Have you ever done something and then subsequently found out it actually had a name? It just happened to me in regard to my diet. You see, I take advantage of an outdoor pool around midday to get in a half hour of swimming laps so that I get the 30-minute aerobic exercise that all the “experts” say keeps you healthy and spry. But it takes me a half hour to walk there and another half hour to walk back to my digs, and I usually take another half hour dawdling around the pool, so in total it puts a pretty big dent, time wise, in the middle of my day.
It occurred to me last summer that with all this activity around noon, it would be pretty easy for me to just skip lunch. It was a good idea since I had put on some weight and the nasty stuff was virtually impossible to be rid of any other way, so that’s what I did for the whole summer — swam laps at the outdoor pool but skipped lunch. And damn if it didn’t work over time. By the end of the summer, I was 16 pounds lighter and down a few notches on the old belt — not bad.
But here’s where the story takes an interesting twist. I’m a member of a Facebook group that follows the plant-based diet espoused in Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat To Live. So I happened to post in that group my good fortune in losing all that weight and the strategy I used by skipping lunch and even eating a very light breakfast. One of the people who replied to the post said that it sounded to her like something called “intermittent fasting,” which was new to me. So naturally I Googled “intermittent fasting” to find out what on earth she was talking about.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that the Internet is actually — how should I put this? — god! I mean you can ask it anything and it knows the answer, and it’s instantaneous. Isn’t that godlike? Sometimes when I’m typing in the question, the screen actually completes the last few words for me, thank you very much — that damn thing is reading my mind. I mean really, who can actually do that consistently — the Net can. I swear we haven’t created a monster in the Internet but we have replaced the Almighty. The Net is just as smart, may be smarter. It’s all knowing, all seeing, everything rolled up into one giant brain that never sleeps. Humans had better watch out; we are expendable.
Well, I digress. When I Googled “intermittent fasting,” I wasn’t disappointed. I could have read for the entire day. There was an ocean of material about this dieting technique that I had never heard of — and I have read a lot on nutrition and dieting, over 100 books at least. That’s a favorite subject of mine. So I read may be a half-dozen Internet articles on intermittent fasting and came away, I think, with a pretty good layman’s understanding of the subject — thanks to god, the Internet.
Essentially, intermittent dieting targets the stored fat around the midsection. That’s that inner tube everyone carries around the waist — for some it’s barely noticeable but for others it’s all you do notice. Stored fat is kind of a legacy we have inherited from prehistoric man whose body evolved in such a way that it was efficient in storing fat so that when lean periods inevitably occurred, humans could count on their bodies to provide the necessary sustenance to make it through.
For prehistoric man, the body became efficient in storing fat for the sake of his survival. The body uses food that is currently being digested as the immediate source of energy — not the accumulated stored fat. As long as this digestion takes place, it will use the current food in the pipeline before it invades stored fat around the midsection. It takes about 12 hours for a digestion cycle to complete from the moment one consumes a meal to when it is completely digested.
So for those 12 hours, the body avoids using stored fat around the midsection and instead uses the food that is being digested. When times were flush for prehistoric man and there was ample food to eat, he would eat again well within that 12-hour window, and so the stored fat, instead of ever being used, would accumulate — until the next period of starvation when the body of our prehistoric relative, who was now not eating regularly, would need the stored fat for him to survive.
Fast forward to the present day. Today, that 12-hour mark is the key to understanding intermittent fasting because it is only after the 12-hour digestion cycle that the body instead starts to invade stored fat around the midsection as its primary source of energy, just as it would have for prehistoric man during periods of starvation. So, here’s the thing, any hours after 12 hours from your last meal until your next meal is pure gold for reducing stored fat, that inner tube around your midsection. In fact, it is only after those 12 hours have expired that stored fat is ever used by the body.
So you can see the propensity of our society to get bigger and bigger around the waist because we are constantly eating, and so the modern body has perpetual digested food coursing through it — so there is never a let up in digestion and never a time the body selects instead to use stored fat for energy instead of digested food.
In response to this dilemma, intermittent fasting takes a very unusual approach to dieting. It is not about how much you eat, as it is about WHEN you eat. It exploits that 12-hour milestone when active digestion has stopped. I don’t actually have a total understanding of the science involved, but have gleaned the fact that when digestion and insulin are high, the use of stored fat by the body is low; and when digestion and insulin are low, the use of stored fat is high. That’s the formula to remember, plus the very important 12-hour milestone.
The people who practice intermittent fasting have their own hieroglyphics. You see things like 18:6 or 20:4 or 23:1 or OMAD (“one meal a day”). The first three, the ones with colons, indicate with the first number the hours the person is fasting and with the second number the hours eating. So someone who is practicing 20:4 is fasting for 20 hours and eating for 4. Notice the real benefit from a 20:4 approach based on the above description of that pivotal 12-hour milestone when digestion stops and stored fat burning begins. 20 minus 12 equals 8 hours. That means that person has been burning stored fat around the midsection for 8 hours — not bad, especially when compared to most Americans who eat 3 or more meals every day and really never ever get beyond the 12-hour mark, so they never burn any stored fat.
Then there is the warrior class of people who do intermittent fasting. These are the ones who go for days on end without eating. Frankly, that’s not for me — I like food too much. And for someone who doesn’t eat anything for multiple days, I really don’t know where beneficial intermittent fasting ends and anorexia begins, and I don’t want to know. But I think the majority of the people who do this type of “dieting,” start with OMAD and get their weight down to where they would like it to be (for me, that’s not skinny, but just a little overweight), and then they downshift to 18:6, which is a pretty easy regimen of just skipping breakfast and having a latish lunch — piece of cake (sorry, I had to say it).
The sad fact is that today 1 in every 3 Americans is obese. The 12-hour mark is the reason why. Those Americans eat again well before they ever get close to 12 hours from their last meal, so they never do burn any stored fat. So when will it be 1 out of every 2 Americans? Unfortunately, when it comes to excessive weight gain, evolution, which has made the body very efficient at storing fat, is not on our side. But intermittent fasting may be the answer.
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