The Weight is Over: Something New to Chew On – Intermittent Fasting

You may recall back when I wrote my first installment of The Weight is Over,  a chronicle of my weight-loss and fitness journey with Matthew Lister at Align Private Training (now Align Redding). At that point – December of 2015, I felt so much shame and frustration, and yes, hope, as I wrote that first piece, steeped in lots of personal disclosures.

For my first 12 years of life I was raised by a model-beautiful Manhattan mother who probably meant well when she said things like shame on you when I reached for seconds of mashed potatoes, but that voice stuck.

Doni, chubby at age 9, downtown Redding, across from the Cascade Theatre.

As a lifelong dieter, someone who was first described as chubby at age 9, this topic was my constant companion, my Achilles’ heel through my teen years, two marriages, three pregnancies, motherhood, singlehood, two divorces, career ups and downs, house building and remodeling and menopause. Wherever I went, there it was. All around me. Right behind me. Always with me.

I’ve been high, I’ve been low,
I’ve been yes, and I’ve been oh, hell no!

I started working out with Matthew R. Lister at Align Redding in December of 2015. My logic was that with you watching, it would keep me accountable. There’s nothing like telling tens of thousands of people that you’re starting a diet to make a person feel motivated to not fail.

With Matthew’s help, I worked my ass off – literally. I posted before photos that, to this day, I can barely look at without feeling ashamed and disgusted with myself.

How could I have let myself go like that?

A tipping-point awareness. November 2015.

No stranger to diets, I accepted the first of many Align diets, which had in common breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and snack that equaled about 1,200 calories. Low carb. Lots of veggies. Easy on the fruit.

I worked out like a fiend Monday through Thursday. I got stronger than I’d ever been. I lost 30 pounds. Those 30 pounds were lost in the first six months.

Doni working with weights at Align, July 2016.

The diet was difficult for me. The longer I was on it, the more hungry I felt. I fell off the wagon a few times. I climbed back on, gave myself a pep talk and kept going.

Matthew R. Lister gives Doni a hug after an especially taxing workout. January 2016. Photo by Brad Garrison.

I was never going to be fat like that again. Never.

Doni celebrates one year at Align, and 30 pounds down. Photo by Matthew R. Lister.

Even so, my body seemed stuck on the six-month 30-pound mark. And there it’s stayed.

It was the spring of 2017 when I wrote my last The Weight is Over column about my weight-loss and fitness journey. Because really, what more was there to say, other than to report when I’d increased the amount of weight I could lift, or how long I could hold a plank? (100 pounds/three minutes.) In my last The Weight is Over piece, there’s a grainy photo of me decorating a wedding cake.

Doni works on a small wedding cake, spring, 2017.

And the previous month – almost exactly a year ago – there’s a photo of son Joe and I when we were the wedding-cake makers for my nephew and his bride.

Doni and son Joe Domke breathe a sigh of relief that the cake is finished and it’s still standing. Photo by Shelly Shively. March 2017.

I weighed then approximately what I weigh now – give or take a few pounds. And although I know don’t exactly think of myself as a big fat pig any longer, or wince when I see myself in a store window, I’d still like to lose another 20 pounds, even 30, for some wiggle room.

Since those wedding-cake photos, I’ve sold my Garden Tract house and bought an 80-year-old West Redding major remodeling project. I traded The Weight is Over columns for Doni’s Old House Remodel. I had material galore, what with the rat-infestation and dry rot and whatnot and so forth. Now, although there’s still plenty to do, I’m living in the house, and taking a breather before I tackle any more projects here.

So here I am. Back to talking about my weight.

I gained about seven pounds over the holidays over which I’ve engaged in the elusive whack-a-mole chase every week since. Down 4 pounds, up 3. Down 5, up 2. I’ve lost track of where I am now, but I know I’ve not lost all 7 pounds.

Here’s the deal, though. I’m done with “dieting” the way I’ve been dieting. Just in time, sister Shelly found a YouTube link of a woman talking about the “magic” of intermittent fasting. This woman, Dy Ann Parham, had been a trainer and weight-loss coach for women for 25 years. She was a runner. She was fit. She preached the widely accepted weight-loss gospel of eat less/move more. And then she approached menopause and her body fell apart. She went to the doctor for help and walked out with a handful of prescriptions, including one for an anti-depressant.

She said she wasn’t depressed. She was frustrated.

Fast forward to the new her. Fit. Happy. Clear-headed. No meds. Feeling younger than before. No more diets. She has lengthened the number of hours she doesn’t eat, and shortened the window when she does eat. She typically fasts between 16 and 24 hours a day, and eats just one nutrient-packed meal a day. She’s never felt better.

My reaction to the idea of fasting was visceral. Fasting? No way. That’s crazy. Fasting eats muscle. It makes people light-headed. Come on! It’s just not good for us! We were born to eat, weren’t we? Hello, can you say starvation? We need breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we need Starbucks stops for our afternoon slumps. Besides, what about breakfast – you know, break fast, the most important meal of the day?

My mother’s words – which I passed on to my children, and now grandchildren – ring in my ears.  Eat a better breakfast, feel better all day. 

I’ve probably watched about 20 YouTube videos and listened to as many podcasts about intermittent fasting in the last week, and guess what? All those assumptions I made about fasting are dead wrong. I was ignorant about fasting. My beliefs were not based in fact.

Those who promote intermittent fasting describe a long list of benefits that almost sound too good to be true. Fasting helps blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning. Fasting helps promote the development of human growth hormone in our bodies. Fasting can promote cellular repair, including removing waste material from cells. Fasting might even prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Fasting helps your brain, such as helping us think more clearly. Fasting helps reduce weight and belly fat. Fasting can reduce insulin resistance, lowering the risk of Type-2 diabetes. Fasting can reduce and fight inflammation. Fasting may be beneficial for heart health. Fasting can help with depression. Fasting can help people who have seizures.

Basically, if I believe everything on this list, intermittent fasting is a freakin’ fountain-of-youth miracle. There’s nothing to buy. No calories to count. No program to follow. All I have to do is extend the periods of time I don’t eat.

There’s lots of science to back up many of the above claims, some of which were reported in a BBC documentary that really got my attention. The bottom line was that not only could fasting help with weight loss, but it benefited overall health and even longevity. (The documentary is long, but so worth the watching.)

I’ve watched dozens of videos by three big promoters of intermittent fasting. First are videos by Dy Ann Parham, who I mentioned above. Her specialty is intermittent fasting and the aging woman.

Dy Ann Parham’s specialty is intermittent fasting and the aging woman.

Second is Eric Berg, a chiropractor who specializes in weight loss through nutritional and natural methods. He’s also a fan of the “keto” diet, which, so far, I am not, because it seems too restrictive for me at the moment. But we’ll see.

Dr. Eric Berg shares the benefits of intermittent fasting. Photo source: drberg.com

Finally, one person I’m particularly impressed with is Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist. He’s an expert in obesity and intermittent fasting. In this video, he speaks directly to doctors about what he calls the calorie deception.

I’m not here today to try to sway anyone, or even to necessarily extol, debate or defend the virtues of fasting, because I am brand new to this entire concept. Everything I know about intermittent fasting is literally academic at this point. I have no personal results to report yet.

But I am giving it a try. My sister and I both started intermittent fasting on March 1. As identical twins, we’re the perfect test cases. She’s sticking to low-carb foods during her “feasting” window, while I’m not, because I want to see how it goes when I’m basically eating what I want (within reason). If I don’t lose any weight, then I will dial back the carbs and see what happens then.

We each started with a 12-hour fasting window, and easily progressed up to 16, 18, 20 and 22-hour fasts. Shelly even did one 42-hour span this week. She didn’t die. In fact, she felt great. And she even swam the day she’d done the long fast, and said it was one of the best swims of her life.

I forgot to mention that if you do this right, a good part of your fast happens during sleep. For me, someone who’d boasted all my life about how little sleep I need, this has meant routinely getting a “fasting” (sleeping) window of zero to 4 hours per night. That was followed immediately by a big cup of sweet-and-light strong coffee and a carb-loaded breakfast before my workout. After that it was snack, lunch, snack, dinner and bedtime snack. Plus, I’d have more sweet-and-light coffee when my energy tanked in the afternoon. I was exhausted and gaining weight. The fasting proponents would take one look at my lifestyle and say, well no wonder!

The wild thing for me, someone who fights cravings, is that I’ve found that not eating at all is somehow easier than eating a bunch of little meals that spike my blood sugar and leave me wanting more. The days I’ve crammed three meals – or even two – in my five- or eight-hour eating window, I actually felt more hungry than when I carved it down to just one meal per day at between 1:30 and 3 p.m.

And by the way, do a search on YouTube and you’ll find videos by hundreds – maybe thousands – of people around the world who embrace this one-meal-a-day intermittent fasting method, which they affectionately call the OMAD diet.

For my one meal, I’ve eaten huge salads packed with kale and all kinds of greens and veggies, topped with olive oil and avocado and nuts and some chicken. I’ve made fresh-egg omelettes loaded with cheese and vegetables and sausage with a side of toast and bacon. Whatever my meal, no matter the hour, I indulge in one large coffee with Equal and cream, to compensate for missing my routine light-and-sweet morning coffee. For a true fast, it’s black coffee in the morning, or tea. No sweetener or cream of any kind. I’ve adapted. If this works, the sacrifice will be worth it.

For the last five days I’ve fasted an average of 22 hours each day. During the fasting window I wake up drinking water, followed by a cup of black (I’m learning to like it) coffee. Throughout that fasting period I drink lots of mineral water and some plain tea. Never a big vitamin-taker, I now take vitamin D, potassium and magnesium with my meal.

Shelly and I learned from one podcast that the gut fat is the worst, and if you have belly fat, you have too much insulin. For optimum health, one’s waist measurement should be half – or less – of one’s height in inches. I am 63.5 inches tall. My waist should measure 31.75 inches.  It does not.

Want to hear another piece of trivia I learned? Do you know why the former contestants on The Biggest Loser don’t have reunions? Because they’re all fat again. How sad is that? Can you imagine how those people feel about themselves now? Biggest losers, indeed.

At first, I thought that what I’d do is try this intermittent fasting thing for a few weeks, and if I found success, then I’d tell you about it.

Instead, I decided to do this similar to how I chronicled my 2015/2016  weight-loss journey: report my story in real time, starting at the beginning. I have no clue how this will turn out. I may love it and embrace it, or I may run screaming and say it was a big mistake. I’ll let you know. You know I will tell the truth.

But here’s the truth about my diet history: My metabolism is destroyed from a lifetime of yo-yo dieting. The more I reduce calories, the more calories I must reduce to maintain my hard-earned weight loss, let alone lose more weight. Losing weight and keeping it off for the rest of my life feels like an uphill battle. And I’m scared to death of growing into a fat old lady with diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

There must be a better way, and I’m willing to try intermittent fasting as a solution. I’m not saying I’ll do a week-by-week report, because that could be boring (and the beauty of online is we can see what you like, and what you don’t). But I will share milestones, insights and enlightenment gleaned along the way.

Meanwhile, I’m off for my workout at Align. Today is weigh day. I’ll write the results in an update here when I return. I’m kind of excited. And I’m kind of scared.

I’ll keep you posted.

WEIGH-UPDATE: I’m down 1.5 pounds. I’ll take it. 

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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