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I despise the word “diet.” I don’t diet. I never have. I don’t subscribe to diets as a means for losing weight because, from my experience, they simply do not work. I’m a healthy size 6 and generally eat well, but by no means am I a health nut. I don’t think about food more than I have to, and I certainly eat my fair share of sugar by enjoying a can of Dr. Pepper, a handful of dark chocolate peanut clusters, or a bowl of chocolate ice cream. I generally eat until I’m full; on occasion I stuff myself into a food coma like anyone else — but not too often.
But while reading this month’s issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I flipped to an article titled “Lose Weight Fast? Eat all you want, just not when you want — is that the secret to staying thin and healthy?” by Bill Gifford. It was based on a book called The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.
Fasting?! “Great! Another ridiculous fad diet!” I thought.
I was about to skip the article until I realized it was only one page long. So I began reading …
“Intermittent Fasting (IF) lets you eat anything you want, just not when you want to eat it.”
The idea is simple: You can eat normally five days out of the week, but on two nonconsecutive days (you pick them) you are limited to two small meals totaling just 500 calories (600 for men). Coauthors Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer, both journalists, insist that this 5:2 eating pattern not only helps you lose weight, but it also improves a range of metabolic and cognitive functions, and may even help delay aging. *Lose Weight, Fast? – Harper’s BAZAAR
I immediately was inclined to reject this plan because it seemed too restrictive. I don’t count calories, and I don’t want to. In fact, the few times I’ve tried, I ended up thinking so much about food, I ate more and gained weight instead of losing it. As far as I was concerned, this plan still felt as if it were based on fad diet principles and, mostly, gimmicks.
However, what I did like is that this plan didn’t entail long-term fasting or, worse, going without food completely. Intrigued, I continued to read …
“Just like you need a good light/dark cycle to regulate your sleep, your body needs an eating/fasting cycle.”
During the fasting part of the cycle, scientists believe, our cells gradually switch over to a kind of survival mode, activating chemical reactions that not only burn off excess fat but also have been shown to combat the effects of aging. Studies have found that brief periods of fasting bring some of the same benefits of longer-term caloric restriction, such as increased insulin sensitivity, improved cholesterol profiles, better cognitive function and, of course, weight loss. * Lose Weight, Fast? – Harper’s BAZAAR
What? There is an alternative, more moderate version of this eating plan that doesn’t require counting calories? Alison Spath, 34, who’s mentioned in the Harper’s Bazaar piece, practices that moderate form of the diet: she doesn’t count calories but instead fasts moderately each day by restricting her food intake to between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
After reading this article, I heard about a book similar to The Fast Diet that provides research to back up Spath’s eating regimen: The 8-hour Diet. I then watched a clip from the Today Show featuring one of the book’s authors, David Zinczenko, who says that consuming food during a set eight-hour time period resets our bodies, giving them a chance to process the nutrients and properly rid of toxins.
Part of that fat burn comes simply from the body’s searching for energy and finding it in your belly. But part of it is also from a surprising source: According to Panda’s research, restricting the time period during which you eat makes your body burn more calories throughout the day. That’s right: The longer you feed, the lazier your metabolism becomes. But fit your food intake into an 8-hour window and your body steps up to the plate, burning more calories day and night. And new evidence shows that weight loss is just the beginning of intermittent fasting’s range of health benefits.
Zinczenko says this scheduled eating plan doesn’t suggest overeating within that 8-hour period. By eating during this particular time frame, you’ll be too full to eat more than you need. And because there’s no food restriction or calorie counting involved, the inclination to rebel against a diet mindset and succumb to binge-eating is diminished.
I love that the eating plan is flexible and that you can choose your own 8-hour window for whatever works within your schedule. Zinczenko says that if you respect the time window when you can eat and when you can’t, your stomach will shrink and make you less hungry in general. During the designated hours you’re not eating, you may still drink water, tea, or coffee if you’re awake.
I couldn’t help but make this story a personal one because I have already adapted this eating plan into my life — without even knowing it was considered an “eating plan”! — and it works for me. I have a very irregular sleeping pattern and schedule: I generally go to bed between 2 and 4 a.m. I tend to spend the evenings with my husband, have a relatively early dinner, snack on sweets for an hour or so afterward, and get back to work anywhere between 8 and 10 p.m. I rarely eat during these hours because, honestly, I don’t think about it.
Hypothetically, let’s say the last time I ate was at 8 p.m. I work, stretch, and read, and I finally fall asleep around 3:30 a.m. If I wake up at 10:30 a.m., it’s been about 14.5 hours since my last meal. I typically won’t have breakfast until an hour or so after getting out of bed — so now it’s been about 15.5 hours since I’ve last eaten, and I rarely feel like I’m starving at that point. It’s not exactly 16 hours of fasting as the plan says, but it’s pretty darn close, and I probably do it at least three nights a week. A few weeks ago I accidentally fasted for over 18 hours and didn’t even think twice!
Although this intermittent fasting works for me by chance, it may not be for everybody and definitely goes against what Americans are traditionally taught about eating.
However, ultimately, the goal of any healthy diet plan is to change the way you think about and eat food — without feeling so restricted that you want to binge-eat. A lifestyle change is the only way to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight. And you just may want to give this one a try! If you do, come back and tell me what you thought of it and whether it worked for you.
In the meantime, does anyone else intermittently fast — either by accident (like me!) or on purpose? I’d love to hear how it works for you!