Fasting to lose weight and gain health

The job I had before I retired involved food. Lots of it. Not only did I work with restaurant owners, managers, and chefs to promote energy efficiency in commercial food service, my office was located in an educational facility that regularly provided catered food to those attending our workshops. If there wasn’t something fabulous cooking in the kitchen, there was probably something yummy being served in one of the seminar rooms. I tried to avoid temptation as much as possible, but I’m only human. A little bit here, a little bit there adds up to a lot of bits… and a few more pounds than I was comfortable carrying.

Like a lot of people, I have periodically put on – then tried to lose – five or ten pounds throughout my adult life. I’ve been on various fad diets, unhealthy extreme diets, and mainstream programs like Weight Watchers. They all worked for a while but none offered a long-term solution that I was able to maintain. What I wanted was a healthy way of eating that I could stick with and not feel too deprived.

Enter Public Television. I realize that it’s an unusual place to get diet advice, but it happened when my husband and I watched a three-part BBC series on how the body works and improving ones health. One episode was titled The Truth About Exercise, one was Guts (how our stomachs work), and the third one was Eat, Fast, and Live Longer. The first two were fascinating, but the third one really caught my attention.

In that episode, the series’ host, Dr. Michael Mosley, shared own health journey. He was overweight and had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol and was looking for a path back to health that didn’t involve drugs. His research led him to the concept of intermittent fasting (IF). After testing different forms of IF, he developed what he called the 5:2 diet, which required him to restrict his calories two days a week and eat normally the other five days.

What interested me about the premise of IF as a weight-loss/weight-management program was two-fold: I felt that it was a regime I could follow over a long period of time and there appeared to be some real health benefits beyond just the weight loss. Scientific trials have shown that intermittent fasting could reduce the risk of a range of diseases from diabetes to heart disease and cancer. Other studies indicate it might even protect against strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

It’s now been three years since I began fasting weekly. At first I fasted two days a week and slowly lost the ten pounds that I had gained. Once I reached my desired weight, I settled into a one-day-a-week maintenance routine.

Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days
Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days

When I retired, I wondered if I could stay with the regime but it hasn’t been a problem at all. I typically fast on my busiest day each week so I have plenty of distractions and I never choose a day when an event or a party would make me feel deprived. If I’m traveling or have another reason I can’t fast one week, I don’t. But, out of the 52 weeks each year, there are probably only two or three in which I don’t fast. If I see my weight creeping up, I return to fasting two days a week until it comes off.

There is a lot of information – both pluses and minuses – regarding intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet. A recent New York Times article, Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance, outlined the history and science of IF and highlighted different ways it can be done. The three-part PBS/BBC series that started me going is fascinating and can be found online. Dr. Mosley has written several books based on his findings, including the best-selling FastDiet and a few about managing diabetes.

I realize that IF is not for everyone. I’m not the most disciplined person in the world, but it works for me. I think knowing it is just one day (or two, when I want to lose a few), and that I’ll go back to my normal eating the next day, makes the fasting day doable. I don’t have to eat weird food, I don’t have to keep track of points, and, best of all, I don’t have to say “no” every day… just the day that I choose to fast. The weight loss and easy maintenance is great, but the possible health benefits make this lifestyle choice a good one for me.

41 thoughts on “Fasting to lose weight and gain health”

  1. A very timely post as I’m on my own journey which involves losing g a lot more than 10 lbs. There’s no question that lifestyle changes are the long term solution to maintaining good health and a healthy weight.
    I’ll have to look into this more ☺

    1. I hesitated writing this because I didn’t want to come off as giving dieting advice. But, there does seem to be a lot of interest – both in the way of eating (a term I like more than “diet”) and the possible health benefits. The key, of course, is finding something that works with your life and is healthy. This works for me.

  2. Congratulations on finding the right diet for you. I am lucky in that I don’t have weight problems. My heart always goes out to friends who struggle trying to find something that works for them long term.

    1. You and my husband! He could eat both his food and mine and not gain an ounce. The weirdest diet I ever went on was to lose the “freshman 20” I gained my first year of college. I ate chicken noodle soup 3 times a day for the whole summer. The weight came off but … YIKES!

  3. This is just amazing. I have been aware of this method and the health benefits, but being married to a skinny ‘Stanley’ who eats everything in sight, it’s a tough thing to put into practice when we spend so much time together in retirement. Just last week, I began setting time aside for fasting (I have tried several times and gotten to my desired weight, then stopped.) I completely agree that this is one option for all of us that deserves more consideration. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. I have the same issue with my husband… he can eat anything and not gain an ounce. I think that also is a reason the 5:2/6:1 fasting works for me; I find saying “no” all day for one or two days is easier than counting calories or points all the time while hubs eats whatever he wants.

  4. Well, it’s working for you , Janis, because you look fabulous! Thanks for sharing your story. Lately, I’ve gained a few and I want to reverse that trend quickly. This sounds like the program for me.

  5. Hmmm. It was not a habit I had considered, but I will look into it. I have that 10-15 I’ve been wanting to lose since I retired. Having the ability to go to the bakery regularly has not helped.

    1. Oh, the evil bakeries! The good thing about 5:2 is that you can still go (within reason), just not on your fasting days. I guess I’m kind of an all-or-nothing type; I find it easier to go without all in one day rather then constantly have to monitor my intake.

  6. I’ve tried 5:2 before and failed. Time to give it another go maybe! I need to lose more than a few pounds. I got a Fitbit a month or so ago and have discovered that I’m not burning as many calories as I thought I was. Time to up the exercise too then.

    1. Sometimes it takes a few attempts before success. When I saw Dr. Mosley’s episode on intermittent fasting, I just knew that it could work for me. But, it took a while to become a habit. I’m interested in getting a Fitbit too. I’m sure I don’t get the 10,000 daily steps in now that I’m retired.

      1. I thought I did because I walk everywhere unless I absolutely have to drive. But I don’t walk as far as I imagined, though that is encouraging me to take extra walks on days when my score is low, so it does work!

  7. I have heard about IF too, and it seems many can have success with it! So glad to hear it works for you (I have seen you in person and you are nice and lean). Looks like there is “some” food in the form of broth available, otherwise my blood sugar gets too low. WW has been working for me recently, as I have shed 12 pounds since late January. I could see adding a fasting day to my WW regimen (no, I don’t mind tracking points and measuring food). Other diets are definitely NOT sustainable. Thanks for posting this and “whetting” my appetite (so to speak) 🙂

    1. WW is great too. I’m just not very good at the tracking so it didn’t work well for me. With 5:2 you get 500 calories on your fasting days (600 for men). I find a late breakfast/lunch of oatmeal and then miso soup in the evenings gets me through the day. But, there are a lot of suggestions in the book and online for other ways to use your 500 allotment.

  8. I’m curious about this as well. Do you drink coffee or tea on fasting days, or broth as Terri suggested? I’d do pretty well up until those waning evening hours when I’m not so busy…might need to give this a try.

    1. I just went over and checked out the link to the articles in your post. (Also paid more attention to your broth picture.) I think I could really do this! I’m going to check it out further! Thanks, Janis, You’ve really, really inspired me!

      1. There are a lot of ways to use your 500 calories. My usual fasting day’s menu (coffee, oatmeal, and miso soups) probably isn’t the best, but it works for me. I think I like the warmth of the “meals” – it is nurturing. If you decide to try it, let me know how it works for you!

  9. Fascinating topic, many thanks for introducing it to me. Weight is actually something I’ve been paying attention to lately because I’ve been losing quite a bit of it — more than I’m actually comfortable with actually. In my own case it just started with eliminating the night carb eating and switching to cut-up veggies. I started to lose almost immediately (much to the chagrin of my wife), and now I’m inclined to re-introduce carbs again! It’s so strange how all of us have bodies that function so differently. But this is fascinating about IF, and I’m glad that it’s worked for you.

    1. It seems unfair how many men can lose weight so easily! It sounds like you made a very healthy change… maybe you can introduce calories somewhere else. You are right about bodies functioning differently, and I’d say the same thing about personalities… certain plans work for some people and not for others.

  10. Hi Janis – Thanks so much for posting this. I had been interested in IF due to the claimed health benefits, I just wasn’t sure how to get started, or put this into practice. Your article, and all of the comments that have followed, have given me a great visual picture — very helpful!
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

    1. You are welcome! I wasn’t 100% sure about posting about this since my blog isn’t fashion or diet oriented, but there seems to be a lot of interest… thanks for the prompt! Funny, just after our initial comment exchange, my sister-in-law sent me the New York Times article so it all came together.

  11. Coming to this article late. I can see how it would work for some people for sure. My only concern is the idea that diabetes will be okay if you eat whatever you want five days and fast two days, as diabetics even borderline ones, need to count carbs, and exercise. I will want to read more on this, although I handle my weight issue by exercising and limiting carbs-always good to read new things.

    1. Oh gosh no, and I think those that say there are benefits are also talking about eating the correct types of food when not fasting. Dr. Mosely wrote several books about the management of diabetes through diet but I haven’t looked into them since that, fortunately, is not something I have to deal with. Limiting carbs is a great way to go, and not easy for me. I’m much better with exercise.

  12. Thanks for this insight. I have been lucky enough to be able to stuff my face and never gain an ounce. Up until now. Since I started going through ‘the change’ the weight seems to want to hang around. I have a lifetime of bad habits built up as a result of fast metabolism. I will have a look into the regime to see if it might do the trick. I have never dieted in my life.

    1. I am in awe of those of you (like my husband) who can eat just about anything and not gain an ounce. But you are right, things change as we get older and unwanted pounds show up in the most unexpected places (I never had belly fat before, for instance). Intermittent fasting works for me since I’m kind of all-or-nothing. You just have to find what works for you.

    1. When I retired, I really wondered if it would still work for me but it has. Although, we just returned from a four-week trip and I have to admit, I didn’t fast at all during that time. I guess the versatility of the plan is what I like best.

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