Recently I was in a public place and I overheard a couple of young people making fun of an overweight person. “She needs to get some willpower,” they said. “She should lay off on the ice cream and cake.” “That is so pathetic she can’t even control her appetite.” “Maybe she’d stop being so depressed if she could just get a backbone and stop shoveling food into her mouth.”
I don’t know if these youngsters actually knew the person they were maligning or not. But I struggled with keeping my mouth shut, because I’ve heard similar comments for my whole adult life, and I know from experience how hurtful they are—and also how untrue they are.
Now I am not for a minute denying my own food addiction. It’s a real thing, and it won’t go away—ever. But my struggles with weight loss are not now, nor have they ever been due to a willpower deficiency. I would venture to say that my vast reserves of willpower are in fact larger than normal, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that were also true of many other obese people.
If you have never been obese, you most likely don’t understand how once you get there, your body fights you tooth and nail to stay there—no matter what you do. In the last three decades, I have tried the following: low calorie diets, low fat diets, low carb diets, food-combining diets, and gluten and dairy-free diets. All of them worked for a while—generally three to six months.
Because I have a lot of willpower, I followed these eating plans to the letter. I did not cheat—ever. Weight came off. Encouraged by my success, I threw myself into following the plan as strictly as possible. Then, the tipping point would come. Weight loss would slow, then stop. The pounds would start coming back on, even though I was still doing everything right. When I realized that all my efforts were pointless, that’s when I would ditch the plan and go back to eating whatever had been forbidden, since obviously the weight was going to come back on no matter what I did.
This happened countless times in the past. I got so tired of people basically telling me, “Well if you would just stick to your diet, you’d be thin by now.” I can’t tell you how relieved I was to read The Obesity Code by Jason Fung, which used scientific studies to validate everything that I’ve experienced. As I think I’ve mentioned before, in the past I have actually gained weight while restricting myself to 800 calories a day.
This time, it’s been over a year and I am still losing weight. However, I did reach that same tipping point in December and January, even though I have incorporated fasting since the beginning, even though I stuck faithfully to my low-carb eating plan. My weight loss, which had drastically slowed, stopped altogether. And when a few pounds came back on, I knew what I had to do.
First, though, I tried acting on suggestions from well-meaning friends. I tried eating a little more, because several people said that actually led to increased weight loss for them. Not for me. It led to almost instantaneous weight gain. I tried Bright Line Eating (and I still am a huge fan and believe it works for most people). That also led to weight gain.
So, after reading both of Jason Fung’s books, I knew that prolonged fasting was probably the only viable solution for me. If you don’t think I have any willpower, how can you explain the fact that I, as a food addict, got through the month of March eating only fifteen meals total? It got my weight loss started again, and even though it jumps around a lot, the general trend is downward.
Everything I’ve said so far, I’m sure I’ve said before. The reason I’m reiterating it is because I feel so sad and protective when I hear people making assumptions and putting down obese people. I bet many of them have been through the same hopeless cycle as me, over and over again. Like me, they have plenty of willpower—it just doesn’t help in the long run. Please treat people like me with compassion when you encounter them. It’s such a discouraging way to live.
It makes me want to scream and throw things when I’m in the grocery store checkout line and I see a headline saying something like “Susan lost 171 pounds and all she had to do was make one little change to her routine.” I hate people like Susan. I have done all the things articles like that recommend, but in the end, I am left with fasting as the only action that has had real, ongoing results.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Fasting is so extreme! I don’t know if I could do that,”—I hear you. Nobody chooses deprivation as their first, second, or third choice. In fact, nobody chooses it unless they have already tried everything else.
But I have learned some interesting things about my body and my failed metabolism on the way. One-day fasts had virtually no impact on my weight or my blood sugar. Two and three-day fasts were slightly more successful, but I haven’t seen any marked benefits from fasts less than five days. So many people told me that a short three-day fast would “reset” my metabolism. I didn’t see any evidence of this.
It’s not until the fourth or fifth day of a fast that my blood sugar drops into optimal ranges, even though I’m not taking in any calories. The biggest benefits come on the fifth through seventh days. I have yet to make it for more than seven days in a stretch, but several seven-day fasts strung closely together have been very beneficial.
This past holiday weekend, I allowed myself to eat “normally” for three days—meaning two meals a day of strictly low-carb food. I was very curious to see what would happen. As expected, I did regain a few pounds, but I know they will soon disappear again. The bigger story was my blood sugar. I ate for three days, including a relatively huge dinner last night. It was so much more than I am used to eating that I really thought maybe I should take some glyburide to help my blood sugar return to normal. First, though, I checked my blood sugar and it was 118—a couple hours after a large meal. No glyburide needed. At no time this weekend did my blood sugar stray above the “normal” range, despite the fact that I no longer take any medications. In other words, my body is now acting as if I am not diabetic at all.
And that, my friends, is the true miracle of fasting. I had been trying for almost a year to get all the way off my medications, but I did not succeed until I started fasting more. Now, even when I eat, my blood sugar remains within the normal range. That is a real victory, one which gives me motivation to keep fighting until I succeed in my other goals too.