If You Thought I Was Crazy Before…
We’re about four weeks into 2010 and I weigh about the same today as I did this time last year. I sat down this morning and read through every post I’ve contributed to this site and had to chuckle at how many of them contained some version of, “This is IT! THIS is the answer. THIS method of eating and/or exercising will solve all my weight problems!”
And yet here I am, still about 40 pounds overweight.
2009 was not a complete wash, though. I’ve learned more about myself in the past year than ever before and I have learned more about food, where it comes from, how it impacts me, my body, my family, and the planet than I knew there was to know.
It started with my decision to go Vegan ’til Six. This opened my eyes to the fact that it’s OK to be non-traditional. It’s OK not to eat eggs or cereal for breakfast and instead opt for salad. In fact, salad tastes pretty damned good in the morning. And it often involves just three ingredients: leafy greens, extra-virgin olive oil and good quality balsamic vinegar. As far as convenience foods go, it gets an A.
It also forced me to try tofu, which I’ve discovered is actually delicious. And meat-free dinners can be satisfying if done properly. But after a few months, I returned to my old ways.
Then we went to Europe and I re-experienced the euphoria involved in slowly and leisurely eating a well-prepared meal, full of quality and fresh ingredients. It made me want to focus more on what I eat. But after a few weeks, I went back to scarfing dinner in front of the TV.
Then, after a hellish move to our new house, I signed up with a nutritionist who had me throw out every low-fat, processed, and sugar-containing foods I had in the house. She told me to embrace butter and cream and whole milk and bacon as well as copious amounts of leafy greens and assorted vegetables and fruits. And I did. Oh, how I did. The quality of the dinners I cooked every night increased exponentially. THIS was the flavor I’d been hunting in Europe: the flavor of real food. My waist began to shrink almost immediately and my skin cleared up. Apparently my body was in agreement with my stomach for a change–they both liked this decision.
But then the holidays came. And though I still used real ingredients, I combined them with flour and sugar to make things like cookies and pies and cakes and sandwiches, stuffing, and bowls after bowls of pasta. On top of all that I also ate chocolates and candies and chips and crackers and quaffed vats of cocktails and wine.
Within days I broke out like a horny teenager and could no longer fit into any of my jeans. I also got a cold for the first time since I switched to real food.
Around this time I picked up a book called Real Food, which introduced me to the concept of “traditional foods,” foods that we have been eating for centuries. Like raw milk from pasture-raised cows, which contains CLA, an essential nutrient for fighting cancer which is not present in pasteurized milk. And the fatty part of beef from pasture-raised cattle, also rich in CLA. And chicken soup with golden droplets of fat swimming in the broth, in which the immunity-boosting properties of the soup reside, something almost impossible to find in the store-bought kind. And pie crust made with lard. (My eyes bugged out at this nugget of news and I immediately called my mother-in-law who is the expert baker in our family. She confirmed the fact and recalls how much flakier the crusts were back then than the ones now made with butter or–shudder–margarine.)
(By the way, I tried finding lard at three different grocery stores and the employees there all looked at me in horror and could only shake their heads while slowly backing away, their mouths agape with all the things they could not shout.)
As I continued to read the author’s account about all the foods her mother and grandmother used to make, like potatoes roasted in duck fat, bread toasted in bacon fat, beef stock made from bone marrow, roasts cooked in lamb fat, etc. it occurred to me that my mother-in-law didn’t start having a weight problem until she left her mother’s house and she grew up on foods like those. And her mother never had a weight problem, neither did her grandmother. Same goes for my side of the family. My husband and I come from long lines of people who did well financially–lack of food was never an issue. (And yes, they did move more as well, but not all that much. My grandmother certainly never jogged, lifted weights or did aerobics. But she did walk, weed, garden, and do chores.)
Nina Planck and Michael Pollan, another real food advocate, both point to processed foods, low-fat versions of real food, and animal fat replacements, such as margarine and vegetable oils, as three of the main reasons we’ve all become so ginormous and disease-ridden. The more I read, the more sense it made.
As I began to scour the web for more traditional recipes, I repeatedly came across the term paleo diet, as in eating the way Neanderthals ate. This concept takes eating traditional foods to the extreme in that it disallows the ingestion of legumes as well as grain, sugar, processed foods, etc., something I knew I could never sustain. But one guideline that stood out is the idea of only eating when you’re hungry and even occasionally fasting.
I know. AS IF.
But it reminded me of a segment I saw on 60 Minutes some months ago about a top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan who eats only one meal a day to stave off sluggishness. The reporter threw that tidbit as an aside, along with the fact that he runs twelve miles every day. I’m sure the rest of the segment was crammed full of important information that I should have absorbed but the only thing that stuck was the fact that this man chose to eat only one meal a day and he was considered to be in top physical shape.
But wait, what about the trainers I’ve had, all of whom told me to eat six small meals a day or risk cannibalizing my own muscle mass? What about nutrition experts, who instructs dieters to do the same or risk lowering their metabolism? What about my parents who never fail to remind me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it gives you more energy?
So I started to do more research. I could post all the links, but if you’re interested I’m sure you’ll find them just as easily yourself. The consensus among pro-fasters, some of whom are doctors, is that fasting does not affect your metabolism or your muscle mass unless you do it for more than 72 hours straight and that fasting for shorter periods has been proven to benefit the body in the same way as drastic calorie restriction–but WITHOUT significantly reducing the the amount of calories you ingest–yet still resulting in longer life span, lower risk of contracting diseases, increased overall health and energy, etc. Not to mention the fact that many cultures and religions have advocated fasting for centuries, which certainly hasn’t stopped the human race from propagating at an alarming pace.
Of course, mention the idea of fasting to anyone and they’ll look at you in utter horror, while covertly using their iPhone to look up the nearest mental institution. It’s basically an exaggerated version of the disgust I face when I mention eating salad for breakfast or the fear I see when I mention enjoying butter and bacon along with fruit and vegetables. So of course I had to try it.
My husband and I have been following the Fast-5 lifestyle, which was developed by a doctor for himself when he needed to lose 20 pounds. He found the method so effective, he decided to share it with the world and believes in it so much, he offers his book in downloadable form for free.
Basically it encourages you to eat only during a five-hour window on a daily basis, essentially fasting for 19 hours straight every day, including the eight you spend sleeping. (Other types of fasting suggest alternatives, like fasting for 24 hours straight twice a week, but this works better for our lifestyle.)
In that five-hour window, 5 to 10PM, you are encouraged to load up on healthful foods, such as vegetables, fruits, meat, and nuts. But it also allows for the occasional splurge on bread, pasta, rice, fries, and baked goods. To help with the fast, it recommends drinking water, plain coffee, tea, diet sodas, and chewing sugar-free chewing gum and mints throughout the day. In my quest to stick with real food, I’ve been opting for just the coffee, tea, and water.
I’ve been doing this for three weeks now and have found that it is far easier than I expected. I was sure that once the first hunger pangs of the day hit, the hours until five would be torturous, because once your body signals hunger, if you don’t sate it then it stays hungry, right? Wrong. The first hurdle is 9AM. Odes to salad-breakfasts aside, I’ve never been much of a breakfast person, but sometimes my stomach rumbles so loudly, my toddler will ask, “Whassat?” from across the room.
I check for signs of true hunger, such as dizziness, nausea, feeling faint, weak or grumpy. If none of those are present, I’ll stick it out and within 20 minutes the hunger pangs pass, leaving my body silent and blissfully unconcerned with food until 1PM, at which point I repeat the process, leaving me fine until 4PM–the hardest part of the day for me. I’ve found, though, that if I take my daughter out for a walk, the distraction proves so successful I sometimes accidentally fail to eat until 6:30PM and not realize it until I happen to glance at the clock.
My husband, too, has found this far easier than expected, despite being surrounded by bosses, coworkers, and employees who constantly eat around him. That’s not to say I never “fail.” The point of all this is to relearn to heed my body’s hunger cues and on the rare occasion that I am truly hungry, I give in without guilt or worry.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experiment is also the most astounding:
Eating nothing is easier than eating just a little.
I can’t stop at just one chip. I can’t just eat half a sandwich. I can’t just have a small bowl of soup. I can’t just eat a salad. Once I open my mouth, it’s a daylong struggle and vigil riddled with guilt and worry about how much makes it through.
Eating nothing is easier.
Despite the fact that I prepare food for my daughter every couple of hours or so (as obviously, she is not joining us on this fasting experiment) I am not in the least tempted to partake. It has happened, however, that by accident I’ve licked my finger after preparing her a bowl of yogurt with honey, or a peanut butter sandwich or peeling an orange, and the horns that go off in my head are deafening. Just that minute taste wakes the beast.
Again, it’s easier to eat nothing at all.
Then at 5PM (and sometimes later) I break my fast with a handful of nuts and a giant–and I mean HUGE–bowl of leafy greens with some sort of simple homemade vinaigrette. Then I make dinner. Dinner has always been my favorite meal of the day and the best part of fasting is that big dinners are encouraged. This, again, flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which dictates that breakfast should be the biggest meal. But I’ve always hated that. I enjoy leisurely dinners that beg you to linger at the table with menu items that evoke oohs and aahs of pure joy. Having just a salad or just soup for dinner has never done it for me and never will.
So I get to go all out. Some examples of dinners I’ve made in the past few weeks: lemon-roasted (pasture-raised) chicken with a side of crunchy sweet potato fries and steamed green beans; homemade pepperoni pizza with a large salad; homemade pasta with buttery tomato sauce and a side of of beet salad with orange slices; (100% grass-fed) steak with brussels sprouts braised in raw cream and sauteed carrots and parsnips; meatless chili loaded with vegetables; salmon in lime butter sauce with roasted sweet potatoes and cabbage; grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade bread with a side of steamed broccoli and garlicky red chard. Occasionally I make some form of cake and we each eat a slice a few times a week until it’s gone. Other nights we end with fruit or a glass of raw whole milk. And we always have red wine.
I feel fantastic. Since switching to real food I’ve only gotten one cold since the winter season began and that was after Christmas when I binged on junk. (Compare this to last year when I was sick nonstop from December until April. Most of my old posts on this site are crammed full of descriptions of snot and fever. Ugh.) And since I’ve started fasting I am incapable of napping. I used to grab a short one whenever I would put my daughter down for hers but now I simply can’t fall asleep! My body hums with energy until nighttime, at which point I sink into slumber like a rock. Oh, and I have so few dishes to do now and leftovers last us for days!
And weight wise? I’ve lost about a pound a week.
Amusingly, I realized while reading through my old posts that by following this lifestyle, that I’m attracted to the fasting lifestyle for the same reasons I liked Vegan ’til Six:
- It is not a temporary diet. It’s a lifestyle change. (Though once you reach your goal weight, you fast far less often, as in once a week or every two weeks)
- I will not have to give up any major food groups.
- I can continue letting dinner be my major meal of the day.
- I will not have to count calories.
- I will not have to measure portions.
- I will not have to journal my food intake.
- I won’t feel deprived.
I’ve learned too much to proclaim that this is the answer, that fasting and eating real food is what will finally allow me to reach my goal weight again. But for once, I am not obsessed with food. And that, for now, is success enough for me.
On a final note, I would like to add that I do have some concerns about whether fasting may affect my fertility. I would like to try for another baby in a few months so I’ve started charting my cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)–EXCELLENT way of gaining control over your cycles, by the way, highly recommend it. I will let you know what I learn.
So have you ever considered skipping a meal?