Ugh, I hate having to write this post, but I promise it has a happy ending. Please read on.
I wanted fasting to be the perfect solution– the closest thing to a panacea for weight loss. Well, it is that; but there’s a limit, and I experienced that limitation first hand. Beginning last April, I experienced something I never thought I would—I started slipping. I started being lax with my fasting, and I also started overeating. I felt like I was falling off the wagon, or at least hanging on to the wagon for dear life.
I remember early in my fasting journey when I had lost about 40 pounds, I heard a few people talking about “coming back” to fasting. It surprised me. How could anyone abandon—even for a short time— such a simple, sustainable, and beneficial lifestyle? Now I understand. For them and for me, life happened, and it was much harder to fast consistently. For the first time in two years, I knew what people were feeling when they said things like:
“Today I almost made it to 19 hours.”
“I couldn’t resist and ended up eating.”
“My fasting was going great this week until ___.”
For a few months I experienced all of that and more. The “more” included gaining weight over the course of four months. It was as if my appetite got “uncorrected” and I was back to feeling out of control. I was very disappointed, but most of all I was scared. Was fasting going to be just another method that worked for a while but then caused me to gain all the weight back (and then some)?
I have good news and bad news for anyone who’s either frightened of experiencing what I just described, or in the middle of dealing with that scenario. The good news is that fasting is sustainable; and, despite hiccups—even long ones—you can bounce back.
The bad news is that there’s another pervasive set of beliefs and misconceptions around food that’s just as dangerous as the ideology that taught us that it was unhealthy not to eat all day long. What is this potential pitfall on the highway to a healthy weight and vibrant health? It’s portion distortion. For many of us, even after adopting fasting as a lifestyle, we still eat more than we need to eat. I was, probably still am, one of those people. But I’m aware of it now.
I had to start paying attention to the amount of food I was eating, not only how often I was eating. But before you close the window on this article because you don’t want to hear about counting anything other than the hours of your eating window, you should know this. Being mindful of how much I am eating doesn’t mean I have to count calories. It doesn’t mean I have to eat like a bird, and it doesn’t mean that I have to go back to the Five Bite Diet or any other diet. It just means that I can no longer eat the amount of food I ate when I first started losing weight and still expect to lose weight now.
In fact, right around the time I was going through these frustrating circumstances, the Biggest Loser article came out which didn’t offer good news for metabolism following significant weight loss. It did, however, at least partially explain why eating the same way I was eating after a 40 lb loss, wasn’t working at a 70 lbs loss.
The good news is, my appetite is corrected. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go back to eating the amount of food I ate during my pre-fasting days. No way. Even on my absolute worst off-the-wagon days I wouldn’t be able to consume the amount of food I thought was the norm back then. That being said, I realized I was still eating more food than I needed to and that was more about mindset than metabolism.
The other realization that got me back on track was paying attention to my protein intake which helps me, and many others, stave off the overeating and cravings.
I realize now what accounted for those out-of-control four months off the wagon. I don’t know which came first, but they all resulted in a perfect storm:
- I had tried the Five Bite Diet, lost a bunch of weight fast (20 lbs in a month), and then returned to Fast-5 alone. Was my body going haywire as a result of the drastic diet? There’s probably a very high chance of that being the case.
- I tried becoming vegetarian and eventually vegan, which lasted a few months. During that time I’m positive I wasn’t eating enough protein. For me—and probably many others—insufficient protein results in cravings, overeating, and low energy. I didn’t realize this until after the fact.
- I got a new job in a new industry and that is pretty stressful. Stress = elevated cortisol = weight gain.
Not until after I started gaining did I realize what had been going on for months. I decided that my best option was to return to the tried and true. Here’s what I did.
- I went back to monitoring my protein intake and ensuring I consumed at least 60 grams of protein daily. That seems to be the magic number for me, but you can calculate your recommended daily allowance here. My protein sources included protein bars, whey protein, dairy, and lean meats (mostly chicken and seafood).
- I broke my fast with protein (at least 10 grams) and closed my window with protein (at least 20 grams).
- I worked on my portion control— eating small portions out of small plates. This was easier to do because of the fact that my protein intake kept cravings and overeating in check.
After just a week of following those three simple rules, I was back to fasting consistently with ease, I was back to eating reasonable portions.
The bottom line is that, after two years of fasting, I can proudly attest to the fact that I’ve been able to maintain a 60 lb weight loss (starting weight 237, current weight 177) for almost a year despite significant plateaus and even some periods of gaining weight. That’s huge!
As frightening and frustrating as recent months had been, I’m grateful for them now because I’ve learned a valuable lesson about precisely what works for me to make fasting sustainable – protein and portions. I don’t claim that this will work for everyone, but it’s certainly something to try if you’re where I was. If you have used another strategy, I’d love to hear about that too.