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Fasting experiment – one week shy of a month

I’m a week shy of the one month mark I had set as the minimum time frame for my fasting experiment. As of this morning, I had fasted 14 days and eaten on 11. The disparity came last week, when I shifted my schedule twice: once to accommodate a work lunch (and mistakenly thinking I needed to shift for the first Sunday LDS fast), and the second time to fast on the first Sunday. This meant that from Monday, June 25 to Sunday, July 1, I fasted five days and ate on two days.

This was much easier than it might sound. I ate on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday I had about 1800 calories; Friday I had much more. I had a large lunch (probably about 1200 calories) and then snacked on stuff left out at home while cleaning in the kitchen in the evening. I estimate my calorie intake on Friday was about 3000 calories.

Saturday I did my dietary fast as usual, drinking water & diet soda throughout the day. I stopped taking in liquids around 10:00 or so at night and went without liquids on Sunday until about 8 p.m. I did notice a drop in energy on Sunday (I ended up taking about a three-hour nap), but I’m not sure whether to attribute that to the longer fast, going without liquids, or just late nights catching up to me (I recorded the Euro 2012 soccer tournament games and watched them late at night 🙂 ).

As I’ve monitored my weight, it appears that I lose about one pound per fasting day. I’ve lost 15 pounds so far during the experiment (3 ½ weeks). 14 days fasting = 15 pounds lost. This has been pretty consistent over the past couple of weeks; it will be interesting to see if it holds up over the longer term. Sunday will be the last day of the first month, with Thursday & Saturday being the only fasting days between now and then. I expect I will have lost about 17 pounds over the course of the month.

As things stand now, I intend to continue this fasting pattern for a while yet. My employer offers a wellness program; I’ll set up a coaching appointment at which I’ll have my body fat percentage measured. This should give me an indication of whether I am losing muscle mass by fasting so frequently. Assuming I’m not, I think a target weight of around 170 pounds (about 25 pounds below my current weight) is a good one. If the weight loss pattern holds up, that means another month and a half beyond this coming Sunday: 17 pounds per month * 2.5 months = 42.5 pounds; 209.5 – 42.5 = 167 pounds. This would match the low weight I achieved through diet & exercise a little over four years ago.

If I am losing muscle mass, I have a few ideas of how to compensate through weight training and diet modifications (basically eating more on feeding days and doing substantial weight training in the early mornings on those days). I’m looking forward to the continuation of the experiment.

 

Fasting experiment – 2 ½ weeks

18 days in, and alternate day fasting has been surprisingly easy. In fact, I’ve been a little disappointed that it hasn’t presented more of a challenge. Wednesday the 27th would normally have been a fasting day for me, but I had a work lunch scheduled that I wanted to participate in; so, given the minimal challenge of fasting so far, I decided to do a two-day fast Monday & Tuesday. I had also miscalculated, thinking that I would need something like this to shift the schedule to coincide with the first Sunday LDS religious fast, but that turns out not to be the case. Or rather, it is now the case, since I already shifted my eating schedule, that I will need to do another shift to make things work out for this coming Sunday.

The two-day fast was not any harder than the one-day fasts I’m becoming accustomed to, with one exception: Tuesday evening I experienced fairly strong acid reflux. I’m guessing that my body is still producing normal amounts of digestive fluids, but without food to digest, they cause some discomfort. I took antacid tablets that seemed to work well enough. Otherwise, I didn’t feel any different that on my one-day fasts.

Results so far: 10 days fasting, 8 days feeding. Averaging about 2300 calories on feeding days, which feels like it’s too much. I definitely note that I feel full sooner now when eating, but have been pushing myself to eat more calories. I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore. I’ll probably average between 1500 and 2000 calories on feeding days. After 18 days, I weighed in at 197 lbs — meaning I’ve lost 12 ½ pounds in 2 ½ weeks! I have never lost weight so fast. This weigh-in was the morning after my two-day fast (really a total of about 56 hours), so it may be a bit exaggerated, but even if I’ve really lost 10 instead of over 12, that’s an amazing result, and achieved far more easily than I had expected.

So, barring complications, so far I’d say this seems like something I could keep up for a long time. Now, I haven’t yet exercised very vigorously on a fasting day (the most I’ve done is ½ hour of brisk walking), and I definitely need to find out what that is like. I’m very curious to see whether the rate of weight loss will continue; if so, I’ll need to make some decisions about stabilizing my weight at some point — but that’s definitely quite a way off.

I’ll probably do another two-day fast on Saturday and Sunday, with Sunday being the religious fast that will also mean not drinking water. I’ll be interested to see what the consequences of that are; when I’m dehydrated, I tend to get headaches.

 

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Fasting experiment – first week

So, having completed my first week of my fasting experiment, a few things:

First, people have asked where the idea for the experiment came from and why I’m doing it.

I’ve been very interested in life extension research for some time, and so far, the only method for significant life extension backed by solid research is calorie restriction — people who eat something like 800 calories a day or fewer. I’m not willing to do that at this point, but there are hints in recent research that you can get many of the same benefits from alternate day fasting. So part of this experiment is to see whether this is something I could do for a longer term.

As for where I got the idea: my brother-in-law heard a radio program featuring Steve Hendricks, who wrote an article for Harper’s titled, “Starving Your Way to Vigor”: ( http://harpers.org/archive/2012/03/0083829 ) after going on a three-week fast. My brother-in-law then decided to do a smaller experiment himself (a 2-day fast, then 2 1/2 days about a week later) and we discussed his experience. I don’t think I’m ready to try an extended fast, but thought I could manage every other day for a while.

In the background of all this is also Gandhi’s autobiography, which I read many years ago. I was surprised by how much of his autobiography he dedicates to his dietary experiments — he was a “body hacker” of sorts. So I’ve been intrigued by these kinds of ideas for some time.

Now for the Week One report:

After 4 days of fasting and 3 of feeding, I lost 5.5 pounds (Saturday morning I weighed in at 204 even). I haven’t noticed any ill effects in terms of mood or energy (I’m just as tired & moody as I normally am 😉 ). The fasting hasn’t been very difficult, though I have found that it’s harder for me to fast at home, where I’m around food and people eating a lot more, than it is at work.

I find that I feel full sooner, and I’ve been intentionally eating past the point of feeling full. I’ve been averaging between 2000 and 2500 calories on feeding days, but if I stopped when I was full, I’d probably average 1500 calories instead, and I’m not sure what the effect of that would be at this point. I might try a couple of days of that at some point in the near future.

 

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Dietary fasting: first few days

So, I’m just completing my third day of fasting; time to report.

First, a clarification: My fasting starts when I go to bed (really, after the last time I eat before going to bed) and continues throughout the next day, through the next night and to the following morning. This typically means that I’m fasting between 30 and 36 hours, not 24. For example, I ate dinner last night (Tuesday night), had a little snack around 10 p.m. or so, then started fasting overnight and throughout today. I’ll eat breakfast tomorrow morning, making a fast of about 33 hours. Depending on how things go over the course of my experiment, I may switch to something closer to a 24-hour fast, where I might eat lunch, then fast until the next day at dinnertime or something.

Second, I’m going to track my weight, since that is a primary motivation for doing this. Before I started, I weighed in at 209.5 lbs (yeah, I can definitely stand to lose a bit). This morning, after 4 days alternating fasting and feeding, I weighed in at 205.5: a loss of 4 pounds. It will be very interesting to see if this is typical. If so, I would expect to lose about 30 pounds over the course of the month. That seems unreasonably high to me, so I’m guessing the weight loss will significantly slow down. I’d be really happy if I lost half that in 30 days.

Third, I’m also going to report my exercise. It’s an area of potential concern, since I definitely don’t want to do anything to harm my health. Last Friday, the day before I started this, I ran a 5K (a distance I haven’t run since middle school). I didn’t exercise again until yesterday (a feeding day), when I played soccer for about an hour at lunchtime. No problems.

Finally, I’m going to report a rough calorie count for feeding days. Some people who do this kind of experiment will eat double their usual calories on feeding days; I’m planning to eat a healthy amount, but not try to eat a lot on my feeding days. Sunday was a bit of an anomaly because I went to a friend’s house where there was a lot of snack food over a late night, so I ate substantially more than I usually do (I’d guess I ended up with about 3000 calories that day). Yesterday I came in right around 2000 calories, which would probably be about weight maintenance level if I were not exercising regularly.

So far, the fasting has been pretty easy. Saturday and Monday were a breeze; having liquids to drink makes a huge difference from the religious fasts I’m accustomed to doing once a month, where I don’t drink water either. Toward the end of the day today, however, I started to feel hungry, and the popcorn my kids made was sure tempting. Some of this, I think, is due to lack of liquids in the evening. The hunger isn’t overwhelming by any means, but there is a little bit of minor stomach discomfort akin to acid reflux.

On feeding days, I’m trying to get a good amount of protein and still keep refined carbs down. For breakfast yesterday I had a couple of fried eggs, some ham, and a protein drink with milk, and chicken for dinner. I had a bit of dark chocolate, but no other sweets. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to some Greek yogurt.

One last thing I hadn’t really thought about when I started: making this coincide with first-Sunday religious fasts. The first Sunday of July would be a feeding day on my current schedule, so I’m going to have to figure out how to shift. I think I could do it one of three ways: a) shift to 24-hour fasts so that half my fast falls on that first Sunday; b) do a two-day fast at some point close to that date; or c) do two feeding days in a row close to that date. For now, I’ll play it by ear, see how I’m feeling and whether other circumstances lead me to change my schedule.

 

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New Fasting Experiment

On Saturday, June 9, I started a new diet experiment: I’m going to fast every other day for at least a month. Studies have indicated health benefits (including weight loss, which is a primary reason for me) of this technique, a subset of what is called intermittent fasting in the scientific literature.

I’ll be blogging about my experience here, and hopefully using this to kick start my re-entry into blogging.

My fasting approach:

On fasting days, I will not eat any food or drink anything that has calories. I will drink primarily water, but also diet soda or herbal tea. I will also take my usual regimen of supplements, which includes a multivitamin, glucosamine & chondroiton, MigRelief (feverfew), a fish oil capsule, and additional vitamin C.

On non-fasting days, I will pretty much eat whatever I like. I expect my calorie intake to be between 2000 and 2500 calories on average. When I say “whatever I like”, I really like foods that tend to be healthy foods, so I’m not talking about pigging out on potato chips & jelly beans. I love salads, nuts & lean meats, try to keep my refined carb intake low most days, eat yogurt & fruit for dessert. I’ll have some sweets (especially dark chocolate), but keep those portions small.

I don’t know yet how exercise will fit into this routine. I’m trying to be active at lunchtime a couple of times a week, playing soccer & volleyball, and I’m struggling to figure out the right time to work out at home. I don’t know yet whether exercise on fasting days will work for me; initially I’m planning on treating fasting and non-fasting days the same as far as exercise is concerned.

I may choose to shift my fasting depending on events (typically small lunch meetings) that occasionally come up. I don’t have a good sense yet for how that will work; guess we’ll find out as I go. Subsequent posts will track my day-to-day experience (not every day, but hopefully frequently).

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Fitness

 

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Transparency and sacredness

It can be difficult to maintain boundaries of sacredness without being accused of a lack of transparency. The LDS Church has come up with a very smart solution: a scale model replica of the Salt Lake temple, showing the interior rooms in detail and accompanied by video and narration explaining the purposes of the various rooms, much like an open house:

http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/scaled-model-provides-salt-lake-temple-open-house-experience

 

Mitigating technology risks

The New York Times published an insightful article by Elizabeth Rosenthal a couple of days ago entitled “Our Fix-It Faith and the Oil Spill.” The thrust of the article is that we place an inordinate amount of faith in the ability of technology to fix problems and have a too-rosy picture of the benefits of technology compared with its risks. I think this is frequently true.

The question is, how can we mitigate this problem? The article seems to suggest (implicitly, not overtly) that we should give up the idea that technology can resolve natural problems — that perhaps the natural world is too complex and unpredictable to be dealt with by technology. I would disagree with such an assessment. It may be (in fact, I hope it is so) that the world will always exceed our understanding at any given point in time. But this does not imply that we should lose faith in the benefits of technology or imagine that its risks always outweigh its benefits. Rather, it suggests (as does the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) that we should invest more heavily in mitigation strategies and technologies and perhaps proceed more cautiously with certain types of exploratory technologies, with the realization that there will always be unforeseen risks.

We need two things: the willingness to pay the price to develop mitigation strategies and technologies and the benevolence to work together to mitigate unforeseen problems when they arise.