I’ve been working from home for over three months now. Once I accepted (embraced?) my new status of “just fired,” I had visions of a much more fit me, tooling around on my bicycle, swimming at the pool, hiking through the woods, and kayaking on the river. Well, August was at my doorstep and my bicycle tires were flat, my swimsuit was unused, my hiking boots were clean, and I barely made it out to the river. While I am making tremendous progress on my mission to launch the Early Exit Academy this fall, my fantastic summer of healthy living is slipping through my fingers. But wait … there’s still August! I decided to jump start my effort with a 7-day fast.
My problem is easy to diagnose: I’ve fallen into terrible habits! When I lost my job I also lost my schedule. Then less than two weeks later I drove my only child to the airport to see her off to her new job in the Grand Canyon. Suddenly, it was me and the cats in the house – day after day after day. And the things I used to do, like prepare healthy weekly meals over the weekend, weren’t necessary any more. And honestly, cooking for one has become a torment! Throw in my tendency to use food and alcohol as a reward for a productive day, and there’s the problem. I needed to break my bad habits.
I chose fasting for two primary reasons. First, I needed to regain control over my eating habits. Second, fasting will help me lose weight and prevent diabetes.
I have been on the rollercoaster of weight loss/gain my entire life. I thought for sure I had broken free after following The Plan and Whole30. And I had great success – temporarily! The problem with “diets” are that you have to cut out entire food groups and contend with an often ridiculous list of rules. Without a doubt, carbs are my enemy, so generally, I try to limit carbs. But then I fall into these grooves where I grab the easiest and fastest food available, and all too often, it’s carbs. Not good! And that’s the place where I’ve been these past few months.
Here’s what I know: Any diet that induces a feeling of guilt for indulging in the “wrong” food is just not working for me in the long-term. And this is where fasting comes into play. WHEN you eat may be more important than WHAT you eat.
I’ve done intermittent fasting (IF, or time-restricted feeding) off and on for some time, so fasting wasn’t an alien concept. But my weight is up again and the last time I visited the doctor I officially hit pre-diabetic status, so the time is now to take this seriously. I discovered a Fasting documentary that outlined the science behind fasting and featured people reversing major health conditions (including diabetes) through fasting. And I was reminded that fasting has been around for thousands of years and has been used worldwide for spiritual and medical purposes. There are many different types of fasts – the popular 5:2 approach, intermittent fasting, and extended fasting. And there’s a new kid on the block called eTRF for early time-restricted feeding – some evidence suggests it might be best to eat all our meals before 3:00 pm.
Fun fact – the record for the longest fast is 382 days – a 27 year-old man weighing in at 456 pounds did a physician-monitored fast in the early 1970s. He lost 276 pounds and maintained a weight of about 196 pounds five years after the fast.
There are so many choices when it comes to fasting. The two primary sources of information that encouraged me to try a 7-day fast was The Obesity Code and The Complete Guide to Fasting. What sets this approach apart from “diets” is that the authors emphasize flexibility and finding a fasting regimen that best suits each individual. So experimentation is totally cool.
But why seven days? First, I felt like I had lost all control over my eating habits and a week-long fast would put me back in charge. Second, it fits my personality. I have a tendency to go all-in and I love challenges – check out my 30-Day Challenges. I knew the first couple of days were going to be difficult. But from everything I read, the rest of the week should go okay. So why not give it a try?
I followed the allowable fasting fluids listed in the The Complete Guide to Fasting. I drank a ton of water, adding water with electrolytes as the week progressed. And I enjoyed my usual earl grey tea and some herbal teas, like peppermint and lemon ginger. I had plain beef bone broth a couple of days, but I got tired of it quickly. And I added MCT oil to my tea one morning, which did not make my stomach happy. So my go-to drinks were tea and water.
From Monday morning to Sunday morning (the last day of my fast), I lost 11 pounds. Most of the weight lost was water weight, so I know I’ll add some of it back as I return to eating. Here’s my day-by-day experience.
On the morning of day 1, after skipping breakfast and heading into the noon hour, I began to think about food even though I wasn’t hungry. Clearly I had developed a habit of using food as a distraction, a diversion, a break from my writing or the monotony of the day. Suddenly I became hyper-aware of just how dirty my house had become and turned cleaning into my diversion! I swept and mopped floors, vacuumed rugs, washed towels, got rid of clutter, destroyed cobwebs, washed cabinets, and reorganized shelves. My sparkling clean house is proof that I was habitually using food and drink more for emotional than nutritional reasons. After day one, I’m feeling in control.
I had expected the second day to be tough, and it lived up to its reputation. I ventured out on a rainy day to buy some binders and spent the next few hours cleaning my work space and printing and collating course materials. Then the house cleaning stopped and I snuck in a nap. I felt hungry and sluggish throughout the day. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. I awoke at midnight with a killer headache and ended up napping in my recliner throughout the night. Not fun at all.
My headache was gone on the third day and I no longer felt hungry. I added some broth into the regimen and bought some water with electrolytes, which helped a lot. But I noticed my mood was a bit dour and I even had an episode of “potty mouth.” My memory and attention were not good – I drove right through a stop sign! This was one of my most unproductive days. While I felt okay, clearly my cognitive abilities had declined for the day. Still, I was able to do some big-picture thinking for the online courses I am creating for the Early Exit Academy. So the day was not a complete loss.
Day four started out with very little energy. But once I was up and loaded with tea and water, things changed quickly. I accomplished a great deal in the morning – attending a meeting of entrepreneurs, shopping for goodies at Trader Joe’s and sending care packages to my daughter, trimming and mowing the lawn, and cleaning the gazebo. But, I had a good laugh at myself as I found myself almost mowing the lawn in my underwear! OMG! I had put on my t-shirt and socks and walked out of the bedroom before realizing I wasn’t wearing my shorts. So clearly, the brain fog was still with me in the morning. The afternoon and evening were much better as I fell into a productive mode. My jovial self returned as I infused some humor into an evening training session. And I’m proud to report that I am now trained on how to carefully pick up butterflies from a screened tent so they don’t lose their legs and how to escort them to the butterfly hospital (a.k.a. morgue) when necessary. I love being a master naturalist!
I woke up early on day 5 and once I had my water, felt full of energy and clarity. I wasn’t hungry though the thought of a bacon and egg breakfast crossed my mind. And I spent a lot of time thinking about food as I researched gluten-free recipes – I’ll be bringing a BBQ dinner to the beach next week. While I had planned for a 7-day fast, I was willing to end the fast early if I felt poorly. But I felt like I had successfully leaped the day 2 hurdle and the brain fog, so it would be a downhill run from here. In the afternoon I hosted a meeting of bat squad leaders, and in the evening I drove the bat car for our bat monitoring project. Once again, my volunteer work as a Virginia master naturalist has been an excellent outlet and a positive diversion on this fast.
Another extremely early morning – up by 5. I’ve discovered mornings are a little slow until I drink my water and tea. But I was feeling very productive on this sixth day of fasting. In addition to working on an upcoming webinar, my afternoon was spent staffing the butterfly tent at the local butterfly festival. Unfortunately, several butterflies had to be transported to the hospital on my watch! By the way, did you know there are butterfly farms? Mind-blowing! I fizzled out at the festival, standing in a warm tent greeting people in 90-degree weather. Definitely nap time afterward. By the time the evening arrived, I slipped into waiting mode, anxious for the fast to be over, and excited by the thoughts of tomorrow’s dinner – babyback ribs, potatoes, and green peas. Can’t wait!
My sleep was lousy heading into the last day and I felt like Goldilocks as I rotated between two different beds and the sofa before catching a few hours of shuteye. Upon waking, I felt pretty lethargic again. But I bounced back after some mega-doses of water and tea. Every minute seemed to tick by as I anticipated the moment when I would prepare my mouth-watering dinner. Finally, dinner was set and it was everything I had hoped. I ate slowly, enjoying each bite. Yet dinner wore me out – I had to leave the dishes unwashed and crash on the couch. The fast was over! Success!
My immediate plan is to follow a fasting regimen next week. I’m headed to the beach later in the week for a two-night stay with a friend. And again, the sweet thing about fasting is that I can fast on the day before and the day after my vacation and totally make my beach days feast days. Yes! In the long-term, my goal is to lose weight and prevent diabetes, so I’ll be doing intermittent fasting plus occasional extended fasts. And I will mix up the fasting times and intervals each week to keep my body off balance during the weight loss period.
I also realized that I need to spend some money and time to eat healthier. Planning and preparing meals had just become a hassle – a big reason why I keep slipping back into high-carb junky options. So I signed up to receive meal plans from Hello Fresh. While it’s more expensive than doing my own meal planning, it’s a whole lot healthier than what I’ve been doing. And health has to take precedence at this point. The experiment continues!
UPDATE: One week later, 5 of those pounds returned on the scale, despite intermittent fasting. So don’t expect that big weight loss to hold up beyond the week!
Dr. Brenda is a sociologist, educator, blogger, motivator, and financial coach. In addition to blogging at The Five Journeys, she writes 30-day challenges at BetterLifeChallenges.com. Her passion is guiding people on their journey to financial freedom through coaching at DrBrendaMoneyCoach and online courses at EarlyExitAcademy.com.