Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feast or Famine

I had a routine physical last month and turns out that, for a fat guy, I'm actually in pretty good health. My blood pressure was good -- likely due to my dutiful consumption of blood-thinning alcohol -- and my cholesterol is only a hair above normal. This came as a shock to me, since when I got a "health screening" at work in 2006, all my metrics were way off. So I was happy, although it would have been nice to have the doctor say that I needed more peanut butter pie in my diet.

He did tell me that I have to drop some weight, because if I don't, it will lead to health problems down the road. Since my health is inexplicably decent, I figure that it's probably a good time to start shedding some unwanted poundage.

I told the doctor that I was planning to go to the gym a lot more, and that I was hoping that I could offset my high-calorie, low-nutrition diet with some hardcore exercise. And he told me something that I guess I had never considered before: no matter how much you exercise, you can't out-run a bad diet.

This was shocking to me. I had always figured that I could counteract any visit to the BK drive-thru with an hour on the elliptical. But it turns out it's the other way around: I could do three hours on the treadmill and a side of french fries would kill it.

This BLEW my EFFING mind.

Okay, not actually, but it did give me a new look on food. My relationship with food has always been close but not a healthy one (no pun intended). One of my New Year's resolutions was to start cooking more and cooking BETTER. Not necessarily healthier but more delicious and less easy; more food that's not made in the microwave. So when my doc told me I had to stop eating as much -- he even gave me a meal plan with a lot of cottage cheese and apples -- I thought I was kissing my delicious foods goodbye.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a method of eating called ADF -- Alternate Day Fasting. It's also known as Intermittent Fasting (I.F.), and it is basically this: eat every other day. It sounds impossible, but I've been doing it for a couple non-consecutive weeks and it's really given me some interesting results and insights into my relationship with food.

Here's how I do it: I can eat pretty much however I choose from 6pm to 6pm on alternating days, and then I go without eating (or if I have to cheat, I keep it under 300 calories) on the other 6-6 shift. It's definitely not a quick fix -- my weight has gone down, but not drastically -- it's a long-term strategy. The idea is to limit calorie intake over time. Since the body deals with calorie intake over long stretches of time (week to week as opposed to day to day), it will result in long term loss of excess fat.

Oddly, there are also tons of additional health benefits, such as a reduction of glucose and insulin, and lowering risks of coronary disease, strokes and blood pressure. In fact, in all the research I did, there was no real downside ... other than the fact that many of us are miserable bastards when we are hungry.

I have been referring to it as the "Caveman Diet" because it follows the eating cycles of cavemen, who did not eat every day, but rather ate when they got hungry and then went and hunted their food, gorging on it when they could. They had very little if any belly fat, and actually had a longer lifespan than we do. (Their early deaths were due to other unsafe factors in their lives, like biblical floods and brontosauri.

For me, this method is forcing me to re-think my codependent relationship with food. Rather than absently chewing on food during bored hours in front of the tv, I'm now abstaining altogether. To me, this is so much easier than counting calories or staying away from foods I like. Now, I just don't eat one day, and I don't worry the next.

I'm starting to appreciate food more instead of feeling like I "need" to have it all the time. Truth is, I don't. Also, when 6pm rolls around and it's been 24 hours since I've had anything significant, having that first piece of food is like Christmas morning and the opening day of football seasons rolled into one. Not to mention, I am stuffed after even small portions now. Maybe that means my stomach shrinking, or maybe it means my body is not just getting full faster. Either way, it's gotta be a good thing.

You would think that this would give me a tendency to gorge on my "food days," and while that was true early on, I've pretty much reined that in. I probably do overeat a little bit, but definitely not to complete excess. And when you spread one days over-eating over two days (and repeat for several weeks), you are still looking at a net loss in calorie intake.

It's not the easiest thing in the entire world: there are days that I'm just a miserable asshole to everyone because of my self-induced starvation. When that happens, though, I'm not gorging on three slices of pizza; I'm having a granola bar and a cup of coffee for a little boost.

The worst part is, of course, beer. On days that I can't eat, I also can't drink anything but water, so booze is out of the question, unfortunately. That will probably be a good thing, long term, both for my liver and for my finances. Plus, I don't have to give it up altogether, just rein it in. And that's the beauty of this plan all the way around: I'm not giving anything up, I'm just limiting the window in which I can consume them.

I have no idea if this will work for me long term, or if I'll even be able to keep with it, but I am feeling pretty good about it so far. And the best part is, I don't actually have to DO anything ... I just have to "DON'T" something, and that's eat for 24 hours. Its actually much easier to do that than go to the gym. (Not that this replaces working out, I'll get back to exercising in about August or so.) I'm hoping that long-term, I won't "crave" food as much as just enjoy it when I get to it. It's okay to be a little bit hungry (or a whole hell of a lot-bit) every once in a while. And just knowing that 6:00 will come around soon enough is surprisingly comforting.


Snowbug said...

I'm not really sure on this "eat whatever you want, just skip a day" thing. It sounds like it will ultimately have very bad health consequences down the road.

I'm not the picture of healthy, but I stay pretty active. It doesn't matter at all until you modify the diet. I've cut back on fast food to once a week (or less), mostly cut out soda (1 or 2 cans a week, instead of each day), and try to eat more leafy greens and smaller portions. I don't think you have to completely eliminate what you like to eat, you just need to do it less often.

I would seriously consider discussing this diet with your doctor. I think maybe he was on the right track. I prefer clementines mixed in with the cottage cheese, though.

Bill said...

It does sound woefully unhealthy at first glance, but everything I've read about it, and every study I've seen on it says nothing but positive things.

Also, it's not exactly "eat everything in sight." I mean, some people might, but I just keep it relatively moderate on "feed days," as they call them. (That isn't such a great term though, makes me sound like a horse. And there is only one thing about me that is horse-like.)

I am going to get back to the gym at some point too, hopefully when all the New Year's resolution poseurs leave the gym. So far so good.

Anonymous said...

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