Some of you may be thinking that I’ve been a little too exuberant on fasting.
What if it turns out not to be true?
To answer that question, I am going to explore the nature of beliefs, how we determines things to be true, and best antidote to excessive confidence in what’s true, Mr. Not True himself, philosopher, Karl Popper.
I am exploring this issue through my fasting experience, but hopefully you’ll consider this in other domains as well.
First, as documented in my previous posts, my introduction to fasting came about completely randomly through discovering the Fastic app on Facebook. The Fastic app made some pretty big claims, that I would lose weight, body fat, lower blood sugars, decrease blood sugars, increase muscle, and increase mood. It seemed almost too good to be true.
Before deciding whether such claims were true, my first intuitive question was: what are the consequences of these claims not being true? In other words, by not eating between 6pm and 10:00am, what were the consequences?
For me, it just seemed obvious that moving back breakfast by two hours carried very little risk, other than a little morning “hangry”iness.
The related decision was not only the risk of changing our behavior, but what are the risks of not changing? The risk not acting meant being obese as defined by body mass index, which carries significant long term health risk. With all of these high carb/low carb debates, those debates have to consider which also most effectively gets people out of obesity.
So what were the things I cared about being “true” in terms of fasting benefits? It came down to three things: weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, which had consistently been trending upwards as I hit my 40’s. The first two I could easily measure: my weight and blood pressure. The third, blood sugar, would just have to wait for my semi-annual blood sugar check to monitor my pre-diabetes. I had not reached the diabetes stages where I was checking blood sugar at home.
Like anything, habit change requires confirmation and proof that the new habit is actually working. The scale does that. For me, I would say that it took about 30 days before I noticed changes, and about 3 months before other people were like, “Wow, you’ve really lost weight.”
Note, depending on your doc, she may or may not know about the benefits of fasting, but to me the primary benefit of talking with the doc is knowing what the risks of being wrong about fasting.
In other words, doctor, what are the risks to my health of moving breakfast from 8 to 10am in the morning?
Unless you have a very unique health condition or specialized medicine regimen, she might express doubts about whether it will work, but I doubt she will tell you moving back breakfast will be a big deal.
(As an aside on the doc thing, of course, you should talk to your doctor, but for crying out loud, what about prior to scarfing down fast food and drinking sugary sodas at McD’s?)
Nine months in, I have been able to confirm weight loss predictions (40 pounds), body fat 8% reduction, blood pressure – normal, and blood sugars – now normal). And the gold standard, my doctor has been very pleased with all of my readings, blood sugar levels, and blood work. She moved out my next appointment out almost six months.
That said, I am also aware of the peril that can easily happen with any habit change, overconfidence resulting from too much of a good thing. You make a change with positive results. You then do more of that thing to achieve incremental positive changes. Not only can the good things incrementally diminish, eventually they can become bad.
Here’s where Karl Popper comes on. He’s known for a lot of things, but most prominently, for this work in the virtues of falsification of knowledge. It can easily pop the most exuberant truth bubble and should be considered as essential for virtually knowledge domain.
I like Popper so much because his philosophy tracks reality really well.
On the one hand, he is really practical. We cannot just walk around wondering what is not true. We have to make decisions every single day about what we believe to be true: whether taking vitamins makes us healthy, whether eating meat makes us stronger, whether my mechanic actually can fix our car. In nearly every domain, we have to make claims about what we believe to be true. Popper acknowledges that “Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her,” and that we must “hazard them to win our prize.” Our confidence grows each time the “speculative thought” is confirmed with each new piece of evidence that we observe that confirms out prediction.
That said, to stand the ultimate test, the prediction must be subject to falsification or it’s not reliable enough to be real knowledge. In the words of Popper, “Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.”
Be cautious about what you believe to be true by consulting reliable sources like your doctor, reading books by MD’s, and learning from others. Be bold about considering that your belief could turn out to be false.
Falsification is the ultimate cold water on your reality and that same skepticism should be applied to fasting. Look out and look for examples where people didn’t experience the benefits.
As it relates to fasting, it came down to this.
What are the consequences of the prediction being false, that the benefits of fasting will not turn out to be true?
For me, very little, just a little change in the time that I ate, moving back breakfast three hours and the cost of my app.
Also, related to that, what are the risks of doing nothing, ie staying on the present course? Doing nothing carried significant risks with high blood pressure and the path to Type 2 diabetes.
So, far nine months in, the benefits have been incredible. I could literally write a whole book on the benefits that I have experienced. Most good sources that I have read also encourage changing things up too: doing occasional longer fasts, sometimes going back to a regular eating schedule, or taking a fasting break during holidays.
It’s not a religion people. You can get off the fasting train whenever you want to, but for me, I am pretty darn sure that my fasting bubble won’t be popped and that I am going to be able to sustain this change for the rest of my life. It has been easy, simple, and the benefits have been life changing.
Now you’re also equipped with Karl Popper. What claims about fasting turn out not to be true, and what are the consequences of not being true? Those are individualized decisions that only you can make after consulting with your doctor.
Tomorrow, I am going to take a break from writing about fasting and will be discussing a book that has had a powerful impact on my life: Atomic Habits by James Clear.