October 15, 2015

Intermittent Fasting: A Toe In the Water

Forgive me with the title, but I couldn't resist. As my last post showed in the last photo, I have an unexpected toe injury.

It's healing, but I've restricted my physical activity this week in an effort to heal as much as possible (in hopes that I can do the trail 10K I'm already registered for this weekend).

In non-toe-news, I've been thinking of trying a 24-hour water fast for a while now.  I've studied enough Buddhism to find fasting a very fascinating discipline.  Of course, I've toyed with the idea of trying it over the years, but I'd never done so.

However, you may have noticed that intermittent fasting is all over the nutrition/health news these days.

Intrigued by the recent hype, I'd looked a little deeper, and the science around intermittent fasting looked relatively solid (to my oh-so-brief-scan-of-the-most-recent-published-study-abstracts). At a minimum, I figured that it if it turned out water fasting wasn't a huge burden, then it might benefit me, or worst case, it would just give me the same benefits of an equal decrease in calories on a constant calorically restricted diet.  Either way, I knew a short mid-week fast wouldn't hurt me.

Based on everything I'd read and heard about fasting over the years, I knew I didn't want my first attempt to be during any sort of heavy physical activity.

So, enter the busted toe.  Clearly, I needed to take advantage of the situation and try one of the intermittent fast options and see how it treated me.

Bonus: E and I needed to detox from our Alaska trip (surprisingly, despite a diet full of fried things, the cold shivering metabolic demands were such that we were both shocked to arrive home without either of us gaining weight -- Clearly this is a miracle, as we were there for less than a week and I alone consumed many things I wouldn't ordinarily including a cheesesteak, brunch with hollandaise, mac and cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, nachos a few times, chili, and more.)

Did I mention E and I needed to detox?  So, when we arrived home Tuesday evening, I made a vegetable soup of puréed roast cauliflower, broccoli, onions, garlic, broth and some spices.  (Of course we added cheese.)  It was delicious, but also light and healthy.

Wednesday, still on good behavior, we both ate light lunches and the remainder of the soup for dinner, followed by bed with herbal tea and reading.  My last bite of soup was at 8:20 PM and thanks to the inactivity required by my toe, I decided it was a good time to attempt a 24-hour water (tea/coffee/lemon) fast.

I don't eat breakfast, so I regularly hit 15-16 hours between calories (hence, one of the reasons I've been intrigued by the intermittent fast trend -- it's in sync with the eating patterns I've found work best for me).

Cut to last night -- I was committed to 24 hours, but frankly, I was a little scared. Mainly, my concerns were around how I tend to get HANGRY.

Turns out, for me, a 24-hour water fast was relatively easy (sort of).  I sincerely enjoyed it on a few levels.

For the last several weeks, I've been trying to work in at least 1-2 sets of 7 minutes+ of 30 seconds on/ 10 second off high intensity intervals of body-weight strength work.  Since the toe injury, this is one of the only work-outs I can do, other than stretching.  So, Wednesday, I did the HIIT 2X7 minutes, showered, ate dinner and started the fast.

I slept relatively well.  I woke this AM, had my coffee, and before I knew it I was already 12-hours in (50% done!) I worked, edited documents, took calls, and didn't really even think about hunger 'til my Junior Attorney brought back spare chips and salsa for me from her lunch run since she saw that it looked like I was skipping lunch (so kind, and yet... so cruel). 

At this point, I'll admit, I started keeping score.  12:20 was 16 hours.  1:30 was 17+.  3 PM was almost 19 hours and time for another coffee.  Leaving the last client's office at 5:25 was less than 3 hours to go and I knew I had it in the bag.  (With 2 hours to go, I fit in a 2X7 min HIIT workout followed by 30 minutes of easy yoga stretching, knowing it would kill my appetite from experience.)

I never got lightheaded, a headache, pains or anything debilitating.  A few times I got mild hunger pains but coffee, herbal tea, water, and life seemed to make those disappear relatively easily.

Overall, while the break-fast meal was ready to go and I took my first bite at 8:21 on the dot, I was surprised at how easy this was for me.

In fact, I ate much less for dinner than I expected.  I made myself a huge bowl of miso soup with an entire box of silken tofu and tons of seaweed, chili oil, and more.  I fully expected to eat the whole pot.  Instead, I had a nice big bowl, a glass of wine, and I was satiated.

The reason I say it was (sort of) easy for me is that a funny thing happened this morning.  I woke up.  I made my coffee.  I poured myself some sparkling water with lemon.  And then I opened the pickle jar.  I remember thinking, "I can drink pickle juice, it doesn't have calories.  In fact, it's got electrolytes that I probably need since I'll be diluting all day with water and diuretics like tea and coffee."

Except somewhere in that analysis my brain shut off.  And I ate a pickle out of the jar.  When I finished the pickle, I closed the jar, looking for a kitchen towel for my hands before realizing I'd blown my 24 hour fast about 12.5 hours in.  I laughed.

I realized I probably eat a pickle every AM without realizing it.  I tell myself I don't eat breakfast, but truly, my breakfast is actually usually made up of coffee (with sugar and milk/cream if we have it), sparkling water (with lemon) and a pickle.

And that, my friends, may be the biggest most important take home from my 24-hour water fast.  If nothing else, if you do one, you will realize things about your eating patterns and hunger patterns and relationship to food and those around you that you've never considered.

So for that reason (regardless of the other benefits you may accrue) I recommend it.  Given that it wasn't as difficult as I expected, I suspect I may deploy it more frequently over the coming months (or years/decades, as some studies cite it as a useful tool vs. menopause) as a compensatory measure whenever I find I need to detox from some serious gorging or when I'm in a situation where I'm unable to workout as much as I like.  


Cathy said...

The 24 hour fast isn't that odd. If you were Jewish you'd be doing it every Yom Kippur.

bt said...

@Cathy -- agreed. It's not odd at all. Many religions fast. I'd just never done it.