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OPINION | LET'S TALK: Weight loss via fasting the best fit

by Helaine Williams | October 10, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.

The latest chapter in the Talkmistress' lifelong quest for un-fatness has circled back to a previous chapter ... but with a new twist.

That previous chapter involves intermittent fasting.

I'd thrown intermittent fasting into the back-closet pile of other weight-loss, eating-lifestyle plans tried and discussed in this space ... plans whose wagons I'd always eventually fallen off, either because of waning enthusiasm, life's various disruptions and/or dire disappointment after finding that not only did I not lose a zillion pounds in a month, but the scale had gone on strike and decided not to move anymore ... at least, not down.

I'd come to the conclusion that if trying to have J-Lo's body all the years of my youth had only resulted in limited success and scale yo-yo-ing, then trying to slim down with my 60th birthday knocking at the door would be an exercise in futility ... much like, well, exercising alone to shrink my corpulent form had been. During the weeks leading up to the dance contest I participated in this September — Dancing With Our Stars to benefit the Children's Tumor Foundation — I was getting in at or near seven hours of exercise a week, between Zoom fitness classes, Peloton-ing (I still come in a little over 200 people from dead last on the leaderboard in those spin classes) and dance rehearsals two days a week, 90 minutes each. And how many of us hate those magazine-newsletter articles that trumpet celebrities' "toned abs" and conclude with "(Celebrity Du Jour) stays fit by ... ," describing some routine that may sound demanding, but then we're working just as hard and we still fear wearing tank tops to the store lest our exposed "back boobs" show up on People- ofWalmart.com?

I'd concluded that I'd have to settle for the inner benefits of working out and forget about any outer ones. Then I found out I'd been doing intermittent fasting all wrong.

"Fast. Feast. Repeat: The Comprehensive Guide to Delay, Don't Deny Intermittent Fasting" (St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99) is the latest book by Gin Stephens, who lost 80 pounds and kept it off by intermittent fasting.

Stephens' New York Times bestseller wows with a number of extensive-scientific-study-backed benefits of intermittent fasting, only a few of which I'd heard before. Stephens writes that it helps fight/mitigate/reverse/prevent all the diseases that have plagued my family (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease), along with Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, inflammation and some cancers. The benefits go on ... aging slowdown, joint pain mitigation, skin improvement. Intermittent fasting is even credited with getting rid of skin tags. In fact the book refers to it as "the health plan with a side effect of weight loss." So folks of all sizes can do intermittent fasting which has an advantage that's neon-sign-worthy: no need to weigh food, watch calories, eliminate foods or do all the other diet-y things that haven't worked for so many of us.

Stephens discusses how all the aforementioned benefits come about with "clean" fasting, something new to me.

My earlier fasts — 16 hours a day, with an eight-hour food-scarfing window — had consisted of the enjoyment of coffee doctored with sugar-free, flavored creamer and stevia, and water with lemon juice, lime juice and stevia, during what was supposed to be fasting hours. These are no-nos, Stephens shows, because even sugar-free drinks with any kind of flavor or additives make the body think food is coming and so it produces insulin. Sipping on these doctored drinks all day, let alone snacking all day, causes the body to produce insulin all day ... too much insulin, which can lead to the aforementioned health problems and definitely impede weight loss.

For a fast to be "clean," one can drink plain water; black, unsweetened coffee or unsweetened tea, no additives, during fasting hours.

Turns out plain water, which had become a stranger to me, isn't half bad. And yes, the avowed Coffee Milkshake Queen has been sipping black, unsweetened coffee ... something I'd been only too happy to leave to newsroom co-workers. Contrary to earlier suspicions it has not put hair on my chest. (Come to think of it, I wish intermittent fasting helped eliminate old-lady chin hair.)

Another thing I learned is that for those who want weight loss to be among the benefits of their fasting efforts, there are different kinds of the "clean" method to try. Among them, a smaller eating window per day ... five hours, three hours, even one hour.

On Sept. 21, I switched to the "Fast.Feast.Repeat" lifestyle, starting with its 28-day "FAST Start" to get newbies used to this way of intermittent fasting and shrinking my eating window first to five hours, then four. So far my shortest eating window has been 2 hours, 20 minutes, small enough that if it were an actual window, I'd be too hefty to get through it right now.

As Stephens tells us, these fasts may sound as though they would be unbearable, leave us weak and about to pass out and such. It can be done ... and the more that people do it, the easier it gets and the less they find they have any urge to go out the minute their eating window opens and rob a McDonald's just for the food. One can busy one's self through any hunger pangs, which soon pass.

There's also other forms of intermittent fasting: alternate-day fasting; having only one meal a day; fasts of 36 to 42 hours; dividing one's week into "up" and "down" days, etc. Stephens encourages switching up eating-window lengths, as well as forms of this type of fasting, for weight loss. (Note: Stephens also urges everybody to clear intermittent fasting with their doctors before trying any of this.)

It may just be a side benefit but let's face it, most of us who try intermittent fasting are gonna be in it largely for the weight loss. But we're gently warned in the book that not only is weight loss different for everyone, it may come more slowly and gradually for some; and there may be multiple weeks where the scale stays put and days it may even go up, even when we're behaving. We need to watch for loss of inches and of course, improvements via other health markers. In fact, we shouldn't "expect" to lose weight during the 28-day FAST Start. Watch how the clothes fit, Stephens urges, assuring us — as backed up by testimonials in the book and on the Delay, Don't Deny Facebook support-group page — that this is not a diet but a sustainable way of eating that includes no wagons from which one can take a hard tumble.

Having seen and felt a difference since starting this journey, I'm gaining optimism about this being the last stop on that weight-loss-attempt wagon trail.

Keep ya posted.

Intermittent — and steady — emails accepted at: hwilliams@adgnewsroom.com

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