I’ve had a few people say to me, “Mimi, I’ve tried to fast, but I can’t do it.” Here’s what I think about that. I’ve been fasting for almost a year now and because fasting has been relatively simple for me to do and extremely effective, I sometimes don’t understand how others struggle with it. Nevertheless, I realize there are many people who have followed a very low-carb diet with tremendous success and they are equally perplexed by how others aren’t able to stick to that lifestyle despite all the delicious and satiating low-carb options available to us. Many people have even done quite well on the much-criticized low-fat diet and find counting fat grams easy and effective as opposed to drastically limiting carbohydrates or practicing intermittent fasting. The old cliché applies – “Everyone’s different.” We have to recognize that and respect it.
Nevertheless, because of its numerous health benefits, I would love for daily intermittent fasting, in some form or another, to become the norm for every adult in the modern world, particularly for those trying to lose weight. But, I recognize no way of life is appropriate for all people. I’ve come to realize that the best diet is the healthiest, most convenient way of eating you can stick to for the rest of your life. Everyone needs to figure that out for themselves, being very honest about what, at a bare minimum, they can commit to for life, not just to drop a few pounds quickly. I recently read an article about that very strategy. Researchers determined that convenience is the greatest indicator of long term success with weight loss. In other words, the weight loss strategy that we find easiest to do, is the one that we’ll stick with.
For me, an easy and sustainable nutrition plan involves daily intermittent fasting – consuming all my calories within a five-hour window (aka, the “Fast-5” method). It’s a no-brainer for me. I eat very healthy most of the time; but, even at times when I don’t, at the very least I find it easy and convenient to stick to my fasting schedule. That is my priority. It is my way of life.
Although everyone has to decide for themselves what is the healthiest diet they can manage and still achieve the results they desire, the most current research seems to yield a strong consensus around what we shouldn’t eat. Specifically, limiting sugar and other simple carbohydrates and limiting processed foods are a good idea. I don’t think you will find a health professional that disagrees with that. Given these facts, what I consider a good start to establishing a simple, convenient, bare minimum foundation of your nutritional plan might involve the following options:
Choice One – Intermittent Fasting (Scheduled Eating): If you change absolutely nothing about your diet, at least limit your meal frequency. If you can practice daily intermittent fasting (i.e., if you can schedule the timeframe during which you eat) to, at most, 12 hours, then make that a priority. This means if you begin eating breakfast at 8 AM, eat your last bite of food by 8:00 at night, and beyond that time frame, don’t consume any calories. If you have a significant amount of fat to lose, then make it at least 16 hours and preferably longer. Again, you can start by making no changes to what you eat, only limiting the time period during which you eat – your meal frequency. At least one rat study seems to suggest that this alone, even when consuming a high-fat junk food diet, can help us become healthier and prevent weight gain.
Choice Two – Limiting Carbohydrates: If you’ve given it your best shot and can’t seem to be consistent with fasting, or if you don’t consider yourself a good candidate for daily intermittent fasting, then focus on limiting the amount of simple carbohydrates you consume. That means limiting white sugar, white rice, refined flours, fruit juices, etc. Focus on lowering your carb intake to the most tolerable level you can maintain in the long-term. Although many people find cutting carbs “cold turkey” to be most effective, you may want try eliminating very high carb foods first as opposed to drastically limiting all carbs completely. In either case, your goal is to figure out your threshold for long-term success, not the most effective way to lose weight quickly. Many people, myself included, have lost a lot of weight quickly with a very low carb diet, but found it impossible to maintain. If the low-carb lifestyle is the nutrition route you take, think about the carb intake you can live with indefinitely.
Choice Three – Eat Home Cooked Real Food: If neither fasting nor significantly cutting out simple carbs is something you can do consistently in the long-term, focus on eating real home cooked food, or at least purchased foods with very few ingredients all of which are natural. This means, instead of picking up a cake at the grocery store which has a list of 30 ingredients (as most do), bake a cake at home from scratch with flour, butter, sugar and eggs. You get the idea. Eat the most unprocessed natural diet you can stick to in the long-term, even if that means baking cakes with organic grass-fed butter, or making homemade burgers instead of buying the fast food variety. In many cases, the additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients in the foods we enjoy are more dangerous than the fat and calories in them which at least can be utilized effectively by the body. Another related suggestion is to pair higher carb foods with lots of vegetables, for example, eating homemade pizza with a big green salad, or fried chicken with a bowl of broccoli. Vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are satiating and also help taper the spike in blood sugar by providing added fiber. You may also want to explore carbohydrate concentration and resistant starch.
Choice Four – All of the Above: If you can get to the point where you’re doing all of the above – fasting for over 16 hours daily, limiting simple carbohydrates to a sustainable minimum, and eating minimally processed real home cooked food, then you are really doing well. Doing just that has enabled me to lose 50 lbs and I have no doubt such a lifestyle is sustainable for me indefinitely, as I never feel deprived.
For many people it will take time – even years – to achieve a healthy lifestyle after decades of bad habits. Don’t be discouraged. The longer we practice healthy choices, even small changes like the ones above, the more they become our new habit. From that point on, it’s smooth sailing to a lifetime of healthy living.
Can you commit to at least one of the options above? Have you already done so? Let me know in the comments below.