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.