Since mid-August Mr. Sweetspot and I have been engaging in intermittent fasting. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Wikipedia offers a nice definition: “Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term for various eating protocols that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting over a defined period.” What I particularly like about this is that it doesn’t really narrow things down. By this definition, we all fast. Before you try and deny it- there’s a really good chance you don’t ingest calories while you sleep. Upon waking, you break the fast with… wait for it… breakfast! Bam! But we decided to kick things up a notch from there.
When we returned from our summer engagements we had both gained some weight and were feeling fairly sluggish. Having recently watched a documentary on fasting we were both kind of excited to experiment. I also read an article on Daily Stoic about “The Favorite Stoic Exercises”. In it, Tim Ferriss talks about practicing poverty by fasting for three consecutive days at least once a month, in order to know real hunger. Inspired, we decided to come up with a plan that would work for us.
There are two main types of fasting- whole day fasting, where you do not eat (or eat around 500 calories) in a whole day and time restricted fasting, where for example you can choose to fast for a period of 18 hours, meaning you eat all your food between noon and six pm, fasting for the remaining time. I knew I wanted to try the whole day approach. Additionally, according to Mr. Sweetspot, we had tried the time restricted fasting before and he hated it with a vengeance, feeling hungry all the time. I have a vague recollection of that, which means the experience was unremarkable.
We decided that two days a week we would limit our eating to fresh vegetable salads. When we started we allowed ourselves two, but have since cut it to one, which we eat at dinner time (around 7 pm). We chose the salads as our food because in spite of being vegan, we don’t eat as many fresh vegetables as I’d like. Veggies are also filling, since you can eat a lot of them without consuming too many calories. We have since discovered that this is called the 5:2 diet, but at the time we thought we made it up and decided it sounded right for us. Our fasting days are typically Tuesday/Thursday (based around work schedules), but you can adjust them to whatever works each week. For example, due to travel over the holidays, we fasted Friday and Sunday of that week and then returned to our usual routine. We’ve been eating like this for almost five months, and we couldn’t love it more.
I won’t lie- the first few weeks are tough y’all! Let’s be honest, in our modern first world society we don’t often experience true hunger, so it’s not a feeling we’re comfortable sitting with. But seeing how one of our goals with this was to get comfortable being uncomfortable, we powered through this. One of the easiest things about this way of eating is you can always remind yourself that you’ll eat again tomorrow, and the “cheat” can be going to bed early, so tomorrow comes sooner (we definitely did that a few times). I’m currently at the tail end of a fast day, and while I’m hungry, I’ve already had my salad so it feels pretty manageable.
After reading up more, I learned that fasting can actually make you more alert and aware- the exact opposite of a “hangry” feeling. Think about a cat in the wild- when it’s hungry, it doesn’t get to unload in moody ways on all its cat friends. No- the cat has to stay vigillant to catch itself a mouse, alert and aware. Tapping into this new way of experiencing hunger has become pretty cool.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve both lost weight with our new routine. We already work our 4-5 days a week and eat pretty healthy overall… but we’ve lost over 20lbs each. We did this in a way which, once you are through the initial hurdle, feels pretty effortless (again, I am kind of hungry right now and it’s absolutely ok). Fasting also burns fat, since when you fast your body can’t get energy from sugars however it does not burn muscle. I’ve tried lots of diets over the years and this one feels really sustainable.
As an added benefit, since starting our fast we’ve been spending less money on groceries. While it might seem counter-intuitive, seeing how we buy more fresh vegetables, the actual cost of our salads is fairly low. The salad we had tonight is pretty typical, and here’s what’s in it and what it cost. All of these ingredients come from an Aldi in NY State. There is no sales tax in NY for food items.
|Type of food||Amount used||Cost total||Cost per salad|
Total, excluding the miniscule amount of soy sauce and nutritional yeast added for flavor: $3.05
That is right over $1.50 per person. So for our two fasting days, we only spend $6 on food. We do eat all of the vegetables throughout the rest of the week and replenish when needed. Peanuts last us a while, everything else we buy weekly.
I discovered another benefit to fasting, which is somewhat personal. Since June of 2012 I have had a pain in my right lower abdomen, fairly steady, which tended to spike up with my periods. I have since done quite a few tests. I’ve also transitioned to a continuous birth control pill, which kept the pain level, but did not make it go away. Mostly through the process of elimination, I’ve discovered I have endometriosis. It sucks. I was about to schedule a laparoscopy, to see if there was anything that could be done to relieve the pain, but the thought of any surgery made me really nervous. I procrastinated making the appointment, and started fasting in the meantime.
After about two months, the pain mostly went away. It still happens occasionally, but it has been a real relief. I have no idea if this is something that would work for everybody, but there’s no harm in trying it out. For this reason alone, I never intend on returning to another way of eating again. This has made a true difference to my quality of life and it was certainly an unexpected bonus.
With 5 months behind us, we don’t see an end to intermittent fasting any time soon. We are looking and feeling better, building resilience and saving money along the way. Feels like a win on all fronts!
Have you ever tried fasting? How did you feel about it? What benefits have you experienced?