As a life-long dieter, I doubt there is a weight loss plan I haven’t tried or a diet book I haven’t read. Weight Watchers, Diet Center, Diet Workshop, the Scarsdale Diet, Fit for Life, NutraSystem, Jenny Craig, the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, South Beach, Whole 30…, I’ve tried them all, with no meaningful or lasting success. I discovered Dr. Atkins in 2000, and his keto plan was probably the most effective plan I tried, but after a few years, even that stopped working. I did not understand how I could be eating fewer than 20 g. of carbs per day and still gaining weight. Despondent and desperate, in 2007, I finally elected to have weight loss surgery–a vertical sleeve gastrectomy that removed 2/3 of my stomach. Unable to eat very much in one sitting, I lost 70 pounds in my first year post op. I followed the bariatric surgeon’s dietary advice to the letter. One hundred and fifty grams of protein daily, largely supplemented with artificially-sweetened protein shakes and bars, whole grains, 6 small meals per day, and unlimited “sugar-free” beverages and treats like Crystal Light, jello, popsicles, and pudding. Once I adapted to my new smaller stomach, my weight steadily started to creep back up. Five pounds a year doesn’t seem like much, but after 10 years, it’s 50 pounds, and it was embarrassing to regain it.
Never giving up on my eternal quest for a weight loss solution, I found and listened to the audio books of Dr. Fung’s The Obesity Code and the Complete Guide to Fasting in the summer 2017. I was amazed. Everything Dr. Fung said, and the research he cited, resonated and made perfect sense to me. I already knew that the root cause of my obesity was insulin resistance secondary to PCOS; but for the first time, I understood why I was eating so little and still gaining, and why I was constantly battling irresistible cravings for carbohydrates. It wasn’t high sugar, it was high insulin. Under that lens, I was able to identify contributing factors I’d never previously considered. It turned out that my biggest issues were 1) overly-liberal use of artificial sweeteners, 2) eating way too many times during the day, and 3) eating very late into the night. All of these things kept my insulin high, which made me crave sugar and carbs, and also made me very good at fat storage.
Even after learning about the science, though, it took me a while to decide to make the commitment to try fasting. Just the idea of going a full day without food intimidated me. But, I eventually put my fears aside and started by trying 16:8 intermittent fasting with a keto diet. For the first time in years, my weight stabilized. This was an improvement, but I still wasn’t really losing any weight. I also didn’t love the keto diet. After so many years of futilely trying to make Atkins work for me, I felt pretty burned out on keto.
By the time I turned 50 last November, it was obvious where I was heading. I was at least 60 pounds overweight. My fasting blood glucose was consistently over 120, and my A1C was 5.9. Based on my family history, I knew I was running head first into a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. I had to do something. I made an appointment to talk to an IDM counselor, and met my online coach, Nadia Brito Pateguana, in early November 2018. She convinced me that, with my metabolic resistance, to really lose weight, I would have to commit to doing longer fasts. When she first suggested it, a 36-hour fast seemed as impossible as walking to the moon. But, the first time I tried it, I was shocked. It was challenging, yes, but when I finished it, I felt amazing. Empowered. I challenged myself, and I succeeded! And crazier than that, I lost weight!
After successfully completing a few 36-hour fasts, I committed to doing three 40-hour fasts in a single week. That schedule has been the “magic bullet” for me. On my eating days, I consume two meals within a 6-8 hour window. I finish all eating by 8pm. I have also eliminated artificial sweeteners from my life, and learned to love my coffee without it. I have lost thirty pounds in 6 months, eating whatever I want (within reason) during my eating windows, and even taking holidays and vacations off entirely.
Other than the weight loss, I have seen remarkable changes in my health. At last check, my A1C was down to 5.3. My cholesterol has improved. My PCOS symptoms have all but disappeared. The reduction in systemic inflammation has alleviated my chronic hip and knee pain—allowing me to become more athletically active. One of my great joys now is running or biking while I’m in the middle of a longer fast. The fasting amplifies the results of exercise, and improves performance.
But the real benefits of fasting are far more than declining numbers on the scale or improved blood work. I cannot overstate how liberating it is to be able to eat the foods I enjoy without guilt and fear. Fasting has eliminated the negative self-talk that consumed me. I no longer feel depressed or anxious. Without the constant internal negotiation of what I “should” and “shouldn’t” be eating, my mind is free to focus on other things, making me more insightful and creative.
I have only Dr. Fung, Megan, Nadia and IDM to thank for gently guiding me to the right path. My IDM coaching sessions have continued over the last 6 months. I check in with Nadia at least 2 times per month. She’s wonderful at helping me stay positive, tweaking things to keep me on track, and explaining the science behind things I’m experiencing.
Alternate day fasting works, and, although it sounded intimidating and difficult at first, it is the easiest thing I’ve ever done to get control of my eating, lose weight, and restore my physical and mental heath–even easier than weight loss surgery. My weight loss has not been linear, but it continues to consistently trend downward. The best part of fasting is that it is totally sustainable long term. I will eat this way for life. I have never asked myself when I will be “done” or even imagined returning to my old ways. Why would I? I have no need or desire to resume a lifestyle that makes me feel old, sad, and in pain.
– Jennifer Dixon