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The Tao Of Intermittent Fasting

The tao of intermittent fasting is my go to way to stay well and healthy and lose weight. And I’m not even sure what “tao” means.

I had surgery in 2015 after back problems and increasing pain left me using a cane. I woke up one morning in 2011, my right side weak, and had no idea why. I had no app to tell me what had caused such a thing to happen during the previous eight hours, such as the one my BFF uses to map her sleep patterns. For all I know, I might be going out and knocking over banks while I’m asleep. Fast getaways and carrying heavy bags of money would explain a lot.

I finished student teaching for my master’s degree by using a rollator. Middle school, with its many fire drills, assemblies, occasional lock downs, ‘temporary’ outlying buildings, and geographically out of reach bathrooms, isn’t the most convenient venue for an adult with a rollator, which is a walker with four wheels and a seat.

Over the years, between buying a cane and now, I have tried every pain relief therapy heard or read about to get off pain meds and go back to frolicking in the sunshine once more.

I’ve tried therapies offered by chiropractors; I’ve done therapeutic massage (judging by the pain it’s anything but therapeutic), myofascial release, thai yoga massage, AquaStretch, cryotherapy (which is like being stuck in a shower with NO hot water, times three), orthopedic doctors, trigger points, and three or four more I’ve forgotten. All were temporary fixes, and the trigger point injections began to have strange effects on me, a benefit of steroids.

One summer, I lay in bed in excruciating back pain for a week. The only thing that got me out of it was spinal decompression offered at a chiropractor’s office. It took at least six sessions to feel close to normal. Finally, I consulted doctors and a neurosurgeon about surgery and had a laminectomy three years ago.

Before the surgery, I had been on the Atkins diet. I had gained a considerable amount of weight from not being able to hike and bicycle as much as I used to (which killed me; I always counted on bicycling as something I could do when I couldn’t do other things), and Atkins worked.

After surgery, it was almost a given I would gain weight, and I did. I couldn’t get back in the pool for two months. I came home from the hospital, three days after surgery, sat down on the sofa, and couldn’t get up. My legs didn’t work. It took the two men in my family, a rolling desk chair, and a piano bench to get me over to the hastily ordered and delivered (it was a weekend, naturally), hospital bed, assembled where the dining room table and chairs had been.

I should have given the hospital hell over this; they had given us no indication or warning that my legs be as would be as useful as cooked noodles when I got home. I had taken walks around the nurse’s station while I was in the hospital with a physical therapist at my side (who made fun of me for having brought a little makeup to the hospital. I don’t go to the pool without a little makeup. He had NO call). I didn’t take into the account the cocktail of painkillers and steroids they were giving me while I was their hostage, but it wasn’t my job to take that into account.

After I was able to get back in the pool, I failed to lose any weight. (But I was more buoyant. Go figure.) I was waiting to get stronger, waiting to be able to do more. The only more I could do was take Sugar, my dog, to the park now and then, push my rollator around, and watch her run. There is joy in seeing the pleasure a dog takes in the simple act of running. The joy of movement and speed under your own steam. There’s nothing like it, even for a dog.

Not only that, but I was still in pain and had less mobility than before the surgery. I don’t think it did me any good. I’ve never even seen the scar on my lower back. For all I know, they might have done nothing but tattooed the likeness of a 1974 orange Gremlin back there.

After two years of trying, I had failed to lose anything but my mind. I was still in pain, still couldn’t walk, couldn’t get out there on my bike, climb hills, or walk any faster than a snail stuck in maple syrup, my trusty and obnoxious furry companion bounding away in front of me, occasionally stopping and looking back at me like I was holding up the troops’ advance and eventual victory over the Saracens. (I have tried to hike with my rollator, pushing it determinedly over dirt and rocks.) All the doctors would tell me was that I have “arthritis,” which seems to be a catch-all phrase, and then they’d hand me a scrip for some drug.

It was time for drastic action. I didn’t want to go on the Atkins diet again, because I don’t want to eat that much protein or meat, don’t want to give up fruit, or worry about how many vegetable carbs I’m eating. I do not want to count any numbers except the pounds I’m losing and the lower sizes I’m fitting in.

I had researched fasting over the years and tried it when I was younger. I believe in it and all its benefits, but like anything else, for something to do any good, it must be put into practice, not just admired from afar.

The Tao of Intermittent Fasting

I began a program of eating within an eight-hour window while the rest of the day is considered a fast. In four months, I had lost a whopping two pounds. And no wonder, that’s the way I eat 99 percent of the time. I haven’t eaten breakfast since the Carter administration. I could do an eight-hour window standing on my head.

It was time to take it to another level.

Two months ago, I began to do 24-hour fasts, and occasionally, 36-hour fasts three times a week. With this plan, there is rarely a day during which the sun rises and sets that I don’t have something to eat. Usually I fast from dinner to dinner, between 6 to 8 pm to 6 pm the following day.

A month later, I went to the doctor, who is obsessed with weighing people and taking their blood pressure when they show up at his office, even if their patient just wants to sell him Girl Scout cookies. When they weighed me, I discovered that I had lost 11 pounds. I was stoked. I decided losing weight was the bomb, even if I had initially started this ‘diet’ to get healthier, which to me meant not getting sick. After being healthy overall for most of my life, I was sick every few months last year with some ailment.

A month after that visit, I went back to see him to ask about a full physical. They did their weighing thing and I had lost another 11 pounds, for a total of 22 pounds in two months.

In the interest of full disclosure, I had quit using sugar in my coffee, which was apparently a lot of sugar. Or a lot of coffee. I wasn’t about to go without my coffee in the morning.

Here’s the meat of the post, if you’ll forgive the food reference: I noticed many benefits from fasting; a clearing up of frequent headaches, an unfamiliar feeling of energy and well-being (sometimes I’m so amped from a day of fasting, that when I go to bed and try to sleep, I feel myself vibrating), I haven’t been sick this year even once, and of course weight loss, where weight loss had eluded me for so long.

Here’s a for the lack of ill health this year:

In their study, published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell, the team found that repeated cycles of 2-4 days without food over a 6 month period destroyed the old and damaged immune cells in mice and generated new ones.

I haven’t even had to do it that long.

That quote was from the pro side of the question of whether fasting is “good for us.” Their con column goes on to cite the same old tired reasons that have been used for decades to scare us off of fasting: that it will trigger bingeing, that we won’t eat our fruits and veggies as prescribed (huh? I eat them the next day!), and that fasting sometimes doesn’t even lead to weight loss, and if it does, it’s just temporary and it’s water weight. We’ll gain it right back, say they.

I decree that these people shall go without food all day tomorrow.

If I was carrying around 22 pounds of water, I’ll eat my hat. (Good thing I fast, just in case I’m wrong and have to find a hat to marinate.) When I continue to lose weight almost effortlessly and keep feeling better, will it just have been a water induced fantasy, hydrophobia, if you will?

It was hard doing this at the beginning. For the first couple of weeks, I over ate the day after a fast. Doing three days a week helped curb that tendency. I didn’t like going a full day without food, just to nullify the effects the next day. After awhile, I started looking forward to fasting. Because, guess what? You don’t have to think about what you’re going to eat, preparing it, or cleaning up after it.

Does no one ever discuss the money fasters save? I suspect it’s the number one reason we don’t hear much about fasting, or when we do, we hear how awful it is for us, because there is no money to be made from fasting. What would they sell? A fancy and expensive fasting energy bar or drink?

I have no clue how to figure the average for this, but if we use $2 per meal for food that’s in the house and not bought outside one meal at a time, that’s $6 a week, $24 a month. Stick it in the bank with the rest of your millions and before you know it, you’ll have enough for a nice dinner out. You WILL spend less on groceries and save even more not buying lunch every day, or picking up a burger and fries on the way home.

If someone wants to go for a day on 600 calories, that’s fine, but I won’t do it that way because a little taste of something is not to my taste. I would rather go without than be restricted to a little bit. That’s not a fast, it’s a calorie restricted diet, which typically just makes you feel dragged out.

I have not been able to find evidence for the most surprising benefit, which is less pain. This is huge. When every step hurts, and pain and stiffness curtails all your activities, it’s foremost on your mind as to one of the ways your life sucks, even if it doesn’t suck 95% in other ways.

Perhaps this benefit shouldn’t have been a surprise. One of the touted benefits of fasting is that it helps reduce or eliminate the effects of arthritis, which simply means “inflammation around the joints.”

Fasting has brought down inflammation, whether through a special mechanism of its own, or because weight loss naturally reduces pressure on joints and thus less pain is experienced. I have no proof of this, but it makes sense. 22 pounds is a lot pressure. I’ve read other articles that said fasts can dissolve the calcification around joints, which if true is another reason pain would be reduced.

Then again, it’s given me the energy and motivation to work out more at the pool, adding an hour and a half to two hours more exercise each week. That might also have a lot to do with improved mobility and less pain, but it would still come under the credit column of fasting.

The so-called ‘experts’ call this way of eating a “diet” that will work only as long as someone follows it, and the benefits will be lost when one resumes “normal” eating. Pardon me, but isn’t that true of any “diet”? I’m not thinking of weekly fasts as a diet, I intend to fast a minimum of two days a week for the rest of my life, and will stay on my three day program until I lose the weight I want to lose.

I haven’t had to give up a blessed thing, which counts as a point in favor of not having to learn a new way of behaving. When you have to give up pizza for good or for months, or give up dessert, or give up your nightly glass of wine, all you can think about is the day you get to have it again. And then you feel guilt, which must be assuaged with a pizza and beer. Too much angst for me.

I haven’t had to give anything up, count anything, feel guilty about anything, or go hungry for longer than a few hours in the scheme of things. It’s a done deal.

Edit: Since I wrote this, I’ve had two hip replacement surgeries, and it truly is a “new lease on life.”

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14 thoughts on “The Tao Of Intermittent Fasting

  • May 20, 2020 at 9:04 pm
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    22 pounds. Impressive. Want to feel what a difference that makes? Pick up something that weighs 22 #, say, a full laundry basket. Carry it around the house, up and down stairs. OMG what a dif! You won’t believe you always lugged that around.

    • May 21, 2020 at 1:35 am
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      Ok, I have stupid question: What do you do about hydration? Among other things, I have kidney failure, and must drink large amounts of water or other fluids during the day.

      And how do you deal with the inevitable hunger? That alone would be quite discomforting it seems.

      • May 21, 2020 at 2:12 am
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        My hunger has dissipated a lot over the months, but some days, I’m just flat hungry, so I eat. It has become pretty easy to go from dinner to dinner, and once or twice a week isn’t untenable. In the mornings, I have my coffee with collagen protein, so that helps. Hydration just means drinking a lot of water, right? I drink my coffee and water.

        I don’t think you should try it anyway–not without “talking to your doctor.” Do you need to lose weight?

        • May 21, 2020 at 2:22 am
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          No, I really don’t need to lose anymore weight. I’ve lost 35 lbs in the last year due to my health problems.

          I was just looking for something that might energize me or just feel better generally. Exercise doesn’t do it for me. It just makes me tired, and the doctors yell at me for over doing it.

          • May 21, 2020 at 2:42 am
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            Fasting can make you feel like a million dollars. Don’t know why. I guess ’cause you’re zooming on stored fuel. All I can suggest is the pool. It’s almost impossible to overdo it in the pool, and the water makes you feel so good because you’re weightless. You do want to add rock and roll, but very few people listen to me on either that or the pool.

            Ours is still closed. I got to go twice after my surgery before it closed. Sigh. Just walking back and forth is great exercise. I want to get Don in the pool, too. He is coming back gradually, but when he works one day, he’s really tired the next. Prednisone helped him get over the hump this last time.

    • May 21, 2020 at 2:02 am
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      I always think of that analogy, too. Just pick up a loaded suitcase. If you see 22 pounds of fat in virtual form, that drives it home, too.

      Where is your website? I thought I subscribed, but I never get anything in my email.

  • May 20, 2020 at 9:59 pm
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    I’m a believer, if a reluctant one; I love food and wine, and those Brazilian drinks, too much to just waltz into eating like a 7th grade girl. At 6′ 0″, I’ve weighed anything from 175 to 215, and back again. If I could weigh 265 without having to buy new clothes, I might do it. So, no preaching from me is forthcoming.

    But it’s true. Underneath all the fads of this or that diet, chatter about free radicals – and who wants the expensive ones anyway – and ph balance, doctors on no TV shows (DONTS) keep saying the same thing: health and longevity is inversely related to calories consumed. There is no surer way to health than a restricted calorie diet. Switching up what one eats can have its benefits – it’s something you can discuss with friends over lunch – but nothing compares to reducing calories.

    The problem is that it takes only one sentence to say that, though I took two long ones. Can’t write a book, can’t make it sound sexy. Oprah won’t do a show on it (I asked, no dice). “Medium” writers – which is what they are at best – can’t use it for hipster points or race baiting. Whatever “it” is, “eat less calories” hasn’t got it. It’s a voice in the wilderness, with DONTS as the last disciples.

    But its like gravity, death and Monday Night Football: It’s not as popular as it used to be, but its still the only sure game in town. At about the same time I think you started it, I began a version of it: I do not eat before 6:00, not after 9:00, so I have at least a 21 hour span between calorie intakes. At first, I was really hungry at 6:00 and might overeat, but very quickly that moderated down to where I feel very normal at dinner, sometimes (a couple days a week) having only 1500 calories or so in that meal, which of course means all day. To make up for that, I do eat fun stuff. No tofu. You name it, I eat it. I don’t watch sugar intake. All calories are basically equal. I do NOT go to bed hungry. I’m back down to 180-ish, and all my bloodwork numbers are great. BP went from borderline to normal, heart rate dropped 10 beats.

    Doc said, “This is great. What did you do?” I just shrugged and said, “Nothing. Just ate less.” He smiled and said, “Magic, isn’t it?”

    But yes, the long stretches without intake seems to have a benefit, as you outlined in your article. Loved it. Thanks.

    • May 21, 2020 at 1:56 am
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      Are you serious? You really are doing it and it’s working? That’s wonderful! Actually, when you say it “won’t make a book,” or it isn’t sexy, that isn’t true. I get a newsletter from Brad Pilon of Eat, Stop, Eat. He wrote a book and writes about intermittent fasting on his blog, plus other health related things.

      His book is very interesting, but basically his rules for weight loss and leanness are: Fast for 24 hours once or twice a week (which as you know, can run from 6pm to 6pm, or 2pm to 2pm), do resistance training or lift weights 2 or 3 times a week, and on the days you eat, eat responsibly. For me, that means I can have my Good N Plentys.

      That is so great. Good for you!

  • May 21, 2020 at 2:24 am
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    And good for you!!

    Right, when I said it wouldn’t make a book, I was referring only to a restricted calorie diet. That idea has been around for a long time, but of course we’d rather talk about low fat, or low carb, or low-a-certain-kind-of-carb. Take away anything, just not my calories. But in the back room was a DONT, who wouldn’t go away, like the crazy uncle, who kept saying, “Restrict the calories.” I think there was a study where they took a bunch of normally weight mice, reduced their daily calorie intake, and they all lived 25% longer, or something like that.

    I’m still nostalgic for the low fat diet. All the wheat and sugar you wanted. How did that work out?

    But yes, the intermittent fasting idea is a great way to present the reduced calorie life. I am glad someone did it, because it got me to do it. I thought it was impossible, but its not. But again, no preaching from me. 6′ 180lbs is not exactly thin, and that’s okay with me. Its 30 lbs better than I was.

    • May 21, 2020 at 2:30 am
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      I still am struggling, but it’s going slowly, slowly. I want to get back, not to my flying weight, but probably 30 or 40 pounds from here. It really creeps up on you when you sit around in comfortable clothes so much of the time. I had four years of that, even with the pool.

      I don’t remember ever getting to eat all the wheat and sugar I wanted! Nice work if you can get it.

      I did real well on the high fat diet, though. Atkins. Don’t want to do it again though. I miss fruit.

      • May 21, 2020 at 5:30 am
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        This is really off topic, but it seems to me that at middle age women should weigh a bit more than men, compared to weight at age 25. At 25 I was 6′, about 170. I do not want to weigh that today, I dont care what the charts say. 180 – 185 is fine. But take a 5′ 7″ female who weighed, say, 130 at age 25, and at middle age she could be – well, I’m not about to touch that – but she can be somewhat more than 10 – 15 lbs heavier and be fine.

        • May 21, 2020 at 5:23 pm
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          We gain it all around the middle, it seems. Men do too, though. I gain it all over. If my feet start looking skinnier, I know I’m losing weight. It’s all hormones. Both genders stop making them, which is why lifting weights helps. It helps make growth hormone.

          A few people have great metabolisms their entire lives, and some work at it. I met one man in his 60s who only ate raw foods. His wife told me his doctors say he is physiologically in his 40s. She said every week he goes through bags of avocados, spinach. He looked like he never had a bad day. Although, to me, he looked like a man in his 50s, but very slim and felt good in his skin. You could tell.

          I took a page from his book, although I didn’t eat the whole story.

  • May 21, 2020 at 3:07 am
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    🙂 Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t say the low fat diet worked. It was just fun while it lasted. Two big plates of spaghetti, bit thing of garlic bread, 3 grams of fat. How healthy I was. Oh, and bourbon has no fat; true fact. I was the best dieter you ever saw. 30 pounds later….

    This is probably just me – just my own chemistry – but a mix of protein and carbs seems to satisfy my need for calories. For instance, 650 calories of cheese and plain crackers – that’s about 4 ounces of cheese, plus the crackers – gets me about halfway to feeling like I dont want any more to eat. If it was that many calories of straight protein or straight carb, I wouldn’t feel that way. I can take a 600 calorie steak off the grill, go through it like wood chipper, and wonder when dinner starts. Maybe we each have to figure out what turns it off.

    • May 21, 2020 at 5:13 pm
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      No, that seems to be true of pure protein. Don’s friend, a skinny man in his 70s, could eat six steaks and not be full. It’s strange. Maybe nature did it that way so the carnivores would be sure to keep eating each other and keep populations balanced.

      No, bourbon has no fat, it’s true. Just turns to pure sugar in your system and THEN to fat. Haha! 30 pounds later…I followed that for awhile, now that you mention it. When “they” were spouting the virtues of carbs. 30 pounds later and a look at myself in a picture, and I saw the error of their ways.

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