Most people who are basically fit but have gained and lost the same 10 pounds over and over know those last 10 are often the hardest to lose. If you have a lot of weight to lose and get serious about eating right and exercising, you can drop a lot of weight fairly quickly.
It gets doubly frustrating, then, when you’re used to that pace, but so close to your goal you hit a wall. Stymied by plateaus, last year I decided to experiment with intermittent fasting and researched it from a variety of perspectives.
The best overall resource I found was “The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day and Extended Fasting” (2016) by Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore. As the title suggests, there are multiple ways to fast. Merely skipping a meal or skipping two (basically 24-hour fasting) yield health benefits but they expand significantly the longer you fast.
The gist of the book is two-fold: 1. millions of years of evolution resulted in natural selection that is wildly out of whack with the way most of us in the U.S. live today. Our bodies learned to store fat for periods when it was usually a long time between meals, a fact of life in the hunter-gatherer societies of yore. But with less than 200 years behind us since the Industrial Revolution ended, our bodies haven’t caught up to the modern, often sedentary jobs and lives we lead today.
Fast food is ubiquitous, Sheets MTO is 24-7, food courts offer mostly unhealthful options (eating healthfully takes creativity and major proactivity!) and yeah, Whole Foods may have lots of healthful options, but you’d have to make six figures to buy lunch there everyday. So fasting — their second main point — is actually one of the fastest, simplest approaches one can take.
Fung and Moore also write that many illnesses and maladies can be improved with intermittent fasting, from cancer to arthritis to heart disease and more. Big pharma has conditioned us to seek meds for our ailments when often the simplest approach is to simply fast. It’s also the big secret the $72 billion U.S. weight loss industry doesn’t want you to think too much about. Simply stop shoving garbage into your mouth for a few days or a week and the need for a fancy weight loss program disappears.
“The Complete Guide” is thorough, authoritative and medically sound and walks you through the pros and cons of fasting for any length of time.
It also takes a lot of the fear out. If you’ve never fasted, you tend to imagine hunger pangs gradually increase in frequency and intensity until you’re ready to devour anything in sight like a crazed person. But it’s not like that at all. It’s much more akin to a busy work day where you didn’t have a chance to think about lunch until 4 p.m., then realized you weren’t nearly as famished as you’d have thought. Hunger comes and goes in waves during a longer fast (three days or more) and actually gets less bothersome once you’ve worked through the first missed meal. Keep busy and you’ll be surprised how relatively easy it is.
The downside of the book, which gets rather old by the end, is that its authors are huge advocates of the ketogenic diet. Practically every other page features some sort of keto plug. The nice thing about fasting is if you’re on keto already, fasting dovetails beautifully with it (you’ll automatically be in a ketogenic state after a couple days of fasting). I’ve tried keto, though (mostly because this book acts like it’s the best thing ever), and it’s just too restrictive for me for any kind of long-term plan. That said, though, “The Complete Guide to Fasting” is a great starting resource.
A fun read but not a very accurate depiction of fasting is a 2013 first-person article from GQ called “How the Terrible, Insufferable Six-Day Water Fast Made Me a New Man” by Phillip Toledano. It’s online if you wanna look it up. He writes wittily but basically does everything wrong. First, he spends his fasting week at a health center for monitoring (totally unnecessary unless you have serious medical issues going into it), tries to curtail his boredom by watching the Food Network (No! Keeping your mind occupied with non-food stuff is the best recipe for fasting success) and writes of severe headaches, restlessness and foul moods.
I had almost the total opposite reaction — I was astounded at how not a big deal it was once I got my mind off food. I won’t say it was a breeze (I’ve done two, one-week-long fasts) — I was counting down the days toward meal time for sure, but not because I was in agony or even that I was that hungry. I just missed the sensory pleasure of chewing and tasting food more than that I was extremely hungry. So take that article with a grain of salt.
I was also curious to explore fasting from a religious perspective. Those stubborn last 10 pounds were my main impetus, but if I could get some spiritual benefit too, why not? Jentezen Franklin in his book “Fasting: Opening the Door to a Deeper, More Intimate, more Powerful Relationship with God” draws a line between supposed original sin (the temptation was food!) to Christ’s period of a 40-day fast and the yin and yang of that juxtaposition in religious history. By the way, ever notice the figure on a crucifix never has love handles?; Of course diet then was vastly different from the sugar-laden garbage that passes for processed food in the U.S. today.
It’s from a pentecostal publisher that has produced some rather dubious (albeit bestselling) titles like “The Faith of George W. Bush,” so proceed with caution. While LGBT topics aren’t addressed, Franklin’s church (and its ilk) is not LGBT-affirming. His basic thesis, though, is that fasting is one component of three (along with giving and praying) that gets you to a higher spiritual plane than you previously thought possible. The weight loss is a bonus.
Fasting for spiritual reasons has components in other faiths as well which are addressed briefly in “The Complete Guide.”