The utility of unhappiness

To many of you likely reading this article, it’s no secret that I’ve struggled with my weight over the past few years. I had a pretty good push forward in terms of my health in 2019 and since the start of 2020, it’s been mostly downhill. Today I’m writing some thoughts down about some recent ideas that have been floating in my head.

A big part of my every day is a search to maximize happiness. Very few things I do, are a result of a feeling of obligation. My job is probably the only thing that I do out of obligation currently. It’s not all bad though; working enables an income which enables all of the other things that I like to do that happen to cost some amount of money. If presented with an opportunity to maintain my current lifestyle, but without work, I would absolutely take that and at least try it out for a few years. I think I’ve read enough accounts about people floundering in retirement to push me off turning into a couch potato more than I already am. I think I would find something to do.

Back to the topic; basically all I do is because I those things make me happy. Some primary examples are as follows: I eat the foods I want because they taste especially good. I watch movies or read books that I find interesting/fun. When I engage in a particular hobby, it’s because doing that thing makes me happy in that moment. I passively engage in the shit-show that is online politics because I think it’s fun!

Some secondary examples may include some activities that aren’t “fun” per se, but I can enjoy them most of the time. Most of the things I do for my wife probably fall into this category. I want to see her happy, so I do certain things to increase her happiness, which makes me happy! I don’t think that sort of quid pro quo is bad; just a reality of life that I prefer to make the most of. I want to emphasize the difference between these and work. I don’t do them out of obligation in the traditional sense. I have a job because I am essentially forced by society to have one. I do chores because the utility of those actions creates happiness for another person that in turn creates a cyclical ingress of serotonin between us. A benefit is those chores usually make me feel better about my place in my life after they are completed.

Another secondary thing is personal hygiene. Because I work from home, it can be pretty easy to go a little longer than most people without taking a shower. I’ve tried to pinpoint where that changed, because I grew up as a kid taking a shower basically every day. Somewhere between the end of high school and the year I started college, that habit got broken and it’s been really hard to start it back up again. I never feel bad about it, but because I never seem to have a desire to jump in the shower, it can fall behind other things. Brushing my teeth is another example. Though, I was always terrible at that as a kid too. For my wife’s sake, I’m trying to get better at brushing, and her pressure (or usually outright refusal to engage) is enough to nudge me in the right direction. I appreciate the nudge and every time I get that reminder, I’m a bit embarrassed. Hygiene is something I never feel bad about (and sometimes feel great afterwards!) but that memory doesn’t seem to be sticky enough to form some neural pathway into my permanent habits.

Maybe that’s what it is? Things I like to do, are habits more or less?

Habits that have changed that I can remember in the past few years: Brushing my hair. Used to not do that one but once a week or so, but I think I was physically pained enough by those experiences that I decided it was worth doing more often. Similarly, the way I shampoo my hair changed after getting married literally overnight. Ladies, imagine washing your hair by lathering everything together into a giant ball of madness. Running your hands back and forth over each other, creating a massive knot of (clean) hair, and then you need to spend 30+ minutes brushing the chaos out. That was me for 4 or 5 years.

I feel like some car maintenance habits might fit into this category. I engage the parking brake whenever the engine stops because in theory it saves my transmission some wear from holding the vehicle stationary in park. I never cared about oil changes until I almost blew an engine up. My parents never told me that oil could burn up really fast on older cars!

Some patterns I’m noticing as I write these out. If something is going to cause me pain (physically or mentally), I’m just as likely to change my behavior in response to that negative stimulus. Sometimes that negative stimulus is monetary, like with the car stuff, or actual physical pain in the hair examples. I think the issue here though, is that there are some things that I want to make habits of, that I can’t seem to get through because it’s not fun/painful enough.

Back to the chore example. I’m not perfect in doing all my chores every day, but nothing gets me off my ass faster than the knowledge of people coming over to make me tidy up. Since we’ve moved into this new apartment in Jan 2020, I think the apartment has not been “clean” for perhaps 5 (or less) visits by outside parties. Even then, only one of those that I can remember wasn’t immediate family. The mere thought that my own parents could think I am a slob living in filth is plenty to kick me into gear and tidy up (at least a little). Meanwhile, I go to their house all the time with 5 kids at home which is a train-wreck 50% of the time. I have a feeling there wouldn’t be any judgement!

Just yesterday, I got an email that fire code inspections were happening and as soon as I read that email, I got up and picked up all the trash laying around from dinner the night before (take-out containers and empty cans). I’ve seen my next door neighbor’s apartment. The inspectors would be overjoyed at the “cleanliness” of my unit compared to theirs.

So to the title of this article, “The utility of unhappiness”. This idea has sat with my over the past few days. It was sitting with me as I shopped for groceries a few short hours ago. What if I made a conscious effort to recognize my unhappiness in some action, and confront that uncomfortable feeling? Maybe once a day, I ask myself, “what is something you’ve done that doesn’t make you happy right now, or in the near future?”

I actually have some ideas to send this to a few people and ask them to prompt me. And I say a few because I know they’re human too and new habits are hard. Then I can at least get some friendly interaction as well as check-in on my progress. Side-note: I wish reminder apps worked for me. Again, it goes back to the pain/pleasure thing. It’s not painful enough to ignore, so eventually I do just that!

Wrapping up this ramble-fest, the shopping trip today was somewhat influenced by these thoughts. I bought good food instead of 120 pizza rolls and 3 bags of chips and dip. I’ve not gone back for seconds on my healthy dinner yet in favor of writing this post; giving the food time to settle so I hopefully feel more full. I’m committed to taking a shower and brushing my teeth later this evening. I didn’t want to do these things. I’d rather watch some tv and veg out after a long day staring at this fucking screen.

Unhappiness in my mind is somewhat of a morally loaded term, but maybe it doesn’t have to be? Maybe it can be more of a neutral state, or a transition to something good? Changing that framing though is another exercise in habit building that I’ll have to struggle with in the meantime.


If you happen to be reading this and got way down here, thanks! I appreciate it. If you want to provide some accountability, please feel free to text me or send a Twitter DM asking, “How have you engaged with unhappiness today?”

If I don’t respond promptly, I likely read it and forgot to come back and respond due to “busy-ness”.

I appreciate any and all feedback you may have and if you’re struggling with similar feelings, maybe we can help each other out? One more thing to try to think about and engage with… 😉

Health update – March 2021

Been a hot minute since my last update! To those of you that reached out to check on my progress, I am very appreciative and touched that you take the time out of your day to think of me. It’s encouraging to my soul. ♥️

Since my last update in January, things have been pretty a-ok. I’ve been seeing a therapist since that time and while I don’t feel that I’ve come to any sort of dazzling revelation, I keep scheduling appointments at the end of every session. I think part of what I’m latching onto is the accountability of talking to someone. I pay this person $100+ a month to listen to me give progress reports of my mood and feelings, and my physical health obviously plays a big role in that. Maybe I would do just as well with one of those gambling apps where you put down some money to accomplish some task and if you fail, they don’t give it back?

Exercise

My Apple Fitness workout history

As you can see from the picture here, I’ve gotten into working out a little since the end last week of January. 95% of the time, this is riding the stationary bike in my building’s gym, but sometimes I’ll go for a long walk up and down the parking garages’ surrounding my house (it’s been cold though!). It’s light exercise by any standard; very low impact, and I usually stop soon after my exercise ring closes; about 30 minutes. In that time, the bike says I travelled 6-8 miles, depending on my pace.

The biggest break was the week of February 15, where Texas had the snow-pocalypse that cut power to millions of people and dozens died of exposure, indoors. While I won’t go into the politics of it all, needless to say that week was weird. My partner and I went to my parents house on Monday night and were there most of the week. My parents don’t have a gym and I didn’t want to go trek in the snow just for a workout so I stayed inside.

I can’t say that the workouts are providing a lot of physical benefit. My weight hasn’t dropped drastically (as will be evident soon) but I cannot definitely say there is no benefit at all. This past week I’ve been working out later in the evening, around 10-11pm, and largely have been motivated to that thanks to the support from some colleagues at work. A few of us have Apple Watches and getting the notification that someone closed all of their rings for the day is a surprisingly effective motivator. The fact that I am responding to that pressure in a positive way is probably a good thing. I can easily think of times past when I would have laughed at those notifications and went back to watching TV and eating an entire bag of Doritos (…now I want Doritos…).

As the weather begins to warm up here in Texas, I want to try taking my rides outdoors as I have acquired an actual bicycle from a friend. I’m interested to see how that goes over the next few months.

Diet

My diet has been generally the same as before and I’ve done a decent job of sticking to my targeted macros. In the past two weeks, I’ve fallen back into my Wingstop habit, which is not sustainable calorically or financially, but the dopamine hit has been undeniable at times.

My go-to dinner has become a large salad with 4-5oz of greens, an ounce or two of goat cheese, fresh strawberries, and a handful of nuts with some sort of low carb dressing. I pair that with some protein, usually chicken of some variety, about 6-10 oz if I had to guess. Chicken thighs are my favorite though.

When I do get Wingstop, I’ve now transitioned to only ordering chicken (without my usual large side of fries). That alone is a reduction of close to 1000 calories and 100 carbs when y0u factor in the ranch dipping sauce. If I have the ingredients available at home, I will first make a salad like I described above, eat that, then eat the wings. The greens soak up a lot of the grease and upsets my stomach less, while also helping me feel fuller. I noticed this last night as I finished eating around 8:30pm and didn’t feel compelled to eat more the rest of the night.

At 10pm, I noticed the time and thought I wanted to get a snack, but managed to talk myself into drinking a big glass of water instead. My usual after dinner snack can be 500-800 calories of roasted nuts so great calorie savings there.

I still have a weakness for snacks, which I tend to eat after dinner but I think I’m doing better. For instance, I’ve started eating fresh strawberries as a snack which is surprisingly less bad than I originally thought. A pound contains 150 calories and 22g of carbs with about 8g of fiber. Those aren’t keto macros, but I can often feel stuffed after finishing a container. Satiety is my biggest goal when eating so that’s fine by me.

I’m still taken with how my tastebuds have changed in reaction to my decreased sugar intake. The strawberries now taste so sweet to me, it makes one part of my brain think that there’s no way they’re healthy, but they are! A few weeks ago I got a craving for a shake from a fast-food joint and it was insanely sweet. I still drank it, but I honestly haven’t had the craving since and writing about it now, I am unfazed.

If I had to rate my diet since the last entry to this series, I’d probably give it a solid 7/10. Not perfect, but not a total failure either. C+

Weight Loss

The graph tells most of the story, but I’ll elaborate. I’m not sure if I put numbers out there, but then end of 2020 was rough. As you can see, I gained 20 pounds in about 2-3 months, despite intermittent fasting 16+ hours a day during that entire time.

Since January, I’ve been back to my 5 meals a week eating schedule and making progress in a positive direction. At the end of January, I purchased a new bathroom scale which has been encouraging and like I mentioned earlier, I’m now also working out every day. My body fat percentage has decreased by about 4% in that time, which feels good to me. I’m currently just under 38% body fat, which is still a lot, but it’s miles better than the high 40s I was rocking in 2018.

February was basically flat in terms of weight loss for the entire month, with some ups around when the storm hit. Considering one night that week I ate an entire large pizza by myself, probably not the worst outcome! March has been better, though we’re only 6 days in.

Tonight is my dad’s birthday and we’re going to an all-you-can-eat steakhouse and I’ve already resigned myself to indulging on some mashed potatoes and likely a full pound of meat, but honestly, it’s probably not that big of a deal. This month, I’d like to try and focus on mindfulness when it comes to snacking as that’s where I believe the bulk of my hindering calories come from. The roasted nuts especially.

If I can get under 250 by the end of the month without immediately fluctuating above that number in April, I’ll be really happy I think. That’s 1 pound a week which should be totally doable and sustainable. If I can keep that up for a year, I’ll be entering 1-derland in time for Summer 2022. That’s exciting!

I think I mentioned this before but I’ll say it again because I’m thinking about it. Winter 2020 was huge bummer for me because I had done so well in 2019. I bought new clothes that I was excited to wear, especially the following winter, that I ended up not being able to wear comfortably at all without risking damaging them. That fucking sucked. If I have one goal for 2021, it’s to be able to wear my new coat comfortably all through next winter. No bulging buttons or getting too hot that I need to take it off after less than 5 minutes indoors.

Final Thoughts

Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past few months. Thank you to my wife who doesn’t complain when I suggest Wingstop every time a discussion about dinner comes up. Thank you to my parents have been supportive of my lifestyle changes and don’t pressure me to eat when I don’t want to. I know there are a lot of people out there who have differing views on fasting for weight loss, and my thoughts are with them as we all navigate this rocky journey to better health together.

If you want to chat about how your life is going, food related or not, hit me up on Twitter. My DMs are open. Talkin’ to new people online is really fun for me and I’ve been told I’m an excellent sounding board.

✌️


Photo by Dovile Ramoskaite on Unsplash

January Update Pt 2: Fasting Boogaloo

Well, here we are a week later and I have to admit I feel better. I’ve overloaded on fasting propaganda from across the internet, though primarily YouTube and Reddit.

I’ve gone back and listened to a few lectures by Dr. Jason Fung. His “The Aetiology of Obesity” series has been my sleeping playlist for a few nights now. It’s a 6 part lecture series, each lecture running about an hour, discussing theories on why humans become obese and the different factors that can contribute. Overall just interesting stuff, plus he has a pleasant voice (IMO) and he’s very easy to digest (heh).

Practically, not much has changed re: my diet compared to earlier fasting cycles. Tuesday, I broke a 44~ hour fast with a burger patty topped with a fried egg, a half pound of salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts, and a few spoonfuls of a ranch-like dressing. I followed that up with some popcorn and a few slices of bacon.

Last night I ate again, this time getting lured into a chicken bowl with cauliflower rice from Chipotle. I walked over there and back home, proceeding to pile the contents of my bowl onto some low carb tortillas I already had at home. I followed that up with the rest of the strawberries, some more popcorn, and 3-4oz of pistachios. I drank 3 cans of sparkling water with dinner and by 9pm, I felt pretty full so decided to start my fasting timer an hour early.

Now I begin another 40+ hours until dinner on Friday evening. Sleep has been pretty meh, but that’s to be expected while fasting. I was tired earlier and managed to be in bed by 11pm, which is rare for me. I woke up around 6~ this morning and got out of bed around 7:30 to get some coffee and write this post.

I have a therapy appointment this afternoon, the second with my new therapist, and I’m tentatively looking forward to it. If the weather isn’t too bad I might try and walk over there.

Overall, this week has been a step in the right direction and I’m optimistic it will continue to trend in that way.

One thing I do want is to find some more fasting support from local friends. I don’t know what we’d talk about but it feels intuitively easier to stick with something when there is accountability, even if it’s unspoken.

My dad is kinda doing IF right now with his church’s new year resolution/diet/fast. He’s had good results so far but I’m not sure how he feels about continuing it after his church finishes the fasting period. I’ll text him later today and see how things are going.

As always, feel free to tweet me @daronspence or leave a comment if you have questions.

✌️

Intermittent Fasting Update – September 2020 – Binging

Progress from August to September of 2020 – 237.5 lbs current weight

It’s been kind of a weird month. My diet has been pretty steady all things considered, but my progress was noticeably slower. I’ll talk a little further down about my experiences with binging this past week.

My birthday was August 18, and as a bit of a treat, that weekend I went to a local baker who specializes in low-carb and diabetic friendly confections and got a large cheesecake. I ended up snacking on that for 2 weeks and the side effects were interesting to say the least!

Warning: potentially gross content in the next few paragraphs. Skip to the next heading if you aren’t interested. One of the side effects of the artificial sweetener this bakery used, I think is constipation. I’ve tried searching for information but it tends to be mixed. Some sweeteners can cause diarrhea, while others can make you constipated. I’m usually a pretty regular dude, once or maybe twice a day if I eat a larger meal, but for whatever reason, this cheesecake stopped me up for 3 days at one point! It never really got to the point of discomfort, but it definitely could have I think if I didn’t make an effort to move things along.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, eat some straight plain salt. I ate a small pinch and then waited an hour, then got another one. I’m not 100% up on the science here, but salt is essentially natures laxative when taken on it’s own. Be warned though that you need to replenish your electrolytes (with more salt!) if you go this route.

Binging

I want to try and organize some thoughts here that I have on binging. Obviously, food is and was a massive (hah!) part of my life. I got fat from turning to food to cover up my problems. Sometimes I was just overeating, but looking back now, there were definitely periods of binging that weren’t healthy.

I feel like I sorta had one of those moments on Labor Day this past weekend. We had breakfast with some friends outside in their front lawn and to stay sociable, I worked out my eating schedule from the day before so I could join everyone. The menu was pancakes and bacon with fruit and juice. Not an unhealthy breakfast by any stretch, but definitely not first on my dietary list. I ate 3 pancakes with syrup, some bacon and a banana, then had some tortilla chips with a cream cheese dip a little later. If I had stopped there for the day, probably would have been fine.

Then later, I went to my parents house and had a late lunch. Chili cheese dogs (no bun!) but then a good portion of potato chips and some assorted popcorn while watching some movies.

Finally, on the way home, the wife and I stopped at an old drive-in burger place here in Dallas that we noticed that morning. I had a cheeseburger and some onion rings. Kellers

Now, normal people read this and don’t see a particularly large problem. However, I’ve been eating one meal a day for about 18 months now! 3 decently sized meals, all of which were by themselves over my carb limit is unusual.

Looking back, I think I just wanted to live in the moment and feel good. The food tasted good, everyone else was eating, it was easy. But that’s childish. Children do what feels good and act on impulses. I need to make a conscious effort to resist or remove myself from these situations in the future, but that’s a challenge in and of itself too.

The Next 30 Days

September, despite a rocky start, is looking better. Despite my binge at the start of this week, I’m back down on the scale and actually at my lowest weight of 2020! I think a good short term goal is under 230 lbs by the next update post, or even more ideally, before the end of the month. That’s going to take a lot of discipline though and maybe even a little exercise. Either way, I’m feeling good now and I think that’s something to celebrate.

One thing that I hope will make things easier is a change in my delivered meal plan. The past 2 boxes I ordered have featured 2 dishes that I didn’t totally love; Prime rib with blue cheese and brussels sprouts and a bun-less burger with artichoke hearts. The protein in each of these was fine, but the sides are putting me off now. The first few times I ate each of them I didn’t seem to mind, but the more times I eat each one, the less interested I am in those vegetables. I’m sure prepared differently I wouldn’t mind, but the sort of mushy-watery texture inherent in a frozen prepared food isn’t as appetizing. I want my food to work for me rather than make me want to eat something else. I’ve since purchased a few bags of frozen broccoli to supplement.

My newest order of delivered meals should be here tomorrow and does not include these dishes. I’m hoping this will keep me motivated to not talk myself into getting something to-go from a restaurant under the guise of “date-night” with my wife!

Conclusion

If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out on Twitter @daronspence . I’m sometimes slow to reply here on the site, but if more people comment it might motivate me 🙃

Also feel free to join my fasting circle on the app I use. Sorry! https://lifefastingtracker.app.link/z3D7qHg2W8

Intermittent Fasting Update – July 2020

Long time no chat! It’s been over year since my last update and a lot has changed, and yet, some things continue to persist. As a fun aside, I think this is the first long form post I’ve written in the new WordPress block editor? I saw a popup welcoming me so I’m assuming…

Since my post in April, I’ve continued to make at least some progress on the personal health front. 2019 actually went pretty well, all things considered. I started a new job in September which brought it’s own challenges and new stresses, but I persevered and stuck to my fasting guns. The real challenge came at the tail end of the year when the holiday shenanigans started to roll in.

I had been doing really well, all things considered. I went from somewhere around 310 pounds down to 228 according to my weight tracker. 80 pounds in 9 months is no small feat! I used this new found confidence to convince myself I deserved some sort of reward. In this case, a guilt free holiday of indulgence with friends and family. My last weigh in was November 17, 2019 and I was feeling pretty good.

If we follow the trend line though, something happened. Retrospectives are always harder to perform without solid data and this is no exception. My next weigh in was February 2020. For 3 months, I neglected any sort of accountability to myself and fell off the wagon. I was still roughly watching the timing in which I ate, but my diet went back to a lot of the same shit it was before. I had changed some habits, sure, but even with healthier food options, it’s not hard to imagine gaining weight if you eat massive quantities of food.

When I dared step on the scale again in February, my weight had creeped back up to 240! Ten pounds in about 3 months. Now, taking into account that my lowest weight was done coming off of a 48 hour fast and when my diet featured few carbs, it’s not hard to attribute a lot of that to extra water that was hanging around with an increased carb intake. I remember at the time feeling bummed though.

The next weigh in was 2 weeks later. March 3, 2020. I was back down to 231.7! Success, I convinced myself it was all water weight and I was still on track. Typing this out I’m feeling elated and proud! I didn’t actually fuck up! I think you all know what happens next though…

Covid-19

The world fell into a bit of a tailspin. I’m sure you all have your own stories, so I won’t spend a lot of time here, but suffice to say, the introduction of a global pandemic was jarring.

My favorite coffee spot was closed, and coincidentally a lot of my weekly social life was reduced to uninspiring trips down the hall to the self serve coffee machine in my apartment building clubhouse. While I didn’t talk about my weight loss in those interactions, looking back I think there was a part of me that enjoyed the challenge of being noticed; of someone else seeing a marked change and making a comment. I knew from my trips to see family that I enjoyed the compliments I received and it felt good to have someone else acknowledge the hard work I put into bettering my future self.

The numbers don’t lie and at this point, my memory doesn’t either. I was stuck at home, but totally now, since I worked from home already before the pandemic. My wife’s schedule was weird as her job made changes. I was following a lot of the day to day politics of it all and getting depressed.

I turned back to my old friend food to cope. I don’t want to go back into my bank history and count the midnight trips to Whataburger, but there were a lot of them. My habits were somewhat better sure; unsweet tea is my new go to, and I was usually only getting one sandwich… but when you’re already eating dinner courtesy of a cheap meal box option that heavily features potatoes to reduce the cost of the service, it’s not surprising that my weight continued to rise.

I’d like to point out that that during all of this, my eating window largely remained in the popular fasting schedules. 16+ hours between meals was totally normal. Some days I was tired and went to bed early after dinner. Other days I ate lunch and dinner and a midnight snack, though those were more rarely seen.

Present Day

My most recent weigh in was July 3. 253 pounds. That’s 4~ pounds a month or roughly 14,000 calories, or a bit under 8 trips to Whataburger per month with my usual order. Not counting my indulgences at other fine dining establishments during the same time period! It’s not hard to imagine 8 extra meals per month sneaking in. Twice a week! What’s the harm? 20 pounds in the harm. Reversal of my hard earned progress is the harm. My confidence in myself is the harm.

Today is July 29, 2020. I’m writing this at the start of the day before starting work. I just got out of the shower and I’m listening to some quiet chill-hop to prevent my own brain from echoing to itself in the hollow box that is my head.

Yesterday, I did okay. I have a new meal service that is much healthier, at around the same cost per meal. It also requires much less time to prepare, making it easier to put off eating until I’m absolutely ravaging, thus prolonging my fasting times. I ate around 6pm. I did also finish off about a half a bag of tortilla chips with some leftover salsa from a restaurant trip last week that I didn’t want to just throw away for whatever reason. The chips ended up only making my hungrier so I made a couple of plain burger patties with a little cheese and some frozen peas.

I then waited a couple of hours and occupied myself with a video game until making a bag of popcorn around 9pm. By 9:20 I hit the button to start timing my next fast, feeling really full. I obviously ate too much. I could feel it, but at that point it was too late to do anything about it.

My current streak is sitting strong at a full week of my ideal fasting schedule. Eating only dinner, in a less than 4 hour window, 5 days a week, skipping food entirely on Monday and Thursday. Today is Wednesday, so I’ll be eating dinner again tonight, but I think I’m going to commit here in this post to only eating my pre-prepared meal somewhere between 8 and 10pm.

My next weigh in is Friday. Not sure if I’ll post that here, but I will be logging it of course! I’m hopeful to see the scale move in the “right” direction but you never know. It could go up even more, and that’s something I’ll have to live with and overcome. I sure hope it doesn’t though. 😅

If you enjoy reading these, send me a tweet @daronspence and let me know. Accountability is important to my own progression I’m finding and unfortunately it is hard to get that anywhere but online in our current world.

✌️

My Experience with Intermittent Fasting

Well, as usual it’s been a while since I’ve posted something here on the blog, but some recent life events have convinced me it’s time to share what’s been going on.

The Checkup

On February 25th, 2019, I went to the doctor for a checkup for the first time in almost a decade. I’d been secretly dreading the appointment because I knew that he was going to say some things I did not want to hear. Stepping on the scale it wasn’t really a surprise to hear him say I weighed 310 pounds. I was honestly expecting it to be a bit higher. Next, came my blood pressure readings, my resting heart rate, and a plethora of other measurements. By the end of the exam I felt worse than the week before when I had an upper respiratory infection.

We went back to his office from the exam room and discussed some more specifics. I was so unhealthy, I was/am practically a walking heart attack at 24 years old (the results of my blood work taken that day later confirmed that). I was devastated inside. I didn’t know what else to say other than, “Ok.”

Near the end of our time together that day, the doctor gave me some tips. He suggested looking into intermittent fasting; something my wife’s doctor had recommended to her to help her reach her goal of losing a few pounds. That sparked a small bit of hope inside of me. Even if I had to change my eating habits, at least I could share the schedule with my wife. While I was sort of correct in this assumption, I was also not expecting what happened next.

Research Phase

When I got home (after grabbing some Korean fried chicken from Bonchon), I started doing what any good millennial would do; research on the internet. I started on Reddit since I remembered seeing a /r/fasting sub, but that quickly led to /r/intermittentfasting where I was assaulted by pictures of people who looked a lot like me slimming down in record times. I was honestly skeptical but willing to try it.

I found my way to the Zero fasting app and jumped right in with an 18:6 fast (eighteen hours fasting, six hours eating). My normal schedule was already skipping breakfast most days and eating a late lunch. I figured a 2PM lunch would force me to eat my next meal with my wife after she got home for work around 6 or 7PM each night.

Over the next two days, I continued the routine. My diet was probably still sub-optimal. On my doctor’s advice, I was cutting out a lot of carbohydrates as well. Instead of fries with my chicken wings, I got coleslaw instead. By day 3 I noticed I was pretty much fasting for 20 hours a day from dinner the night before to the time my wife got home, so I decided to bump up my fasts to 20:4. Why not take advantage of the extra fat burning time?

This was where I began really diving into more information about intermittent fasting, especially around people who are seriously overweight. I soon discovered Dr. Fung, a kidney specialist who focuses on patients with complications from type 2 diabetes. I won’t go into too much detail here but I do recommend you browse through his YouTube channel if you’re interested in more.

Unlike other “celebrity” doctors, Fung has very few uploaded videos of his own, which indicated to me that he wasn’t creating content for the money. He does however, frequently appear on other YouTube channels and radio shows discussing his ideas and findings. I especially recommend his series titled “The Aetiology of Obesity”, a six part series that appears to be a collection of lectures he gave to other doctors. It’s a big commitment to watch, but the information really eased some of my fears and quashed some common misconceptions around fasting.

The crux of his research and testing has basically boiled down to that fact that type 2 diabetes and many of it’s complications can be solved simply by fasting. Simply restricting the intake of calories (liquid or solid) tells your body to enter into fat-burning mode once all the glycogen (sugar, basically) is used up from your previous “meal”. I use quotes because sugary juices and sodas aren’t viewed any differently by your cells when it comes to absorbing nutrients.

Learning all of this really got me thinking. After a couple of weeks, I got the nerve to try a 24 hour fast (or one meal a day) for the first time, despite basically I having achieved that milestone a few times already. Some of my 20 hour fasting days had only comprised one meal, but I was afraid to start my next fast early in case I felt that I really needed a banana or small snack before bedtime. 24 hours was a piece of cake. I felt so good, I decided to try it again on the day leading up to my next doctor’s appointment. That would be my first return since starting this experiment with intermittent fasting.

The Checkup, Pt. 2

In the days leading up to my appointment, I was nervous. During these few weeks, I had purposefully stayed away from the scale so as to not get discouraged by fluctuations of water weight from day to day. Reddit comments always hammered that on posts from people seeing little progress after only a few days of intermittent fasting.

Arriving at the doctor’s office, I walked into the exam room and he ushered me to the scale. I could feel my heart pounding and wondered if it would affect my resting heart rate results later. The doctor plopped the largest weight over to the 300 mark, where it had been from my previous visit, and immediately it fell to the right; too heavy! Success! I had at least dropped 10 pounds in 24 days. The doctor gave a small smirk, seemingly surprised and pleased. He kept adjusting the weights and my eyes kept getting wider and my heart kept pounding faster.

When he was finally finished, the scale reported 289. I had lost 21 pounds in 24 days. Nearly a pound a day on a diet of chicken wings, beans, brown rice, chicken thighs, fish, and a cheat meal of Domino’s pizza while babysitting. I was absolutely ecstatic. I should also mention that I didn’t exercise at all, only doing my normal routine.

The doctor finished taking some other measurements, noting that my heart rate and blood pressure had gone down significantly since my last visit. I honestly think he was probably a bit surprised as well. I’m sure it must be nice to have your patients listen to your advice once in a while.

Back in his office, we discussed the results of my blood work taken from the previous visit. 3 weeks prior, I technically met the definition of a type 2 diabetic. My cholesterol was also very high, a side effect I later learned was due to inflammation caused by my body’s resistance to insulin. I was dreading the news that I would need to start on some sort of diabetes medication, but because of my results that day, the doctor said he was not going to prescribe them yet, dependent on my continued improvement.

I left his office that day with a prescription for some cholesterol controlling medication and a recommendation to work my way up to 4000mg of fish oil tablets per day; a common suggestion for individuals with high cholesterol levels. I was a bit disappointed, but I was also hopeful that I may be able to wean myself off of this stuff with continued results.

Following my appointment, I was now more determined than ever to see things through. I now had the validation that what I had been doing was working. I also had more confidence in myself and my ability to control my cravings and impulses.

Peer Pressure & Progress

Shortly before my second appointment, I discovered the LIFE Intermittent Fasting app. I was initially drawn to it after seeing the progress bar in the app, showing progress points within each fast of when your body has started reacting in a new way.

Upon downloading the app, I also learned of it’s built in social features; encouraging you to connect with other people who are fasting and share your progress throughout your fasting period. I quickly got my wife and a coworker on board and watching each of our progress bars advance was a great motivator when I was feeling hungry before my it was time to eat again. Reading stories on /r/intermittentfasting was also a huge motivator.

Diagram of progress chart from Life - fasting app
Look at at all of those cool progress icons!

A week or so after my second appointment, I decided to experiment with a longer fast of 48 hours. From the information I had consumed, there are a plethora of benefits from fasting more than 24 hours and I was excited to see what kind of results I could achieve and push my willpower even further. Worst comes to worst, I could back off and eat whenever, not feeling guilty at only making it 24+ hours.

The second half of my first 48 hour fast was brutal. The hunger pangs were intense when they arrived, not helped at all by my insistence to torture myself with cooking shows on YouTube. I discovered water was even more of a friend than I previously thought, filling my stomach with as much as I could when hunger reared it’s head. Eventually the rumblings would subside, usually within a half hour of drinking a lot of water and I was back to work or playing some video games to keep my mind occupied on something other than food.

At the end of the 48 hours, I was happy to eat again and proceeded to stuff my face with what was probably 3000+ calories in one meal. It’s important to note however, that my daily energy expenditure just from existing is around 3500 calories a day. So even gorging myself I was still at a deficit. I’m sure as I continue to lose weight that resting calorie burning rate will decrease, but whatever it is, I’m still far below that threshold on any normal eating day.

Feeling good about my progress, I decided to try couple more 48 hour fasts, sometimes coming up a couple hours short but not sweating it too much. 46 hours is still great and I would rather eat a nice dinner with my wife at her normal dinner time. I now have really come to internalize that intermittent fasting is about a lifestyle change that should work for you as an individual. I refuse to feel guilty breaking a fast early to socialize with friends or family, though I do admit I am now addicted to seeing the “Fast complete!” notification on my phone every night.

Every Friday I now weigh myself. I still don’t weigh daily due to water fluctuations and I know from previous diet attempts that seeing the scale bounce up and down every day isn’t good for my mental health. I figure a week is enough time to show a trend without worrying if I’m a pound or two heavier/lighter due to how much water I drank the day before.

As a side note, I’ve had a Fitbit Aria scale for a few years now and really enjoy it despite not owning an actual Fitbit anymore.

This Week in Fasting

After completing a few 48 hour fasts, I resolved myself this week to attempt a 72 hour fast. I started Sunday evening, made it through the obstacle course of snacks at my church small group meeting on Monday night, and was feeling good heading into Wednesday. I was already fantasizing about my dinner for that evening. As the time grew closer and closer though, I realized that I wasn’t really hungry. Sure, I could eat, but I had grown so used to the rumbling of my stomach and the mental feeling of hunger, that I started to wonder if I needed to eat at all? With another hour of contemplation, I decided not to break my fast, and instead continue for at least 24 more hours.

At the time of this writing, it’s now Friday. This evening I will break my fast seeing a movie at a dine-in theater with my wife after 120 hours of not eating anything and only drinking water, tea, black coffee, and a few carbonated waters (with only a small squeeze of lime for flavoring). I’ve made it 5 entire days without eating anything, all the while watching friends and family eat their meals while I gaze on, trying to keep up the conversation.

At my weigh-in this morning, I weighed 275 pounds. 35 pounds lost in 39 days. I know this kind of rapid progress won’t last forever, but I’m grateful for the results in the meantime. Overall, I feel better, more alert during the day, less tired when I should be focused, and look better to boot! I count all of that as a win.

I’m really proud to have completed a five day water fast. I’m not sure when I will do it again, but I can now picture a future where two day fasts are even more frequent. If my schedule with allow it, I would love to try an even longer extended fast in the coming months, perhaps 14, 30, or even 40 days! I realize that with extended fasting comes more variables to consider such as micro-nutrients and electrolytes, but I’m confident I can navigate those obstacles effectively.

Conclusion

If anyone is considering starting intermittent fasting, for weight loss reasons or otherwise, I would encourage you to at least give it a shot for a few weeks. You don’t need to drastically change your diet. Simply cut out all food for at least 16 hours a day and only drink water during that fasting time. For most people, this can mean an eating window of 12pm-8pm. Adjust that forward or back according to your personal schedule and needs.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to leave a comment, or reach out privately. My DMs on Twitter are open and I would love to chat about whatever you want, fasting or otherwise. If you want to join a circle with me on the LIFE app, you can click this link to be added instantly.

I look forward to meeting you soon and seeing how we all progress together!

Photo credit to Stas Knop and downloaded from Pexels.