When people ask me how I have managed to lose over 65lbs and keep it off I will generally point to 3 things…what I eat, when I eat, and exercise. These principles are nothing new and have been time tested for millennia. The formula seems pretty straightforward: eat less than you need and burn off what you don’t. Presto! Weight loss.
Of course, if you have struggled with losing weight or being fit and healthy then you know that this approach is overly simplistic and that reality is much more nuanced.
The fact is, the types of calories you are consuming matter almost as much as the number of calories you are putting in your pie hole. Further, the kind of exercise you do is as important as how much exercise you get.
And it is found in these small nuances that you will achieve success or experience failure with weight loss.
Today though, I want to focus on the second piece of the formula: when you eat.
After being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, I learned that every time you eat your body produces an insulin response. Because I am insulin resistant, the key to losing and maintaining my weight is simply managing the number of insulin responses my body has in a given day. That essentially means limiting the number of times I eat every day.
That’s where intermittent fasting comes into play. There is a ton of science behind why intermittent fasting is so effective (even for non-diabetics) and if you are interested in that science I would encourage you to read an excellent book about this topic called The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. (On a side note, I wrote a full review about this book that you can read here)
If you are unfamiliar with intermittent fasting it simply means not eating anything during a block of time and only eating in the time that is left. So, for example, if you are on a 16/8 fasting schedule that would mean that you are eating during an 8-hour window and fasting the other 16 hours. You may decide to eat from 11am to 7pm and then not eat anything until 11am the next day.
Or, your schedule may be 20/4. Maybe you are eating from noon to 4pm and fasting the rest of the time. Hardcore fasters may choose to eat just one meal per day. In the fasting world you may see this expressed as OMAD (one meal a day).
Fasting can be intimidating for a lot of people. We are so used to our western diet schedule of eating 3 meals a day with plenty of snacks in between that we can’t fathom how we could possibly fast and go without.
But, trust me. If I can do it, then anyone can do it. That being said, here are three tips to help you maintain a good fasting schedule.
Tip #1: Start Small and Work Up
When I first started fasting my eating schedule was completely out of control. I would generally wake up, eat a huge carb heavy breakfast, then a snack around mid-morning, then lunch, another snack in the afternoon around 3pm when the sugar cravings hit, dinner around 6 or 7, and then bowls of sugary cereal in the evening. And I wondered why I was fat.
So, when I started fasting I thought it was going to be really hard to limit my eating times. That’s why I decided to start on a 16/8 schedule. I would eat 3 meals per day, but only between 11am and 7pm. It was difficult the first few days, but after that it got progressively easier. After a few weeks it was pretty easy, so I narrowed my window to 18/6 and would only eat between 11am and 5pm. I also reduced my meals down to two instead of 3.
After a few more weeks I went to a 20/4 schedule, eating between 11am and 3pm. Then I went to one meal a day after that.
Now that I am more experienced with IF and have reached my goal weight, I am back to a 20/4 schedule with 2 meals. It can still be hard not to eat late at night sometimes, but it isn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
My advice then is to start small. Get in the rhythm and habit of fasting and build from there.
Tip #2: Drink LOTS of Liquids
By liquids I mean water, coffee, or tea. Not beer or soda…sorry, those don’t count! In general, you should be drinking half your body weight in ounces in water every day. That means that for me, since I weigh about 165lbs, I need to drink at least 83oz of water per day. I usually shoot for 100oz, but you get the point.
When I wake up in the morning I do 2 things: I make a big pot of coffee for myself and my wife and I grab my 33oz water bottle out of the refrigerator. I read, study, journal, and blog first thing in the morning and I drink my coffee and water while doing so. I will refill that water bottle twice during the day and drink it throughout, but getting in the coffee and the 33oz right away helps curb any morning hunger pangs and keeps me hydrated and feeling full.
Most of the time, when you think you are hungry you are really just thirsty. Try drinking a big glass of water before eating anything and a lot of times you will find that your craving for food goes away.
I have a really high tolerance for caffeine so coffee and tea are my go-tos in the afternoon when I am craving those sugary treats that I used to indulge in. I will usually add just a splash of cream to my coffee to knock the color off and avoid artificial sweeteners altogether.
If a cup of coffee or tea at 3 or 4pm would keep you up all night (like it does my wife) then try decaf. It really helps drinking something in the late afternoon that feels more substantial than water and will go a long way in helping you curb your appetite.
Tip #3: Brush and Floss Your Teeth After Your Last Meal
This may sound like strange advice, but for me, the act of brushing my teeth after the last meal of the day means I am “done” eating. Psychologically it helps my mind and body accept that I am not eating again that day and it really keeps me on track. It’s weird, but it works.
I am guessing it has something to do with the triggers in my mind that have been established through routine and habit. Use these triggers as leverage. Make no mistake, you are at war with your body and all is fair in love and war. Manipulate, cajole, beg, lie, cheat, and steal to win this war. Your health and longevity depend on it. Use whatever tricks and manipulation you have to in order to get your body to comply.
You can be self-loving and kind to yourself after you have established new habits. Right now though, it’s gloves off. Take control and get on track.
Intermittent fasting changed my life. It’s not for everyone, but I would urge you to just try it at least to see if you experience the benefits as I have. Make no mistake, it’s going to be hard. You WILL be hungry and miserable for a bit. That is normal. Your body is so used to eating whenever and whatever it wants that any sort of limitations on quantities of food or your schedule will induce feelings of panic, FOMO, and longing. That’s ok. You’re not going to die. Your body has everything it needs to stay alive. The pain is temporary, but the benefits are forever.
Good luck, and let me know if you have any other tips that help you in the comments below. I would love to hear from you about what is working for your situation!