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How Fasting Helped Me Feel Like Myself Again

As a veteran dieter, I had previously tried everything.

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An image of a person holding a fork and knife over an empty plate.
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How did I drop a clothing size? In a word, fast. I lost seven pounds within two months, and fasting was the diet that did it. The biggest surprise, however, was how short-term, self-imposed starvation could be not only kind of fun, but also excellent for dating.

Let’s face it, dating is not fun when you’re feeling fat. Ever since menopause, the pounds that would come and go came and got comfy, settling around my midsection as if it were a conversation pit.

A veteran dieter, I went back to all of the tried-and-true regimes. Twice before I’d lost 25 pounds on Weight Watchers, so I rejoined. After two months of eating per the plan, however, nothing budged. Frustrated and facing bathing-suit weather, I quit sugar and all refined carbs. Nary a Carr’s water cracker passed my lips, and yet somehow I managed to gain two pounds. (Note to self: Avocados, nuts and seeds are not “good” fats. They’re fat fats.)

Dejected, I commiserated with my college roommates and bought bigger jeans. I tried talking myself into accepting my body as it was. I was healthy. But the truth was, I was miserable. So I summoned my strength and decided to fight back against middle-age mediocracy one last time. I deserved to feel good about myself and I was willing to fight for it.

I had one secret weapon left in my arsenal: a New York-based nutritionist named Barbara Crosby. Back in the ’90s, Barbara coached me to cut carbs long before it was common knowledge that they were the enemy. The result was I dropped three sizes and stayed that way for many years. The best part was that Barbara’s diet didn’t get in the way of my then-swinging single social life. I could go out and drink every night as long as I stuck to small periodic meals of lean protein and vegetables. Forgoing the bread basket was a small price to pay, considering I never felt hungry, maintained my smallest size and could enjoy myself.

So after two decades, I called her. Barbara was my last chance.

“So are you dating anyone?” she asked immediately.

Actually, I had just been fixed up on a blind date, which lasted six hours. So this keg had to go, and quickly.

Barbara suggested fasting twice a week, which she referred to as “rotation eating.”

“Two days a week you will only eat 500 calories,” she said. “The other days you can eat 1,800 calories, but focus on protein and vegetables. It works especially well with my post-menopausal clients because it jumpstarts the metabolism.”

My spirits sank. Low blood sugar caused me to get headaches between meals, not to mention “hangry.” There was no way I could starve.

“Drink lots of water,” she said. “And do cardio for 35 minutes five days a week. I’ve had 50 clients lose weight with this.”

According to Barbara, numerous studies have shown the health benefit of fasting, including longevity and the reduction of chronic-disease risk. Fasting can also help people adjust their relationship to hunger and break the lifelong habit of overeating.

I went online and listened to an NPR show that Diane Rehm did on the two most popular regimes. The first is the  16:8 diet, or time-restricted feeding, where you fast for 16 hours a day, but are free to eat whatever you want in the other eight hours. (Ideally, the eating window should close by 6 p.m., because your body is less efficient at putting sugar away as the day goes by.) The second is the 5:2 plan, which means incorporating two nonconsecutive fast days into your week, where you eat less than 500 calories a day. Rehm lost 12 pounds doing the 5:2, and she admitted to having two glasses of champagne daily — even on fasting days.

I tried the 5:2. Within the first week I lost three pounds. Encouraged, I continued and by six weeks I had lost six pounds.

Progress can be addictive, and I found creative ways to stretch the calories so I could eat and drink what I wanted on my dates, which were twice a week or more. It became sort of a game. I had to be strategic and have low-calorie fuel on hand. I’d bake egg-white frittatas with roasted vegetables so I could quickly slice a piece when I was hungry and still save my carb and caloric budget to blow on dinner dates. It made holding out a lot easier to know that there would be a reward.

Surprisingly, I felt energetic even on lack of food. Actually, I wasn’t alone. According to research, dieters reported feeling more energy on fasting days.

I called Barbara for a check-in.

“How’s the guy?” she asked.

“Good, I save all of my calories for our dates,” I said.

“Has the adipose tissue on your belly reduced?” she asked.

“The keg is gone,” I reported.

“Do you feel deprived?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

The hardest part was the breaking of habits I was barely aware of, such as not “trying” the kids’ bubbling macaroni-and-cheese dinner as I pulled it out of the oven or nibbling kettle corn when we watched TV. Food commercials were a trigger, so I switched to reading or Netflix on fasting days.

And then after six weeks, both my romance and weight loss stalled. The guy was brilliant, smart and attentive, but something was missing. Disappointed, I’d find myself grazing late night to self-soothe.

I plateaued at seven pounds. Barbara recommended a third fasting day in the week, and to reduce calories to 1,000 on nonfasting days to stimulate my metabolism.

While I’d love to lose a few more pounds, regaining control of my midsection has made me feel like myself again.

I wanted to lose weight in order to feel better about dating, but dating was an effective diet aid. If the end result is feeling better about yourself, who cares how you get there?

As always, please consult with your doctor before trying a fasting diet.