Would intermittent fasting work for you?
That the doctor found a few benign polyps a few years ago was not the big surprise. How my body responded to a 34-hour fast before my first colonoscopy was.
The procedure was scheduled for 8 a.m. on Columbus Day (to keep me from missing a day of school), so the fast began officially at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday (though I didn’t eat after 10 p.m. on Saturday night). Despite the lack of food, I decided to attempt my normal Sunday bike ride of about four hours and only cut it short if I needed to.
While the gastroenterologist told me vegetable broth and certain colored gelatins and sports drinks could be consumed during the fast, intuition told me the measly calories in these would only serve as a tease, and that I was better off limiting myself to water and tea and taking in no calories.
Intuition was right.
I never thought about the lack of them during the tough part of the ride we do as a training race. My lack of food occasionally popped into my mind during other times that day, but never because of an I-must eat-immediately hunger.
That’s probably because I had done hundreds of lengthy rides prior to that where I would eat as little as possible before and during to force my body to burn stored fat to power the pedals. This practice adversely affects performance but trains the body to consume a higher percentage of fat for fuel during all parts of subsequent rides, which spares your most efficient fuel -the stored glycogen in your muscles and liver - for when you’re crosseyed from all-out effort, hanging on for dear life, battling the burn in your quadriceps.
I was feeling totally in control of my hunger as suppertime approached and didn’t want that to end - which is why I messed up. Just to be safe, I decided to drink some Gatorade.
The rush of the pseudo-good sugars created the sort of hunger I had feared. Luckily, it was soon time to consume that god-awful stuff designed to clean you out before the colonoscopy, which gave me other things to worry about.
So now it’s time to explain why the column started with such a story. It’s this experience that leads me to believe that one of the many in vogue varieties of the intermittent-fasting diet might just work for you.
But I write “might just” for good reason. Even though I comfortably handled double the time fasting that even the most stringent version of the diet suggests, fasting for 16 hours, my diet for 35 years has followed a pattern close to the opposite, and I’d like to think it has worked well.
But does it only work well because I work out more than 15 hours per week? Or is it because my body has adapted to this eating pattern even though it really isn’t the best one for me? Could it even be an example of the placebo effect?
I started the habit of eating every two hours or so in the early 1980s when performance-based research suggested that was best for weight maintenance and athletic performance. What I read made sense, and I totally bought into the practice.
Now, I can’t imagine eating any other way in the same way I can’t imagine not writing or exercising.
But you and I, obviously, are different and possibly dramatically so.
You may be more like Rahul Jandial, a brain surgeon, neuroscientist, and father of three. He told WebMD in an article titled “Behind the Intermittent Fasting Fad” and written by Lisa Marshall that he follows his own version of the intermittent-fasting diet by skipping breakfasts most days and limiting himself to one meal, a supper, on Mondays and Thursdays.
What led Jandial to do so? He’s a neuroscientist, so he knows “the brain is a hybrid vehicle and is in optimal function when it switches between sugar and fat as its fuel.” Eating this way accomplishes this for him.
But the article doesn’t list the sorts of foods Jandial eats or how often and how intensely he works out. In other words, your health-and-fitness regimen might be far different from Jandial’s, and you may not feel as vibrant and alive eating the way he eats because of that.
Whether or not intermittent fasting would work for you goes back to the litmus test so many of my articles suggest: intelligent experimentation. But I suggest so this time with this caveat.
Don’t bother to experiment with intermittent fasting unless you are intrigued by it. Like any other diet that limits calories, the key to its success is as much a byproduct of your willingness to adhere to it as the actual theory behind the diet.