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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why intermittent fasting is a great thing for us oldsters

Weight loss past age 60 or so gets much more difficult.  Ask anyone past 60 with weight to lose.  Not so easy as when we were 30 or 40 or even 50.  I know because I've been there, got the t-shirt.  In my e-book on losing weight I explained a lot about metabolism--the fat storage system, the carbohydrate/insulin system, the information about calorie reduction.  I even laid out a "diet" that makes sense.  But I can't stick to that diet.  Along comes late in the day munchies and cravings that cannot be denied. 

I lowered calories.  I lowered carbohydrates.  I tried Atkins. (Gained 3 lbs in 10 days).  I tried cutting more calories.  I tried eliminating a lot of fat--not low fat because I know it's not healthy. (Got that t-shirt, too).  While I lost some weight it wasn't much or enough and I was left feeling incompetent, like a failure, stupid and guilty for and ashamed of my psychological flaws that made me eat ravenously at night.

Along come Ori Hofmekler, an Israeli fitness expert and scientist who pointed out something that is pretty obvious when I was reminded.  For me, anyway, BREAKFAST MAKES ME HUNGRIER!  I knew that when I was in high school, with a mother insisting that breakfast was good for me. 

Over the years, I bought into a lot of conventional wisdom that was just plain wrong.  This may be be just another bit that needs re-evaluating.  Those cravings --always at night, right?--maybe are not personality flaws so much as they are a result of normal physiology.

So here's the theory, first, of intermittant fasting.  When you fast, your body uses first your glucose stores, then your fat reserves for energy. The more you shift from sugar to fat used, the more fat you will burn, i.e. weight lost. The longer you fast, within reason, the more body fat you will lose. Often, a 16-hour fast is enough. Intermittent fasting not only reduces body fat but also helps control insulin sensitivity, which can promote long-term fat loss. 

Along comes Ori Hofmekler in the video I reference before explaining more about this.  Look at it again if you need reminding.  Or here's my take.

We have an autonomous nervous system that controls all functions that are not under our conscious control (for the most part).  It'd be a pain if you had to think about making your heart beat or your kidneys work all the time.  And the autonomous system has two parts, as well.  The sympathetic (promotes a "fight or flight" response, arousal and energy production, but inhibits digestion--it allows the body to function under stress) and the parasympathetic (promotes a "rest and digest" response, calming of the nerves and promotes digestion--feed and breed).  Think of these two systems as the gas and the brake of a vehicle.  Go and Stop!

Eating kicks us out of sympathetic into parasympathetic.  Have any doubt, try giving a seminar to a group of people after lunch.  They are resting, digesting and so NOT alert.  Hofmekler also says sympathetic nervous system is responsible for creativity and innovation.  It stands to reason.  But the most important thing about this is that it's during sysmpathetic arousal when we burn fat.  Eat a meal, and you shift immediately to using that meal for fuel not stored body fat and you're in "down" mode.

So I looked at these two different ways of talking about the same state of being I want to be in--namely fat burning.  If I eat breaklfast, I lose that immediately.  It also cranks up blood sugar (yea, even for those of us doing fairly low carbs) and then insulin.  Insulin is the hormone of hunger.  The theory then, tells me that if I postpone the cranking up of the insulin response, I will be less hungry. 

That is precisely what my experience shows me.  When I do a fast from dinner to about noon or 1 PM, Roughly 16 hours) I do not have ANY cravings at night.  I eat normal meals, pretty much all I want and don't EVER feel frantic for more.  What???  Cravings are not a personality flaw but a normal physiological response to high insulin!  I don't know about you, but that information is huge for me--releasing me from a whole lot of misplaced guilt.

If all this had no other effect but this one thing--no cravings--I'd subscribe to it whole heartedly!  But the rest of the story is that I'm losing weight again.  It's slowed way down from when I first reported.  And without blood work, I cannot tell you for sure if it's entirely because of staying in fat burning longer, or if it's because of reducing calories.  Probably both.  I don't care as long as it works and works in a healthy way.  I can tolerate being hungry in the morning but cannot tolerate being hungry at night.  Yes, I'm slightly uncomfortable, but it's very manageable.

If you are like me, finding the conventional wisdom of weight loss quit working for you at about age 55 or so, you might want to experiment with depleting your body's fuel from food (glucose) and kick it into fat burning by not eating breakfast.  I caution any readers, to continue to pay attention to the glycemic load of what you put in your mouth.  The carb/insulin/glucagon system IS how your body metabolizes and cannot be ignored without a high biological cost.

Remember, too, this is probably how early humans were adapted.  They didn't awake to food, they had to go get it.  It was never high insulin producing, either!  They needed to be alert in daylight for their world held perils if they were not.  They burned fat stores while they hunted and gathered and the largest meal of the day was late.  No more guilt about night eating.  It's physiologically the sensible time to eat a big meal.

I'd love to hear your experiences with this if you try it.

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