Actually it was 43 days before I got my blood test and 47 days before I finally cheated. My plan at first was 30 days, then figured who fasts for 30 days? 40 days has more history, then I figured I’d try to do at least one more day than Jesus, then I had to wait for an appointment for my blood test. The lady at the lab asked if I had been fasting and I said, “heck yeah, for 43 days!” After my blood test I thought about hitting Taco Bell, but I wasn’t that hungry so I figured I’d keep fasting. Today I’m 78 days in with just 3 cheat days, but I never ate before 5 pm the first 47.
It all started (for me) when I read, and blogged on that paper about the calorie restricted (CR) monkeys having MORE muscle mass than those who ate as much as they wanted. I was like what? That’s the opposite of what I would have expected. Guessing as to why I did some follow up research on Pub med and found out that both young and old CR monkeys had increased testosterone as well, which is partially explanatory, as was another paper that found less muscle cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) in CR animals. Looking through the animal research, with human studies tending to be in agreement, caloric restriction was a very healthy thing that basically slows the aging process and helps with a plethora of metabolic illnesses. More reading led me to papers that found intermittent fasting (either eating every other day), or time restricted feeding (eating only certain hours of the day) had similar and sometimes greater health benefits as caloric restriction. Some of these benefits were both neurological or musculoskeletal which I thought could really help a lot of my physical therapy patients. In my physical therapy practice I do a lot with exercise and EMS, which I know does a lot of good treating people from the outside. However with calorie restriction, for which intermittent fasting seemed the easiest way to go about it, I thought it could do a lot of good to cure them from the inside, particularly if combined with my largely exercise/EMS programs. Always wanting to test something new, I wondered how hard was it to do in practice, and what would it do to me?
So April 17th I wrote my monkey blog about eating less for more muscle and on April 20th I started healthy intermittent fasting. I had read the wiki on The Warrior Diet years ago, and had tried it on and off, skipping lunch from time to time (I already skipped breakfast) but on April 20th I figured I’d start it strict, actually read the book, and see what could happen. Had I read the book first I might not have tried it. Although I thought the basic premise was sound and a number of his observations agreed with my own, in the book the author Ori Hofmekler said he didn’t really fast during the day, but just ate small meals “underfeeding” to later “overfeed” after 6 pm. A lot of his claims came across pretty pseudoscientific and he recommended the sale of a lot of his own supplements, and per the order form in the back of his book, his supplements cost a total of $416 plus shipping. The thing that appealed to me about the Warrior Diet was not having to worry about eating at all during the day, so I was a bit disappointed. Later reading the criticisms of the Warrior Diet on amazon.com someone mentioned the Fast-5, written by Bert W. Herring, MD. Best of all the Fast-5 book is FREE, simple to follow, there were no supplements to buy, and it really was fasting. I’m currently reading Martin Berkhan’s leangains.com blog, in which he recommends an 8 hour eat and 16 hour fast phases, geared towards bodybuilders trying to lose fat while maintaining or gaining muscle. It’s not exactly my emphasis but is great resource for research and rationales regarding intermittent fasting. For some star appeal, 8 on 16 off is what Hugh Jackman did to get in shape for Wolverine. For now the Fast-5 suits my personality and lifestyle so I plan to stick with it, slightly modified, for the time being.
My last body fat test was 6 months prior to the fast that was on 9-29-14 as I was wrapping up my year of electric muscle stimulation self experiment and I was 183 lb and 7.2% body fat. The last time I weighed myself before the fast I was 179 lb. May 5th, (16 days in) I figured I should measure where I was at and I weighed 179 lb at 7.4% body fat. On 6-1-15, 43 days in I weighed 183 lb with 6.8% body fat and felt pretty jacked. Skin-fold tests have a good 2% error range and my body weight in a day will fluctuate as much as 4 lb, but I feel pretty good about saying at the end of 40 days I didn’t lose any muscle, and did seem to measure a bit leaner. I did EMS workouts only one weekend over that month because I was worried I was losing muscle, and I did a couple hard (for me) interval cardio workouts on the Stepmill to see how that affected my hunger level (surprisingly they didn’t), but otherwise I was pretty sedentary because I wanted to see what the diet did by itself.
My blood test results were more dramatic. A couple months prior to starting the fast (2-22-15) I had a physical, and I was yet again told I had high cholesterol, so I was curious what IF would do for that. Since I had just blogged on caloric restriction and testosterone levels, I wanted to see what healthy intermittent fasting did to mine, and I was glad to see that my prior blood test checked my pre-fast testosterone. The results were:
[table id=4 /]
So boom! After 40 days of fasting my total cholesterol dropped 41 points moving me from “high cholesterol” to “good cholesterol.” HDL cholesterol dropped 7 points (so that stinks) but LDLs dropped 35 points still improving my cholesterol/HDL ratio. My free testosterone increased 6.2% and total testosterone increased 25%, just like the monkeys!
How hard was it? A lot easier than you might think. The Fast-5 recommends you start by skipping breakfast for some time, then when you’re used to that you skip lunch, start eating after 5 and you are on your way. I have skipped breakfast almost every day for the last 20 years (to the chagrin of everyone fatter than me who ‘knew better’ but I digress), so all I had to do was start skipping lunch. Also I had played around, inconsistently, with what I thought was the Warrior Diet for a couple years so skipping lunch wasn’t unheard for me so I might have had an easier time getting started than most. In the book the 8 Hour Diet (which turned out to be a watered down version of the leangains.com diet) the author interviewed one of the intermittent fasting researchers, who said if the subjects lasted 2 weeks, they were all able to stick with it. That sounded reasonable per my experience. Fasting got easier the longer I did it and having a 30 day, and later 40 day goal, gave me something to stick to. Since then I have stuck with it because I like it.
I should point out that the Fast-5 diet allows eating in a 5 hour window from 5-10 pm, but a handful of times I would eat as late as 11 pm or so. Sometimes I would come home from work, have a high carb meal, fall asleep, wake up at 10 pm and still be hungry. If that happened I ate more that night rather than make myself wait till the next day, so at worst my longest eating window was maybe 6 to 6.5 hours rather than 5. However, I was real strict about waiting till 5 pm to start eating each day.
Also what I thought was interesting about the 8 Hour Diet book, was that it said pretty much all the researchers testing fasting on animals and people were fasters themselves and they all looked great. And that was something I wondered about that you didn’t see written about in the objective research.
What I like about fasting:
- It’s easy! In fact it’s better than easy! You get to stop doing things you were doing already, like preparing breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
- It’s free! In fact it’s better than free! Not only does it cost nothing, you save all the money you were paying for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
- It saves you time, eating and preparing.
- You don’t have to count calories.
- You don’t have to think about food.
- More energy all day (very noticeable), and for me seemed to improve especially around 30 days or so.
- My BP dropped from borderline high ~140/90 to normal ~120/80.
- My cholesterol dropped A LOT!
- At night you can eat whatever you feel like.
- At night you can eat as much as you feel like.
- After a while I noticed myself getting full faster, to a point where I wasn’t eating much more at night than usual, and I might have been eating less. So I think my stomach actually shrank, which I started to notice after maybe 15-20 days or so. I didn’t notice that with inconsistent missed meals prior to starting the my strict fasting program.
- You know how food tastes really good when you are really hungry? It’s like that every day.
What I don’t like about fasting:
- Sometimes you feel hungry (especially when others are eating, or if you are bored) and you want to eat, but I imagine this is no worse than any other diet.
- It’s a bit anti-social, I’d be out with friends and everyone would go to a restaurant, so to be social I would go along, but it’s a little weird when they are eating and you aren’t. In time I got used to that too and I found myself ordering take out so I could just eat the food that looked best later.
Things I noticed about fasting:
- The things I liked list is a lot longer than the things I didn’t like.
- Ordering healthier appetizers. I started ordering brussel sprouts. I hate brussel sprouts, or used to, but they taste better now. So blander foods seem to have more flavor.
- Super high fat appetizers, onion rings and fried calamari started to make me feel sick. So that’s weird. I used to love that stuff but fasting seemed to make really high fat foods unappealing. I remember in the movie Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock said he felt sick when he first started eating McDonalds and I thought that was a little over the top. I thought he was playing it up for the film because I had never felt sick after eating high fat foods. Now I think (coming from a vegetarian diet) he was legit.
- A container of spun honey I bought lasted me better than a week. Just a couple spoons satisfied my sweet tooth, when before I would have eaten the whole thing. I never enjoyed moderation before.
- I can workout in the morning (20 minutes of hard Stepmill intervals) and be fine, hunger-wise until evening. I miss my post workout carb loading interval so it may not be ideal for sports performance and recovery, but I was no more hungry than usual and I imagine a burned a fair amount of fat.
- Starting to eat at 5pm instead of 6pm means you catch all the happy hours.
- At the store at the checkout, I’m not tempted to buy sweets cause it’s not 5 pm.
- Fasting gives you willpower. People say they have trouble not eating, but this just gets you used to it. People who know me know I had no willpower whatsoever with regards to food. In fact, fasting is the first “diet” I have ever attempted short of carrying around a cooler in college to make sure I ate 5000 calories a day to gain weight for weightlifting. Generally I would eat cookies, candy, and chips till they were gone, it was what I was used to. In hindsight the things that saved me from obesity was my fair amount of residual muscle mass from prior bodybuilding and residual weightlifting, and the fact that I always skipped the least important meal of the day, breakfast.
- If you are busy you don’t feel that hungry, when you are hungry it’s a feeling you are used to and you know it’s healthy so you don’t mind the feeling as much as you used to.
- If I had something to do at 5 pm, it was no big deal to keep waiting. A lot of times I would stay after work talking to people, or would go home and surf the web, and not start eating till 6:30 or 7 pm.
- Intermittent fasting might share benefits with various cleanses/detoxes talked about with alternative-med/new-age folks, but it’s like a clense/detox you do every day.
- Intermittent fasting might share benefits with vegetarianism.
- It probably helps mentally to know that you aren’t abstaining from anything, you’re just waiting, and in my experience that’s enough to get you past all the midday temptations and I just felt like making better food choices later on. Instinctively or cognitively thinking that if you are only going to have one big meal a day, it probably shouldn’t be junk.
- I felt pretty stoic around 35 days into the fast, and when I see people eating or snacking it makes me think they are weak willed. That’s not exactly pro-social but I recall hearing that anorexics like the feeling they get when depriving themselves and not giving into their impulses. So I wonder if the feeling is similar and if time restricted feeding would be a treatment option for those with eating disorders. They would get the satisfaction from the deprivation (which I found one study which showed they do in fact get that satisfaction) but they would still be able to so called binge, each and every night.
- The big test was my last official 41st day, where I went to a party at 3:30 with awesome food and I couldn’t start eating till 5. Actually it made for some good conversation as a lot of people were interested in why I wasn’t eating, so I showed them my monkey photos, talked about healthy intermittent fasting, which people seem genuinely curious about. So at 5:00 I started eating, it was great, and I didn’t cheat on my fast. I was thinking if I had been on a typical calorie restriction diet I either would have been miserable all night or I would have cheated.
- Also I thought with the Fast-5, where you eat at night, that if you like food, every day ends on a good note. So you always go to bed feeling full and satisfied vs calorie restriction, alternate day versions of intermittent fasting. I had recently read something somewhere about a psychological principle that however the end of something goes the better you feel about it. So the better the end of a workout, a physical therapy session, a phone call, a relationship, etc. the better you feel about it, even if the beginning and middle were tough. Basically a psychological principle of all’s well that ends well. So the cool thing about the Fast-5 is that regarding food and satiety, every day ends well.
I plan on sticking with the Fast-5 but I figured I’ll let myself cheat once a week in a social situation or if I just feel like it. However in the almost 40 more days it took me to get around to organizing these notes, usually I don’t take my cheat day. I think because I feel better fasting, but lazy and weak willed if I cheat.
I’ve started lifting weights pretty hard to see what I can do with my extra 25% of testosterone and see I can gain back muscle on it. So far it’s going well and lifting on an empty stomach is no big deal, nor is not eating afterwards. It’s likely not ideal, as a number of bodybuilders and Hugh Jackman are making use of an 8 hour eating/16 hour fast and getting great gains by having a pre-workout meal then loading up afterwards, but I want to see what happens if I stay with my 5-6 hour window, at least for now.
So overall, the healthy intermittent fasting was everything it was said to be; healthy, decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, fat but no muscle loss, increased focus and energy, increased testosterone. It was a little unsocial, but if you are a social person and you live in America and you want to eat everything you want when your friends want you to, well, then you’re going to be fat.
As always, if you have any further questions or need for clarifications, please don’t hesitate to ask. Being aware that some of my blog ideas are contentious and occasionally a bit out of the field of my expertise, I encourage my readers to come forth with any questions/comments that are of interest or concern. Your comments are valued and welcomed.
Chad Reilly is a licensed physical therapist, located in North Phoenix, practicing science based medicine with treatment protocols unique and effective enough to proudly serve patients from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Peoria, and Glendale.