In my tubby dad bod days, I remember looking at the diet fads as an observer like I was walking through the state fair with various diet carnival barkers trying to get me to enter their diet tent. Meat sucks! Carbs Good! No Carbs Suck! Tradition good! Atkins dangerous! Vegans are the best! Just eat variety! Eat mostly plants, not too much! There are so many tribes and camps it boggles the mind: the keto tribe, the vegan tribe, the meat tribe, the conventional tribe, the Michael Pollen eat mostly plants, but not too much tribe.
It’s all so confusing I thought. Ughh!! Help!!
As I indicated yesterday, it is impossible to resolve the validity as to any particular diet in a blog post without your eyes completely glazing over. And to some degree, which diet is “best” is obviously contingent on human variability arising from natural selection.
For now, I am also going to highlight a small sliver from this debate: why I chose fasting the fasting tent over conventional just count the calories/food pyramid tent.
Why should you care what I think? As you know, I also have no nutrition degree nor any medical training. But many of you do not either. That is the issue.
How do we as uncredentialled members of the public decide which medical carnival tent to enter, especially since there are MD’s hawking the virtues of nearly every one of these diet approaches?
If doctors can’t all agree, how the heck do we decide among these dizzying array of choices?
That’s why I am sharing where I landed. You can pick and choose these kernels on your own journey.
Your first decision should be whether you should do anything differently with your diet at all. Get a physical, get weighed, get your vitals checked, and get blood work done. If they are all normal, i.e. normal weight, normal blood sugars, normal everything with no chronic health conditions, and doctor tells you to stay the course, then yippee!! Good for you! You part of a vanishingly small group of people who are not overweight in this country. The latest stats from CDC that I can find are nearly 42% of Americans are obese and 9% are severely obese as of 2018.
But, if you, like me, are one of the 42%, the most important thing is not to be in denial. Don’t be like I was, in complete denial on a slow, but steady path to severe obesity with all of the medical conditions that follow. That same CDC stat sheet also outlines some of the risks: “Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.”
Ok, you agree with me. You decide you need to do something, but what? How do you decide which path to choose?
As a general principle, I agree with Edmund Burke. Before you depart from the status quo, you better make sure that your alternative can produce a better result. That said, when the status quo sucks, you can’t just sit around and be bound by it either or things would never change for the better. I am Burkean as a starting point and not as an end point.
So, you should probably start with the most conventional path. Talk to your doctor. (This is axiomatic for any significant diet change.) Ask for a dietician referral or a diet sheet. You will likely get advised to start counting calories and to eat something along these lines of the food pyramid. It looks like this:
Then, schedule follow up with your doctor and if your readings improve, in terms of weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other vitals, then yippee!! Conventional wisdom worked for you.
Here’s why conventional wisdom didn’t work for me.
Conventional wisdom sucks!
We are swimming in conventional wisdom: processed breads, refined sugars, and industrial mass produced packed food and look at us. We’re fat!
42% of our country is now clinically obese!
Nearly 10% morbidly obese! I am not insulting you. I was very nearly there at a body mass index of 36, just four points to 40, the morbid obesity threshold.
The conventional view generally offers two reasons explanations for this obesity epidemic. First, we are just lazy, and need to exercise more while eating less. That’s the “it’s on you” explanation. Alternatively, it’s just fate of genetic, the “it’s all in our genes” explanation.
On some level both explanations are obviously true. You could eat crap diet, and if you didn’t eat much and exercised, you’d probably not be fat. On the genetic level, we all know that skinny friend that can eat as much as they want and cannot put on weight, no matter how hard they try.
But here’s why the it’s on you and genes argument make no sense on a macro level: What happened between the 70’s and right now?
Why were 1 in 8 obese in 70s and now one in three?
Did we all of a suddenly start getting lazy?
Did our genes start suddenly mutate resulting in an epidemic of obesity?
What about that other argument, ie we need to count food calories more. Have you ever tried that? It sucks! It is just too much of a pain.
That standard advice just didn’t work for me. I had heard it over and over and I just knew that I couldn’t completely change my diet. It’s like asking a person who had never run a mile to be a marathoner overnight: too much, too drastic a change, and too complicated.
But fasting is just so astonishingly simple. It (this version – the 16:8 one) just requires you to do one thing: not eat for 16 hours while drinking just fluids and then eat during eight hours. 16 hours sounds long, but you’re really just extending out breakfast two hours to 10 o’clock. If you can’t do that, just do the old fashioned 50’s fast that everyone did with that culture. Eat last meal at 6 and have breakfast at 7. That’s a 13 hour fast. That alone knocks out last night snacking, a very bad habit that I had prior to losing weight.
I know it sounds totally gimmicky, like jumping on one foot and spinning around before dinner, chewing your food a certain number of times, or singing the Star Bangled Banner between each bite. (Ok, I might be making those up, but you get my drift.)
But here’s why fasting works. Eating food causes our insulin to rise. Not eating causes it to drop. As Dr. Fung explains, “[t]here’s nothing wrong with that – that is simply its job.” He then continues, “When we eat, insulin goes up, signaling the body to store some food energy as body fat, and “[w]hen we don’t eat, then insulin goes down, signaling the body to burn this stored energy (body fat).” The fasting window gives your body time to reduce insulin levels naturally, allowing your body to tap natural fat stores for energy, the “ketones” resulting from the “Keto” Diet.
This insulin theory of obesity just totally made sense to me. (By the way, the history behind this hormonal theory is super interesting and is fully set forth in Gary Taubes’ book, Why We Get Fat.)
I chose the fasting route for several reasons.
It’s simple. Remember one rule. Don’t eat during eating window.
It’s easy. No counting calories. It’s also not dogmatic about types of food you should eat. At least my fasting app as well as Dr. Fung, are not as dogmatically anti-carb as Keto. So you could even adhere to a traditional food pyramid. That said, you’ll probably starting trending to keto/low carb. As I’ll explain tomorrow, there is a ton of overlap with the fasting and the keto/low communities because they both adopt the insulin theory of obesity.
And it’s free. You just need to have a watch. (I still use the Fastic app because it just makes it so much easier to stick with it).
Finally, this theory worked for me in practice!
I have lost 50 pounds, lowering by body mass index from 36 to 29. My blood sugar readings are now normal and blood pressure readings have been reduced to normal levels. I feel better than ever.
My experience has totally tracked the predictions of both the Fastic app and Dr. Fung. While it’s just me, needless to say, Fastic didn’t make its recommendations for me, but after extensive peer review of extremely large data sets. Dr. Fung did too along with 20 years of experience in his own clinical practice.
And I also didn’t think it’s just a placebo effect, or a I believed, therefore, I lost explanation. Mostly, I reject that because it begs the question as to why my previous diets totally failed. I believed in them too, but none of them worked. Some I didn’t even try because I knew I wouldn’t adhere to them.
Conventional counting calories/food pyramid wisdom just did not work for me. Fasting did.
Notice, while the fasting did not expressly start me on the path to being Keto and anti-sugar, I ultimately have arrived there, though not dogmatically so. I am not a Keto fundamentalist and stray quite often from keto orthodoxy. I am keto (ish).
Tomorrow, I will explain the overlaps between ketogenic diet and fasting camps. You can be one without the other. You can fast without being keto. You can be keto without fasting, but there’s a ton of overlap because they both see the world through the same hormonal theory of obesity lens. They are cousins descending from the same grandpa: Isaac Insulin. Hope you’ll join me!