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.
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.
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?
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? This blog post is about the "Maybe..." section that we call the grey area.
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 these things:
Here is how you can be absolutely sure about what works for you and what doesn't, specifically when talking about herbal teas, peppermint oil, and vitamins/supplements. 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. This is explained here, in my blog post, Does a "Clean Fast" Really Matter. Give yourself several weeks to see how your body feels during the daily fast (6 weeks to 2 months would be even better...the goal is to really know how your body feels during the clean fast, and it can take 6-8 weeks for your body to adjust). 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 6 to 8 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 6 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 from the grey area that you are questioning.
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 enough time first. When your body is used to fasting clean, you can tell when something doesn't work for you because you are in-tune with 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.
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 or other items from the "no" list.
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the #1 Amazon best-seller Delay, Don't Deny and the follow-up book Feast Without Fear, Gin is host of the Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast and co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.intermittentfastingstories.com and www.ifpodcast.com or search for the podcasts through your favorite podcast app.