Gettin’ Healthy Phase Two: Fasting Protocols

December 2, 2018    By: Geoff J @ 9:13 pm   Category: Health

In the first installment of this series I talked about how the first step I took to getting into better shape and cutting body fat was to start counting calories. That works. The problem is that if you do it wrong you’ll consistently be hungry and no one wants to live the rest of their lives feeling hungry. The persistent hunger is largely why my previous calorie counting forays worked for a while but ended up not lasting. Basically the normal pattern was I’d injure myself somehow, stop exercising, and with the extra calorie-burn from exercise gone from my counting equation I’d give up and stop counting calories since it was too easy to get into a calorie surplus daily with no exercise anyway. Then I’d go back to that 185-195 lb range I had drifted into over the years. Like I said, at just over 6’0″ I was never all that fat, I was just a bit… what’s the right word… Squishy? Flabby? Soft? (And for the record, the BMI scale indicates I am “overweight” at anything over 185 lbs. I know BMI gets a bad rap, but the fact is that most of us would benefit from believing it.)

Anyhow, I believe that trying time-restricted eating was a key ingredient this time to help the calorie counting stick and to me getting much better results this time around. More on that below.

Various Fasting Protocols

First of all, we Latter-day Saints know a bit about fasting. Most of us have been fasting at least once per month since we were wee Mormons. Turns out there are all sorts of ways one can fast, including the standard 20-24 hour no food or drink method I grew up with in the church. Here are some variations that get lumped under “fasting” when it comes to health.

1. Straight fasting

A little studying revealed to me that as long as you keep your sodium levels up (for electrolytes) and a few other things like magnesium and potassium you can fast (with water) for many days at a time. Our bodies are pretty good at keepin’ on it seems. I haven’t tried a long fast but I will fire up and occasional 24-48 hour fast now that I’ve been sold on some of the benefits of fasting, not the least of which is autophagy. It’s not always comfortable but the reported benefits make it worth trying I think.

2. Time-restricted eating

This is probably the most popular method of “intermittent fasting” these days. It basically means you do all of your eating for the day in a specified window of time. Probably the most popular version of this is an 8 hour feeding window per day with no calories the rest of the day. So for instance, maybe you skip early breakfast and do all of your eating for the day between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Or maybe you go from Noon to 8:00 PM. Or maybe 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM works best. The hours you choose don’t matter much — the key is no calories outside of that eating window. Many folks will take this a step further and cut the feeding window to 6, 4, or 2 hours per day. With the One Meal A Day (OMAD) method having lots of champions — especially for when trying to cut fat.

The reported benefits of this kind of fasting are myriad. Just do a search on the term “intermittent fasting” in a search engine or YouTube and hundreds of results will pop up. But here are the things I personally like best about it:

    A. I just get less hungry. Especially now that my body has adapted to the eating window. I get hungry basically at 10:00 AM every morning because that’s when I normally start eating every day. Other than that I might have some mild hunger in evenings or just before 9:00 AM but it’s just that — mild.

    B. When I do get hungry I know it will pass and knowing when I’m eating next makes getting past any hunger waves way easier.

    C. It’s not that easy to massively overeat in a shorter feeding window. I mean you can do it — but it’s much harder than it is when you are grazing from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM.
    D. My migraines have gone away. I don’t know which of the magical aspects of fasting made this happen but the migraines I used to have to stave off with Excedrin once or twice a week have basically gone away. Love that part.
    E. I haven’t had the bouts of melancholy/depression this year that used to come on for a month or so at a time. I just feel better.

I want to note that while I keep my eating window pretty similar most days, I am flexible about it. For instance if I know I am going out to a restaurant that night I’ll usually just hold off longer before I start eating that day. Or some days, like holidays, I’ll just scrap the eating window and pick things up again the next day. I don’t recommend being fanatically strict about the hours. The goal is to find something that is sustainable and fanatical hour watching is not sustainable long term.

3. Quasi-fasting (calorie restriction on certain days)

One form of “intermittent fasting” has people restricting calories to 400-600 per day periodically. I blogged about this some years ago. Some people do this every other day, some recommend it once or twice per week. I tried this back in 2013 and my problem with this approach was I got ravenously hungry when I tried it. In retrospect it was probably from trying to spread the 600 calories out throughout the day (thus never really entering a “fasted state”). Plus for my 600 calories I was eating too many carbs which spiked my insulin and made me way hungrier by the afternoon. If I were to do this again I’d just treat it as an OMAD day with low calories and would probably go straight protein and fat on the 600 calories to avoid insulin spikes. That would make it more of a real fast anyway.

I’ve learned fasting ain’t for everyone

The time-restricted version of fasting in conjunction with calorie counting has worked wonders for me. I’m back to my wedding weight and KJ and I got married back in 1992. But it doesn’t work for everyone. KJ tried time-restricted eating and hated it. Her hunger would get ravenous — especially late at night and it would interfere with sleep for her, which was already an issue. In the next installment I’ll talk about the approach that has worked wonders for her: The Keto Diet.

I decided to get less fat this year: Phase One

November 16, 2018    By: Geoff J @ 11:05 pm   Category: Health

So I’ve cut like 30 pounds of fat this year. I figured I’d blog about it.

First, the basics: I’m just over 6 feet tall, turned 48 this year, and at the start of the year I was up to 196 pounds. No one considered me fat, but I was sporting a fairly standard 21st century middle-aged-man dad bod. I was convinced that if I could get down to 180 pounds I’d have super low body fat. Turns out, I had WAY more body fat on me than that. But more on that later.

Phase One — Calorie Counting:

First thing I did was I started counting calories in and calories out. Don’t let anyone tell you that doesn’t work — it does. I like to build me a good spreadsheet so I determined that the number of calories it took me to maintain my weight (at the time) was probably about 1800 per day (assuming basically no exercise). This is generally referred to as basal metabolic rate or BMR. You can easily get an estimate for your BMR by googling some online calculators.

So I started recording how many calories I consumed daily. Then when I exercised I’d subtract the extra calories I thought I’d burned from that. For instance, I roughly assumed I burned about 100 calories per mile of walking (again based on basic internet research) so if I went on a three mile walk I’d subtract 300 calories. The cardio machines at the gym give you a calories burned number so that’s easy. And I basically assumed an hour of weight lifting is about 500 calories. You get the gist. My goal wasn’t to be exact because that’s not feasible, but I didn’t want to cheat because that defeats the purpose.

Every day I’d tally things up. If I consumed 1500 calories but lifted weights for any hour at -500 that would be 1000 net calories that day. The assumption I use, again from internet research, was that -3500 calories was roughly one pound of fat. So my initial goal was to get to -35,000 calories which would mean I cut 10 pounds of fat.

Side note: Having tried this on and off in years past I discovered that my biggest problem was under-counting calories. So to offset that, I set my BRM number at 1500 rather than 1800. I figured that would balance out my persistent under-counting problem and it has proved to be effective.

Solid Early Returns

I went at it pretty hard that first month or so, and sure enough, it worked. I was consuming an average of about 1300 calories per day and burning off an average of about 700 per day, putting me at a net of just 600 per day. In less than forty days I was at my -35,000 calories goal. And sure enough, I was tipping the scales at just 184 — 12 pounds lower than when I started. Success! Plus I was actually slowly getting stronger by hitting the weights maybe 2-3 times per week.

I kept on for a few more weeks and pounds kept coming off. By day 50 I was down to 181 pounds and feeling pretty stoked about it. Then came the work trip to New Orleans and I encountered my first hiccup. More on that next post.

But for now I’ll just say counting calories works like a charm for me. At least to lose weight at first. My spreadsheet is crucial to it all though. I’m already in front of my computer all day for work so having that spreadsheet there all the time helps when it comes to recording the calories in and out. Plus I have made a nifty little graph that makes it all super visual and motivating for me.

Counting Calories In

In order to count calories in I ended up eating a ton of frozen foods that first couple of months. I liked the food well enough, it’s mostly easy to microwave, and the exact calorie count is easy to see with those. Same with canned food. For other foods you often have to just google the stuff you’re eating. Occasionally I’d even weigh some stuff but I’m too lazy to do that much. After a while you kind of get a hang of figuring out how many calories you’re taking in. If you cheat the scale (and the tightness of your waistband) won’t lie.

I do a lot less frozen foods now, as I’ll explain later, but those easily calorie-countable items are still useful as part of my program.

What Next?

In follow up posts I’ll go over what I did when I got off track, my experiences with intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating), the ketogenic diet, creatine, weight training vs cardio, and more. Stay tuned.

But of course, chime in on the topic in the comments here. I’ve been away from my blog for years so we can make it like old times!

Fasting For Health

May 18, 2013    By: Geoff J @ 6:33 pm   Category: Health,Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

A little more than a month ago I came across a BBC program on the subject of fasting. You can watch the whole thing here.

If you don’t have a whole hour to watch I recommend picking up around the 36 minute mark where they start discussing intermittent fasting, or alternate day fasting. The basic concept is to alternate between fasting days and “feasting” days. A fast day consists of 400-500 calories for women or 500-600 calories for men. (You are encouraged to drink all the water you want on fast days). On the feed/feast days you eat whatever you want.

What are purported benefits of alternate day fasting? All sorts of things according to the researchers interviewed. Here are some mentioned in the documentary:

  1. Weight loss. It turns out that people doing this intermittent fasting don’t normally eat double their daily recommended calories on feed days. They are more likely to eat about 110% of recommended caloric intake so there is a net calorie deficit every week and that means steady weight loss.
  2. Reduced blood sugar levels. Warding off diabetes is always a good thing, right?
  3. Reduced levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and blood pressure. They say this is a good thing. Reportedly reduces risk of heart disease and whatnot.
  4. Improved brain function. Mice on intermittent fasting remain mentally sharp far longer than the mice that were fed well daily. The theory is that humans see similar benefits. Fasting reportedly causes brains to grow new brain cells. Researchers interviewed for the piece think that this is an evolutionary survival mechanism; as we fast our brains quickly get stronger to give us better odds of wrangling up some food to stay alive. (I’ve been told that other studies indicate fasting has been shown to improve student test scores as well.)

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