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 awhile. By fasting "clean", I mean nothing but plain black coffee, plain water, plain sparkling water, and plain black or green tea during your daily fasting time. Give yourself two to three weeks to see how your body feels during the daily fast. At the end of that time period, you will be familiar with how your body feels during the day while fasting, including your daily levels of hunger. (And NO, I do not mean that you should fast nonstop for 2 or 3 weeks straight..I'm an intermittent faster, NOT an extended faster. What I mean is that you should follow your preferred intermittent fasting routine for at least 2 weeks, fasting clean during the fast and then enjoying your eating window each day. That should be enough time for you to know how your body feels during the fasted part of the day.)
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.