Up until now I’ve been a bit reluctant to talk about the fact that I’ve been following the ‘5/2 diet’ for about a year now. I have to admit that I didn’t consult my doctor about it (as we should do whenever we want to try a new weight loss program) and I didn’t want to encourage anybody to do something that was really just an experiment for me. But now others are expounding the benefits of intermittent fasting for people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia I want to share my experience. See this recent Health Rising post.
I first explored the idea of it because my weight had crept up and I wanted to support my Mum in her attempt to lose weight, so we were planning on trying it together. But after reading Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer’s book: The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermittent Fasting – Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer. I was even more attracted by the potential health benefits.
Primarily I wanted to stabilise my blood sugar levels. I used to have terrible carbohydrate cravings and moments when I’d get so hungry I couldn’t focus on anything except how I could get to eat something. I knew this was related to blood sugar issues and I was already following a low carb diet which was helping a little, as were the chromium supplements I’d been advised to take by a nutritionist, but my symptoms weren’t gone completely. I was very concerned by the fact that unstable blood sugar can be a precursor to developing full on diabetes in later life. I was also intrigued by the promise that during fasting days your body goes into healing mode.
The fact that I’m still doing it a year later is testament to the success of my experiment. After a couple of months my unstable blood sugar symptoms disappeared altogether. (Until Christmas when an excess of things I shouldn’t really eat put them back on ‘wobble mode’ and it took a couple of months to get rid of them again). I found that I easily lost the weight I had gained. An added benefit was that my gut symptoms improved a little too. On my two fast days I was really good about not eating any foods that have a potential to aggravate my gut symptoms! To avoid losing too much weight, sometimes I only fast one day a week or sometimes I have a slightly higher calorie intake on the fasting days.
The important thing with intermittent fasting is to do it properly; it’s not about not eating! I would recommend reading the Fast Diet book before you decide to take it on and Dr Craigs blog also gives some very important tips.
As I understand, there are 3 important features to intermittent dieting:
To have a 16 hour fasting period (which isn’t that hard when 8 hours of that is sleep)
To have all your days food (500-600 calories) in a 6 to 8 hour window.
To avoid carbohydrates except for the simple carbs found in non-starchy vegetables and low GI fruit.
How this works for me is that I eat a late brunch (11ish) and an early dinner (5 ish) and then I manage two 16 hour fasts either side of my meals. That is, from 7 the night before, when I make sure I finished eating that night’s meal, till 11am on the fasting day and then from 5.30pm on the fasting day until breakfast the next morning at about 9.30am. I tend to eat something like half a grapefruit or some berries followed by a boiled egg for brunch and a vegetable chilli made with aduki beans (without rice) for dinner.
I found the hunger pangs a little difficult at first but it is true that if you stick with it they calm down after a couple of weeks. I also found that eating an early dinner satisfies the worst of them and it was easier to ignore them in the evening.
I can’t say that I noticed any improvement to my overall health during my first 6 months of fasting but I do always feel pretty good the day after a fast. My health has also improved considerably over the last 6 months, which it is mostly to do with me getting my ferritin levels back up to normal after them being ridiculously low. However I do wonder if intermittent fasting has made some small contribution to my improvements.
Do you have experience with intermittent fasting? Have you noticed any health benefits?