Learning to fast

As of 20 July, I’ve started the 5:2 fasting diet. And that’s diet in the sense of “the food pattern of my life” and not “a particular (de)selection of food prescribed to lose weight”. I mentioned it for the first time in my previous post on this blog. Here’s the first follow up report.

In a nutshell, the 5:2 fasting diet is simple: I eat whatever I want 5 days a week. On the other 2 days I eat only one quarter of my recommended calorie intake, in whatever way works for me on that day.

Motivation (redux)

What do I expect from making this change to the food pattern of my life? I wrote about this briefly before, but will re-visit and expand on it in this post. First of all though, what on Earth do I mean by “the food pattern of my life”?

As an analogy, consider a painting. At the most fundamental level, it is made up of brush strokes, different kinds and colours of paint, the canvas (fabric, paper, etc), the frame it is bordered by, the environment and lighting it is present in. None of those are sufficient to tell you what the painting is though. I could give you the same description of these two paintings at that level of detail, and they would be indistinguishable:

painting-a

painting-b Two acrylic paintings in silver frames with mostly green and blue brush strokes. Allegedly identical.

At another level, there is the semantic content of the painting itself. In the painting on top it’s the Eiffel tower (probably, art experts might disagree). Again, this level of description is not sufficient to describe the totality of the painting. The painting itself is the sum of these two and all other levels.

In the same way, the food pattern of my life is the sum of all food in my life, and all the ways in which I consume it, relate to it, think about it, prepare it and so forth, at all levels. It is a holistic total and not a set of singular observations or a bulleted executive summary.

So what do I expect to change in me from changing my food pattern in this way?

First and foremost, this diet is intended as a lifelong developmental exercise for me, leading to greater self-control and willpower. These are not immutable characteristics of my personality but learned skills, and the evidence for this is pretty clear (see the earlier blog post for a couple of sources).

The motivation for building these skills is also pretty straight forward. Self-control and willpower are a foundation that buffers one from a short temper, stress and self-sabotage. My temper is not as bad as it once was, but it’s still pretty short. My life is pretty stressed. And I see others’ inability to control their own emotions sabotage them daily. I’m sure mine do too. Turning that on its head will make me a better parent, a better partner and I will be better able to contribute and help others.

Other anecdotally reported benefits of this diet – greater energy, clearer thinking – would also be good. While I definitely want those for the same reasons I want better willpower, I see them as nice-to-haves because I can get them in other ways too. Reducing my % weight body fat a little would also not go astray, and the diet will probably do that too.

That is my motivation.

Life

How I will fit this diet in to my life is going to be an evolving, fluid story. A colleague in the same job and eating the 5:2 diet finds it best to fast on the days he’s travelling.

Taking that as advice, I fasted first the day that Katie and I drove to the Lakes district for our holiday and then a second time the day after a big walk. On the travel day I had a few blueberries for breakfast, and then a late light lunch when we stopped to visit some relatives. On the day after the big walk I had strawberries for breakfast and some roast veges (no potatoes or cous cous) for dinner. It worked well.

This week I’m travelling 7 time zones forward and then 7 time zones back. At first I thought that doing the 5:2 diet while skipping across time zones like that would present an additional challenge. Now that I’ve thought about it more I’m not so sure. I’ll experiment and write about this in the future.

Reflecting on my very limited experience of this diet so far, one positive I’ve noticed is that the fasting days are actually comparatively easy. I don’t feel tired or have an afternoon dip. I don’t feel slow. I don’t even mind cooking or preparing food for others because I will only have to wait a few more hours to not be hungry. When I do eat food I enjoy it a lot more, and because I choose to be hungry I also don’t mind that I finish my meal and am still hungry.

The reality of a day’s hunger is also pleasantly different. It comes and goes of its own accord. It’s intensity does not bear any strong relationship to how long it has been since I last ate or what I have done since then. There is no monotonic, monotonous grinding escalation. All in all, I’ve had a very encouraging start.

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5 thoughts on “Learning to fast

  1. This is great. Good going Christo!

    I tried a diet for four weeks during the DPhil. Re-reading posts I wrote then was interesting:

    http://akshatrathi.com/2011/07/31/i-am-changing-my-diet/
    http://akshatrathi.com/2011/08/10/the-first-week-of-a-new-diet/
    http://akshatrathi.com/2011/08/28/end-of-the-diet-and-the-lessons-learnt/

    Reflecting on it three years on, I feel I have incorporated some of the lessons. I eat fewer sweets. In fact, my preference for sweet things has completely reversed. I actively dislike them. I have also tried to keep my consumption of rice and bread to a minimum. I still gorge on rotis as I expected I would.

    What I’m missing though is quantification. I don’t have my measuring tape anymore. And even though I do yoga regularly where there is a weighing scale, I don’t know what my weight is. Should change that.

    • I think your point about quantification is crucial, and finding an easy way to approximately quantify my improved willpower would be really helpful. Knowing you’re making progress is often key to making further progress.

      It’s interesting when I reflect on my diet over time as well – I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but it is much less sweet now. I think that’s a combination of an older palate and accidental defamiliarisation (a tasty mouthful of a word in it’s own right) from trying to incrementally buy fewer (now almost always no) sweets.

  2. Aaron says:

    I took a similar route to train my willpower – I sequentially quit (for life) foods/drinks that I found were having a negative impact on my life (mainly from weight gain, but also general health issues, and cost issues as well). The result has been somewhat positive. My general willpower in relation to food intake has increased significantly. I can now choose whether to find food appetizing or not depending on whether I think I’ve eaten enough that day. Its effect on other areas of my life has been less significant, but still noticeable. Generally I think it’s been a worthwhile route to take, though there’s definitely still more work to be done. Let me know how your efforts go!

    Aaron

    • Thanks Aaron! It’s really encouraging to hear you’ve had positive results for your general willpower even if they aren’t revolutionary. I will post further updates myself as time goes on.

      PS: A quick update from today, a fasting day. I last ate a full meal about 7pm UK time last night, then a bowl of mostly raw veges for lunch today. I was feeling pretty hungry then and I’m sitting here feeling a little bit hungry right now, but otherwise it’s been smooth sailing and no dip in my energy levels either.

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