Many people seem to think that if you’ve achieved any significant amount of weight loss through intermittent fasting, it must be because you’re super human. People often say to me, “wow, you’re so strong” or “you have incredible will power.” Not really, folks. It’s actually pretty easy to fast, most of the time. After practicing intermittent fasting for over a year and a half now, it’s become a solid habit, a no-brainer. It’s not hard for me. I’m not sure I would be able to stick to it for this long if it were that hard for me to do.
As a matter of fact, fasting isn’t hard for most people after a short period of adjustment. No one ever believes that until they try it for themselves, but it’s true. Fasting gets easier and easier the longer you do it, but there are still times it will take will power and commitment to stick to it.
These days, will power seems to be a dirty word as it relates to weight loss. We hear a lot of people saying that it’s not our fault we’re overweight because the odds are stacked against many of us, not only biologically and metabolically, but also given the fact we are constantly bombarded with (mostly unhealthy) food at every turn. That may be true, but it also doesn’t help matters to accept those facts without also accepting our own responsibility for finding ways to combat it.
That being said, we can empower ourselves. First, we have to know that we’re not helpless against the constant barrage of messages to eat a lot and often. Secondly, we have to accept the fact that mild hunger – not to be confused with true hunger, which most of us have never experienced – isn’t a condition that must be squashed the instant we feel even the slightest hint of it.
We’ve been told we can and should eat from the time we wake up in the morning right up until a few hours before going to bed. As a consequence, it’s been ingrained in our psyche that mild hunger – mostly evidenced by a grumbling tummy – is to be avoided at all costs, and anyone who allows themselves to experience mild hunger for any significant amount of time must have a psychological problem such as an eating disorder.
That thinking is what kept me overweight for most of my adult life, and it’s had the same consequence for countless others. When I weighed 237 pounds and was bordering on morbidly obese, no one raised an eyebrow to my constant eating. But today, despite having lost 70 pounds gradually and naturally, my fasting habits are still met with skepticism. It’s time to change the status quo when it comes to experiencing mild hunger. It’s time we teach ourselves to embrace mild hunger as part of our body’s natural mechanism.
Although it doesn’t have the same power and control over me it once had, I still experience mild hunger. However, I’ve developed a technique I use, automatically at this point, to help myself push through the pangs. I’ll call it the “Talk, Breathe and Distract” method or TBD. Essentially, it involves mindfulness. The method is about talking yourself out of the autopilot response to hunger (eating) into more conscious awareness of the body’s ability to make us healthier and stronger through ketosis, autophagy, increased insulin sensitivity and a host of other benefits fasting triggers.
Here’s a sample scenario:
You have one more hour to go until you break your fast. It’s been a particularly demanding day and you’re looking forward to, not only finally having a break, but also eating the delicious meal you’ve prepared. Right now, it’s all you can think about. You feel the anxiety to eat welling up inside, but you want to stick to your window. Here’s what you can do.
Step 1: Breathe
Take a few deep breaths. Preferably, close your eyes and get in a comfortable place and take a few long deep breaths.
Step 2: Remember
Remind yourself of your commitment to the fasting lifestyle by saying something like, “food can wait. I don’t have to eat right now. I’m not going to eat right now. Food can wait for an hour. Food can wait until I reach my goal.” Basically, you’re reminding yourself that there’s no sense of urgency. You’re slowing things down. You’re stepping away from autopilot eating.
Step 3: Talk
Talk it out. Say, preferably out loud, exactly what you’re thinking and feeling. Be totally honest and don’t censor yourself. The talk might go something like this, “I really want that meal. I’m salivating at the thought of it. I just know it’s going to taste incredible, but I can hold off for an hour. At least I’ll try. After all, it’s just an hour. I’ll be fine. I want to do this. I sometimes wonder if I can stick to it in the long run, but I don’t have to worry about that. I’m just going to focus on this one hour and make it through that. I know what that food tastes like. It can wait. It’s delicious, but it’s not worth derailing my effort. I will feel amazing an hour from now, guaranteed. I will feel so proud of myself in just one hour. I’m proud of myself now!”
Step 4: Distract Yourself
Distract yourself with anything and everything you can think of that will take your mind off food. Of course where you happen to find yourself at the moment will dictate your options, but there will always be something you can do to take your mind off of the desire to eat, even if it’s something simple. It might be returning a phone call if you’re at the office. It might be playing a game app on your phone if you’re around others who are eating. It might be doodling during a staff meeting where food is served. It might be, believe it or not, cooking your break-fast meal. Think of things that you tend to lose yourself in when you’re doing them. Maybe it’s painting, maybe it’s playing the guitar. Now’s the time to do whatever is most appropriate for the moment that will take some time to complete.
I’m sure to many this method may sound a little “New-Agey” or even downright silly, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done this and suddenly realized it was actually past the time to open my window. Mission accomplished! It feels amazing.
So, the next time mild hunger strikes, remember to not fear it and to slow down, breathe, talk it out and distract yourself. But, also remember that if you decide to open your window an hour earlier, or have a bite of that cookie, or even if you decide to eat several cookies, don’t beat yourself up about it. I repeat, do not beat yourself up about it or feel as though you’ve “failed.” It happens to the best of us. Just keep going. One of the great things about fasting is that every day is an opportunity to reset and restart. Tomorrow’s another day, and it really does get easier.