What I am about to write is unorthodox. People reading this will be able to cite research, case studies, books and studies citing all sides of the debate. For this reason, it is particularly unhelpful to rely exclusively on research for guidance on how to actually lose a significant amount of body weight if you belong to a certain class of people.
I believe that studies are helpful for guiding nutrition decisions when fasting – how to ensure that you intake critical vitamins, minerals and resources while fasting so as not to damage your body – But for the ultimate truth of how to do this, I believe you need to blend science, personal experience and psychology to succeed. I also believe that advice that works for some people fails for others.
My wife and her family are from Taiwan. I have observed that they tend to be much thinner, naturally eat less and consistently make better decisions about how much to eat as well as the kinds of food they eat. This could be any combination of culture, environmental conditions and genetics. Regardless of why this is the case – Taiwanese people tend to be thinner than Americans.
On my side of my family, there are several people closely related to me who suffer from intense food cravings, lack of self control around portioning (which also manifested itself in workaholism, hyper success orientation and excess weight gain). These people, like me, struggle to control their weight.
My suspicion is that you have inherited a set of specific traits, most weight loss advice is going to fail for you, as it has for me.
For this reason, what I have written about fasting is not going to make sense to a large part of the human population. If you have a genetic, environmental and cultural disposition and moderating your behavior, maintaining a reasonable weight does not require extreme approaches. The idea of going on intensive fasts will not compute.
On the other hand, if you know exactly what I am talking about, maybe this is for you. If you find yourself simply unable to control your food intake, if you find that you tend to switch automatically into a sort of animal feasting mode when eating, I suspect strongly that we may share a genetic trait that encourages automatic eating.
In my own experience I have observed two key elements to over eaters which work together to prevent progress: Creeping Self Delusion and Feasting Reflexes. I will explain.
Creeping Self Delusion is a powerful psychological tool we use to mask our unhappiness. If one day you look in the mirror and notice that you are 70lb+ overweight, you may begin to work to create a reality where being severely overweight is not a big problem. You will start telling yourself stories and modifying your behavior. Maybe going to the gym makes you feel uncomfortable due to fear of being judged, so you stop going (I don’t have time for that anymore I am too busy, says your brain). Then your favorite clothes stop fitting so you begin wearing baggy clothes. People stop inviting your places because you dress like shit. You also stop getting promoted because perhaps your personal charisma has fallen. You start hanging out with people like yourself who have fallen into the same trap (we are just misunderstood geniuses, everyone else is wrong).
This is a deadly trap because you justify yourself into a corner and can’t get out.
Creeping Self Delusion eats away all dietary and exercise gains over time. Maybe you start out on the Atkins Diet. After three days you have a craving for a slice of pizza so you eat one (it’s just one slice not a big deal). Pretty soon you are making more and more exceptions. Three weeks later you get on a scale and weigh exactly the same (dieting doesn’t work, I am too busy for this I don’t have time).
The effects of creeping Self Delusion are by far the biggest challenge faced by people attempting to lose weight: No matter what you do, creeping Delusion will stalk your progress and try to divert you from positive behaviors.
There is a scene in the movie Sin City where the brutal freelance mercenary Marv sets out to find and kill an agile, sociopathic cannibal named Kevin played by Elijah Woods. In their first encounter, Kevin is able to dance around Marv and get the better of him with his superior speed and reflexes. In their second encounter, Marv solves the problem by handcuffing Kevin to his own arm and says:” Lets see you hop around now!” Before beating him into a pulp. This is the attitude needed to overcome Creeping Self Delusion – Eliminate all of the variables that allow you to tell stories about why you haven’t reached your goals. Once your brain has nowhere to go, then and only then can you make progress. Remove the wiggle room, solve the problem.
One of the reasons fasting has been exceptionally valuable for me is it imposes only a single simple rule: Don’t eat. Diets that involve complex food preparation, portioning impose huge additional time and effort burdens on you. Make this simple to make it work: Start testing 18, 24 hour fasts and then work up towards three days and longer. The delusions will tell you that you are starving and can’t focus, they are wrong, push through it.
The next thief of progress in diet is what I call the Feasting Reflex. I have never seen anyone write this down before, but I have observed obese people from my family as well as myself on some occasions slipping into a mode of automatic eating. These people get a single taste of their drug of choice – nachos, salty pizza – and they lose their minds and flip into a pattern of overconsumption. Before you know it, they have eaten an entire large pizza by themselves. There is something genetic going on there, not everyone does this.
This is an incredibly disruptive trait to have. If this is you, a normal diet is not going to work.
For people who have genuine food control problems, most diets are akin to quitting smoking or alcoholism by only smoking one cigarette or taking one drink per day- They put temptation in your hands. The second you have a bad day or slip, one cigarette becomes ten and one drink becomes 14.
If you have problematic eating, what you need to reset your body is not temperance (moderation) – you need to quit cold turkey for a period of time.
Fasting removed the Feasting Reflex problem for me. At some point, any diet that involves constantly teasing yourself with food is going to suffer speed bumps. The stop that is to reduce the temptation altogether. Let’s see you hop around now!