Fasting to Reduce Hunger

As you know, I have found several parallels between frugality and weight control. Both of these disciplines require you to “mind the gap” and both are neither sprints nor marathons. Sprints and marathons have finish lines, but frugality and weight control have NO FINISH LINE.

This means that your crazy vow to eat nothing but grapefruit until you pay off your credit cards, or to drive a clunker until you fit into skinny jeans will fail.

Whatever you do, be it dieting or budgeting, must be sustainable. You have to be comfortable doing so. Any enterprise that requires you to marshall herculean degrees of self-control and will-power is doomed to failure.

So, we’re talking sustainability here. We’re talking about a lifestyle day-in day-out for the rest of your life. Lifestyle change is the leverage we all need to win. Dave Ramsey’s financial wisdom isn’t predicated upon superior finance-fu, but upon lifestyle change that leads to superior behavior.

Thus a change in spending habits to lead to lifestyle spending changes is like the lifestyle eating changes to lose weight.

I started losing weight by exercising like a madman, and it managed to burn off 100 pounds in a little over than a year and a half. I’ve managed to keep it off, too. But keeping it off has been more difficult than the initial weight loss regimen. Unlike a hundred-mile ultra-marathon, weight control has no finish line.

(Exception: you only get a finish line when you’re on the Pheidippides plan.)

I will never forgive Dean Ornish whose book “Eat More Weigh Less” was a total disaster. (This was one of my failed attempts at weight loss 20 years ago.) For me, it became eat more and weigh a lot more. Instead of having seven tiny little meals per day I was snacking all the time and blowing up like a balloon. “Fit or Fat” was a much better book for me.

One of life’s unfair assymmetries concerns dieting and overeating. In a week’s worth of dieting I might run a negative caloric balance of a few hundred calories/day. Hurrah. But a single binge night pizza supper with friends could easily pack in a thousand surplus calories. Or that Fat Tuesday paczki you ate in solidarity with your Catholic friends or the discounted dozen paczkis you intended to share with your Protestant friends the next day, but ate single-handedly. A long-time dieting is too easily undone with a short-time binging.

To address this asymmetry, I considered drastic measures: I’ll eat nothing the next day. (Not sustainable, but I wasn’t thinking.) That did not work. But I did manage to pick up some research about metabolism. Dieting had reduced my basal metabolic rate and that left me precious little that I could eat. And after having spent a couple years exercising a lot my body had adapted to the activity level making getting back to target weight after a binge much more difficult. Never binging sounds good, but it isn’t realistic or sustainable.

So, why was it that I had lost so much weight in the first place? I had replaced all refined carbs with complex carbs, and I had boosted my protein intake dramatically. Why was it that reducing simple carbs did so well? One hypothesis came from the old timers, guys like Charles Atlas body builders from the 1950s. They said the answer was steak and eggs, eggs and steak, six days/week (with a anything goes day on the seventh). Zero carbs and if you recall the Atkins diet of not-as-long-ago, there were very few carbs there, too.

This is pretty much the opposite of conventional wisdom. One of my tenants, a young resident doctor, purchased a pre-made meals plan that had her eating seven 300 calorie meals per day. This is conventional wisdom. Since the number of calories per gram of food is highest for fat, conventional wisdom says reduce fat, too. Sounds good, but it didn’t work for me. Given the “obesity epidemic” I think I’m not alone in this.

Then I learned about this hormone called “insulin.” My grandmother died of diabetes and many in my family are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in middle age. As I understand it, your cells have a choice to either store fat or burn fat and they never burn fat if there’s any insulin circulating in your system. Let’s suppose you eat one little Girl Scout cookie. No fat burning for you until your body finishes burning up all those empy calories. And the more snacking between meals the more your body forgets how to burn fat.

So, let’s suppose your body runs out of glycogen and it needs energy, it’s got all this super-efficient energy storage in fat that’s locked away behind the insulin that spiked because of one small cookie. Needing energy, your body gets it from somewhere else: it tears down muscle.

My first thought was that I should quit eating entirely until the insulin calmed down and my body could shift into ketosis–fat burning. Thus I said to myself, “No food after 1:00pm.” This worked fairly well, but I didn’t feel good about not-eating supper with my family.

I find it easier to say to myself, “NO food whatsoever,” than it is to say, “Just 200 calories.” I got fairly hungry at supper time, but I knew I wouldn’t die and just powered through it. I just thought, “OK, tomorrow I’ll have something really tasty,” and that would make it easier to sustain this eating plan.

This is called “Intermittent Fasting” and I recommend it. If I eat my last food before 6:00pm and hold off eating until noon the next day that’s 18 hours without food. My body gets 12 hours to digest, and 6 hours to burn fat. Since many of those hours are when I’m asleep, I don’t notice any hunger.

But newer body builders are looking for better ways to hack the metabolism. Turns out that when you fast longer periods of time, your body can get to work burning up deadwood. The technical term is “autophagy.” I liken it to gathering up useless cells and tossing them in the furnace.

Trouble is that just like the teeniest bit of insulin shuts off fat-burning, the teeniest bit of protein shuts off autophagy.

Hold it! No carbs because of insulin! And no protein because of autophagy! What can I eat?

Well, you could try eating nothing. Fasting for 18 hours won’t kill most people. The Savior fasted for 40 days and nights, but neither you nor I are in that class. I’ve gone a full day without any food, but only twice. I want to try a longer fast “real soon now.”

Until then, I’ve heard of something else, a fat fast. If you can’t have carbs or protein, that leaves fat. I’ve heard that medium-chain triglicerides (MCTs) are pretty good and will try them soon. One thing I strongly endorse is a variation of “bullet-proof coffee.”

I take:

  • black coffee,
  • a packet of stevia,
  • a shake of salt and cayenne,
  • either cinnamon or cocoa, and
  • a tablespoon of coconut oil.

I microwave the coconut oil to get it to a liquid state and then mix the ingredients above. To prevent the oil from floating on top of everything I stir vigorously between each sip. I really need to use a blender. The stevia sweetness and spice go well with the coffee. Afterwards it gives me a boost of energy to power my morning cardio exercise.

The rest of my eating for the day is a high-fat and low-carb lunch. My goal for each day is to consume less than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates/day.

Your body does not spike insulin when you eat fat. And if you eat the right kind of fat, it’ll bypass the liver and go right to work powering your body. With your body used to burning fat, your metabolism won’t swing up and down as much from sugar rushes and crashes.

I have noticed a little nausea that I’ve heard may be “the keto flu.” My body is going through carbohydrate withdrawal and switching over to ketone-body burning.

But running my body on ketones is particularly good for maximizing my health as I grow older.

Since I’ve been eating one-meal-per-day I’ve found that I still get hungry at the times when I used to eat meals, but then the hunger subsides afterwards. This seems to be a function of habit and what I ate for my last meal. More fat and fiber can stave off hunger until the next eating window opens. Bullet-proof coffee might constitute an outside the eating-window meal, but it works super great at keeping me hunger-free.

Keto adaptation feels good and suppresses hunger. I’m told that mere calorie reduction while consuming a normal balance of carbs and proteins while minimizing fats will increase hunger. I can attest to this. Nevertheless, let’s recognize hunger is a sensation and not a compulsion. I have learned to associate this sensation with the pleasure of knowing my weight will trend the right way. This is a great mind-game, but I don’t think it’s sustainable.

What knocks out hunger is high-fat/low-carb eating, and fasting. I will experiment with longer fasts, then confirm/deny whether hunger declines the longer that the fast goes on. I’m told that it does.

Through eating less, I am less hungry.

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan