20:4 followed by a 41 hour fast (all of them clean) I woke up and had a glass of water. It was so good. I literally thought to myself, "So this is what water is supposed to taste like!"
LAURIE: I used to drink diet soda (1978 - 2015) thinking it was OK, zero calories. When I started doing zero calorie down days, diet soda suddenly tasted sickeningly sweet with a strong chemical aftertaste. Revolting. Ugh. So I bought some Perrier and it tasted perfect and quenched my desire for "intake" as well as my thirst. It also torpedoed a plateau, so I realized that aspartame was interfering with my Kreb's cycle and tripping my blood sugar settings in those little mitochondrial factories in there. I have dispensed with Perrier. Too expensive. Now I drink the cheap stuff, just as good: Canada Dry Seltzer Water.
ROSALIND: I started IF with a 18/6 window and drank my two usual morning coffees with half and half and stevia instead of sugar. Basically skipped breakfast. I ate lunch and dinner. No snacking and no problems, including hunger, with this regimen. After 3 months I wanted to go to OMAD (One Meal a Day) with a 22/2 window, but found my hunger too extreme to wait so long to eat. I was really hungry by 4 pm when my window opened and I over ate. I was determined to do 22/2 OMAD, so started experimenting. I cut out the stevia in the two morning coffees, but continued to use the cream. Rest of the day I only drink water. This seemed easy enough, but still no real change in the hunger I experienced. Mid-June, after reading Gin's book DDD, I knew I had to try going to black coffee only. I don't like tea. This was the key to stopping the extreme hunger issue. Black coffee only resulted in NO cravings, NO extreme hunger or hangry (hangry=so hungry you become angry). I sailed into my 4 pm window opening and ate a meal comfortably without eating so fast, like I had been or over eating. I could relax and enjoy my food. Some days I'm not very hungry and other days I am, but either way, I eat until I'm full and enjoy meal time.
CLAIRE: Clean fasting is a complete game changer. I've been diligently measuring milk to be under 50 calories for my coffee. I struggled to fast past 16 hours and lost no weight. Started clean fasting and lost 2 lb the first day and now have no issues with hunger pangs at all.
MICHELLE: I was popping tic tacs all day at work and experiencing increased hunger...stopped and all's good, fasting at least 20 hours a day, very little (if any) hunger. I also stopped the flavored, artificially sweetened water except occasionally in my eating window. I'm still barely slogging down the black coffee after 2 weeks though. (Note from Gin: the black coffee is an acquired taste!)
DEBBIE: I thought gum chewing and sipping diet soda throughout the day would save me from the feeling of deprivation I thought fasting would bring. But I found out, in reality, it was just stimulating my hunger all day. By tasting the sweetness of the artificial flavors, my body was anticipating digestion. I believe this inhibited appetite correction. The act of chewing gum continually released enzymes and saliva, preparing my body for eating. My digestive tract was in a perpetual state of anticipating digestion. It wasn't until I gave up gum and diet soda and went to clean fasting with black coffee, unsweetened tea and water that I achieved appetite correction and was no longer reacting like Pavlov's theory. I then entered a different world of clean fasting. One I never thought possible where I was no longer hungry all day long.
MARY BETH: Clean fasting for me meant giving up diet soda. I was committed and determined to try this and was stunned at the results. Did it help with weight loss, yes. But the thing it surprisingly had a huge impact on were my migraines. They became almost non existent. No longer having them every week to having them only rarely. It was freeing in ways I never dreamed possible.
MINDY: I was fasting clean (black coffee, tea, plain sparkling water) for a couple weeks and felt really good, but missed cream in my coffee. Last week, knowing that some other groups say it's fine to add full cream, I added it to my coffee and loved it. ....until I didn't. That day was so much harder! I was so much hungrier than I am when I fast clean. That little bit of cream tasted great but my fast was 10 times harder. I am sure now that fasting clean is what enables me to fast with any pleasure at all.
HEATHER: I did LCHF (low carb high fat) since June 2015. Started IF in April 2016, but always with heavy whipping cream in my coffee. I lost 16 lb and stalled June 2016. I went dairy free, nut free, paleo, still with something in my coffee. Nothing moved. Started seeing a functional medicine doctor in February 2017. I saw her June 10, 2017 and she had no clue why I was not losing: labs good, diet on point. I even gained inches in my hips and thighs, so she gave my a prescription appetite suppressant. It made me hungry 30 min after taking it. I read DDD on July 1st. I started clean fasting. 14 days out of 25, I did 19+ hours CLEAN fasts. I lost 5 lbs of fat and no muscle. I measured on July 10th, and on July 25th before my doctor's appointment. I measured and lost 2.5 total inches in 15 days. Fasting clean now and I eat what I want....no more low carb!!! Loving this!!!
BARBARA: I have always fasted clean but have since learned that in addition to that, you have to learn to listen to your particular body. For example, I bought some cold-brewed coffee concentrate. Coffee was the only ingredient so I thought it was fine. It was delicious! Drank it in the mornings three mornings in a row and for three days I felt like I was starving, restless, unable to focus. FINALLY made the connection and skipped it the 4th morning-- and I was back in Fasting Nirvana. Easy, satisfied, clean energy. Apparently the coffee was so smooth and so good, almost sweet that it trigger insulin spikes for me. The differences between trying to fast with low insulin and trying to fast with higher insulin are like night and day. If everyone would take the time to experience that then NO ONE would choose to fast dirty. Its just not worth it.
MELIA: I didn't think using my "go to" calorie free flavor packets would hurt. I also would drink fruit flavored calorie free sparkling water too during my fasting window. I was still in the "DIET MINDSET". I thought I was doing it right, until I posted about it and to my surprise I was so wrong. That is when I couldn't wait for Gin's first book to be done so I could do it right. I had already read the Obesity Code and kind of got lost in it but understood the concept. Then there was my coffee. NO CREAMER, are you mad? It took me a good week or so to get to drinking it black. I tried it with creamer other day in my window and I don't even like it anymore, it was too sweet. It is truly amazing that these little changes could make such a difference.
SHERI: I lost and maintained without clean fasting. I was using stevia in my coffee and stevia sweetened drink mix in my sparkling water. However I struggled to fast for longer than 16 or 17 hours without being ravenously hungry after 14 hours or so. Since fasting clean I can easily fast 19 or 20 hours without feeling hunger pains and I've lost 2 lbs in 2 weeks. I have changed my goal weight as a result. Before I took the highest end of normal and went with it. Now I'm motivated to move fully into the "normal zone."
KRISTAL: I started 16/8 and would have zero calorie diet drinks. I was always sooooooo ready for my window to open. I would lose a little weight, but more non-scale victories. After reading DDD, I switched to only black coffee (totally sucked at first), tea and water. The very next day, I looked at the clock and had gone 20 hours. I now do 22 or 23 hours and OMAD (One Meal a Day). I have lost 10 pounds since the beginning of July, thanks to giving up my zero calorie diet drinks. Currently I'm on hour 23, sipping my black coffee and getting ready to hike 4 miles in my fasted state.
VICTORIA: Clean fasting has allowed me to fast so much longer with much more ease. It severely lessened hunger pains and the overall constant thoughts of food.
TRICIA: I thought I was fasting clean. I thought I was perfect, ha ha. But my weight loss had stalled for months. I was frustrated. I started reading more on clean fasting and I came across an article that suggested that even zero calorie sweeteners in soft drink could break a fast. Well, I was perfect-- I was only drinking water (don't like coffee). Then the next line terrified me, also chewing sugar free gum could have the same affect. What! I chewed that all day, everyday. That was how I succeeded to fast so well. I thought, I'll change nothing this week except stop chewing the gum and I'll see if it affects me. I secretly hoped it wouldn't have an effect, as the gum was my safety scaffolding. So I stopped chewing the gum, changed absolutely nothing else, nothing. I stepped on the scales, the same scales that had been going up and down by about 500 grams for the last few months and they were down 2.1 kg in a week. WOW. I can't believe that all that time I'd been chewing gum so as to keep me on track, it was actually the thing that was secretly derailing me. I actually look daggers at chewing gum in the supermarket aisles. I think I'll hold a forever grudge against it.
TRES: When I was drinking diet soda I was hungry all the time, when I started to fast clean not only did the hunger subside so did the bloating.
CYNDI: When I started drinking my coffee black it was gross but eventually I got to where I preferred it black. It kept me from being hungry which I didn't know it would do. Made fasting a lot easier.
RONDA: While I was drinking diet soda, I'd get hungry 20 to 30 minutes later. I never connected the hunger pains to drinking diet soda until I read the books!
BEV: I started drinking diet soda during my fast, also coffee with cream and sweetener, I read DDD and decided to clean fast. I did that about 3-4 weeks and decided it was too hard, so I got sloppy again, and went back to my other habits again. I was looking at some comments the other day, and something clicked. I am clean fasting again, and also not that interested in food. Doing 17-18 hr. fasts now. It seems easier this time, not sure what else is happening.
ASHLEY: Reading your book and identifying "clean fast" was a complete game changer for me. I have never met anyone who drank as much aspartame as I did... diet soda, sugar free coffee flavors, only flavored waters... at one point I was randomly dumping a sweetener packet in my mouth. Ashamed but honest... it was that bad. Clean fasting was a game changer for me and made the entire experience different. Black coffee and water for me.
MARYELLEN: I was doing 16:8 when I decided to do OMAD (One Meal a Day) after much research on OMAD. Found Gin's book Delay, Don't Deny and read it which brought me to her Facebook groups. I always wondered why if I"m eating 2 small meals (possibly less than my mother who doesn't have a weight problem) I was gaining and she wasn't. It was the fact that I was drinking my coffee with cream and the fasting time before OMAD was not clean. 2 days after I came to these groups I decided to leave the coffee with cream for my window and it was life changing. I didn't feel the hunger or the pains of GERD. It was only after the 3rd week of nothing but water and sparking water during my fast that I introduced black coffee into my fast. I drank my coffee black for 30 years and gave it up in my 40s by adding cream to neutralize my GERD. So going back to black wasn't that difficult. At first I thought the coffee was making me hungry but it was the added cream that was causing the hunger, not the coffee itself.
Aren't these stories incredible?
Does a "Clean Fast" REALLY matter?
I believe that the answer is absolutely, undoubtedly, YES.
Let's talk about food! Many people ask for guidance about what they "should" be eating, and my mantra is "Delay, Don't Deny," as you know. That being said, is there a "best" way for all of us to eat? That is the question that haunts many people.
If you ever want to have a HUGE argument, start talking to people about what we "should" all be eating. The Keto people have one view, and the vegans another. Should humans eat dairy? Grains? Are carbs, in fact, Satan? When did food become so complicated?
On the other side of the coin, I've also found that people can get really mad when we DON'T tell others how they should eat. Yes, it's true. Some people desperately want us to impose our food beliefs on others, whatever they are, and people have actually left my Facebook support groups because we don't make people eat "clean enough" for them, or some-such nonsense. (Note: my Facebook groups are not tied to any style of eating, and all types of eaters are welcome. But we aren't going to tell you how to eat, and we don't want you to tell US how to eat, either, thankyouverymuch.)
So? Does food quality matter, or doesn't it?
Well, OF COURSE QUALITY MATTERS. I want to add "DUH" after that, but it might be rude, so I won't. You're welcome.
So--if we agree that quality matters, why don't we tell everyone exactly how they should be eating from day one?
There really is a method to my madness. And here it is:
I believe it is empowering to make your own food choices.
I think it's a HUGE part of the process to learn how your body responds to food, in fact. We tell you: eat whatever YOU want. And we mean it.
That being said, It can be easy to misinterpret "you can eat whatever you want" and think it means that "food quality doesn't matter and you should eat junk food."
Newsflash: fast food is not going to be ideal for anyone, health-wise. But--don't we all know that, anyway?
The power of intermittent fasting is that over time, it guides us to make healthier choices...NATURALLY. I have seen it happen over and over. People realize they don't enjoy the foods they used to eat. They start craving healthier foods and low quality foods lose their appeal. We call it becoming a food snob. Now, if you tried to make me eat fast food for dinner, I would get mad at you. I don't want to waste my eating window on fast food! I didn't start out that way, and I ate a LOT of fast food as I lost weight, but now I just don't like it anymore. Nobody made me give up fast food. It happened naturally, over time.
Now think about this. If I told you what you should be eating, it would be just another diet, now wouldn't it? However, if you naturally learn what foods make YOU feel best, who is in charge?
YOU. You are in charge. Not me. Not some random stranger on the internet who doesn't know the first thing about you. YOU are the boss of yourself. #Powerful
How does this look for me? Over time, my body has let me know that I feel best when I eat high quality foods. Lots of veggies, plenty of carbs, high quality fat, whole grains, and not much meat. This is pretty much the exact opposite of how I used to eat when I was obese. Did someone tell me to eat this way? Am I doing it to be "good"? Nope. I like to feel good, so I eat what helps me feel good. It's not difficult to know how foods make me feel, since I'm fasting for the majority of the day. I can quickly tell if a food doesn't work well for my body.
Here's an example of that from my real life. Last week, we went to a restaurant that my son chose. I had a delicious patty melt and fries, and I enjoyed eating it...at the time. It wasn't technically fast food, but it was not the type of food I usually eat now. My stomach started to hurt soon after I ate. The next morning, my stomach was still upset. I got definite signals that my body didn't like that food, and in fact "rejected" that food completely, if you know what I mean. I'll remember that feeling. The next day, I ate a huge plate of veggies with my meal--not to atone for my patty melt sins, but because that's what I was craving.
Live your life. Eat food that is delicious and makes you feel good. Trust yourself to figure that out, over time. And most importantly: realize that your plate doesn't have to look like my plate, or anyone else's plate, for that matter. Sometimes you'll eat the patty melt, and one day you may realize you no longer want to eat it after all.
You are in charge.
First, before I get into the nuts and bolts of how to break a plateau or speed up weight loss, I want to mention that there are three groups of people who tend to get off to a really slow start when it comes to weight loss while following an intermittent fasting plan. I have seen it time and time again in weight loss support groups: someone complains that they aren't losing weight, or are even gaining weight, and upon further questioning, common patterns can be detected. If you fit into one of these groups, you are going to need more patience than others:
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, let's discuss plateaus and what we can do to speed up our weight loss!
Anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight has faced it: a period of time where the scale stops moving. The dreaded plateau has arrived! It is one of the most-discussed topics in any weight loss group that I have ever been a part of. Eventually, weight loss seems to come to a halt, even for many intermittent fasters. Does that mean the plan has stopped working for you, and that you are doomed to be stuck forever? No!
First, make sure you really are at a plateau.
If you have read Delay, Don't Deny, you recall that my suggestion is to either stop weighing completely or weigh daily, and take a weekly average once per week. Because weight can fluctuate a great deal from day to day, only compare your weekly averages to gauge your progress. There are many weight tracking apps that do this for you. Day-to-day weight fluctuations are not important; all we should care about is the overall trend. Weight loss is not linear, and usually looks more like a zig-zag. You may feel like you are not making progress because of the day-to-day fluctuations, but the overall trend is slowly moving downward. If you are making progress, even slow progress, you are not actually at a plateau.
What can we do when our weight loss seems to have stopped, or if it is much slower than we would like?
So--you have been tracking your weekly average for some time now, and you have confirmed that you aren't losing weight at all, or it is much slower than you would like. If you are losing at a rate of approximately a pound per week average (or more), then STOP WORRYING! That is a great pace, and you don't need to tweak anything. But if your loss is much slower than that, there are most definitely some strategies you can use in order to get your body moving in the right direction again.
But first, let's talk about calories for a minute. When I encourage you to eat to satiety without counting calories and to learn to listen to your appetite signals, and I tell you that trying to calculate calories day after day is not an effective strategy (because all foods are not treated the same in the body, and you also can't control what your body does with the calories you consume), that may give you the impression that the volume of food you eat doesn't matter. That's actually not true.
Yes. Even though counting calories is an ineffective strategy overall, the volume of food you eat does matter. You absolutely can overeat, especially in the beginning. Let me explain.
Fasting properly during the day provides a metabolic advantage because you are able to tap into your body's fat stores. Once your body adjusts to burning fat during the fast, your body doesn't perceive that you're in an energy deficit because it has plenty of fuel. Over time, your hormones--insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and others--begin to work together as they should. You find that your appetite gets into balance with your body's energy needs, just as nature intended. You get full and satisfied and stop eating after an appropriate amount of food. This doesn't happen overnight.
Before your satiety cues get back into focus, you may tend to overeat in your window. This can lead to initial weight gain rather than weight loss, because you are taking in more food than your body needs.
Even though fasting gives us a metabolic advantage, it's not magical. You CAN eat so much that you gain weight. Volume of food does matter.
Until you reach the state where your satiety cues are normalized, you may need coping strategies to prevent overeating. After you eat a plate of food, consider walking away from all food until your brain can recognize that you are full. Give yourself 20-30 minutes. Set a timer if you have to. Don't eat anything else during that period. When 20-30 minutes have passed, ask yourself if you're truly hungry before you eat again. Never eat just because your "window is still open." Don't eat more just because you want to make sure you ate "enough" to get you through the next fasting period. If you are satisfied, that means you should stop eating.
Intermittent fasting is magical in many ways (hormonal magic, if you will), but it's not so magical that you can eat a larger volume of food than your body requires day after day. Work on eating a satisfying amount of food, and then stop. Pay attention to how your body feels. Stop when you're pleasantly full and never eat more just because it's in your window. In time, you should reach the point where appetite signals are working together and it will get easier.
Now--for some plateau-busting and/or weight-loss boosting tips.
While I would argue that intermittent fasting is really more about health than weight loss, and once our bodies are healthy we are more likely to lose the weight we want to lose, I understand that most of us start this lifestyle because we want to lose the excess fat from our bodies. It's certainly why I began intermittent fasting. If we are working so hard to fast every day, we want to be rewarded with measurable weight loss. I get it.
The good news is that you absolutely can make some tweaks that get the fat loss started up again.
Pick and choose from the suggestions below--there are many ways to make this work for you.
First, check your fast. Are you REALLY fasting clean?
Go back to the basics: only black and unflavored coffee, plain boring teas, plain water, and unflavored sparkling waters. Have you been using just a bit of coconut oil or cream in your coffee? Are you drinking flavored waters? Are you adding ANYTHING to your plain coffee, tea, or water? Are you chewing gum, using breath mints, or breath strips? Perhaps it's making more of a difference than you thought. (YES, IT IS! I promise!) I can't overemphasize the importance of a clean fast.
(Side note: WHY do we long for mouth entertainment so badly during the fast? Fasting is supposed to be boring for your taste buds, not a magical flavor adventure.)
Next, consider your food quality.
Yes, I have often said "Delay, Don't Deny," but there is no doubt that all foods are not treated the same in your body. Highly processed foods are not your best friend if you are having difficulty losing weight. (This includes highly processed carbs, highly processed protein sources, and highly processed fats.) The last thing I want you to do is get stuck in diet mentality, where there are lists of "good" foods and "bad" foods, but consider adding more high quality foods and limiting overly processed foods. I include processed foods to some degree daily, but high quality foods are the basis of my diet--and I am also not trying to lose any more weight. If you read Delay, Don't Deny, you may recall that I eliminated highly processed foods for a period of time in order to get to my goal weight more quickly. I don't want to live that way forever, because I want the freedom to enjoy a variety of foods with no guilt (and bread is delicious), but it seemed to make a difference in the speed of my weight loss. One of my favorite books on the subject is The Science of Skinny. I don't agree with her recommendations to eat frequently throughout the day, but I think her food recommendations are spot-on. Food quality matters more to your body than some arbitrary number of "calories". When you eat a healthy and balanced diet made up of mostly high quality foods, there are many benefits for your body. One is that your gut bacteria are happier and your overall levels of inflammation go down, which can lead to easier weight loss. This is the same article I linked to above (click here), so you can tell I really want you to read it.
Consider switching-up (or tightening up) your fasting regimen.
There are many ways to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle. After much experimentation, I prefer a daily eating window approach, but that doesn't mean it's the best approach for you. You may need to try some different strategies to get the scale moving.
If you use the daily eating window approach but weight loss is slow, consider tightening it up. I couldn't lose weight with anything longer than a 5 hour window, and even a 5 hour window is too long for many people. Shorten your eating window for awhile and see if that helps. My suggestion would be to use a one hour window on weekdays and give yourself a longer window (up to 5 hours) on weekends. As I have said before, specifically in this blog post--it can be helpful to mix things up, rather than get into a consistent daily routine that encourages your body to adapt.
Another idea is to incorporate the up/down day approach into the daily eating window approach. I would suggest that you start with 5:2. That means that 2 days per week, eat 500 calories in one meal, and the other 5 days, continue with your daily eating window, as if the lower calorie days never happened. (This is the ONE time that I am ever going to recommend counting calories.) It's important to make sure you aren't over-restricting on the up days, in order to keep your metabolic rate from dropping. Fast, and then feast!
You can also add one longer fast per week, if you are really motivated. I have seen many people who add a 36-hour or 48-hour full fast once per week and finally start to see results on the scale. Continue with your daily eating window approach on the other days, but add that one longer fast per week and see what happens.
What if you are doing everything right, and the scale is STILL not moving?
For some people, particularly the three groups I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, your body is going to be more resistant to weight loss. You may need one thing, more than any other:
Yes, you need to give it time.
If you are in an intermittent fasting support group, you may see others dropping weight like crazy, while you sit there, week after week, seeing ZERO progress. It may feel like your body is broken, and beyond repair.
Your body didn't put on the excess weight overnight, and the hormonal changes that need to occur behind the scenes also aren't going to happen overnight. Keep on fasting consistently, keep the fasting time clean, and eat quality foods. Let your body heal. Pay attention to how various foods make you feel, and select foods that make you feel good. Focus on the other positive benefits you can detect, and trust the process.
There really are people who live an intermittent fasting lifestyle for MONTHS before seeing scale movement. Trust that once your body is ready, you should begin to see progress.
I highly encourage you to take body measurements if you are someone who is struggling to lose weight. Even though you may not see weight loss on the scale, you may see your measurements decreasing. That means that fat loss IS occurring. Many things can mask fat loss on the scale, and even though it looks like you aren't losing weight, you are, indeed, losing fat.
Never forget: over time, even slow progress adds up. A pound here, a pound there--eventually, you should lose the excess fat at the speed that is right for YOUR body.
Oh, coffee. (By the way...if you are not a coffee drinker, but you drink tea and wonder what you can add to it, you can substitute the word "tea" for "coffee" throughout this blog post and it still applies to you. You're welcome.)
Is there anything that inspires more affection from the intermittent faster than coffee?
Coffee wakes us up in the morning. Coffee is there for us when we are fasting. Coffee is that friend we can always count on. Coffee may even stimulate autophagy! Click here to read more. That is seriously the best news I have heard all day.
BUT--coffee is also one of the biggest stumbling blocks to living an intermittent fasting lifestyle for many people. In fact, one of the hottest topics on any intermittent fasting support group is this:
"How should I take my coffee?"
The answer is simple: BLACK. Period.
But, but, but.....
People do NOT want to hear that they need to switch to black coffee. For many, it's like they just heard the worst news of their lives and we are asking them to do something that is against their moral code. It is at that point that people start to search for reasons why it's "okay" to add "just a little" something into their coffee.
Why do we so desperately want to add something to our coffee?
Well, I'll be honest: black coffee is not something that tickles and amuses your taste buds. If you are used to a creamy and/or sweet concoction that passes for coffee--your daily "hot milkshake", if you will--then black coffee is going to taste like poison at first. Trust me--I've been there. When I first realized that I was going to have to switch my coffee to black in order to fully benefit from an intermittent fasting lifestyle, I decided that I would rather skip coffee altogether than drink it black. I went cold turkey, and the headache I got from the caffeine withdrawal was definitely not pleasant! But the longer I went without coffee, the more I realized it wasn't just the hit of caffeine that I enjoy. I really missed coffee. So--I added it back, and I knew it was going to have to be black. (Anyone else thinking of the AC/DC song, Back in Black, right now, or is just me?) The first day, I choked down that black coffee...and I didn't die. Over the next week or two, I started to actually enjoy it without wincing. Now, I can't believe what a baby I was about switching to black coffee. Drum roll: I actually prefer it black now.
You may think that there is NO WAY you will ever be able to switch to black coffee.
"It's okay for YOU, Gin, but I REALLY hate black coffee. I just can't do it."
If I had $1 for every person who told me that, I would have a big pile of dollars. Yes, YOU can. So many people start out just like me--grimacing through the black coffee. Then, they don't hate it anymore. After that, something funny happens. They'll try coffee the old hot-milkshake way that they used to drink it--only to discover that miraculously, they now PREFER it black. Then--another miracle--people realize how much easier it is to fast now that they are drinking their coffee black. It's very common for someone to post something like this:
"I can't believe I am now drinking black coffee...and I actually enjoy it! AND--fasting is so much easier now that I have switched! I didn't believe you, but it's true!"
You can thank me later. I'll look forward to it, in fact.
So--why is it important to have it black? Isn't there something we can add to the coffee so that it is more delicious, that is compatible with an intermittent fasting lifestyle? The answer is no.
Believe me, I've heard it all when it comes to our beloved coffee additives. People REALLY want to add something to coffee. There are so many ways to rationalize adding things to your coffee, but here are the most popular. (By the way, everyone always adds the disclaimer, "It works for me!", so I am going to add it to each statement, below, to make it more realistic):
Let's address those one by one.
My favorite artificial or natural sweetener doesn't add any calories to my coffee, so it is fine.
This is a big one. We have been trained for so long that "calories" are the dieter's enemy, right? Avoid calories and you will be fine! Following that logic, anything with zero calories must, therefore, be the dieter's best friend. However, the more we understand about how the body works, the more we realize that there is so much more to weight loss and maintenance than calories in/calories out. In fact, there is so much to this topic that it is beyond the scope of this blog post. Someone should write a book. Oh, wait. I did. And if you don't yet understand the role that insulin plays in fat storage, then you need to click here immediately and get my book, Delay, Don't Deny. In it, you will learn in detail why any kind of sweetener (or sweet taste) is a no-no during your fast. For now, remember this: anything that spikes your insulin, such as your preferred artificial sweetener, or even that innocent-sounding "natural" sweetener, is a bad idea if you are fasting. When you fast, your goal is for your body to dig down into your fat stores for energy. Since insulin is a hormone related to fat storage, the last thing you want to do is spike insulin during the fast. It's not the calories that are the problem: it's the insulin release. Sweet tastes cause insulin release. Just remember this: sweet=no. As I said, there is a much more detailed explanation in Delay, Don't Deny, so look for it there.
I only add a little creamer/milk/cream, and I'm still losing weight.
First of all, there are big differences between creamer and milk/cream. Let's break them down.
Creamer is absolutely a no-no. When we say "creamer," we are usually referring to a chemical concoction that has been developed in a lab. Now there are even some "natural" creamers, but these still contain something sweet. Refer to point #1, above--sweet=no. Creamer is never going to be a good idea.
What about milk and/or cream? Isn't that okay? To make matters even more confusing, one fasting expert (who I greatly respect and may even have a slight crush on...don't tell anyone) "allows" a small amount of heavy cream or milk in your coffee, so I see people clinging to that recommendation like a life raft. He "allows" it, so it's fine, right? Well, why does he "allow" it? Is it because adding a little cream or milk doesn't break the fast? No, it absolutely does break the fast. So, why would it be "allowed"? The answer: compliance. People are more likely to fast if they don't have to give up that creamy coffee. Just like with the sweeteners, though--you are not fully fasting if you are having milk and/or cream. You may be able to "get away with it," but you may also never know how you are cheating yourself out of the full benefits of a clean fast. Suck it up, buttercup: leave out the milk/cream. Give clean fasting a chance. You might just be surprised at the difference you notice!
Fat doesn't spike insulin, so I can add it to my coffee. Plus, some fats boost your metabolic rate!
That's a big one. We hear it all the time from promoters of "Bulletproof" coffee. So, what is Bulletproof Coffee, also known as BPC? Legend has it in the intermittent fasting world that if you add certain things to your coffee, such as coconut oil and/or butter, then your metabolism will be boosted to such a degree that you will burn more fat over the course of the day than you normally would. Who doesn't love a good metabolic boost, am I right? But is it true?
If you ask Uncle Google, you will find all sorts of claims about coconut oil. First of all, let me say that I have no doubt that coconut oil has many fabulous health benefits. I believe it is a wonderfully healthy food, and you can benefit from adding it to your diet. I have some in my pantry right now. However, I do not believe that it has magical properties that will result in your metabolism being boosted to such a degree that you are burning more energy than the energy contained in the coconut oil you just consumed. Let's do some math, and see what we can discover.
Coconut oil is rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), among other things. Of course, coconut oil isn't 100% MCT oil, but let's analyze MCT oil on its own, because many BPC proponents suggest that the MCT oil is the "magical" ingredient in the BPC (in fact, some BPC recipes recommend that you use pure MCT oil rather than coconut oil to get maximum benefits.) Does MCT oil really boost your metabolism? The answer is yes! In a study, found here, researchers found out that participants who were fed MCTs (30 g per day, divided among 3 meals) had an increase of energy expenditure (EE) of 500 kj per day. That sounds substantial, until you realize that 500 kj equals 119 calories. MCT oil has approximately 8.3 calories per gram, so that means that adding 30 grams of pure MCT oil (coming in at approximately 250 calories) caused an increased metabolic rate of 119 calories per day! Oops. According to that study, you have to consume 250 calories of MCT oil to boost your metabolism by 119 calories per day. Is that some sort of Common Core Math? (Sorry, that's a teacher joke.) Either way, we see that the math just doesn't work out in your favor.
I love Dr. Jason Fung's take on it. Click here to go to his blog post about adding extra fat to your diet. Basically, he says what I just did: if you are trying to lose body fat, do you really think that you will lose MORE body fat by adding fat to your day during the fast? It's common sense. Do you want to run on the fat from your body or the fat from your coffee cup? I know my answer to that question.
Is it ever a good idea to add fat to your coffee during the fast? My answer may surprise you, because the answer could be yes, depending on your situation. Within the fasting adjustment period, BPC might help you adjust to fasting by encouraging your body to switch to fat burning. Of course, you are going to be burning the fat from the coconut oil, rather than your own fat, but it absolutely can help you make the transition. For that reason, you may want to include it during the adjustment period and then gradually wean yourself off of it as your body adapts to burning your own fat. Just don't forget to wean yourself off of it. Also, be careful, because coconut oil can send you VERY QUICKLY to the restroom if you ingest it on an empty stomach. Don't ask me how I know this.
One final question people sometimes ask about coffee:
Is coffee REQUIRED? Do I HAVE TO drink coffee to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle?
The answer is: NO! Of course not. If you don't drink coffee, then why are you still here reading this blog post??? Coffee is not a required part of this lifestyle. Go on about your coffee-free life, and forget you ever saw this blog post.
But--if it is a required part of YOUR life, make the transition to black. You can thank me later.
Plus, you'll feel like such a grown up when you drink it.
We had an interesting discussion in our One Meal a Day Facebook group last week. In the intermittent fasting world, rumor has it that a certain fasting guru recommends against a daily eating window approach if you are trying to lose weight. The thinking is that over time, your body will adapt to the plan. If this happens, your body may decide that you have reached a state of energy balance, and therefore your body will happily settle at that point. In the diet community, we call that a plateau, and it is something we all dread.
First of all, I want to let you know that plateaus DO happen in any weight loss plan. So--of course, you should expect to hit plateaus along the way. In fact, understand that weight loss is rarely linear. Expect to see your weight zig-zag in an up, down, up, down pattern over time. The general trend should be down overall, but it will never be straight down. This is why I suggest weekly averaging in my book. When you compare your weekly averages, you can see the overall downward trends that can be masked by the daily fluctuations. Either weigh daily and only compare the weekly averages or stay off the scale and trust the process.
But--what about the body adapting to your plan so that weight loss really does stop? Can we prevent it from happening?
This is such an important point to understand. When you follow an intermittent fasting lifestyle using the strategies I suggest in Delay, Don't Deny, you don't have to worry so much about your body adapting. If, however, you are a rigid meal-timer or a careful calorie/macronutrient-counter, that can actually be a problem. Let me explain why.
The body absolutely can adapt to anything you do that's the same day-in and day-out. If you eat the same exact number of calories, as an example, or always eat a small meal in a 30 minute eating window, then YES! Your body can adapt to that pattern of intake. Your metabolic rate can adjust to match what you are eating, and your weight loss may come to a halt.
How do you keep your body from adjusting to your plan?
Good news! You absolutely CAN apply some strategies to keep your body from adapting to a specific level of caloric intake. And more good news! If you are listening to your hunger and satiety signals, and adjusting your intake based on those signals, you are already on the right track.
I don't eat the same way every day, and you may notice that I don't ever suggest that YOU should eat the same way every day, either. In fact, I say over and over again that you should learn to listen to your body and adjust intake as needed within your daily eating window.
Even though I generally eat "one meal", it's not ever the exact same size, the exact same length, the exact same macronutrients--it's not even always at the exact same time. NOTHING is the same about it from day to day. Some days, I actually eat TWO meals. On vacation, I may even eat THREE meals.
It is important that you learn to listen to your body, and don't be overly rigid in your intermittent fasting lifestyle.
Don't schedule a rigid window that is exactly the same every day. Don't count calories or macronutrients so they are precisely the same every day to hit some artificial or predetermined calorie or macronutrient target. Don't aim for some sort of dietary perfection where you can never relax and enjoy life. THAT is a bad idea.
Instead, be more flexible. Listen to your body. Eat more some days. Eat less some days. Vary your window length. Live your life.
One day your body may be satisfied with a very small amount of food. STOP EATING. Trust those satiety signals. The next day you may need a longer window because you are hungrier. EAT MORE. Trust that you needed more, rather than beating yourself up because you are "weak" or some-such nonsense.
Take a day off for a special occasion. Live a little when life allows.
This is not a rigid plan--it's a lifestyle. And now you should understand this point: making the lifestyle rigid and diet-like is actually counter-productive to your goals after all!
It's both as simple and as complicated as that.
Will you plateau and stop losing? Yes. At your body's ideal weight. Eventually. In a few years, maybe. I assume so, anyway. Even 2 years into "maintenance," I am still slowly losing, according to my changing size. Am I losing scale weight? Don't know. Don't care. I don't weigh. My clothes are looser and my body is still changing. I just had to put some pants away that I wore last spring and now they are too big.
When you do reach "your ideal weight," expect weight loss to stop. Who decides that you are now at your ideal weight? Surprise! It's not your conscious brain. It's your body. When your body decides you are at the ideal weight for the way you are living your life, you should stop losing weight and you will be at a permanent plateau. If you are lucky, it will be at a weight that your conscious-self also thinks is your ideal weight. If so, you have achieved weight loss Nirvana, which is when you feel good at your current weight, and your body is also happy to maintain that weight.
Remember: if you enjoy this lifestyle, then simply relax and enjoy the journey. You won't lose all of the excess weight quickly. You may get to a point, like I have, and stay at approximately the same size for 2 years, with a very gradual loss of extra fat over time. Eventually you should get closer and closer to your ideal weight, and your body will decide when you are there. Not you. It may be higher or lower than you thought it would be. Mine is actually lower than I thought it would be, according to my what my body has decided. And I'm not mad about it.
So: you're trying intermittent fasting. Maybe you are a new intermittent faster, or maybe you've been doing it for awhile. Every day you manage to white-knuckle it to your eating window, but you wistfully look at people eating around you ALL. DAY. LONG. You smell their delicious lunches. (Funny how a Lean Cuisine can suddenly look appealing...) You see them drinking a coffee with fancy flavored creamer or even enjoying a frappi-diabetes-uccino, and you resent that THEY "get to" eat, drink, and be merry, while you are sitting there drinking your black coffee-bean water and counting the hours until you can break your fast. Sound familiar? I've been there, too. Fortunately, I no longer feel that way, and it is because I have completely changed my mindset.
You may or may not know that I am an elementary teacher, and this has been my profession for the past 27 years. As a teacher, one of the most important books that I ever read was a book called Mindset, written by Dr. Carol Dweck. The book is based on Dr. Dweck's research into the importance of a person's mindset. As an example, she found that when children feel like their success is related to hard work and perseverance, which she calls a "growth mindset," they are willing to take on challenges and persevere through difficulties. If, however, they are trapped in a "fixed mindset," they feel like their abilities are "fixed," and therefore they are unwilling to take risks or push through certain challenges. Based on her research, I completely changed the way I speak to children, and I have found that it has made a tremendous difference in my classroom. I no longer tell them they are "smart" or that they are "good" at something. Instead, I mention how hard they have worked to master a skill, or ask them to explain how they figured something out. When they are having trouble with something, I ask them to try and figure out why they are having that particular issue and then encourage them to make a plan to overcome the challenge. Because of this change, I have found that my students are more willing to take risks and they are also willing to fail. They understand that it takes hard work to do anything worthwhile, and while everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses, we are not stuck with our current abilities. Anything worth doing takes work, and we are all capable of growth. If you are interested in learning more about the research related to mindset, click here.
I have applied this research on the importance of mindset into my personal life, as well. We can get stuck in certain types of thinking that affect our lives in many ways. For example, I used to be trapped in a "diet" mindset. I felt like I was either "on" a diet, or I was "off" of it. I was either being "good" on my diet, or I was "cheating." And so I was always either losing weight, or I was gaining weight, depending on whether I was "on" or "off"; "good" or "bad." Can you relate to that? If you have as much dieting history as I do, I am sure you can.
When I first discovered intermittent fasting, I approached it with my typical diet mindset. I thought I would follow it until I got to my goal, and then I would figure out how to maintain my loss in a way that allowed me to "eat like a normal person" as much as possible. I viewed intermittent fasting as a temporary fix to a temporary problem. What I didn't realize is that the diet mindset was actually my PERMANENT problem, and that is the thing I needed to fix. And I needed to fix it PERMANENTLY. Only by losing the diet mindset could I finally lose the weight I also needed to lose. When I realized that intermittent fasting needed to be my lifestyle in order to maintain the 80+ pound loss, it made a tremendous difference. I wasn't going to stop intermittent fasting, and there was no end point at which time I could declare I was done. I had officially conquered the diet mindset, and it felt great. I will NEVER "diet" again!
I hope you have stuck with me, because this next section describes the most important mental shift of all. For a long part of the process, I was also stuck in the "can't" mindset. I "can't" eat until 5. I "can't" eat when everyone else is eating. I "can't" put stevia in my coffee. I was focused on deprivation, which is a carryover of my old diet mindset. Instead of enjoying the fasting time, I put my attention onto what I couldn't do. I have to admit: sometimes fasting during the day felt like torture that I had to tolerate until it was time to eat. I saw coworkers, friends, or family members eating breakfast and lunch and I felt disgruntled. Why couldn't I eat like everyone else? I deserved it!
If you're still stuck in the "can't" mindset, it's time to change that. You will NEVER enjoy the intermittent fasting lifestyle until you get rid of the "can't" mentality.
Here is one example of how I have changed my self-talk. I no longer tell myself that I deserve to eat just because everyone else is eating. No, I tell myself that I deserve to be slim and healthy! Once I made that particular mind-shift, I was able to watch others eat without feeling the least bit disgruntled. I am able to cook breakfast for my family and not even have one moment where I feel like I should be eating along with them. Whenever you start to feel like you deserve to eat something, remember that what you really deserve is to be slim and healthy.
What about the "can't" mindset? How do you conquer that particular feeling? Try reading or re-reading the benefits of intermittent fasting. Remember: it's not all about weight loss (though we aren't mad about that particular benefit, are we?) No, it's about having vibrant health! You have discovered the fountain of youth! To remind yourself of some of these amazing health benefits, re-read my blog post called "2017: The Year of Intermittent Fasting", and pay close attention to the section on autophagy.
It's not that you "can't" eat frequently; it's that you CHOOSE NOT TO! You now know it's better for your body to not be in a fed state constantly. You are CHOOSING to give your body a long period each day to take care of cellular housekeeping; one side effect happens to be that you will eventually lose your excess fat and then you'll be at your ideal weight forever. WIN-WIN, PEOPLE! Where's the deprivation there? I certainly didn't feel deprived last month when I bought a pair of size 0 jeans at The Loft (thanks, vanity sizing!) When you view fasting through the lens of health and longevity, you realize that you are only depriving yourself of the diseases related to the over-consumption of food and constant insulin release. I am actually pretty excited to deprive myself of those health problems!
Would you like to know one other way to help lose your "can't" mindset? For me, it's every single time I make a choice to extend my eating window and eat early in the day. I did that very thing on Tuesday of this week. It was a teacher workday, and all teachers know that the most exciting days of the year are the days when we get to LEAVE SCHOOL AND GO TO A RESTAURANT. Like a REAL PERSON. With ADULTS. Teachers of the world know what I mean--there's just something exciting about driving away from that school building in the MIDDLE OF THE DAY with your teacher friends.
So, what's a teacher to do? I decided that since I was sitting there in my smallest jeans, I might as well enjoy a great lunch. After all, this is a lifestyle, not a prison sentence. I can eat lunch if I want to. So I did! Then, after lunch, we had cake at a faculty meeting. Then, I spent the rest of the workday in a funk, feeling like I needed to take a nap. What's fun about that?!?!?!? Nothing at all, in fact. I was grumpy, I was tired, and I also suddenly felt like I wanted to snack for the rest of the day. Apparently this is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again. I have never once been glad that I ate lunch on the teacher workday. I guess I still have some work to do on my "special occasion" mindset. A teacher workday isn't really a special occasion, is it?
The good news is that I remembered this lesson yesterday when my husband wanted to take me out to lunch. Once I had first given him the stank-eye (because, HELLO? When is the last time you saw me eat lunch, and you may remember that I wrote a book about why?!?!?) I was able to convince him to Delay, Don't Deny, and we had a lovely meal...at 3:30 pm. (Turns out we had to go before 4 to get the "lunch special." My sweet husband wanted to save money by eating lunch at the restaurant instead of dinner. Bless.) It was a gorgeous day and we ate outside. I called it "dinner" and it was fantastic.
So, are you ready to change your mindset? Once you make these important mental shifts, you learn to appreciate the fasting time every bit as much as you appreciate the delicious foods that you eat in your eating window.
Oh, and understand that my personal mental shifts didn't happen overnight. Give it time. Most importantly, work on changing your self-talk, so that you can shift your mindset for good. I promise that life is better on the other side!
It's time for all of us to make a (late) New Year's Resolution: 2017 is the year we take intermittent fasting mainstream! It's time for us to all rise up together and let the world know that we are NOT crazy, and we are actually on the forefront of a great health and wellness movement that should be sweeping the world! It's time to educate our friends and family about the benefits of intermittent fasting!
We may feel like early-adopters, which is far from the truth; fasting has been around for all of human history. Even though people have been quietly fasting for years (the practice has been around for decades, centuries, and even thousands of years), we still have a lot of work to do to convince the modern world that intermittent fasting is safe, and actually a very healthy practice. So, let's get started!
Whether you are an experienced or new intermittent faster, you've gotten the speeches from well-meaning friends and family members:
"You are putting yourself in starvation mode!"
"Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!"
"You must eat 6 small meals per day to keep your metabolism from shutting down!"
And then your well-meaning friend tells you about the fantastic new diet plan that is guaranteed to work, and all you need to do is eat seaweed before every meal, or do a superfruit juice cleanse known only to the lost tribe of the rainforest, or some other nonsense.
Because of all of the push-back, many intermittent fasters are hesitant to share their lifestyles with anyone. Some people even allow themselves to be talked out of trying it, because it can be really hard to stand up for what you believe in the face of criticism. That stops today!
I promise you this: it's a lot easier to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle if you can do so openly, and when you don't feel like you need to hide it from others.
The important first step is to educate yourself on the benefits of intermittent fasting, because if you have any nagging doubts, you won't be able to defend the practice. Read, read, and read some more, until you are confident. Watch videos. Listen to podcasts. The information is out there, if you look for it. Of course, I think you should read Delay, Don't Deny, and also encourage your friends to read it; but there are many other sources of information that can teach you about the health, metabolic, and weight loss benefits related to intermittent fasting.
So, let's get educated!
Many of us begin intermittent fasting for weight loss, but IF is about so much more than just weight management. Even if you never lost a pound, I am convinced that IF is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body. Over the past year, the biggest news in the intermittent fasting world was without a doubt the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine. As written in the press release, Yoshinori Ohsumi "discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components." What stimulates autophagy? Fasting, of course!
Rather than try to explain all of the benefits of autophagy myself, I am going to share some links that will take you to videos and/or well-written and easy to understand discussions about autophagy, so you can learn about it yourself. Click here to view a video that explains the process and benefits of autophagy, even though it is a bit dry and science-y. The article available here explains many of the benefits of autophagy in straightfoward terms, and this is a powerful quote from that article: "Autophagy is a process of cellular recycling that effectively removes old, damaged, and faulty equipment in our body, potentially stopping cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, infections, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, and even aging." WOW. Who wouldn't want those benefits? With a list like that, I think you would have to be crazy NOT to try intermittent fasting, personally. You can read Dr. Fung's take on autophagy here, on his blog at Intensive Dietary Management. (His explanations are always my favorite.) Dr. Mercola discusses autophagy here, and there is also a short video with his article about the process.
Notice that I led with the health benefits of intermittent fasting, because I want you to have that first and foremost in your mind. IF is healthy, and fasting has powerful anti-cancer, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits. Even if you never lost a pound, it is worth doing for the health benefits alone. BUT--is it crashing your metabolism, as critics warn? Are you putting yourself in danger of slowing your metabolic rate, resulting in long-term damage to your metabolism and eventual weight gain? Fortunately, the answer is NO.
This study is often cited by intermittent fasting experts, and I included it in Delay, Don't Deny, as well. From the study: "Resting metabolic rate (kJ/min) was significantly increased after 36 h of starvation...but was not significantly different from the 12 h value after 72 h." Don't be alarmed by the use of the word "starvation" in that quote, because they are referring to periods of intermittent fasting from 12 to 72 hours in length. Nobody ever starved to death in 12-72 hours (though my cat often thinks he is going to starve to death if he can see the bottom of the cat food bowl.) When you analyze that quote from the study, you see that they found that metabolic rate INCREASED after 36 hours of fasting, and at 72 hours, the metabolic rate wasn't lower than the metabolic rate measured after 12 hours. Metabolic shutdown? Clearly not! On the contrary--at the 36 hour mark, metabolic rate was UP. Take that, "you're going to shut down your metabolism" naysayers!
This article does a nice job summarizing much of the thinking surrounding intermittent fasting and metabolism. Of course, as usual, the most entertaining analysis of intermittent fasting and metabolism can be found on Dr. Fung's blog at Intensive Dietary Management. His classic post is found here (with an accompanying photo of George Constanza, in all of his glory), and Dr. Fung explains how IF not only protects your metabolism, but it can also help reverse metabolic damage brought on by following calorie-restricted diets in the past. This is really important to understand: not only are you NOT tanking your metabolism through IF, you can actually repair damage brought on through other dietary approaches. Keep in mind--this isn't always a fast process (fasting pun, right there...) If you have been following a restrictive diet long-term prior to starting an IF regimen, expect weight loss to be slow or nonexistent for awhile. You could even gain weight at first, until your body has a chance to heal metabolically. No one wants to hear that, but you should be aware of the possibility if you are a long-term dieter.
1. Fasting is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body! As we discussed, fasting stimulates autophagy. This is how your body naturally takes out the cellular trash, and the more I read about it, the more I believe that it's one of the most powerful things you can do for your health.
2. Intermittent fasting is great for your body metabolically. Rather than slowing your metabolism, which we find in diets that promote long-term calorie restriction, IF has metabolic benefits you miss out on when you follow typical diet recommendations. (I'm looking at YOU, "eat less/move more"...) You can even repair metabolic damage brought about by long term restrictive dieting through fasting, though it takes time.
It's important for you to realize that intermittent fasting is not some radical new fad diet that is here today, and gone tomorrow. It's an ancient practice that is seen all around the world and in every major religion. In intermittent fasting, you're not being asked to go 40 days and 40 nights without food; with most intermittent fasting plans, you are eating until you are satisfied every day, and most people find that it's a lot more enjoyable than trying to eat tiny meals spread throughout the day. Once you adjust, it's actually easier than typical diet plans. This is one of those things that most people don't believe until they try it for themselves.
Now that you understand how many benefits are associated with intermittent fasting, you should be confident in your lifestyle choice. Once you are confident, you shouldn't hesitate to share it with others. I genuinely believe that we owe it to our loved ones to let them in on our secret, so they can experience the benefits of intermittent fasting for themselves. Direct them to this blog post, or to Delay, Don't Deny. Together, we can spread the word and make 2017 the year that intermittent fasting goes mainstream!
There are lists in my book, Delay, Don't Deny, that are quite specific about things you should and shouldn't have while fasting. Black coffee, plain water, unflavored sparkling water, plain teas...all are safe. Anything that tastes sweet is NOT safe. But would it surprise you to know that there is a grey area in the middle?
The issue is that we are all different, and our bodies may not all release insulin in response to the exact same things. Some items are never a good idea: anything that tastes sweet is an immediate no-no. We know that we should avoid all artificial sweeteners, and even "natural" sweeteners that proclaim that they are "GREAT FOR DIABETICS!" or "Low-glycemic!" or "Won't raise blood sugar!" (Remember: we are worried about raising insulin, not blood sugar. That confuses a lot of people. Sweet tastes raise insulin levels, not blood sugar. In fact, if your body releases insulin, you would actually expect to see your blood sugar go DOWN as insulin does its job--which is to lower your blood sugar. I have had many people argue that a particular artificial sweetener is fine for them because they tested their blood sugar after consuming it and their blood sugar didn't go up. Of course it didn't! Insulin lowers blood sugar. It also stops the fat burning process, which is why we want to avoid it during the fast.)
The items in the grey area include things like various herbal teas, lemon wedges, apple cider vinegar, and the like. When you ask, what about this tea, or that tea, or lemon wedges, or apple cider vinegar in water, or.....? I can't give you a definitive list of what is okay, because the answer isn't the same for everyone.
Some people do well with lemon wedges in their water, or a bit of Apple Cider vinegar throughout the day. Others don't. You are going to have to do some experimenting to find out for yourself.
Here is how you will know what works for you and what doesn't. First, you need to fast "clean" for 2 weeks or more. By fasting "clean", I mean nothing but plain black coffee, plain water, plain sparkling water, and plain black or green tea. At the end of that time period, you will be familiar with how your body feels while fasting.
At that point, try whatever it is that you are questioning. That certain tea that you aren't sure about. Lemon wedges. Apple Cider Vinegar. Whatever it is you think might be okay, but aren't sure about.
If the item is okay for you, you won't notice any difference in hunger or energy levels. You'll feel the same as you did when fasting clean. If that happens, congratulations! That item is fine for you.
If the item is not okay, you will know very soon. You'll feel shaky or hungry within about an hour (if not sooner), and it will be harder to fast. This is why it is so important to fast clean for a couple of weeks first. When you are used to fasting, you can tell when something doesn't work for you because you are in-tune to your body.
Once, I had a very noticeable reaction to some strawberry flavored mineral water. The only ingredients were mineral water and "natural strawberry flavor." Within an hour, I was shaky and STARVING. I knew right then that my body is very sensitive to fruit flavors, and I have avoided them ever since.
I also can't handle apple cider vinegar. It makes me noticeably hungry. Others drink it all day long while fasting (a T or so diluted in water, hot water, or sparkling water) and do just fine. Some people tolerate lemon water. Some don't. You get it.
The moral of the story is: when it comes to items in the grey area, no one can tell you 100% what will work for YOU during the fast. You have to learn that for yourself.
And NO--this is not an excuse to try to work in your favorite Diet Soda. This one is easy: sweet=no. EVERY TIME.
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the book Delay, Don't Deny, Gin is co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.ifpodcast.com or search for The Intermittent Fasting Podcast on iTunes.