The Fast after the Feast

Some people I respect recommend doing an extended fast before holiday feasts. Dr. Peter Attia, one of my Health Sherpas and the medical director for the Zero fasting app, often leads a group fast before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This is a good approach because it allows you to enjoy holiday feasts guilt-free: you’ve already paid your dues.

For Lisa and me, with our wedding anniversary on Dec. 22, that’s not such a good option. We did our feasting from then through Dec. 26, and I began my extended fast at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 27.

During our feasting period, I had gained 7.4 pounds. And to be candid, I had already crept up a couple of pounds in the first half of the month. So by the day after Christmas I was 10 pounds heavier than my November average.

Clearly this was a lot of water weight based on my high carbohydrate intake. I also felt more stiff, with some carb-based inflammation.

The goal of my fast was to burn through that carb excess quickly to get into fat-burning mode, and so to jump-start the process I began early Monday morning with a high-intensity interval training workout, as Dr. Attia advises.

My Tuesday workout included free weights and a zone 2 cardio workout. This lower-intensity training is at the maximum level of exertion that can be sustained without burning glucose. That’s both necessary, because glycogen stores are depleted by the second day of a fast, and desirable, because it improves the muscles’ ability to burn fat.

Wednesday I did another zone 2 workout for the same reasons.

I had set on my Zero app timer goal at 36 hours, but my real goal was a three-day fast. I wanted to be able to declare victory early in case I wasn’t feeling well. I was able to finish strong, however, and had my fastbreaker just after 6 p.m. Wednesday.

It’s important to not overeat coming out of an extended fast of more than 48 hours, and particularly to not overdo carbs, which cause you to retain water and can throw your electrolytes out of balance.

My keto-friendly first meal is below, although I’ll confess that I did go back for one more stuffed pepper. The graph at right shows results of my morning weigh-ins for December and into today, which was my 300th consecutive day using our Bluetooth scale.

Why the 2.6-pound bump at the end? Last night was New Year’s Eve.

I guess I feasted before and after the fast.

I’ve done several of these longer fasts in the last year. One was five days and another four, and my plan going forward is to do a three-day water-only (or water and black coffee) fast once a month.

I’ll discuss reasons behind this in my next post, along with some interesting findings from the glucose/ketone meter I used for the first time this week.

If you haven’t tried fasting or time-restricted eating, you can take a great first step toward improving your health and vitality as we start 2021 by just not eating in the evenings.

I’m not suggesting some grand New Year’s Resolution that sets you up for failure. Just some #BodyBabySteps.

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Holiday Feasting is Fine

To lose more than 50 pounds each, Lisa and I have adopted a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) ketogenic pattern of eating, combined with periods of time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting (IF).

We find LCHF and IF are mutually supportive. Seeking satiety in filling fats means we don’t have carb cravings, which makes it easier to go 16 hours or more without eating, also called a 16:8 fast. We almost always skip breakfast and restrict our eating to an 8-hour window, and frequently that window is even narrower.

Sometimes it’s 18:6 or 20:4, or one meal a day (also called OMAD).

It’s a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s a different pattern of eating. I fully expect we will follow it for the overwhelming majority of the rest of our days.

But as I said in my Top 20 weight loss and health tips post, “Avoidance isn’t always.” We’re in this for the long haul, and we have found that it’s a lot easier psychologically (and accords with millennia of human cultural practices) to enjoy times of feasting that we balance with extended fasting.

Rarely doesn’t mean never.

Some LCHF proponents who I deeply respect take a different view, believing that a massive infusion could be the trigger for those with carb addiction to have a relapse. And as you’re just starting out, I would err on the side of caution until you feel confident you’re well established.

But I would argue that it’s much better to have planned times of carbohydrate excess than to snitch the grandchildren’s french fries as you’ve taken them past the restaurant drive-through window.

You’re in control. You’re deciding ahead of time that for a certain period you will enjoy foods that otherwise would be off limits.

Lisa and I have just come through five wonderful days of feasting.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary, Dec. 22, by having our OMAD be pizza. Lotta carbs.

We enjoyed it so much, we did the same thing on Dec. 23. Note that the pizza shown at right is just for me. It’s gluten-free since I have celiac disease.

And yet because I hadn’t eaten for more than 21 hours, I still had an extended period of low blood sugar and insulin levels.

I also had lefse, a Norwegian potato-based treat with butter and sugar that my dad makes during the holidays. He’s developed a gluten-free version.

Three layers of awesome: gluten-free Oreos, vanilla ice cream and fudge.

From Christmas Eve until Dec. 26, we had small gatherings with my parents and then with some of our descendants that featured high-carb favorites like a traditional family potato dish, tortilla chips with queso, and my favorite frozen dessert.

With the feasting over, it was time for a compensatory fast. But instead of going straight from a high-carb state to an extended fast, I had my last meal be my four eggs/steak/cream cheese/guacamole masterpiece, and I started my Zero fasting app timer at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with a goal of going at least 36 hours.

Lisa instead opted for a pair of consecutive 24-hour fasts. We limited ourselves to water and mineral water and black coffee, as well as magnesium supplements and some extra salt to maintain electrolyte balances.

How did it go?

I’ll share the results and my reflections on the experience in my New Year’s Day post.

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Check out My Health Journey for the full story of our health improvements, and my #BodyBabySteps for an approach to how I would do it if I were starting today, based on what I’ve learned.

Is Cancer Caused by Sugar?

That’s the question posed in this discussion featuring one of my top Health Sherpas, Dr. Jason Fung, in an interview related to his new book, The Cancer Code, with Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician and host of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast.

Dr. Fung is among the five physicians who have been most influential for Lisa and me. From The Obesity Code to The Diabetes Code to The Complete Guide to Fasting to Life in the Fasting Lane, his books share common themes:

  • Insulin is the hormone that causes your body to store fat.
  • While other macronutrients cause some insulin response, sugar, starches and highly processed carbohydrates cause blood sugar (and insulin) spikes, and our continuous snacking means blood insulin levels are perpetually high.
  • This condition, called hyperinsulinemia, causes weight gain, often leading to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Giving patients with Type 2 diabetes increasing doses of insulin to manage blood sugar causes them to gain even more weight, making the problem worse.
  • Obesity increases the risk of many cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. Insulin, with its growth-promoting properties, seems to encourage the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
  • Intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating or even fasts of a day or more create periods of lower insulin levels in the blood, which enables your body to begin burning the fat you’ve stored. Fasting regimens may have some cancer-prevention benefits, too.

I have spent hours listening to Dr. Fung’s books on Audible, many of them more than once, and we also have the print edition of some of them. He has had great insight into dietary and lifestyle contributors to disease, and also is an excellent communicator to a lay audience.

Setting aside one hour to watch this video would be a great investment for you.

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Zero: Better than Nothing

As I have described in several previous posts in this series, intermittent fasting, or time-restricted feeding, is a key to sustainable weight loss.

As I wrote earlier, Dr. Jason Fung has been an important advocate, as he has helped thousands of patients reverse Type 2 diabetes and overcome obesity through fasting.

His simple message: insulin is the hormone that regulates fat storage, and to lose weight and keep it off you need to have prolonged periods with low insulin levels.

That enables your body to switch from fat storage to fat burning. Otherwise you’re always just adding fat.

About a year ago, my daughter Rachel introduced me to a fasting app she had been using, called Zero. As it turns out, the chief medical officer for Zero is Peter Attia, M.D., who is among my most trusted online thought leaders on health and longevity issues. I’ll be talking about him a lot in future posts.

So I started using Zero, and it’s essence is really simple: when you’re done eating for the day, you pick a fasting goal and start the countdown timer.

When you reach your goal, instead of counting down the timer flips to counting up, telling you how long your fast has gone.

The next time you eat, you stop the timer, which records the length of your fast. Then the timer starts again, only now it’s tracking the time since your last fast. (If you forget to stop or start the timer, you can go back and edit your start or end times.)

Here’s how it looks when you’re counting down before reaching your goal, counting up after you’ve passed it, and then tracking how long it’s been since your last fast.

I found the free version of Zero really helpful, so I decided to spring for the premium offering, Zero Plus. It includes lots of video tips as well as well as data about my fasts, like how much time I’m in the various fasting zones, including:

  • Anabolic: the first 0-4 hours after a meal
  • Catabolic: 4-16 hours
  • Fat Burning: 16-24 hours
  • Ketosis: 24-72 hours
  • Deep Ketosis: 72 hours+

My history tab tells me I have logged 293 fasts, including a streak of 202 straight days of fasting at least 13 hours, although most days I go for at least a 16-18 hour fast with an eating window of 6-8 hours or less.

I would encourage you to give Zero a try. I was fasting before I got the app, but using it gave me a little extra nudge to keep that fasting streak going, and taught me a lot about my metabolism. Data can sync with Apple Health or Google Fit, too.

See the whole series about my health journey, and follow along on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

John Bishop’s Journey

My goal in telling the story of my health journey through this blog has been to simply share what I have learned over roughly the last four years, in hopes that others would find it helpful and encouraging.

Together, Lisa and I have lost over 100 lbs. and we’re feeling better than we have in 25 years. As I have shared this series on my social networking accounts, several friends have asked to talk about what we’ve learned, and we have enjoyed the opportunities to discuss with them.

Other friends have already been putting this into practice for themselves, and are seeing great results.

One of those is John Bishop. I got to know John because he is one of our volunteer community mentors in the Mayo Clinic Connect online patient community. Over the last few months I had seen him sharing some of my posts as part of his community moderation work, and encouraging others struggling with weight issues to check them out.

But when I saw this tweet in reply to one of mine about a month ago, I set up a call to talk with him about his experience.

After our phone conversation, I asked John if he would be willing to tell his story in a guest post, and he graciously agreed. Here it is, in his own words:

I’ve struggled with my weight since my mid 30s.  I weighed 215 lbs when I left the Navy and gradually it crept up to 330 lbs in my mid 50s which was when I started being concerned that I had to do something.  I was able to get my weight down to 300 on my own and then found Weight Watchers through a friend and started their program.  Through Weight Watchers I was able to get down to 250 lbs and decided I could do it on my own since I felt I was the one that needed to make changes.

I did fine on my own for about a month, from that point until this year I was constantly trying one diet plan after another and going between 245 and 260+ lbs every few months.  As much as I tried to eat healthy and do some moderate exercise, I just could not seem to stay on track.  It wasn’t until I read @LeeAase’s health journey article on alternate fasting that I got interested in seeing if I could get my weight down to 215 lbs to help with my overall health and my current health conditions (small fiber PN and PMR).

My wife Lavon was already doing a 16/8 daily fasting so it made it easier for me to try alternate fasting.  I started with a 24 hour fast on March 24, 2020.  I planned to do a 24 hour fast every other day. When I read some encouraging results on Lee’s health journey on using the Zero app and a 20 hour fast with 4 hour eating window, I tried it and found it easy to do after a few days.  I’m now doing the 20 hour fast for 3 to 4 days at a time and while sprinkling in 18/6 or 16/8 days when needed to accommodate other plans.

One thing that the fasting and eating window has done to help me is to make it easier to stop my bad nighttime snacking habits which in retrospect are probably why my weight has always been difficult to control even when I thought I was choosing healthy snacks.

When I started my journey back in January, I purchased an inexpensive Bluetooth scale that shows weight, body fat, muscle mass, water weight and BMI.  My first weigh in Jan 18th was 244.7 and my most recent weigh in Aug 2nd was 222.4. I still go up and down during the week but I’m happy that I’m able to keep a downward trend.  When I reach my goal of 215 lbs my plan is to make a new goal of 200 which is one of those “in your dreams” goals but this time I really think it is a realistic goal and one that would be a major health improvement for me.

As you can see in the graph at right from his Bluetooth scale, John’s weight has been on a steady downward trajectory since January.

He’s down 22 lbs. in just over six months.

Most importantly, he’s no longer finding weight loss difficult, and he’s daring to dream of new goals he would not have previously thought possible.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to gain 20 lbs. or more, John is going in the opposite direction.

John at 280 lbs. (left) and now at 222 lbs. (right).

John mentioned that the Zero fasting app has helped him and that he learned about it from me on Twitter, but I just realized I haven’t featured it yet in this series.

It’s a great fasting tool, and I’ll tell more about it in my next post.

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