This is the only diet that has ever worked for me.
I have tremendous sympathy for my obese patients. They hear all sorts of psychobabble about how they overeat because of low self-esteem, the need for comfort food, being too anxious etc. They have tried everything to lose weight and find themselves just gaining more. But I suspect the majority of overweight people have the same problem I do – they simply enjoy eating.
Personally, I am happiest when I am eating. Like Garfield, I never met a lasagna I didn’t like. My mother once remarked when I was a teenager that “Joey eats anything that won’t eat him first.” If I am in a bad mood – I eat too much. If I am in a good mood – I eat too much. When I am in no particular mood – I eat too much.
I am a life-member of Weight Watchers and through my adult life, the way of controlling my weight has been to starve myself while over-exercising – a silly activity that just increases my appetite. This has worked to some extent, as I have never become obese. But it is unpleasant spending a significant portion of your life constantly hungry.
Street Scene Today
Beach Scene, Circa 1970
But with Intermittent Fasting, I have lost fifteen pounds in three months with minimal discomfort. And thus far, I have not put it back on like I have done so many times in the past. And I have not been forced to exercise like a fanatic to keep it off.
What is Intermittent Fasting? Basically, you only eat for six to eight hours a day while fasting for sixteen to eighteen – although there are variations. Most people skip breakfast but drink either water or black coffee. Then one proceeds to have a moderate lunch, perhaps a snack mid-afternoon and a moderate dinner. After dinner, one is permitted to drink non-caloric fluids such as water, seltzer or unsweetened ice tea.
While this may sound a bit unpleasant, it is much more tolerable that dieting all day because one sleeps through the bulk of the fasting period. Thus, hunger pains normally only occur several hours after awaking until lunch and then possibly after 10 PM until one falls asleep.
This has a basis in both our evolution and biochemistry.
Our species of humans, Homo Sapiens, has been around for about 150,000 years. The vast majority of this time we were hunter-gathers, meaning our distant ancestors wondered around Africa gathering fruits, berries, roots and nuts while hunting and fishing. Having a food supply was sporadic and our ancestors often had abundant food for a short period of time – for example after the killing of a large animal – and then starved until the next kill. Thus, many of us are genetically programed to eat large amounts of food when it is available. We are also programmed to store excess calories in the form of fat and our metabolism slows when we try to lose this fat.
Perhaps an example will make this clearer. Let’s say a person weighing 200 pounds needs 3000 calories to maintain his weight. He goes on a diet and decides to lose 10% of his weight. He is successful and now weighs 180 pounds. It would follow logically that this person now would need 2,700 calories to maintain his new weight – 10% of 3,000.
But this isn’t true. His body goes into the evolutionarily-programmed starvation metabolism. As far as his body is concerned, he is dying of starvation and his metabolism will slow so that he only needs 2,450 calories to maintain his weight. If he eats 2,700 calories, the weight he lost will eventually return and may end up weighing more than 200 pounds after this ordeal. Intermittent Fasting is better suited to our evolutionary history rather that constant calorie deprivation.
This also is in tune with our biochemistry. When we eat, fats and carbohydrates are converted to glucose which is then converted by a process called the Krebs cycle into energy that allows us to function. But we cannot use all this glucose at once so some is stored in our muscles and liver. In between meals, this recently stored glucose is gradually released.
After about eight hours, this glucose is gone and our body must metabolize fat to provide energy. When this happens, we lose weight.
This energy cycle coincides with Intermittent Fasting. After eating lunch, one’s glucose stores are almost exhausted by the time one then eats dinner. Before bedtime, the hunger pains may materialize, but then one goes to sleep. And it takes the hunger pains a couple of hours to kick in after waking up.
Obviously Intermittent Fasting will not work if one eats large portions at lunch and dinner. On the positive side, I was able to eat my normal diet. The key to success was the timing intervals that allowed fat loss to kick in. In my experience, the pounds slowly melted off and when I reached my desired weight, I simply increased my intake to maintain my weight. Now I am holding my weight with minimal discomfort.
Any reader who wishes to try Intermittent Fasting should learn more details. I purchased the book Intermittent Fasting for Dummies. One should also consult his or her internist. For example, if a person is diabetic, Intermittent Fasting could result in periods of sugar levels that are too high or too low if the medications to treat the diabetes are not properly titrated. Some medications need to be taken in with food. These people would have trouble with this regimen.
The United States, especially after the COVID restrictions, has an epidemic of obesity and traditional diets such as Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, high carb, low carb, Paleo etc. obviously do not work. Many patients who are even moderately overweight are becoming diabetic. Others are experiencing joint pain resulting in hip, back and knee operations. Much of their suffering could be reduced with Intermittent Fasting.