Saturday, February 11, 2017

One Week Fast

When I came back from Crete in August, still suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I was pretty slim from kayaking, swimming and walking and weighed about 175lb. However I wouldn’t have styled myself as fit and healthy. A year and a half plus of anxiety and cortisol overload hadn’t left much in the way of reserves and I was frequently exhausted. After I settled back in here I decided I needed some other exercise of interest besides walking so I joined a gym. Since unaccustomed muscle groups were involved and I was still exhausted I found this hard at first. I had to give up my long morning walks and just go to the gym.

Over a number of months I put on weight and it mostly seemed to be muscle. I had to go up a shirt size because of restriction about my shoulders and even a bangle I wear on one wrist started to get tight when before it hung loose. However, in the last month or so I could not deny that I was running out of holes on my belt, had developed a male muffin top and that the 192lb I reached at one point wasn’t due to my brawny arms.

I started dieting. Potatoes, bread and pasta ceased to go into my shopping trolley, while the pork scratchings were definitely out. On stir-fries I dropped about 5lb. Not so exhausted now I started walking again (in the last couple of weeks), doing 7 miles every morning. I then considered something else I had done in the past, which was take a day off every now and again and eat nothing at all. But I didn’t do anything about that.

On the day before my birthday I went out for a meal with someone. I ate a scallop starter, spaghetti carbonara followed by a sweet of profiteroles, washed down with a couple of gin and tonics. But even as I was eating I felt unhappy with the way my midriff was pushing against my shirt.

The next morning my weight was 184lb and I kinda fell into not eating that day. Because, obviously, I’m an avid reader of what interests me, I started reading up on fasting. My last post here tells you much of what I got from that. But I’ll reiterate:

Your body has evolved to store fat in times of plenty then burn it when there is no food about. We live constantly in times of plenty and that’s why so many of us are fat. The mechanism is this: over a few days of fasting your body burns through its reserves in your liver. It then starts burning fat (ketosis). The idea that you burn muscle and store fat is, in my opinion, apocryphal. Autophagy accelerates during this time breaking up those cells that are redundant and yes, some of those are muscle cells – useless, damaged inefficient cells. However the meme has been promulgated by people who have fasted seeing their biceps or whatever shrink and think, ‘Oh my god it’s true I’m burning muscle!’ Wake up. One of the closest animals to us physiologically is the pig and, bearing in mind that pigs are less well-fed than us, how much fat do you see in pork? Your muscles are getting smaller because they’re losing the fat in them. This story is also promulgated by those who stop exercising when they fast. Yes, you’re losing muscle BECAUSE ITS REDUNDANT IF YOU DON’T USE IT – autophagy taking out what is surplus to requirements. Also, consider this: if your body is carrying 10lb of extra fat – the equivalent of five bags of sugar – then logically it requires muscle for that, which becomes redundant as you lose it. That is my opinion anyway.

The next day my weight was down 4lb, almost certainly all of it was the stuff in my liver, in my gut and fluid. Because I had not quite understood the above and feared ill effects I ate a banana and two satsumas in the morning then spent the rest of the day without food. The following morning I was down 1.6lb and the day after a further 1.4lb. The day after I was out for dinner again. I ate something at about 5pm to prepare my stomach for that (and the gin and tonics) and the following day my weight had gone up 2.6lb. And no I was not rapidly putting the fat back on because that was almost certainly the weight of the food and the fluid retained to digest it – no food again for a day and I dropped 3lb.

Throughout this I have continued exercising, walking 7 miles each morning and going to the gym for an hour and a quarter every afternoon. I had a couple of small dizzy spells at one point but mostly I’ve felt sharper mentally and had no problem exercising, quite the reverse in fact. Over four days my ‘love handles’ reduced by about half while my belly shrank about the same amount. My arms also shrank, but to give better muscle definition. Hunger was an issue but, three or four days in, it was no different from how it was on day one. It wasn’t constant either – I didn’t wake up hungry and I certainly wasn’t hungry while exercising. It was patchy throughout the day. And it wasn’t so severe I wanted to eat a raw buffalo liver or eat a fish while it was still wriggling (from the film The Revenant). I guess that kind of hunger occurs when ketosis is over – no fat left – and you do start eating your own muscle – protein starvation.

To sum up: Over a period of a week I lost 10lb. An awful lot of that has been around my waist. I have lost from shoulders, arms, chest, bum and legs but I like that there’s less to pinch under the skin and my musculature is more defined. I’m now going another day without food but not exercising. It’s snowy outside and cold and grey, but I also want to take the opportunity to see if there is any change in the hunger pangs and whether I’ll keep up the constant loss average of 1.5lbs a day.        

4 comments:

Polity Bear said...

With regard to cognitive function during this period, how would you assess the effect it has had on your writing? I have completed two, week long fasts last year, and I felt things were much easier and clearer after the initial 2 days of cravings etc have disappeared (which I always seem to struggle with)
I am an aircraft Technician (cambs uk)and found that my internal stress levels seemed to drop, Dealing with the complex tasks became slightly less of an effort. After I found it easier to cope with a reduced diet, although inevitably I seem to slip back into eating old habbits.....

Neal Asher said...

My mind was/is clearer. I've had my moments when getting the motivation to write has waned, but I have then when I'm eating too. Overall, when I have been writing on this fast I've had greater clarity.

Ian M Campbell said...

To be fair, having delusional episodes due to lack of necessary nutrition could be beneficial for a science fiction author.... just write as much down afterwards - Presto new book :)

Neal Asher said...

I don't need to not eat to be delusional.