How Intermittent Fasting Eased My Lifelong Eating Disorder

by Gregory
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Like most people I ate breakfast my entire life.  Not only did I eat breakfast I ATE breakfast!  Unlike some who would wait until they were hungry in the morning to eat or would wait patiently for their parent to make them something nice, I would jump out of bed at 6:00am and head straight to the kitchen.  Now my mom knew how to make decent waffles and pancakes (not so much french toast) as well as bacon and eggs, but I didn’t have the patience to wait.   I had to begin my daily emotional, binge eating relationship with food as soon as I woke.  I headed straight for the cereal pantry (it was not locked up with the junk food.)  Read Confessions of an Obese Child #8: The Locked Cabinet.  I grabbed Fruity Pebbles, Coco Crisps, Captain Crunch or whichever sugar cereal my mom bought and promptly ate 3 bowls before my parents would notice me.  Rinse, lather, repeat for about 17 years!

If you have read my Confessions of an Obese Child series (or listened to the podcast) you know that I suffered from a binge eating disorder.  This blog is about how intermittent fasting eased my lifelong eating disorder.  So let’s give a little more history before getting to the present.

The Binge Cycle

When I entered college, I still ate early and hard.  The only difference was now I had a full-service cafeteria and an unlimited meal plan.  The absolute worst combination for a binge eater.  On weekend mornings, I waited with baited breath for the doors to open.  I promptly would order two plates of eggs with biscuits and gravy, sausage, (not a big fan of bacon back then), and 2 pints of Ben & Jerry‘s ice cream.  I typically would not eat it there; it would run back to my dorm room as fast as possible while using my finger as a spoon to start devouring the quickly-melting ice cream.  Binge eaters don’t like to eat in public.  Rinse, lather, repeat for 4 years!

Fiber Time!

By the time I moved to Alaska for graduate school, my morning eating had moderated.  Mostly because now I lived in an apartment and had to budget my money (no unlimited meal plan), but also because I was more preoccupied with weight maintenance.   In college, I had perfected a routing where I would weight myself on Friday evening, binge eat through the weekend, and then practically starve myself for the five days leading back to Friday for the next weigh-in.   (Learn more about this in Confessions of an Obese Child: College Dysfunction.)

The way I kept my weight off was “Calorie In, Calorie Out.”  Running 5 miles a day, day after day, coupled with the starvation period during the week, kept my weight off.  Was this binge/starve cycle and “Chronic Cardio” good for me? Of course not, but it kept my weight off and that is all I cared about.

By the time I was in Alaska in the late 1990’s, the “Fiber Craze” was en vogue.  The media and health officials exhorted high intake of fiber, partly to help with cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems, but also as a mechanism to lose weight.  I gleaned on to this and began to eat All-Bran cereal every morning….two bowls of it.  The consumption of the fiber cereal gave me about 30 grams of fiber a day, which is close to your daily recommended intake.

I supplemented my intake by eating a can of beans for lunch.  (Just kidney beans straight out of the can….yes, it was bland and horrible).  Just those two meals gave me more than enough fiber.  And you know the thought process of “If some is good for you, more must be better.”  I was consuming probably too much fiber (which resulted in a horrible amount of gas) and this was likely not good for me, but I didn’t care.

Fiber was the first of the many biohacks I would implement throughout my life.  The other reason I couldn’t binge eat in the morning was now I had a live-in girlfriend who would understandably chastise me if she saw me engaging in unhealthy eating habits.   How did I bypass this constant vigilance?  I began to eat donuts, cookies, and cookies throughout the morning after I dropped her off at school and between classes.  This was the beginning of “car eating” which would continue for 20 years.

The transition to Intermittent Fasting

I continued the fiber cereal until 2014.  At that point I learned about the importance of the microbiome and probiotics through my introduction to various natural remedy and paleo podcasts, such as Primal Blueprint. (Read 9 Most Important Podcasts You Must Listen To.)  I wasn’t going to stop eating fiber cereal since it might jinx my weight loss maintenance, so all I did was mix in unflavored full-fat Greek yogurt into my cereal mixed with some berries and ate it at school. (Read our review of popular Greek Yogurt brands.)

When you are petrified of regaining your weight you will try any biohack.  I tried deep breathing techniques in the 1990’s when studies came out that doing so would speed up your metabolism.  I consumed excessive amounts of water as a quasi-diuretic.  Later I did 500 push-ups a day to keep my heart rate up (as well as the ancillary benefit of having a pronounced chest.) Whatever it took.  I was petrified that I would regain my weight.

When I heard about fasting, I thought that this might be another biohack that I could try.  The main allure to me was that it would burn off any excessive fat on the body.  Once the body exhausts all the available and stored glucose in the body, it taps into the fat to convert into ketones, or glucose based on fat.  I thought at the time it would be an extra preventative measure to keep me from gaining my weight back.  I also thought that there was a small chance it would evaporate my “bloopie” or fat drape that swings from my abdomen.

Fasting Choices

I delved into 18/6 intermittent fasting (IFing) in November, 2014. I had done research on IFing and realized that 24-hour fasting was not for me.  Even if I could develop a tolerance to 24 hour fasting I didn’t want to have days off in between.  I thought daily fasting was more in tune with my lifestyle.   There are three different types of daily fasts. The most common is when you eating window is from noon-8:00 p.m.  The other one is the morning window of 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.  The last one is a double 12 hour fast when you eat breakfast and then don’t eat until 8:00 p.m.

The breakfast choice was out of the question because I didn’t like the idea of not eating after 2:00 p.m.  I felt I would be too tempted to eat dinner and thus would break my fast.  Also, I felt it would be difficult in social situations to skip dinner.  The double 12 hour fast was somewhat appealing to me, but the longest I would be able to fast is 12 hours and even then I knew I would want to extend fasts longer than that.  So the lunch-dinner fast was the ticket!

{Read our article on listen to NPE Radio episode on Types of Fasting Windows.}

The Initial Feelings

To be honest, I don’t remember it being too difficult to get to 11:00 a.m. to begin my eating.   I knew that drinking fluids during your fast period was important so I gladly increased my intake of white and green tea.  Many people experience severe hunger pangs, loss of concentration, decreased energy, and other symptoms, but fortunately I didn’t. I would begin to have hunger pangs around noon but as the days went by they subsided.  It only took me a week or so to be able to get to 1:00-2:00 p.m. before breaking my fast.  I would typically eat from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m.   I didn’t like eating too late because I knew it would cut into my fasting window the next day.

Within a month, I was pushing my fasts on some days to 3:00 p.m. with no loss of abilities or hunger pangs.  But on most days I would begin eating between 1:00-2:00 p.m.   I quickly felt many of the alleged benefits of intermittent fasting. (Read our article on the benefits of fasting or listen to the podcast episode.).  My lifting improved…my running and rowing times improved as well.  Especially if I was working out DURING the fasting window.  And this seems counter-intuitive to many people but working out on your 15th-16th fasting hour is amazing!  It is the ideal time to optimize your hormone re-calibrations.

The other thing I noticed was that my mental acuity shot up.  I felt like Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie Limitless after he took the experimental drug that made him smarter.  My cognition, memory, and alertness was on a different level.  I noticed my memory and word retrieval quickened.  It was almost like I was on a higher plane!  I didn’t feel any negative consequences to fasting at all.  Likely at the time I was 5 lbs. higher than where I ideally wanted to be and I melted those pounds pretty fast.

Do I recommend fasting?

Three years into fasting I still feel the benefits of it.  I likely will never return to eating breakfast unless medically told to do so.  I do miss eggs and cereal, on occasion, but I just eat those at night.  On the social level, I rarely eat breakfast out with family or friends, but I’m honest with them when I do go out.  They know I fast.  Also, while sitting with them, I either order tea or bring some from home to steep there.

Do I recommend fasting?  Yes and No.  First of all, not everyone responds well to fasting.  And this is extremely important to know.  Some people’s bodies adapt well to it.  Their hormones calibrate well, they lose weight, they improve cognition, they decrease cellular aging, etc.  But some people don’t.  They feel sluggish, irritable, and frankly worse than before.  I would suggest to all those who are considering trying it to give 18/6 fasting two weeks.

Other forms of fasting exists.  For example, the Warrior Diet has gained some popularity.  In this diet, people fast from dinner to dinner DAILY.  They consume all of their calories in one meal.  Though there have been some days when I have done this in the last 3 years, I don’t necessarily recommend it.  Just from my experience, it has caused me to have a belly ache and a brain crash.  It is just too many calories to consumer in one prolonged sitting.  Also, it hits too close to home vis-a-vis binge eating and other eating disorders.  You are essentially binging for one meal and then starving the rest of the day.  It harkens me back to my college days of where I mirrored that eating pattern weekly.    It might work for some, but it just isn’t for me.

Some biohackers attempt to fast for several days, if not weeks!  They hydrate and take electrolyte pills to prevent death.  It has shown to be effective for the morbidly obese.  The morbidly obese type who can’t get out of their bed type.  Perhaps these people should give it a try given the severity of their situation.  But many regular-sized biohacker types do this form of fasting ALL THE TIME.  I would not recommend this method.

Some other things.  It is known that women shouldn’t be fasting 18 hours a day.  Studies show that 12-15 hours is ideal.  Can women do a 24 hour fast?  Sure but from the research I’ve done, extended fasts may be inflammatory and potentially dangerous to women.   Pregnant women and children should not fast either.

IFing is NOT a diet.  It is a lifestyle…it is a biohack.   You are solely shrinking your eating window, but it is important to note that you still must ingest the requisite amount of calories to keep your body functioning on an optimal level. Many lose weight from fasting, but it isn’t a diet per se that tells you to eat certain foods and eschew others.  You can eat what you want during your eating window.  Ideally, it should be clean and balanced, but it doesn’t  have to be.  You will still get the benefits of fasting, albeit not as pronounced, from eating a typical American diet while fasting.

Listen to NPE Radio for up-to-date info on fasting, keto, food toxins, biohacks and more!

Share Confessions of an Obese Child on iTunes to those who grew up overweight or dealt with eating disorders!

What has been your experience with fasting?  I would love to hear from you below.

 

 

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