Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Eat less, live more

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My fire breathing progress is on hold until I can find 100% pure kerosene, but meanwhile I’ll keep on truckin’ through my list of 2010 goals.

One of the other items on the list was to start caloric restriction (CR). I will probably make a more detailed post about this later, but in essence, CR refers to the now fairly well established fact that for practically all animals, limiting the their caloric intake compared to eating as much as they want leads to increases in average and maximal lifespan and numerous beneficial effects on overall health, even when this CR is quite severe (e.g. eating 50% less). It has been tested for yeast, worms, flies,mice, rats, dogs, monkeys and more, and for everything but the common house fly, you see healthier animals living longer when their caloric intake is restricted, as long as they aren’t deficient in any nutrients (vitamins and minerals, amino acids). Consider the two monkeys in this picture:

Two rhesus monkeys, both 28 years old (Colman et al. 2009)

These monkeys are both 28 years old, which is the normal life expectancy of a rhesus monkey. However, the monkey on the right has been on CR since young adulthood, consuming 30% fewer calories than the monkey on the left. I know which monkey I’d rather be… which is of course the reason I wanted to start CR in the first place. Research in humans in underway, but since humans live so long in the first place we really don’t know whether CR will extend our lifespan; nonetheless, the people who are doing it are showing the general health benefits that are seen in animals, such as lower cholesterol and higher insulin sensitivity (the opposite of type-2 diabetes). So, it seems like it’ll be good for you, whether it extends maximal lifespan or just healthy lifespan. In fact, I’ve been meaning to start CR for 3 years now, but it has proved rather difficult.

The main trouble for me is that it takes a good deal of planning and consistency. Since I’ve never really dieted, I find it very troublesome to keep accurate track of calories, and then you add keeping track of all your micronutrients as well. Plus, since I’m generally healthy and love eating, it’s hard to keep up the motivation even though I know that it’s something I want to do in the long term. Fortunately for me, recent studies seem to suggest an alternative to regular CR, namely alternate day fasting (ADF); it appears that alternating 24 hour eating and fasting periods provides benefits very similar to CR, even if the average caloric intake is normal. For me, this should be significantly easier to accomplish, for several reasons:

  1. I do well with sharply defined rules that I don’t bend or break, even a little.
  2. When I eat something, I feel like eating more. Conversely, when I haven’t eaten in a while I tend not to think about it too much.
  3. Caloric restriction pretty much rules out ice cream, chocolate and the like. With ADF you kind of eat what you want, just every other day.
  4. CR is a permanent state of denial, whereas ADF alternates ordeals and rewards.

Last Sunday I didn’t feel too hungry, and spontaneously decided to give alternate day fasting a try. I’d had a grapefruit for breakfast, but otherwise stuck to water the whole day; this was surprisingly easy, compared to my expectations. I thought of food a couple of times, but dismissing the thought was easy. Monday morning I woke early and was darn hungry, but the marvel of ADF was that I could eat as much as I wanted. So I gorged myself all Monday, but once again Tuesday wasn’t too bad. By now I’ve been doing it for a little over a week, and thought I’d give a slightly more thorough summary of my experiences and plans.

First off, what am I doing? On fasting days I get up and have a piece of fruit and a multivitamin for breakfast, then consume nothing but water (or tea) for the rest of the day. The breakfast makes it a light entry, and keeps it to more or less a 24 hour fast, as well as helping the multivitamin go down. Then on eating days, I eat whatever I want, as much as I want. The idea is to eat only when I’m hungry, but I find that I’ve been “stocking up” from subconsciously aiming for double my normal intake. I’m going to try and stop that, since it just makes me feel bloated. I’ve also been taking “you CAN eat chocolate” to mean “stuff yourself with cakes and sweets”, which  I’ll also try to stop. Again, it makes me feel worse than eating healthy, so what’s the point? Plus, eating healthy means I can worry less about getting enough nutrients, which will make it easier not to overeat.

So, in a nutshell: eat generally healthy but as much as your hunger dictates on one day, nothing but water the next. Pretty simple.

So what is it like?

  • As I mentioned, it’s surprisingly easy to get through the fasting days. The first few times I became rather unfocused and a little dizzy late in the evening, but as of 21:24 I’m feeling just fine. I actually feel better on fasting days than on eating days, though that might again change once I improve my eating habits.
  • Until now I cut my workout on fasting days, but today I started introducing some light conditioning. Just a 3.2 km run in 14 minutes. It was a little more taxing than normally, but I felt better afterwards than when I hadn’t been working out. So I’ll stick to conditioning on all days, but resistance training only on eating days.
  • I save time and trouble by not having to cook every day. Always nice.
  • Sometimes it’s a little limiting for social interactions, since I can’t go out to eat or drink on fasting days. But with a little planning it’s no big deal, and worst case I’ll just cheat and reset to eating that day.
  • So far I’ve lost about 1.5 kg, even with the lower workout frequency. I’ll have to see whether that continues, stops or even reverts as my body adapts.
  • My workout performance on eating days hasn’t dropped. In fact it’s increased a little, but I put that down to longer recovery periods.
  • Mornings on eating days are wonderful. Wake up really hungry, then realize that you can go down and eat whatever you want. 3 bowls of cereal, couple pieces of fruit, a few nuts, maybe some bread, nomnomnom!

People normally report a two-week adaptation period, so I’ll report again later on how it’s going. This week I started sampling my (subjective) tiredness and focus levels at noon and 18:00, as well as whether I felt hungry or not. Just to keep track of how it’s going. At some point I’ll probably also want to get some biomarkers tested, to see if it’s actually doing me any good, but that’s not too big a deal. As long as I feel good, I see no reason to stop; if I keep losing weight, it’ll be pretty simple to just ramp up my eating to compensate.

Meanwhile, I’m awaiting more studies showing whether the lifespan improvements of CR also occur with ADF, or just the health benefits. If it’s the former, I still want to do full CR, since the lifespan is what I’m most interested in. But the bright side is that it should be a lot easier to manage CR from the basis of ADF. Just cut down calories a bit on eating days, and eat lots of nutrient-dense food, and it should be pretty close to what I’m doing now.


Written by Martin

2010/06/02 at 20:39

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. […] this is an eating day, I started off with a healthy breakfast, consisting […]

  2. […] as I’ve talked about in a couple of earlier posts. Now that I’ve started doing intermittent fasting I’m having a problem that is in some ways similar, but in some ways the opposite, of my […]

  3. […] concerts started. One or two of those were spent walking around looking for coffee or food for the silly eating people, or debating what kind of food they wanted, or sitting down to eat the food. Once again, no […]

  4. […] a comment » As of Monday, I’d been doing my intermittent fasting experiment for nearly two months, and felt that following the regimen had pretty much settled into […]

  5. […] like that, but to straight up expect it? I’m wondering whether it’s a byproduct of my intermittent fasting, where I’m so used to hardships lasting only until the next day (which is what makes it so […]

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