Friday, December 12, 2014

Year of No Breakfast

I am near the end of a year of skipping breakfast…sort of. Yes, it has been a year. No, it hasn’t been perfect; there were some skips (skipping skipping breakfast). Did it change much for me? Not really. Most people I know eat breakfast and many say it is the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, some doctors advocate skipping it. I became interested in it as a way to lose weight and be healthy. Is this crazy or ill advised?

One day more than a year ago I read about something called intermittent fasting in an online column by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who sends his messages to about a hundred thousand Americans, among them me. His online existence is at He wrote about benefits of intermittent fasting, which include good health and longevity. Then I found books: The Mini-Fast Diet: Burn Fat Faster than Ever, by Dr. Julian Whitaker and Peggy Dace, and The Fast Diet: Stay Healthy and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting, by Dr. Michael Mosley.  It sounded like the great panacea. Well, maybe.

These doctors presented stories about people whose lives were greatly changed by intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not starving oneself. It is timing one’s meals to allow for regular periods of fasting a couple of days a week, or daily shorter periods. There are various ways to do it. They also recommended exercise during the fasts. As I understood it, during the fast the body goes into a state called ketosis, which burns fat. The other recommendation was to eat a low glycemic, or low carb, diet.  The people quoted in the books lost many pounds and reversed chronic diseases. They were more overweight and obese than I have ever been. Maybe that’s why the program worked for them so dramatically.

I opted for Dr. Mercola’s version, which was to abstain from all food daily for sixteen to eighteen hours but drink plenty of water. I chose to fast from evening supper until late morning or noon the following day. It’s easier to fast while one is sleeping, so it looked like the best way to me. (I hesitate to say it looked like a piece of cake.) I am rarely hungry in the morning, so that was a plus. The doctors spent a lot of pages telling people that this diet would eliminate their hunger and cravings; I wasn’t experiencing hunger and cravings most of the time. So I said this would be easy.

Most days it was easy after the daily arguments with myself about whether my interest in food was coming from my stomach or my brain. I wouldn’t call this craving, and it never was hunger. Partly it was a habit of eating in the morning, and partly it was my brain telling me that just eating a little bit would be a good idea. That little gremlin in my brain never stopped talking to me for the eleven-plus months of skipping breakfast. Sometimes it won; sometimes I won. Mostly I didn’t eat in the morning. But often I changed my supper time to occur early in the evening so my sixteen hour fast would end by about ten o’clock in the morning, when I could eat again. I never was a big breakfast eater. Dr. Whitaker said to eat breakfast at noon if one thinks breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Exceptions to this plan occurred when it was time to eat breakfast with other people such as my family when I was with them, when I had a later dinner with friends, and when I was on vacation. These occasions were infrequent. I caved in and ate.

Well, did it work? As I said earlier, sort of. I lost ten pounds from January through April. Then came the plateau that lasted the rest of the year. Possibly Dr. Whitaker was mistaken when he said that his diet would result in calorie reduction of about four hundred calories per day. I think that works only for people who spend their lives eating big high carb breakfasts. I am not one of them even when I eat in the morning.

Dr. Whitaker’s book has a chapter about obstacles to weight loss related to intermittent fasting. Mine is thyroid related. He didn’t say that hypothyroid people would have an easy time. He said, backed up by many testimonials, that this works for many people. Dr. Whitaker runs a weight loss clinic.

Dr. Whitaker’s book offers a summary of why intermittent fasting, which he calls the mini-fast with exercise, works:
·         Cuts daily caloric intake by skipping a meal;
·         Reduces the need for calorie counting and making difficult food decisions throughout the day;
·         Switches you into the fat-burning mode and keeps you there for hours;
·         Curbs appetite by triggering ketosis and eliminating blood sugar swings;
·         Allows you to eat what you want—within reason—for the rest of the day;
·         Improves underlying risk factors such as insulin resistance inflammation, and oxidative stress, and “turns on” antiaging genes. (p.66)

I expect to continue with intermittent fasting for a while, even without dramatic results.

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