Recently I heard about a new weight loss technique called intermittent fasting. The interesting thing about this technique is that the fast can be for as “little” as 16 hours. That leaves you eight hours a day when you can eat. You could fast, for instance, from 6 at night till 10 the next morning and then have a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner in the time between 10 AM and 6 PM. Of course, you’d still want to eat a healthy diet and not just pig out for eight hours. But you don’t have to starve yourself during your eating hours, because you’ve already done that during the night.
I hit upon a variation of this technique when I was making the rules for my new eating program. In my last post, I listed these rules as:
Only eat at set meal and snack times.
Cut down on portion sizes.
Weigh-ins once a week only.
I had never heard of intermittent fasting. But I was familiar with the practice of fasting because as a Muslim I have fasted during Ramadan. The goal there is spiritual, but it occurred to me that I could use the same technique for those stretches of times between meals when I get especially hungry.
I’ve always failed at diets because I don’t handle hunger well. All I can think about is not being able to eat. But when I apply fasting techniques to a diet plan, I find that I can get through those periods relatively easily. All I do is remind myself that if I could fast for anywhere from 12-17 hours a day during Ramadan, then I can surely fast for four to six hours between meals, especially if I allow myself a very small snack somewhere in that period. That’s what I mean by “mini-fasting.”
Four to six hours may not seem like a “fast.” But when you’re eating 1200-1500 calories a day, the time between meals can seem like it will never end. Telling myself that I’ve gone longer—and asking God for strength to get through it—takes the edge off and makes the whole diet plan possible.
It works for me. I’m not saying that it would work for everyone. But I have found it relatively easy to implement and not as taxing as a 16-hour or longer fast would be. Combined with the other three rules above (and a few more refinements I’ve made along the way), I’ve been able to lose fourteen pounds in ten weeks without exercising.
My goal has never been to lose weight as quickly as possible. I just wanted an eating plan that was sustainable; that I could follow for the rest of my life even. Because my main goal has always been to get control of my eating so that it stops affecting other areas of my life. As long as the number on the scale keeps going downward, I’m happy. Because I know that I can keep doing this until I finally reach my goal weight.
For more about intermittent fasting, go here. This is an article geared toward men. Please be aware that there is some question about whether women should fast intermittently. I myself don’t see the necessity of extra-long fasts (like 16/8) since I’ve seen that “mini-fasting” as I practice it is effective enough for weight loss.
As many of you know, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the subjects of weight loss and obesity for a few weeks now. (Can you be “a bit” obsessed??)
I’ve been reading books and blog posts by women who have won the battle (either to lose weight or to learn to love themselves the way they are). One thing they have all have in common is that there is no easy fix, no magic formula for becoming slim. (How I love—and hate—that word “slim.” Like “svelte,” it conjures up an image of a woman gracefully gliding through life, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do, no matter how “slim” I become.)
On the contrary, losing weight requires discipline and sacrifice, no matter how you do it. And even after losing the weight, like an alcoholic you have to be ever vigilant against falling into the bad habits that caused you to gain weight the first time (or second or third or fourth—you get the picture).
Today I’m happy to present Marilyn Polson, author of the daily weight loss blog, Wait for the Miracle. Marilyn inspires me to keep going and work harder to attain my goal. Marilyn has lost over 50 pounds since May of this year and she accomplished this mainly through diet and exercise. (She still has approximately 30-50 pounds to go.) It may seem like she’s discovered a quick fix, but believe me, she has worked hard to get this far.
Marilyn has given me permission to share her “fat” story. Maybe you’ll see some parallels to your own life. At the very least, I think it will help you to understand the mindset of a person who struggles with her weight. Although everyone is different, there are some things that all fat people can relate to.
Here, in her own words, is Marilyn’s story:
I grew up in the Twiggy era, where stick thin was in. I was not stick thin nor was I ever going to be. I wasn’t fat; I had curves and a rear end larger than it should have been, but I was still able to wear my bikini and hold my own. I wore a size 10 most of the time until my 20s. I was normal; I didn’t stick out in one way or the other.
Food however, was an issue for as long as I can remember. I felt like our dinner table was a battlefield. I was a very picky eater and my father had no tolerance for that. What Mom cooked we ate. There were no special meals prepared and you sat there until you finished your meal. Usually Mom cooked two vegetables and you had to eat one. As long as there were peas, carrots or corn I was fine. When those were not an option, I knew it was going to be a long meal. I made a vow that when I had my own home I would eat what I wanted and when.
When I married at 19 that is exactly what I did. My mom had never taught me and my sisters how to cook, but luckily my husband’s mother was a woman before her time and she taught all her kids how to cook. From day one my husband took on that chore. Even though he was a good cook, most of the time we ate junk. Mac and cheese was a constant because it was cheap. We ate a lot of casseroles because they were also cheap and easy. KFC was a steady pick; we both loved fried chicken and neither one of us ever learned to make it right. I loved my chips, Cheetos, ice cream and chocolate. One thing I could do was bake so there were always cookies, pies and cakes to enjoy. I was happy.
I always used to hide my M&M’s; even then I didn’t like to share. My nieces would come over and think it was a game to find where they were hidden. If they found the M&M’s they could have them but I didn’t help in the search, secretly hoping that my stash wouldn’t be found.
My husband joined the Army and off we went to Oklahoma. We didn’t have much then so food became an even greater issue. Some weeks mac and cheese was all we had because it was all we could afford.
I battled with problem pregnancies. Whenever I started to bleed heavily, I was not permitted to eat for 24 hours, sometimes longer, in case I had to have surgery. Mentally I would eat all I could when I could because I never knew when the fast would begin. That was the start of binging behavior. By the time I was 24, I had had four miscarriages and was told that I shouldn’t get pregnant again. I did manage to lose enough weight to be “normal” again; my average size was a 12. That wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, but I still felt fat.
My husband was a very jealous man and Army life made matters worse. He was never violent toward me but if a man was talking to me he would punch first and ask questions later. It was humiliating. I consciously decided to gain weight because I thought I would then become invisible. Men would no longer talk to me and that issue would resolve itself. Only it didn’t work. I have a personality that people find easy to approach and the problem persisted.
By the time I was 30, we were living in Texas. I was an apartment manager and we had a problem at the family pool with a drunk who had unacceptable behavior. I went out to ask him to leave the pool area and he said to me, “I bet you were a fox when you were young.” I was crushed. I was already not taking turning 30 well. Now I felt old and fat. So I ate more. It got so bad, the girls in my office started emptying my desk drawers and throwing away the food. I just went to the store and bought more.
My husband was now a full-fledged alcoholic and life was getting too big to handle. Food was now my best and only friend. He worked late, I ate. He came home, I ate. The cycle was non-stop. The more he drank the more I ate. Even then I was a size 16 and at 5’4” I was certainly overweight but felt that it was still still manageable.
In 1990, my husband left the military. Life was hard but at least I was home again. I joined a diet program and lost most of the weight. I was 140 pounds and back to a size 12. I even became a group leader part time. We needed the money and I enjoyed the meetings.
At 40 I was healthy and at a good weight but then I decided to quit smoking. I started to gain weight. The doctor told me to do something I couldn’t do if I smoked so I started running. I worked up to two miles a day but I didn’t stop eating. I ran right up until I got too fat to do it anymore! My metabolism was shattered.
I started every kind of diet you can imagine and nothing worked. I was injected with urine from pregnant women; I took diet pills, drank protein shakes, and ate odd combinations of food that were supposed to complement each other (as long as there were no vegetables involved!). Adkins worked for a short time but I couldn’t stick with it. I moved from diet to diet getting more and more frustrated.
I was divorced in 2001 and all my friends told me to lose weight or I would never attract another man. I told them all I didn’t need any man who didn’t want me as I was. I was self-sufficient and I was going to enjoy my life. After all, I went from my daddy’s home to my husband’s home; I had never lived on my own. It was about time I learned to please myself. This was actually a great excuse to binge even more. I hid my pain in food. Still not a cook, I had take-out on the nights my mom didn’t cook for me. Snacks were staples; that sweet and salt cycle. I ate until the pain went away.
I found myself hovering around 200 pounds and was mortified. I started another diet program in 2003 and lost 35 pounds and felt good again. I started going dancing for the exercise and socialization. I needed to learn to be around men; I hadn’t dated since 1974! Dancing was great; I could get used to being close and not have to deal with any other issues. And then I met John.
John liked me just the way I was. He was kind to me and affectionate. I didn’t know how much I craved that until I received it. He was constant motion and another alcoholic. (I never learn the first time!) We had a ball; we went dancing and bar hopping all the time. I rarely drank so I was the DD (designated driver). We both found what we needed. And then binging reared its ugly head again. We ate out almost every night: wings, pizza, steaks, junk, junk and more junk. We married in 2005 and the cycle continued. When I tried to diet it was useless. Our lifestyle did not support any kind of moderation.
In 2007, John had a spiritual awakening and stopped drinking cold turkey. What I prayed for became a reality. Our life slowly started to make sense and change; except I was not able to stop binging. I joined other programs and learned about eating addictions. I ate for the very reason alcoholics drank. I learned that binging was a behavior, not an emotion. That helped me to gain some control. I also learned that most diets had built-in binge food. Once I figured that out I was able to view dieting differently. I didn’t lose weight but my attitude started to change. I was not ready for the total surrender yet.
In May of 2011 my physician told me that if I did not lose weight I was headed for diabetes. That scared me silly. My dad had food-related diabetes and while it didn’t lead to his death, it certainly didn’t help. I did not want to become a diabetic. I was ready. I was also 241 pounds and miserable.
I decided to Google all the diets in Central Florida and one by one eliminated the programs that I knew I would not work. I read and I made phone calls. Once I found the program that I felt was right for me I made the appointment and got started. June 1st, 2011 was the beginning of a new life.
I follow this new program even when I think I cannot. I also added all the things that every diet I ever used told me to do. I use small plates and silverware, I corralled a support system, I exercise, I journal (blog), anything I can think of I do. Now it is working. I feel better than I have felt in years. There are no more excuses; I must lose the weight.
I don’t have a goal or target weight yet. My doctor and I will decide that when the time comes. Right now I am just going to focus on day to day and not worry about the long term. I set small goals for myself and give non-food rewards when they are met. I pray constantly to my God for support and strength. I believe this is important. I never allowed God to be a part of the process before. Now I can tell when I am leading the way and when I surrender. It is amazing. I don’t know how long this will take but I am willing to keep moving forward and live my life. I am doing this for me. I want a life worth living today.
Read my own “fat” story here: “My Big Fat Story.”It has a lot of similarities to Marilyn’s except that at the time I wrote it, I hadn’t started to lose weight. If you have a story of your own you’d like to share, just go to “Contact” and drop me a line.
At the age of twenty-three, Shauna Reid weighed 351 pounds. That shocked her so much, she made a fateful decision. She would do everything possible to lose weight and she would blog about her experience as a way to keep herself in line. Her blog, “The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl,” is still online. And the book of the same name covers the first 250 weeks of her journey.
What I love about the book (and the blog) is Shauna’s honesty and humor. I also really enjoyed going through her experience with her as it unfolded. The reader is there with her when she didn’t know whether she would be successful or not and follows all her ups and downs through the next five years of her life. (Don’t worry; the book is a quick read.) She doesn’t try to gloss over the hard parts (there really were no easy parts) and makes it clear that losing that much weight requires a complete overhaul of one’s lifestyle and attitudes.
One thing that was interesting was that Shauna kept her blogging identity secret until for most of those five years. And she was very private about her accomplishment even with her friends. When she emigrated to Scotland after having lost a lot of her weight, she never told anyone how big she used to be. Now, however, the cat’s out of the bag, and she’s proud to acknowledge what she went through and to share the details of how she did it.
Now thirty-three, Shauna is characteristically honest about the fact that she has gained back 50 pounds. But she obviously hasn’t given up the fight. She isn’t the same person she was ten years ago, and the best part of the book is reading about her evolution from timid and insecure to a young woman who isn’t afraid to live life to its fullest.
Shauna writes this in the epilogue:
And that’s when I knew I’d found my Perfect Ending. I actually found it a long time ago, but it’s taken me a while to see it. I always thought I needed that number on the scale to prove that I’d earned this happiness, but from the moment I looked in the mirror and began to appreciate the view, I was already winning the prize.
I don’t know where the scale will end up, but after 333 weeks and a lifetime of angst, I’m not going to waste another minute worrying about it. My journey was never about what I weighed or the size of my jeans. The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all its quirks and charms.
Note: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. What I am, however, is a currently fat person who has been dieting on and off for forty-seven years. Lately I’ve become frustrated with my futile attempts to lose weight and I’ve gone on a quest to gather as much information as I can about the mechanics of weight gain and loss.
People who have never gained a significant amount of weight have no idea how it can sneak up on you. Thin people don’t see how you can’t feel every extra ounce and go into furious activity to get rid of it. If you had only done that when you were one pound overweight, they think, the other pounds wouldn’t have followed.
But gaining weight isn’t like that. For one thing, the fat doesn’t show up immediately after eating the extra calories. Nor does it disappear as soon as you cut your calories. It’s not a mere addition or subtraction scenario. Calories go through a complicated process on their way to becoming whatever they’re going to be. And the one thing that makes it somewhat unpredictable is something known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
BMR is the rate at which your body burns up calories when you’re not doing anything. In an ideal (and just) world, everyone would have the same BMR. If we did, we’d all burn calories at the same rate no matter what age we are or body shape or size we have. If everyone’s BMR was suddenly the same (say somewhere in the middle) then skinny people would gain weight and fat people would lose weight. (BMR calculator here.)
That’s one reason why I get disgusted when weight loss “experts” state that gaining weight is merely a combination of too much food and too little exercise. They’re only partly right. It also depends on things like body type, age, sex, amount of muscle and fat on your body, and yes, basal metabolic rate.
Many, if not most, experts will tell you that your metabolism has little to do with weight gain. That may be true when you’re measuring like individuals (same age, same body composition). But tell that to a person who never had trouble maintaining her weight until she went through menopause. Or who eats and exercises exactly the same as her friend who has a smaller body type.
One thing they don’t usually tell you is that because muscle burns off more calories than fat does, you’re better off to do anaerobic than aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercises are important for improving cardiovascular fitness, but they’re not going to help that much to help you lose weight over the long haul. You can have great lungs and a healthy heartbeat and still be fat. Which is good news for fat people. But not so good for people who have been relying on the treadmill to help them to drop pounds.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it isn’t beneficial to move. For one thing, cardiovascular exercise makes your blood flow more efficiently throughout your body. But people who insist that you’re not going to see any benefits unless you exercise a half hour, or even an hour, every day are just setting the bar too high and making people feel like it’s pointless to exercise at all if they can’t meet that standard.
One thing that doesn’t raise the rate at which your body burns calories is eating less calories. In fact, when you do that, your body automatically lowers your BMR in order to save energy. Your calorie needs are only 1.2 times your BMR, so you’d have to undercut your calories well below your basic physical needs in order to see any significant weight loss. And guess what? That’s just not good for your body!
I know a young woman who lost 50 pounds in a half year by eating only 800-900 calories a day. Her only exercise was a lot of walking. She lost the weight but she stopped having a period naturally for several years afterward. (She had to take birth control pills in order to get her body to approximate having a period.) And she only did it for a few months. What happens to women who do it repeatedly or for a longer period of time?
Dieting works the same way addiction does, except that it takes less, not more, of the substance (in this case calories) to get the same result. So ultimately dieting is self-defeating behavior. Eat low-calorie, low-fat, low carb diets if you want to, but none of them stay effective forever. That’s why dieters go through so many diets. There is no one diet that is guaranteed to have results over the long haul. You can go on a starvation diet and your BMR will just keep going down until your body stops metabolizing food at all (and before that it metabolizes your own body until you’ve damaged it beyond repair).
The bottom line:
Don’t over-diet or you’ll lower your basal metabolic rate and have to eat even less calories to get the same result. (Over-dieting is my term for taking in too few calories or completely cutting out certain foods that are essential for your body to operate at peak capacity.)
Do exercise, but don’t feel that you have to meet someone else’s unrealistic goals (for you)— and make sure you emphasize building muscle mass.
If you find yourself yo-yoing (i.e., gaining and losing, gaining and losing in a vicious cycle), stop what you’re doing and find a sensible diet and exercise program that you can live with over the long haul.
Recognize that the heavier you are, the more calories you burn, so exercise is definitely not pointless.
Take into account your age, body type and composition, sex and medical conditions (or medications) that may slow down your metabolism. If you have any of these markers, exercise, not diet, is the key.
Be proactive: do your own research. There’s plenty of information out there, but be careful of websites that are just trying to sell you something.
It’s always a good idea to get a medical check-up, including a blood work-up, as soon as possible when you are planning to start an exercise and food modification program. Get your doctor to take you seriously. I can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve gone to who have completely ignored the fact that I’m fifty pounds overweight. Check with your health insurance to see if they cover visits to a nutritionist or memberships to a gym.
Tired of seeing all the weight-loss commercials on TV and the ads in magazines and newspapers? Today I was surprised to see a full-page ad for Nutrisystem in Newsweek magazine. Surprised because all those ads look so tacky and I think of Newsweek as a relatively classy publication. But then I got to thinking: what better place to put it than in a magazine whose demographics include a high number of college-educated, professional people? Because who else can afford such a weight-loss program?
Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, another heavily-advertised weight-loss program, both work by selling you almost all the food that you’re allowed to eat every day. That way you get all the nutrients you need but your portions are controlled. Sounds great, right? Except for one thing: the cost. Oh, they make it sound like you’d be spending no more than what you normally do when you eat badly. The problem is, not many people spend as much as the program costs or can afford to spend more than they already are. These programs cost $11-$15 a day–and that’s just for one person.