The Fast(ing) Life

6 months ago, in October, I embarked on a new journey of personal wellness.  It was unlike any I had previously done before, since I would be addressing the bugbear of weight loss.  I have had a hate-hate relationship with my smart scale since I bought it in January 2018.  Every time I used it, my weight seemed to climb, and my heart seemed to sink.  At first it was a matter of curiosity, but eventually turned to despondency.  I was now a father and an obese one.  I wasn’t a pretty sight.  I have been struggling to find the magic formula for weight loss for the better part of the last decade, and still couldn’t quite pin down what made me lose weight, and what didn’t. 


The thing is, I still wanted it all. 


I wanted to eat what I liked, and exercise little, and basically wasn’t willing to compromise on habits.  As any 30+ would know, it never quite works out as you expected it to.  I exercised hard for 2 years, nothing changed the scale (but muscle increased).  I stopped exercising (muscle decreased, but fat didn’t).  I tried vegetarianism, but this turned out to be unhealthier for me than ever with ready cook vegetarian meals laden with soy.  I tried morning smoothies, making extra healthy foods to “boost” the day – for years.  I added protein everywhere. 


I ate “superfoods”.  I started only drinking whiskey, staying away from calorific craft beers.  You might have been through something similar in your life too.  Once that 30-year metabolism takes a dive, it’s hard to understand how to cope when you can’t just eat whatever you want anymore.


Sugarman


One thing I didn’t give up on, was the good times associated with sugar.  I wasn’t willing to abandon the sweet wonderland – ever.  This led to me still enjoying chocolates every now and then, as a treat (sure….).  And when my daughter was born in August, it was a dark couple of months (winter) and lots of added pressure (no family support) and I took to my favourite spot on the couch, then Netflixed and Chocolated myself to sweet sweet bliss. 


Every night.


I refused to believe it had any impact on my body.  I do so many other things right, surely a little snack after supper won’t do any harm?  I’ve done this for years, and this is just to help me get through this rough patch (sure…).


My mom was a self-claimed sugar addict.  She would hide chocolates from herself in the linen closet (out of sight, out of mind).  Us kids found them easily enough though.  All our foods were sweetened so we would like it.  I remember distinctly having pumpkin at the age of 10 at a friend’s house and couldn’t stomach it – there wasn’t any sugar in it.  As a result, we never quite lived without sugar for so much as a day.  We were never told that sugar was bad, and wreaking havoc on our lives as adults.  Every cup of tea was 2 spoons of sugar added (can’t even image this now).  I was a sugar addict since childhood.  I only had my first salad at 23 years old (it started with rocket).


So here I am at 94 kg, technically obese, and wondering what I needed to do to turn my life around.  I started with shaving all the hair from my torso, revealing all my extra fat pouches to myself in the mirror.  It was grim.  I wasn’t looking good.  Just because I haven’t had to change my pants size in 6 years doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have done something about this already.  I realised it was 100 days till the end of the year this week.  I took that as my signal that it’s time to start right away. 


Taking Action


I decided to do nothing.


Well, not quite nothing, but I decided that I wasn’t going to actively eat food that was bad for me.  I was going to passively ignore it.  I wasn’t going to struggle with “moderation”, I was going to just have none of it.  I decided then and there to cut out all shit in my diet such as biscuits, cookies, chocolates, and basically everything that I know as “bad” but never quite brought myself to admitting.  Except ice cream – I love ice cream.


It turned out that there were so many opportunities in my daily life to fall from this path of self-exile.  Everywhere I looked, there was advertising for something sweet.  Work was a minefield with the home-made brownies, Krispy Kreems & chocolate slabs.  Every day there was something to “quickly” nibble on.  I was having none of it.  I learned to graciously decline even when my heart was saying “yummy”.  The first month was the hardest.  I learned to avoid the sweets aisle completely at the supermarket.  I brought nothing home and ate nothing of the sort at work.


I reluctantly stepped on the scale every week in that first month and saw something I hadn’t quite expected.  I was losing weight, very slightly, but a couple of 100 grams here or there.  Something was happening, and this gave me increased strength.  There was hope out of this quagmire of body-shame.


I decided to turn up the heat and joined a local kickboxing class once a week.  It was more for cardio since it was purely against standing bags, but I realised how much stress I had been holding onto and I released fury after fury on those unsuspecting bags.  This eased my stress and provided a safe outlet for any tenseness I have.  I knew that only going once a week wasn’t really doing anything for my goals, but I frankly just enjoyed the exertion.

December rolled around, summertime and beers and barbecues.  I fretted about whether I should put my plan on hold, and at least give myself a respite over this festive period.  I did.  I’ll admit it, it stung my ego after having become so self-identified with “I don’t eat sweets and all that rubbish”, to be having dessert at the dinner table for Christmas eve and day.  Oh well, there goes my diet.  Of course, there was plenty of wine, beer, and other fancy drinks to be had, because dammit I earned this, right?  Somehow, I still lost 1.5kg over the 2 weeks Christmas break. 


Don’t ask me how.


Fast Forward


In January I felt more enthused than ever – I am losing weight at a rate of ~300g – 500g per week and as we all know, confidence grows on successes.  I had surpassed my 100-day goal by 1kg and sought out a new goal for myself.  Fasting.  I don’t know why I settled on this but after getting into a book about it (Complete Guide to Fasting), I thought this to be a good start to the world of fasting.


The psychology of hunger is the most powerful instinct in the world.  It’s also the most feared.  Us fat wealthy westerners never have to worry about dying of starvation, yet we don’t every stop eating.  Every second person spouts "commonisms" such as “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and “you should eat regular small meals” and “it’s important to have health snacks between meals” and “you must go too long without eating else you’ll just put on the weight” and “once you’re hungry then you’ll active starvation mode and you’ll lose all your muscle”.  Bollocks to all of that.  The fact that these are common sayings infuriates me because we have enough social pressure as it is, without someone judging you on how often you eat.


As usual, I decided to go against the grain, and try to understand the impact that food has on my life, myself.  The book above puts it simply: diabetes is an ancient disease making a comeback. 60% of the world are expected to be pre- diabetic or diabetic at some point of their lives.  Diabetes is caused by too much insulin (over simplifying here).  Insulin is produced when we eat.  To reduce insulin in the body, we must stop eating.  This graph explains everything.





I don’t want diabetes, and instead of doing nothing about it, I decided to do something proactive – I decided to stop eating for 24 hours at a time, 2x a week.  It (isn’t) as intense as it sounds, all I had to do was skip breakfast and lunch and have supper the same time as the day before again.  I decided on Monday and Thursday, but I’ve left it flexible enough to choose any other days if I have “must eat” functions on at those days.


Day 1 back at work – fasting time. 


I had never gone without food for any length of time.  Just the thought of it was tough, but I was determined to crank up the heat on my metabolism.  Previously, when asked to “have a light lunch” before sacred medicine ceremonies I would quail – what if I got hungry?  How would I survive? What if I got so hungry I couldn’t contain myself.  What would I become then?


I survived.  My tummy rumbled, and I got hungry, but not as much as I thought I would be.  I drank plenty of liquids, and focused on work.  I thought to myself, I don’t know if I could do this often, it’s pretty tough. It took me a few more weeks before I really got the hang of it, but it definitely gets easier.


Here are my notes for anyone wanting to do what I did:

  • Don’t tell anyone.  The resistance is real.  Everyone you talk to has their own ingrained beliefs on what “should” be done, and what shouldn’t.  All of it you’ve heard before (see above), and nothing will be new.  “Not eating” is just not fathomable to some people, so don’t talk about it until you’ve done what you need to do.  You will be pressured and coerced and man, it’s already tough enough going against your own instincts, it’s not worth getting everyone’s opinions on it.

  • Hunger comes and goes.  It doesn’t grow and grow until you die of hunger.  It comes in waves, and when the wave comes just ride it out.  Drink some water, drink some coffee (without sugar), drink some tea.  Have as much as you like of these.  There’s no limit and these will be your best friends in hungry hours.

  • Ask your spiritual guide, God, Buddha, ancestors, inner child and anyone you need for help.  Some days will be hard but use this to grow your spiritual energy.  Literally say “Let my physical hunger for food be like my hunger for connection to Source”.  Realise that there are other forms of nourishment in the world, and food is only one of them.

  • Enjoy food!  It’s easy to overeat once you haven’t eaten for a day but try not to.  You’ll have a few days to eat as much as you want again, don’t go overboard.  Eat healthy.

  • Enjoy this time where you give your digestive system a break.  Enjoy the clarity of mind, and the increased focus, and beauty of life.  Enjoy this time of reflection, and increased willpower.  If you can do this, you can do anything.  You are overcoming the ultimate addiction, eating.

  • Work out!  Don’t stop working out just because you’re not eating.  Have some protein powder and get that heart rate up.  You’ll be able to go as hard as before, with practice.  I definitely felt myself becoming more dehydrated due to the lack of salt in the body, so get some "rehydrate" for afterwards

  • Subscribe to www.reddit.com/r/fasting - it's great to know that others are going through the same process - and for MUCH longer periods.


Last week I completed 12 weeks of 2x 24 hour fasts. That's 24 days of 24 hour fasting.


I also weighed in at 85.6kg - 9kg down in 6 months.


I plan to continue doing this indefinitely.  It’s become a part of my identity, just like not eating chocolates.

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© 2019 by Christopher Carswell

Photography by Christopher Carswell

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email: info@christophercarswell.com

Auckland, New Zealand