I lost 26 pounds in 3 months
Sept. 28, 2015, 8:45 a.m. (updated: March 29, 2017, 11:51 p.m.)
In May I flew to Poland for my sister's wedding. Using the opportunity, I went for a nearby concert organized by my favorite pianist in the world. While there, I met a friend whom I haven't seen for years. She told me I looked fat.
She wasn't wrong, yet it was easy for me to dismiss her claims. Come on, she hasn't seen me for ages! She must have remembered me wrong. After all, nobody close would tell me I look bad. I didn't feel bad. A month passed by.
Then one morning I looked at the scale in the bathroom and carelessly stepped on it. What I saw was scary. My weight was closer to class-1 obesity than to the normal BMI. Out of pure surprise, fear and disgust I managed to not eat anything that day. I just drank a lot of water all day. And then it hit me: "Man, I haven't felt that good in months!"
It got me thinking if I could start losing weight by fasting every few days. Is this a legitimate weight loss method? Is there any research? Would it be effective? Would it be safe? As it turns out, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
I bought a book called "The Every-Other-Day Diet" and read it that night. How was it? It was awful.
The book sounds like a blatant infomercial from page one to the last. It advertises itself and the author instead of focusing on the content. Maybe it’s because the author seems really insecure about who gets to be remembered as the scientist behind intermittent fasting?
I just wanted the content: how it works, why it works and some data to back it up. Instead, the book repeats itself a lot while being pretty light on the details. To be fair though, I can see how tricky it is to write 222 pages on a subject that is so easy to explain.
I did check online and it turns out the research behind the diet is extensive and the science is sound. It makes sense and the more you dig on the Internet, the more you see Krista Varady (the author) is serious about this and her results are treated seriously by others.
So I decided to give it a try.
I eat regularly: every other day!
The gist of intermittent fasting is this: you can safely limit your calorie intake to just a few hundred per day as long as it's for no more than two days in a row.
Varady's variant says "eat 500kcal on one day, and whatever and how much you want on the other day". There are other popular variants around like the 5:2 diet popularized by Michael Mosley. The idea is the same.
Varady suggests only eating lunch on fast days and this is what I did. No breakfasts, no dinners, no snacks, just the lunch and a lot of water during the day. At first I was worried the method would not work because of the lack of calorie limit during feast days. For the first two weeks I counted calories religiously, even on feast days, just to see how much I really eat then. I found out that I do compensate some, but to my surprise, far less than expected. So I stopped worrying and now I no longer count calories at all, just sticking to lunch seems to do the trick.
First of all, this is much easier to endure than a typical calorie-limiting diet I was on a few years back. Am I hungry? Not really. In the morning it's very easy to convince yourself lunch is coming soon. In the evening you know that tomorrow's just around the corner. I will admit I'm more impatient and easily irritated on fast days.
However, I found that what I miss most is the activity of eating. It's like I became addicted to eating not for the nutrients but to keep myself occupied. Fasting exposes this. It's interesting to experience and pretty tricky to overcome.
This is my choice of sport, last year I rode 2500 miles and I'm on the course to beat that this year. Surprisingly, I think cycling makes it harder for me to lose weight.
First of all, even though Varady maintains with her diet there's going to be no muscle loss, I experienced some. So the more I cycle, the more I rebuild that muscle and the weight loss process is longer. Granted, it will likely turn me into a fitter person but it's disheartening to see yourself in weight plateaus or achieving weight loss goals but hurting your cycling performance.
Second of all, every substantial ride needs some recovery food like protein drinks, etc. There's real danger of overcompensation. I experienced it in the past.
Now I'm around 2 pounds away from my goal of 138 pounds. This would put me in the elusive center of the "normal" BMI. What surprised me is that being at that point makes you quite skinny compared to the real average in the Bay Area. The "average normal BMI" is in fact not average at all. What does this say about the recently vocal "body-positive" movement? Is BMI a form of fat shaming? Does it hurt people's body image?
Too much food
Hunger is still a cause of death on Earth and yet in our bubble we have trouble controlling our intake. It feels evil and wrong to admit this but the first-world problem we're faced with is simply that there's too much food available at any given time. This is true in several aspects.
First of all, too much in terms of portion sizes which the restaurants and retail food manufacturers package for 6ft tall males with an active lifestyle.
Second, too much in terms of immediate availability of foods that were historically rare like red meat, highly sweet foods and beverages or alcohol.
Last but not least, too much in terms of calories per bite or sip. Burgers, pre-packaged chocolate bars and other sweets, soft drinks, etc. All of them are caloric bombs.
In my personal case, I had to come to terms with the fact that I'm quite short and it's simply not sustainable for me to eat as much as my taller friends. I had to understand that despite cycling and a standing desk at work, I can't consider my lifestyle to be particularly active. If I want to keep eating whatever I want, it won't be whenever I want.
Call to action
Be honest with yourself. Maybe you're okay. Maybe you're not. But don't say you are if your profile picture doesn't look anything like you anymore, if you don't fit in older clothes anymore, if you're afraid of stepping on the scale. You might be jeopardizing your health, you might be needlessly shortening your life.
Before I started working on my weight, I did remember looking different. I did remember feeling different. For some people there was a specific event in life they can point to as the cause of their weight gain. In my case it was simply letting go for too long. What I understood is that it doesn't matter how this happened. It's okay. What does matter is what I can do about it.
Ask anybody that lost any significant portion of their excess weight. Each and every person will tell you to not seek solutions that somehow don't require time, effort and endurance. If something looks too good to be true, it likely is. Trying and failing pushes people towards pointing fingers. It's not me, it's this life event that ruined everything. It's not me, it was this lousy diet. It's not me, it's my genes. It's not me, it's you, you fat-shaming hater.
For some people those might be true reasons. But I'd argue that for most people they're simply excuses. Execuses they don't even believe in themselves. In light of this I decided to admit that somewhere along the way I just stopped paying attention. This meant freedom. This meant I could improve the situation. I did. You can, too.