Why I Fast (Intermittently)

Unfounded worries abound concerning fasting. Fears such as low blood sugar and entering “starvation mode” keep many folks from deviating from the normal eating habits. Some even use those fears to rationalize poor eating habits.

So why are we so afraid of hunger? We are so afraid of it that we use the word “hunger” - a word that describes systemic malnourishment - for the mild discomfort from a lunch arriving half an hour late.

We instill the fear early. As a father of a newborn, nurses reminded my wife and me multiple times everyday to feed our baby every three hours. We logged every feeding so that the nurses can check on us. When we asked about any leeway in that recommendation, since some mealtimes were more difficult than others, especially when our baby did not exhibit any signs of hunger. They responded with more strictness in their tone and instructions - the start of our baby’s feedings should not lag anymore than three hours after her previous feeding, regardless of the baby showing any signs of hunger or not.

We talked to people who have been there before: our parents and their peers. Their doctors’ instructions were to feed the baby whenever they appeared hungry and willing to eat. I have not found any reason for the newly stringent medical recommendation, but a paucity of data backing up medical recommendations is a common story.

So what’s so great about intermittent fasting? You can find out only if you try. Like any other diet, some folks may find it bad for them even if they are good for most people. However, if you are unhappy with the trajectory of your current lifestyle, the best way to try to get a different trajectory is to try a different approach.

If you need help stepping out of your deeply ingrained fear of skipping meals, let me try to convince you to take the plunge.

Many diets for weight loss exist, and many have been found to be successful. They involve some restriction, such as limiting carbs (e.g. Atkins) or fat (e.g. South Beach). A meta-analysis published in 2014 of studies on the efficacy of different weight loss diets have found significant weight loss with any low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet. In conclusion, the authors recommend “any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight”.

Intermittent fasting introduces a different restriction from other diets - time. By limiting the amount of time allotted to eating, you indirectly limit the amount of calories and junk food you could possibly take in. The New York Times has already reported on the growing body of research on the health benefits of intermittent fasting as well as its increasing adoption.

This limit has several psychological benefits over other diets. Instead checking the composition of everything you put in your mouth, counting them up as they reach their limit, and making sure you regularly deprive yourself all day; fasting requires you only to check the present time. When your window of time arrives, eat to your satisfaction.

Fasting gives you a structured means of avoiding snacking on candy bars all day, and you can remind yourself that your withdrawal is only temporary. And when your meal finally does come, you can better appreciate the food before you. After all, “hunger is the best sauce”. Instead of eating merely by habit, fasting lets you be more mindful of your meal when it finally arrives.

Fasting can provide a lot of advantages in your personal life as well. Every meal you skip is a meal you do not have to prepare, cook, eat, and clean up. Even if that saves you just one hour a day, imagine what you can do with that free time. Didn’t have enough time to exercise before? You now have a newfound hour each to to get that workout in each day.

Anecdotally, for me, I fast by limiting myself to eating within a four hour window each day, and I have never felt healthier. I use the size of the window of time I have to eat as a lever to either gain or lose weight; when I am trying to gain weight, I will extend my window, and vice versa. Some more objective numbers of interest might be my one mile time (6:30) and my squat (320 pounds). I am 5’8” and 165 pounds. While I am technically overweight according to my body mass index, everyone calls me skinny.

Please reach out to me on Twitter at etruong42 with any questions!

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