The Perfect Storm

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)?

eat_intelligentlyI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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).
  2. I broke my fast with protein (at least 10 grams) and closed my window with protein (at least 20 grams).
  3. 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.

beforeandafter2
On the left, about 15 year ago. On the right, today. Although fasting is the easiest and most sustainable weight loss method I’ve ever experienced (2 years and 60 lbs later) is hasn’t always been a no-brainer. The learning never ends but it’s well worth it.

Mimi

Hi, I'm Mimi and I've lost 70 pounds (so far) through daily intermittent fasting or "scheduled eating." I'm committed to the fasting lifestyle and to making it as easy and fun as possible. (Yes, I said fun!) If you're on the fasting journey with me or if you're contemplating it, you've found the right place for information, tips, and support. You may also want to follow me on Twitter @foodcanwait or join us on Facebook at facebook.com/foodcanwait.

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Michele

Great piece Mimi. It speaks to the need to be willing to try new things and figure out what works for you. I have been on Fast 5 for about 2 weeks, and have lost a few pounds. I like it because it is really easy to manage. I am doing LCHF, but know that at some point I want to reintroduce carbs into my diet. Love your work, please keep it up.

Stephanie
Hi Mimi. I enjoyed reading your blog today. I wrote you about a year ago and I “rediscovered” your site yesterday. Like you, I have been an I.F.-er for just over two years….and I have also seen that while I am going to continue I.F., my approach to eating must continue to evolve. I am slowly learning to enjoy eating healthier foods, which I now know is the only way to go if I want maintain my weight without much effort. I love I.F. and I don’t want to ever gain back the 50 lbs that I have lost so… Read more »
Lorraine Bates
Lorraine Bates

Loved this piece Mimi. Glad you have found a method that works for you with the weightloss I.e fasting, portion control and protein. Portion control is a biggy for me and I know I come up short on the protein front so these are great things for me to look into and perhaps when applied it will yield positive results like it has for you. Lorraine x

Tanja
Tanja

I’m with you! I am experiencing the same set back you mentioned you’ve had, and I have also come to the conclusion that protein intake and portion size is the only way I can correct my appetite along with the Appetite Correction tips from Dr. Herring. I appreciate your post!

Naomi
Naomi
I am still only a couple of months into my fasting journey and have had great results so far. I do 18:6 but couldn’t do it without low-carbing. The moment I increase my carbs I can’t make it through my fasts without cravings and I also see weight gain. We do two meals a day with no snacks in between and then one cheat meal (or snack) a week which is high-carb, just to not feel deprived. Has been working very well for us. I also use plenty of fiber and vinegar with every meal Am a big fan of… Read more »
Stephanie

You look GREAT by the way!

G. Lisa Lewis
G. Lisa Lewis

Great info…things to think about. Find what works for you…”Study of One”

Rich
Rich
Wow, congrats on the weight loss with intermittent fasting. I too just experienced about 4 months of falling off the intermittent fasting life style. Glad to hear that it’s not abnormal to have this happen. About 12 years ago I used a low carb/low calorie diet to drop weight from 226 to 185. It was hard. I’ve mostly been able to keep alot of that weight off. But I have had ups and downs over the last 12 years at times getting down to 170lbs but never getting above 191 lbs. Scary when I see those high 180’s and 190’s.… Read more »
Rebecca
Rebecca

I am soooo glad to read this. I just started IF, and although it feels easy now, I have been wondering what it would be like after the novelty wore off. So glad to read about someone who problem-solved her way back onto the wagon. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

Liz
Liz
Mimi, thank you for this post. I’m entering month 2 of LCHF/IF diet and I’ve had good success so far. This post is so REAL and I appreciate that you shared your struggle and how you found your way back to finding what suits your body. In the last 30 days, I’m learning to be in tune to my body’s hunger signals, when it’s tired and needs a break from a workout, when to stop eating. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, thorough and encouraging post. As someone who has yo-yo dieted her entire life, I’m thankful for this… Read more »
Shane

Great article! As hard as it is to talk about failure it is oftentimes the most beneficial. Personally, I am glad to see someone else struggling similarly to how I have. Going back and forth between low calorie, low carb, and intermittent fasting I’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’ several times. The most important thing is to get back on!

Patty
Patty

You’re a beautiful human, Mimi. We all have our ups and downs. I’m glad you are able to share your story, strength and encouragement!

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