Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who's Afraid of Hunger?

I am about as far removed from a health expert as one can get.  So one of the things I love about this weight-loss blogging community is that I encounter so many different approaches to a common goal.  Some I dismiss as kooky or just not for me; some I try to implement; some are fascinating and require more research; and some amaze me and motivate me to push beyond what I normally imagine for myself.

I'm doing Weight Watchers, but I'm up to try tips and techniques others have had success with in addition to my plan.  One of the things that interested me lately has been the idea of Intermittent Fasting.  Steve at uses this method regularly.  He writes about it in detail here, and after looking into it, I thought I'd give it a try.  Incidentally, Steve is also the guy who came up with the Hot 100 Challenge, which I really enjoy.  He and I had some back-and-forth on this, and he was really helpful in answering my multitude of questions about Intermittent Fasting ("IF").

Here's the timeline (starting last night) for my first attempt at IF, and the results below that.

5:00 PM - Just by chance, I had a very early dinner tonight.  This wound up playing a big part in my decision to go for it right away with IF.

9:38 PM - Email from Steve at  Decided it was a good time to start, since I hadn't eaten anything since dinner.  Then I'd kind of have a little freebie of a couple of hours when I wasn't even thinking about fasting but was doing it anyway.  Continuing to have no more eating tonight, as I'm now officially fasting.

11:00 PM - In bed, drifting around the fringes of sleep, when I get a little knocking in my belly telling me it's hungry.  I haven't eaten anything since dinner, and I normally eat up until 9:00 or even later, so I'm not surprised.  I finished dinner around 5:30, so it's been about 5 1/2 hours since I've eaten.  I thought about healthy stuff instead and went to sleep.

6:30 AM - Read follow-up email from Steve.  Felt really encouraged.  In part, he wrote, "Just remember, it may not be easy today, but your body is just going to be acting like a young child throwing a temper tantrum.  Once it realizes you are in control, which almost always happens quickly, then it will behave and let you go ahead and move forward." 

7:00 AM - Had water, no coffee.  Making lunches for the kids, I had to remind myself not to nibble.  I don't want to set off some trigger in my stomach or brain or blood chemistry that tells me I need to eat now.  A little hungry, but it's not too bad.

10:07 AM - Still good, and it's been almost 17 hours since I've eaten.  Using the computer to distract me from hunger and chores.  Time to tackle some to-do items on the list.  Two hours until weigh-in.

12:45 PM - After our Weight Watchers meeting, my friend Mandy invited me to Subway for lunch.  I said I would go but not eat.  When we got there, I caved in and ate.  I really was hungry, but I think if I'd controlled my environment a little more I could have gone the full 24 hours of fasting.

Stop the clock!  I've made it over 19 hours without eating.  My experiment has ended for today.  I really had planned to go for 24 hours, but I fell short on my first attempt.  I might try this again next week.  If nothing else, this is a good reminder of a few things for me:

1.)  Like most people, I eat when I'm not physically hungry.  I often say, "I'm hungry," when in fact I am not.  I might be in the mood to eat or might be craving a particular food, but I am not actually hungry.  There's a big difference.  Emotional hunger is not the same as physical hunger, and this let me feel a little physical hunger to remind me of the difference.

2.) One day's hunger will not kill me.  The human body can go for a very long time without food, as long as it has water.  According to an article at Discovery Health, "Medically speaking, most doctors agree that healthy humans can go up to eight weeks without food, as long as they have water."  Gandhi once fasted for 21 days, and the man was 70 years old at the time!  One day's not so brutal now, is it?

3.) Mild hunger is not scary.  It's an unusual sensation to allow yourself to feel hungry, especially when you're a chronic overeater.  But there's no panic, no "drowning feeling."  I didn't have a headache or get dizzy or anything like that.

4.) Being aware of the body's signals is a good thing.  My emotional eating got me into this bind where I now need to lose a significant amount of weight.  Now I need to pay more attention to those signals and be mindful of how I use food.  Use food as a fuel and not as a drug.  And if I'm not physically hungry, I don't have to eat.  I can choose not to.

5.) Not eating for several hours helps me put my snacking into perspective.  I tend to eat smaller / lower calorie meals so that I can snack throughout the day.  While I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing overall, I leave myself open to more opportunities to give in to temptation and make poor food choices.  I might have a serving of something less nutritious than if I had fewer food decisions throughout the day.

6.)  There's no reason not to try this again, for me.  I could argue against it all day long, but it truly didn't hurt anything.  Initially, I was unsure, but I think that hesitation comes from a fear of hunger.  I rationalized it by suggesting that I would have to deal with other physical problems as a result (see #3 - panic, headache, dizziness, etc.)  I didn't, by the way.  But I never used the excuse of physical discomfort as a reason not to overeat before.  Yet how many times did I have to double up on Pepcid because I had eaten so much and had over-the-top acid reflux?  How many times did I eat to the point of almost passing out, where I had to just sit or lie down?  How many years did I eat to the point of having the waistband of my pants dig into my skin?  I certainly didn't worry about my eating affecting how I felt then.


  1. I'm supportive of the IF thing--I think you made good points here. Unlike you, I AM scared of being hungry. I get panicked--it's ridiculous. I'm not interested in IF (due to previous experiences of vomiting if I go without food for too long, plus being a diabetic would make it really hard to keep my blood sugar stable when not eating), but I do see how it can be beneficial. I wish you much success with it.

  2. What a great recount of a first attempt at IF! This is fantastic.

    Like you have said, I think controlling your environment is the toughest part about this. Simply being in your normal routine can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially on a first attempt.

    Nevertheless, you deserve a big congratulations! I think you have probably learned something about yourself today.

    Finally, prepare yourself - there may be some who call you crazy for trying this. I would suggest that is largely from a lack of knowledge. In my opinion, the truth of the matter is that this is a good technique for some, but for others it is not. Just like most things, we have to find where we fit in that equation.

    ~South Beach Steve

  3. IF scares me. Not because I think it's terrible or anything will be wrong but of what will happen at the first meal when I start eating. I often feel out of control so I think I'd have to have my eating more consistent before I attempted that. Usually once or twice I week I inadvertently fast for 18 hours by being late and skipping breakfast and realizing late.

    Now i just want to know if I'm kooky :)

  4. No, Veronica, I think someone with your blood sugar issues should probably not mess with this. Michelle, I was worried about that too. But the way it worked out for me was basically just missing breakfast. I had an early dinner, no breakfast, and then a pretty normal time for lunch. It was oddly easy and surprising to realize it had been 19 hours.

    Steve, thanks again for all the info. I agree with you that it's not for everyone, and I'm not sure it's for me, but we'll see. I am glad I did it and think I did learn a lot with this experience.

  5. I think IF is a good thing. Something I haven't done for a while. I have been toying with the idea. Because I want to get that perspective again before turkey and ham day. It helps to recognize the difference between hungry and not really hungry. Funny thing, kept popping up in my head reading this, Grandma and my Mom alwys told us kids you're not hungry if you don't know what you want to eat. And even now I'll hold back if I can't decide. I'm not sure how it would affect diabetics. I do know that my body has adjusted to having less and I don't get the shakes as often.

    Great first attempt! :) I'll be sure to read the link.

  6. I have never tried fasting, but one of the things that I have really had to learn is that it is ok to be hungry every once in awhile. When I was eating nothing but junk, if I got hungry I would get nauseous to the point of throwing up. Now that I'm eating better, hunger feels natural and almost like a pleasant reminder to refuel 'when you get the chance', from my body. :-)