It’s June 2021, and I am experimenting with ADF – alternate day fasting for one month. This video and written blog recounts my experiences – good and bad – as well as some of the lessons I learnt along the way.
One thing to be aware of at the start is that I have a history of compulsive eating. I made huge inroads into this in my early forties, and for the last 8 years, I have been coaching binge eaters. I tell you this because it has informed how I approach fasting. It is about revolutionising how I experience hunger, and the knock-on effect for my compulsion (which reared its head during lockdown). It is NOT about quick fix results.
As I write this intro 3 weeks into the experiment, the spoiler alert is that I have fallen in love with fasting as a tool to dismantle my compulsion.
If you are wanting superficial measures such as pounds lost, calories consumed on non-fast days and keytone information, get ready to be sorely disappointed.
If, on the other hand, you want to know how to turn fasting from something that strikes terror into your heart to something that gets easier every single day you experience it, then read (and watch) on.
Previous Experience With Fasting
In February I started intermittent fasting, and progressed to 36 hour fasts twice a week in March. At the start they were challenging with dizziness and ill temper. I then got to the point where single 36 hour fasts were easy. However, the three weeks leading up to this experiment were full of too much work, not enough fasting and then finally a much needed break. Three weeks of too many junky carbs (eg bread), eaten a la Roadrunner, and not enough fasting. I was very excited to get back into this and give my body some love again!
What Does Alternate Day Fasting Mean?
A fasting day starts after my evening meal and continues until breakfast two days later. For example Monday evening until Wednesday morning. 36 hours.
A non fasting day in the above example would be Wednesday breakfast until dinner that day. So about 12 hours.
Therefore the pattern is a 36 hour fast, followed by a 12 hour eating window, followed by a 36 hour fast…and so on.
I never eat dinner later than 6.30pm so these meals are my dividing lines. I am not being obsessive about the 36-12-36-12 pattern. For example, I often wake at 5 or 5.30am, and if it’s a non-fasting day, I will eat whenever I want to. So it may end up being 35 hour fasts. I cannot see that an hour makes a difference.
What about times when work or important social events mean that I need to break off a 36 hour fast early? I decided to allow that, up to a maximum of 5 times. If any work opportunities crop up that meant I needed to increase this number, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.
My period always wipes me out so I decided not to fast during that (always 3 days so no biggie).
The First Week
Here is the video update of week one. You can skip it and read the text below if you prefer. Please note that is not an exact transcript of the video, because I tend to talk off the cuff. I have included both to cater to people’s preferences.
First Fasting Day
Although this was my fifteenth 36h fast, I struggled. The reason for that was that fasting requires practise, and I was well out of that!
Fast #1 of the experiment revealed to me how like training fasting is – the more you do it, the easier it gets.
I had the a less intense version of the experience of my first couple of fasts back in March – dizziness, irritability and hunger that felt pressing and intrusive.
If you have never fasted, this is what you will be expecting. Hunger that turns into a monster and makes it impossible to focus on anything else.
But what I noticed was how quickly hunger can become abstract, flat and as 2D as a child’s stick drawing. Hunger that you know is there, but you have zero interest in doing anything about.
I also wonder whether I was still getting some kind of after effect of all the processed carbs I have had recently. These kind of foods seem to create their own hunger eco system, a hunger that self recreates not long after you have eaten. Must be all those gluten exorphins – the morphine-like stuff in wheat that makes its products so damn addictive.
I did start to get to the point of hunger abstraction late morning. In the afternoon I took my son for a haircut then a drink, no problem, felt great. Just as we were leaving the cafe, I felt dizzy and needed to lie down when I got home. This is the time for a really good movie to distract you. I chose The Hudsucker Proxy. I quickly forgot all about my stomach, so entranced was I by the 1950s look and costumes of the film.
This is the amazing thing about hunger – if you leave it alone, it will recede.
The Rest of Week One
Fast #2 was pretty challenging. Had an upsetting revelation about someone I care about first thing. Because of the fast I was unable to manage my thoughts and did a coffee shop tour of my area throwing many pity parties. Nobody came ! Even I wanted to leave early.
Watched The Fisher King and felt better.
Another plus was that my hunger was totally abstract 90% of the day due to my upset. Every cloud and all that !
Fast #2 has cemented 2 realisations:
A – this month will provide unexpected challenges
B- I am so on it and committed now. I need to honour to he hellishness I went through on that day by seeing this through
Just at the start of fast #3, something very interesting happened.
As I was going past the kitchen on the way to bed, a big hunger pang hit me. Sudden hunger like this smacks of something else happening. It was like my body was saying “Let’s get some more food in before tomorrow starts properly!” It was pretty persuasive, but with effort I ignored it.
What I love about this incident is it shows that hunger is amorphous, that it is not some inflexible force that we must work around. I have had enough experience of how hunger is like a tide and will recede. It is not like a fire that you must extinguish with food, or your very self is engulfed, destroyed.
My body is adapting to fasting. It is finding its way back to the template that it was designed for – periods of food scarcity alternating with food abundance.
Some Thoughts On Work
This experiment is turning out to be more intense than I had predicted. My previous spaced out 36 hour fasts were always little holidays from my more negative thinking and emotional sinkholes. Therefore I assumed that ADF would mean double the fun, mental well being-wise!
The curveball of this week has put paid to that. But in addition, so much fasting means that my mind is wandering off alot more. You can liken my focus when not fasting as a cubicle worker who agrees to sit in the cubicle, but complains and gives themselves multiple breaks. Fasting focus is much more like a kid on work experience who has a trust fund waiting for them when they are 21. They really don’t care. They have long since got up from the cubicle, and are chatting to Meg the cleaner about her little shop on The King’s Road in the sixties and the time she met Mick Jagger. Trust fund focus kid has just had a genius idea of a novel about Meg, returns to the cubicle and produces three brilliant chapters in one sitting because she feels like it. She ignores the spreadsheet she is meant to fill out.
I wish I did not have the work commitments that I do this month – and right now, in fasting mode, I don’t care about them. As I sit here in a cafe typing this, I really should be at home, producing this week’s podcast. But this feels much more important.
This week has been MUCH easier than week 1, due to
#1 Being a good girl and taking shed loads of iron on non fast days
#2 Getting used to lack of food and something in me relaxing when I am eating – a certainty that I don’t need to stuff loads of food down me. On some deep level I am getting secure with the regular lack of food
#3 I can honestly say that fasting days are easy now in terms of hunger, which is flat, abstract and uninteresting to me.
#4 Increased focus and productivity on non fast days
Some notable events from this week
During this non fasting window I had planned to get an hour and half of business paperwork done… I did this in the morning but had to go out . I got back about 2pm. This is normally a time I want to do easier work, and I can tell you that this paperwork comes under the heading of brain drain!
But today I felt inspired to do more and see what I could finish by 8pm when the Euros were on.
And I did! I worked from 2.30 – 8pm. I had planned to take about 50% of that time off to break it up, but I got really into what I had previously resisted and I would estimate I spent more like 75% of that period not just sat doing the work, but 100% absorbed in it.
I am fascinated to see where I can take my work patterns using ADF between now and the end of June. Thursday’s fast day was all about insight and CEO planning…and today was 100% worker bee, doing the necessary and doing it with 100% focus.
I wonder if this is a MORE productive way to work than what I was doing before?
Saturday – Fast #7
About 2.30 I cycled over to the supermarket to get some bits and pieces. It is super easy for me to deal with this environment now.
However, it was a really warm afternoon. I noticed that I was starting to feel dizzy. I had a Zoom call set up for 6pm. This was a planning for Q3 meeting and required some decent cognitive work. The moment I started wondering if I should break my fast early due to my dizziness, a huge void opened up in my tummy and the hunger was irresistible. It was exactly like when I was doing the “Maybe I can go five days lets see” fast in May, and on the third day, realised I should end it early. I planned to break it the morning of day 4, but my hunger was just too pressing and so I ate that afternoon.
This was the right thing to do and I did marvel at how closely linked hunger is with a definite endpoint, a strong clear decision. Where this works for me is that it is not corrupted with inappropriate shame.
A Strange Thing
I feel more open to possibilities because of fasting. I am now alienating myself from it. I can see it for what it is. On Sat in the Q3 planning meeting I felt weird, like I was upgrading to a more powerful level of life and exploring the newness and strangeness of it. I needed to play some tearjerker songs on afterwards to have a good cry. You know, ones where you feel great crying. Birdie I’m looking at you!
To Optimise for week 3
Get even better at working within this strange old ADF framework.
Be more active
Enjoy this video of Birdie sitting on the bus thinking “I wish i could do fasting like that legend Harriet”