How Intermittent Fasting Restored My Relationship With Food
The words we use give fascinating insights into our beliefs.
Are you “eating” or “cheating” when you consume a donut?
Do some foods count as “bad” because they have too many carbs? Are some too fattening because they have too many calories?
Is anything decadent or delicious a “guilty pleasure?”
Or maybe it’s something you have to “earn” at the gym.
Eating shouldn’t be like this.
Of course, you could argue that our language is just reflecting a food environment fraught with peril.
There’s no doubt that it’s easier to get fat and sick than its ever been, but is there a way to stay healthy without demonizing the food that fuels you?
The Three Levers of Nutrition
Dr. Peter Attia has pointed out that there are always three levers you can pull with respect to nutrition:
- Calorie Restriction (CR): Limiting how much you eat
- Dietary Restriction (DR): Limiting what you eat
- Timing Restriction (TR): Limiting when you eat
Dr. Attia says that it’s a good idea to always be doing one, sometimes two, and occasionally all three.
What I’ve found is that one of them is far easier than the others.
As the laws of thermodynamics indicate, eating less is a great way to lose weight. At least in the short term. Real world data indicates that it’s hardly ever successful in the battle against obesity.
Hunger goes up, metabolism goes down. You either fall of the wagon and regain all the weight, or — the more depressing version — stay on the wagon and regain all the weight.
Not only does calorie restriction rarely work, it sucks.
Counting calories sucks. Forcing yourself to stop eating when your still hungry sucks. Judging yourself for eating “too much” (whatever that means) sucks.
Even if everything that you are eating is “healthy,” you can still criticize you meals for being “too big.” You can fault yourself for eating “too much” (and of course, “too much” is a circular concept: why do you gain weight? Because you eat too much. How much is too much? Whatever causes you to gain weight)
The first diet I ever tried was a form of dietary restriction.
It was called the “slow-carb diet” and it was invented by entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss. It worked really well. I lost weight and kept it off…for as long as I stayed on the wagon.
While the diet had a weekly cheat day, it was tough to give so many foods — including fruit! — for most of the week. Eating out was always a tricky endeavor.
Eventually, I stopped the diet. Eventually, the weight returned. And it didn’t come back as solid muscle, even though I was lifting heavy barbells at the time.
When your diet has identified the foods that make you fat, you can’t help but demonize the dastardly portions of your diet.
Sugar is poison. Carbs make you fat, etc.
I actually have a lot of sympathy for this view. I think that there is reason to believe that we need to cut back on sugar or we’ll hurt our health.
But can we never enjoy the sweet things in life without feeling guilty?
When you restrict certain foods, you tend to demonize those foods. When you restrict calories you demonize portion sizes.
When you restrict timing, it’s hard to demonize anything except eating around the clock.
The easiest form of timing restriction is called Time Restricted Eating (TRE). This is where you limit your eating to a certain window such as noon to 8pm (an eight hour window) or noon to 6pm (a six hour window).
The next level is more advanced intermittent fasting. Every now and then, you go a full day or longer without food.
My routine looks like this:
Starting in January 2020
- Five days a week I aim for an 8 hour eating window
- One day a week I shoot for a more restrictive eating window (<4 hours)
- On Saturdays I have a more relaxed 12 hour eating window
Starting in August 2020
- Once a month I do an extended, three-day, water-only fast
I’m not perfectly consistent, but I’m pretty consistent. I use an app called Zero to keep track of my fasts, and here’s my data from the last month and a half (the numbers are the length of each fast, not the eating window):
Remember, there are three levers when it comes to nutrition: Calorie Restriction, Dietary Restriction, and Timing Restriction
Peter Attia, who introduced this framework says you should always pull one, sometimes pull two, and occasionally pull all three.
Here’s my strategy:
- Always pulling one: daily “Time Restricted Eating” (TRE)
- Sometimes pulling two: six-week “Sodaless Sprints”
- Occasionally pulling all three: Monthly three-day fasts
So far, things have been going pretty well. I’m down 20 pounds, and I’ve lost way more than 20 pounds of fat. I know this because my kettlebell workouts have resulted in an impressive increase in muscle.
Here’s what the story of the scale has been saying for the past year and a half:
A few notes:
- Long , flat lines are stretches where I didn’t weigh myself
- The sudden downward plunges are the extended fasts
- The huge spike is the period between Christmas and New Years
The Best Part
Today I went out to lunch to an awesome place I’ve never been before.
I was with my wife, my kids, my mom, my sister, and my brother-in-law. The latter two were about to embark on a six-hour drive home and we were enjoying a final meal of their visit.
We ate a lot of delicious food. We had appetizers. We ordered a basked of regular fries and sweet potato fries. The portions were huge. I cleaned my plate.
After we were done, we walked next door to a local dessert place and helped ourselves to various sugary concoctions.
And a feel guilty about exactly none of it.
My intention was to indulge and my mission was successful.
I wish I could guarantee that you could replicate my results, but I can’t. And you should probably talk to a doctor before any extended fasts, especially if you’re not in good health or are on medication (and you shouldn’t fast if you are pregnant or nursing).
But I’ve found a way of navigating our fattening environment with both my health and my relationship with food intact.
And that’s a win worth sharing.