Lose weight by starving

03 Jan 2019

I lost twenty pounds last year, most of it the past six months. Several people commented on my appearance and asked how I did it. Today I reveal all.

You can’t lose weight with exercise

You won’t lose weight with exercise unless you’re a construction worker or a hardcore athlete working out several hours a day1. Exercise helps anxiety and depression and if you’re happy you’re less likely to eat compulsively, but you still have to control your inputs. This was a game changer for me and the hardest to learn. What works for me is intermittent fasting—also known as skipping breakfast and maybe lunch2.

Intermittent fasting

There are two main types of fasting, time-restricted and 5:2.

Time-restricted fast: Eat the day’s calories within a 6-8 hour window.

5:2 fast: Eat normally five days a week, and eat a single 500 calorie meal two days a week. Don’t overdo it: fasting for 24 hours or more could trigger the body to store fat instead of burn it. I fast on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I can have Friday night and the weekend available for going out and eating and drinking.

It’s easier for me to start the fast after supper: I’m usually not hungry in the mornings so skipping breakfast and lunch isn’t a burden. If I start the fast after breakfast my body remembers the taste of food during the day and I have a harder time staying on the fast. Breakfast isn’t a social occasion the way dinner is so skipping breakfast doesn’t isolate us from loved ones.

During the fast you’re allowed to consume only water, tea, and black coffee.

How fasting works

Intermittent fasting makes you lose weight because of metabolic switching: your body switches from burning glucose (sugar) to burning ketone bodies converted from fat. And this is why you must consume only zero calorie drinks on a fast: if you keep bombarding your liver with glucose from sweet drinks, your body never enters into ketosis to burn fat.

One of the side effects of fasting is that it seems to reset my hunger sensor. The voice that screams “I’m hungry!” quiets down to a whisper. Then I ignore it.

Also if you eat like a typical American–three meals a day plus snacks between meals–you’ve forgotten what it’s like to not feel stuffed and overfull. Fasting shows that it’s comfortable and pleasant not to be stuffed with food all the time.

Note: intermittent fasting doesn’t magically eliminate fat—it restricts your eating window so you eat less. You can’t fast then binge and expect to lose weight. You have to stop eating junk.

You want me to starve?

If you have fat on your body then not eating for a few hours isn’t starving, any more than driving your car with half a tank of gas is “almost running out of gas.” You come from a long line of ancestors who missed a meal occasionally. They survived and thrived. So will you.

I’ll run out of energy

I can mow my lawn and perform High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts during a fast with no dizziness or lack of energy. You come from a long line of people who ran down and dispatched wild animals using pointy sticks on an empty stomach.

My blood sugar crashes

My doctor said if you have a sugar crash, it’s because you had a sugar spike. Prevent the spike and the crash will go away, so the solution is to eat less sugar not more. That said the first few times I tried intermittent fasting I was miserable from craving carbohydrates. But I got used to it and now I feel strangely energetic when fasting.

You might want to schedule your first few fasts at a time when you’re not required to be in a positive, happy frame of mind.

Update Feb 2021: Had my annual physical yesterday and my doctor remarked that while most of his patients gained 10-30 pounds during the COVID lockdown, I lost almost 10. He was really interested in how I did it, I told him intermittent fasting, and he picked my brain for tips on how to do it, the tips I’m sharing here.

  1. Athletes and body builders don’t slurp down pizza and ice cream, they eat high-quality proteins, fruits, and vegetables. They still have to control their inputs. 

  2. Intermittent fasting sounds nicely scientific whereas skipping breakfast and lunch sounds like you have an eating disorder.