Ah, January. That time of year when we reassess ourselves: our habits, our downfalls, our opportunities. Oh, and our bodies. Who among us is ever content with our body? Last January I embarked on a month of veganism, which I rather enjoyed (although not enough to keep it as a permanent diet). This month, I’m turning to another diet and sometime fad: intermittent fasting (IF).
First, an explanation. “What happened to December?” you ask. Well– you know how a lot of magazines only put out 11 issues each year, shrewdly combining December and January into one issue? Because they know that at least two weeks of December will be completely shot, thereby making it nearly impossible to produce the usual amount of output? My December was chaos, between work obligations, holiday plans, and travel. So let’s consider my blog a magazine, and this is the December/January issue.
I did use December to decide on and research the fasting concept. As it turns out, there are a lot of different ways to fast. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First: why would I fast? Well, aside from the fact that I’ve never done it– which is the first criterion of any “year of 40” experience– I’ve long been intrigued by it. I’ve never really had an excuse to fast. There are those who fast for religious reasons: for Ramadan, for example, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown for an entire month.¹ A perusal of Wikipedia reveals a number of other cultures and faiths that incorporate fasting as a part of their tradition.
I don’t practice a religion, and even when I did, my Presbyterian-Catholicism upbringing didn’t ask me to skip meals. But the fact that so many cultures and traditions include some version of fasting makes me curious. What do they know, and what do they experience, that I don’t?
It isn’t primarily cultural curiosity that leads me down this path. I’ve also paid attention to the research about possible health benefits of intermittent fasting (IF), or of calorie restriction. Studies of IF make lots of claims: We can live longer. We reduce the likelihood of strokes, of diabetes, of heart disease, of degenerative brain diseases later in life. Our bodies clean out their dead or damaged cells (“autophagy“). Oh, and we lose weight, and possibly maintain the weight loss better than we would with other diets.
Frankly– if the evidence is to be believed– why wouldn’t we fast?
So, I decided to try it, and with a fair amount of excitement. I then had to choose which fasting approach to follow. Sunrise to sunset? 36 hours? Low calorie, or no calorie? This is where the research finds little consensus. One popular method of IF has you eat the same amount you normally would, but within the space of 8 hours (so you “fast” for the other 16 hours). For instance, if you finish dinner by 8pm, you wouldn’t eat again until noon the next day. I considered this idea, but I decided that if I were going to try fasting, I might as well swim in the deep end.
For no reason other than it sounded challenging, but not impossible, I decided to try 24 hour fasts, on two non-consecutive days each week (as it turns out, this approach has a name- the 5:2 diet). In practical terms, this means that I eat dinner one night, and then I don’t eat again until dinner the next night. During the fast, I drink only water or unsweetened tea. On the five non-fasting days of the week, I eat normally.
I don’t know that I can hope for any tangible results from the fasting experiment, other than shedding a few pounds, but I’m curious to see how it goes.
In my next blog post, I’ll detail some of my fasting experience so far. Stay tuned!
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¹This becomes more challenging depending on the time of year that Ramadan falls, and where you live in the world. If Ramadan falls in June, as it did in 2016, and you live in Iceland or Alaska, you may be fasting for 22 hours straight, every day. And wishing you lived, in, say, the Maldives.