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INTERMITTENT FASTING: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some months ago I joined a new weight loss group in San Miguel. Having tried to shed a few pounds for some time, I decided to give this new regimen a try. The premise sounded good—a support group that meets twice a month, guidance in the right direction, ideas about nutrition, and a promise of results. Unlike most diets which have at least a 50% failure rate, this one promised an 80% success. I joined the first meeting filled with enthusiasm.

The diet program is called 16:8 IF: Intermittent Fasting, and is based on the idea that creating an 8 hour “window” of eating, and a 16 hour fast, will cause you to shed weight. It also promises to improve your health, such as lowering the chance for diabetes, heart conditions, and myriad other

conditions. The beauty of the program, as explained, is that all you need to do is stick to a rigid 8 hour period of eating, and another absolutely rigid time of fasting every 24 hour period. As an example, you might choose to eat between 10am and 6pm. Nothing other than water after 6pm, until the next 10am window opens up. The timing is somewhat flexible, as some might prefer 11am to 7pm, or noon to 8pm. But the golden promise of the diet is that during your window you may eat whatever you want. According to the guidelines, it is not how much or what you eat, but the restriction of food intake to a specific—8 hour, or shorter window. It sounded good, and I was onboard.

The scheduling of the eating vs fasting schedule turned out to be incredibly easy. I got used to ending any intake of food (or caloric drink) at exactly 7pm, or on some occasions to 8pm. My friends became accustomed to my early routine, amused when during dinner at someone’s home, or at a restaurant I would hold up the last of my wine and gulp it down as the clock struck the determined hour. Gone were the later snacks, the nightcaps at 9 or 10pm. Watching TV after dinner would no longer include popcorn, or sipping brandy. All positive results of this self- imposed discipline; all worth it when the pounds would start coming off.

After two weeks, though, the scale had not moved a single millimeter in the right direction. So I gave it another two weeks, sticking with the regimen as if my life depended on it. After another week, there was no change. Well, I was told, you need to give it time. And so I did. At the four week mark, I was disheartened to find that not a single pound had disappeared. But, persistence, I was told, and I gave it another two weeks.

On the morning of my sixth week, I weighed myself, and saw no change. I had to come to terms with the fact that this was not working. After all, doing the same thing, expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity. I was not prepared to enter the Cuckoo’s nest.

Instead, I began counting calories, basing it on the scientific formula that one needs a specific amount of calories depending on one’s weight, and level of activity. If you want to weight 120 lbs. and you are an active female, you need around 1500 calories per day. Cut your calories to that amount, and you will eventually reach your goal. I did this for the last week of my “diet,” and dropped three pounds. After six weeks of intermittent fasting with zero results, my one week calorie based diet plan succeeded.

So what did I learn? First of all, I like the idea of a “window” of eating. It makes you to think of what you put in your mouth, forces you to assess why you want to eat outside your window, and gives you the opportunity to exercise control over your food intake. I will incorporate that into my everyday life, and refrain from late night snacks. I’ve done it for a month and a half, and it was easy. It’s a healthy habit worth adapting. But I will no longer bother to starve myself for hours in the morning, rising shortly after the sun as I am wont to do. A cup of coffee with a measured one teaspoon of cream (six calories), tides me over till breakfast two hours after. According to most research, anything under 50 calories does not break a fast. This part has been “the good.”

But here is “the bad.” I think the promises of weight loss are overblown. The idea that “you can eat whatever you want inside your window,” is patently false. Whether you pack 2000 calories during a 12 hour stretch, or an 8 hour stretch, you are still taking in too much if you are my size. I am not the only one who failed on intermittent fasting, several others dropped out of the program after seeing no results. I stayed with it longer than others.

There may be another factor at play. The more weight you need to lose—let’s say over 30 pounds, the earlier you may see a decrease; rather than someone who only wants to lose half of that. Being in the latter category—along with the others who failed—may be an explanation.

I announced my withdrawal from the group. When I got home, I tried to remove myself from the chat group, since there was no reason to remain. Then I found that the leader had already removed me. The insecurity of a potential negative commentary was the “ugly.”

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