Round 1: Fast and Feast Diet

November 16, 2008 at 2:01 am

Okay.. So.  The first 21-day cycle began on Monday, November 17, 2008.  On that day I plan to begin the Fast-and-Feast diet, just to see how I do with it.

I think the clinical term for this approach to dieting is called ‘Alternate Day Fasting’, or ADF.   Now, before I go any further, let me just disclaim that I am REALLY not here to field a debate on the merits and risks of such an approach.  If that’s what you’re here to do or what you plan to comment about, just know up front that I’ll be deleting your comment.  My background, as it happens, is in Biology, and I’ve researched enough to know that even so-called experts are not entirely sure whether this approach is as bad as people assume it is when they first hear about it.  Washington University here in St. Louis is currently studying it, and I understand that there is even evidence to suggest it’s a healthy way to conduct yourself.  So.

For the edification of those who have never heard of ADF: the diet works exactly as the name suggests.  You eat whatever you want one day, you do not eat at all the next.   No fancy points to track, no counting calories.  You just eat whatever you feel like eating one day, and fast the next.

The critics of this approach to dieting level the expected complaints.  It won’t work, they say.  You will either adjust your food intake on ‘eating days’ so that you consume twice the normal amount of calories on those days than you would normally, or you will suffer from nutrition deficits, reduced metabolism etc.  And of course, the minute you go off of this diet, you’ll pile the pounds back on, because you’ve not learned to moderate your eating habits on a daily basis.

Proponents of ADF argue that the reality doesn’t appear to bear out these arguments.  Sure, it’s possible to consume two days’ worth of food in one day, but it doesn’t appear that most ADF’ers actually do.   Eating takes time and energy, and since people know they will have to fast the next day, those doing ADF are actually more likely to choose their foods carefully and pay more attention when they do eat.  Therefore, they don’t just mindlessly eat while doing other things.   Therefore, ultimately they consume less than they would on a typical day, not more.  Moreover, the day of fasting helps to ‘shrink the stomach’, which means they feel full faster, and therefore consume less.  One study I found said that participants increased their calorie intake on ‘feast’ days by only about 10%.  Interesting.

Most of the studies I’ve found suggest that even if weight loss is not observed, health benefits still happen.  Insulin production and function becomes more efficient, for one thing, suggesting that such an approach could stave off or even correct diabetic conditions.  Another study suggests that this diet, used long-term, may activate a gene known to prevent fat cell development.  The theory there, I guess, is that this gene hails back to caveman days when meals were by no means assured; when kills are plentiful, it turns off so that fat can be stored to sustain the body through the inevitable time to come when food will be scarce.  During the scarce times, fat production is shut down lest valuable energy and vitamin sources that might improve functioning be lost to storage before they can be used.

Basically, the scientific community seems to be largely okay with the whole ADF thing.  The main reason why it’s not popular is because, put simply, it SUCKS.  Spending a whole day without eating anything is really friggin’ HARD, causes unpleasantness in the form of hunger pains.  Therefore, no one wants to even suggest it, much less do it.

So why am *I* doing it?

Well, for one thing, my mother does it.  Her story is that she read somewhere that ADF was Audrey Hepburn’s secret weapon, and, as she’s always admired Audrew Hepburn, she decided to give it a shot.   Nothing like star power to give a diet some draw.  Mom’s been doing it off and on for years, and though she has gained weight back after losing it using this approach, the simple fact is that she has always lost weight while doing it, and she has no health problems at all at the age of 57.   The only ill effect she has suffered is that she’s constantly berated by family, friends and co-workers who are either concerned about her health for all of the aforementioned reasons, or who are irritated because she can’t eat during a social event.

For me, the social event thing is my only gripe.  Like it or not, eating is a social activity, and nothing is more irritating than inviting the family over for dinner only to have Mom either use ‘I’m not eating that day’ as an excuse to decline, or else spend the meal portion of the evening in another room so she doesn’t have to watch everyone else eat.  I’ve never liked that about it, but I have a solution for this which I’ll get into in a minute.

My other reason is that, at least in terms of equipment needed and such, it’s an easy diet to follow.  I know the fasting days aren’t FUN, but the diet doesn’t require anything I can’t give it.  One of the biggest obstacles I face with respect to dieting and exercise is my LIFE; the kids make it difficult to exercise, my schedule doesn’t always afford me the time, either.  I can’t always afford diet programs, can’t always afford healthier food choices.  With ADF,  I don’t need the weather to be nice, don’t need the kids to cooperate, don’t need special foods, and I don’t need to make choices between two different foods.  I like the latter part the best, because I know all too well that when I open the fridge and have the choice between pizza and a salad, I may make the wise choice and go for the salad, but the whole time I eat it I’ll be thinking about the pizza.  On the other hand, if it’s a choice between eating pizza and not eating at all, I may still miss the pizza but at least I can get out of the kitchen and do something else entirely to get my mind off of it.  I can totally do that, especially if I know I can eat the pizza the next day, completely guilt-free.

I do have another reason, too, actually…  I’m curious to see just how bad it REALLY is.  I have the unfortunate tendency to eat mindlessly.  I can down an entire bag of potato chips without even NOTICING if I happen to have them near me when I’m working on the computer.   This is a habit that bears breaking regardless, but one of the results of this is that I rarely truly feel ACTUALLY hungry.  For that matter, I can’t remember the last time I felt so hungry my stomach actually GROWLED.  I want to see if it’s really so terrible.

I’ve decided to take on a slightly modified schedule.  My Mom’s social woes stem from the fact that she consistently alternates, regardless of what is going on in her life.  I see merit to this worthy of my admiration, but I also see that this is often what leads people to feel frustrated with her over the diet.  Therefore, I have decided that I will modify my own approach somewhat.

I will fast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  I will eat Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on weekends.  On weekends when social occasions fall on Fridays, I will give myself the option to swap Friday for Saturday.  That way, I never have to importune someone else because of my diet.

On fasting days, my mother allows herself to drink as much water and orange juice as she needs to feel like she’s not going hypoglycemic or something.  She also takes multivitamins and calcium supplements.  If she gets to the point where she feels she can’t stand the hunger, she allows herself a carrot or two, a banana and (if it’s really bad) some fat-free microwave popcorn.  She says she avoids doing this whenever she can, but either way she figures her intake is minimal compared to how it would be otherwise.  I figure I’ll do the same, though I’ll avoid OJ as I think it would upset my stomach if that was all I was drinking.

So…let’s see how I do, shall we?


Entry filed under: ADF.

And so it begins…

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