My Experiment With Intermittent Fasting

Beginning in Nov 2016, I embarked upon an intermittent fasting experiment to examine what effects, if any, it has on my health and overall well-being. I routinely dive into self-experiments but leave most of them undocumented. This was different because I diligently tracked things I was hoping to impact with my experiment. Here are the results of that experiment.

Before I begin, let’s define a few things first.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Fasting is taking a break from consuming calories, usually in the form of food that we all eat. By this definition, it is clear that all of us fast daily between the times we go to bed and when we wake up. Fasting, as is commonly understood, though is a longer than typical period of ‘not eating’.

Intermittent Fasting is a diet protocol that intersperses defined periods of ‘not eating’ with regular eating phases. There are many variants – 16/8, 20/4, Alternate Day, 5:2 (Details here)

I have done some of these in the past and in fact, for the best part of the last two years, I have done away with breakfast. My first meal these days is typically lunch, which too has been delayed since then.

For this particular experiment, I was interested in the 5:2 variant, one that was popularized by the BBC Documentary and research conducted by Dr. Michael Moseley.

Why Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

There are hundreds of anecdotal benefits attributed to IF including weight loss, stabilization of insulin & blood pressure and reduced inflammation (read: fewer instances of random fevers and common cold).

Rigorous research, unfortunately, hasn’t been that forthcoming, especially with human subjects. The current consensus is divided and there are differing schools of thought on the impact it has on muscle loss and on special populations (diabetic, elderly and children).

As is the case with research related to nutrition and fitness, every subject is different and there is no way you can recommend something that works the same way for everyone.

But, there is one heuristic I routinely use these days – if it’s worked and has been followed for thousands (not hundreds or tens) years, there is a higher likelihood it has its merits. This heuristic has worked for me wonderfully in other areas – books (I defer to older classics than latest ‘hits’), exercise, philosophical viewpoints and sleep.

Fasting, as a practice, appears to exist in every culture across the world in one form or the other. So, I was betting on it to work more than not.

In my case, there were three objectives:

  1. Decrease body fat
  2. Stabilize my glucose levels
  3. Increase well-being

The Experiment – Protocol, Measurements and Experiences

Protocol

I planned for this experiment to last for 12 weeks. Each week would involve two non-consecutive periods of 20 hours or more during which I would consume no calories (I revised this later to increase the limit to 500 calories; will explain why). My fast would commence after dinner the previous night and continue until dinner-time of the fast day. For e.g. I’d have my dinner on Monday at 10 PM, go to sleep, wake up the next day and eat nothing until Tuesday, 10 PM. I would break my fast at this time and resume my normal eating routine.

Finer Details:

  • In order to isolate the effects of fasting alone, I paused my lifting program. Also, I wasn’t too sure if I should be lifting in prolonged fasted state, from a muscle loss perspective.
  • On similar lines, I also ate in an unrestricted manner on all non-fasting days including consuming sugar and sweets.

Measurements

Baseline: I didn’t have a set of baseline blood panel measurements right before I began my IF experiment. Fortunately, because of my obsession with having samples of blood drawn out of me and testing these, I had one that wasn’t too dated. For the purpose of this experiment, I will use these as baseline measurements. These include:

  • Lipid Profile – Trigs, HDL and LDL (relevant ratios)
  • Glucose Profile – Hb1Ac
  • Thyroid Profile –  Total T3, Total T4 and TSH

Ongoing: During the course of the experiment, I tracked my weight, blood glucose (right before I broke the fast) and waist size. I also tracked the calories I consumed, general mood and activity levels. The last two are subjective indicators and not very reliable but I wanted to document these nonetheless.

End-line: These will be a repeat of the baseline measurements, conducted in an external lab.

The Outcome

Summarizing by the objectives I’d set out at the beginning of the experiment, here’s what happened:

1. Decrease body fat: The most important result and outcome. Fat-loss,measured as a combination of weight loss and reduction in waist-size, disappointing. My net weight loss was 1.2% by the time I concluded the 10-week experiment. Because the results were discouraging on this metric, I stopped the experiment at 66 days (10 weeks), instead of the planned 84 days (12 weeks). There were variations through the experiment with the largest loss happening between the 17th and 31st day of the experiment. For some reason, I gained back the lost weight in the subsequent weeks.

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One reason could be the modifications I introduced after day 35 when I began having a limited amount of calories on fasting days (like what the original 5:2 diet recommends). This was primarily in the form of whey protein to prevent muscle atrophy. But, protein intake also spikes insulin, which in turn, slows down the fat breakdown process. In hindsight, I was probably more worried than I should have been about muscle loss. Ancestors have survived for days without eating while also being on hunts. A data point that supports this hypothesis is the ‘counter-intuitive’ trend in the chart below (Fig.2) that seems to indicate a higher weight loss on days I consumed more calories. It didn’t matter if I ate 50 or 500 calories on fasting days because even 50 calories in the form of carbohydrates or protein was enough to spike my insulin.

if-cal

2. Stabilize my glucose levels: The next outcome that I measured was my random blood glucose (technically, fasting glucose) at the end of every fasting period. This was a far more encouraging outcome, with a net decrease of 10%.

if-bg

Since my body did not have to produce as much insulin on days I fasted, I believe my body’s insulin response was ‘re-sensitized’ so it was able improve the regulation of glucose levels.

Other blood panel results: There was a drop in the HbA1c level, a long-term indicator of plasma glucose concentration. Similarly, my Triglycerides/HDL ratio also fell, a reliable indicator of long-term coronary heart diseases. For the sake of completeness, here’s a quick snapshot of the test results:

if-markers

3. Increase well-being: An even more significant and positive difference I noticed was a heightened sense of focus and sharpness. On fasting days, this would typically kick in by mid-morning and would persist until late evening. In contrast, on non-fasting days, I would feel lethargic after meals, especially on days I had a heavy breakfast. Since I have anyway been skipping breakfasts for a couple of years now , this has only convinced me to continue with this habit.

If you need more coaxing:  ‘ A surprising number of males (not females) over 45 never eat breakfast, or eat only the scantiest of fare (e.g., Laird Hamilton, page 92; General Stanley McChrystal, page 435)‘ (source – http://tim.blog/2016/10/25/tools-of-titans/) .

From my perspective, this aligned perfectly with stoic beliefs that I have sought to practice more diligently since last year. Depriving yourself of dependencies is one of its key tenets so this fit in very well.

Conclusion

This particular IF protocol didn’t yield significant benefits from a fat-loss perspective. Neither did I lose absolute weight nor did my waist size (a strong indicator of metabolic syndrome), though it improved my insulin response. I did enjoy practicing this protocol, on the whole, because I felt I was sharper and focused on fasting days.

There are, of course, other long-term benefits purported to intermittent fasting such as autophagy, potential reduced likelihood Alzheimer’s Disease, cancers and atherosclerosis, each of this due to the regulation of insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGF). It isn’t conclusive but given the negligible (non-existent, as far as I can tell) downside and a multiple upsides with a high probability, I can’t see why I should stop following this.

Do you or have you followed a fasting protocol in the past? Do share your experiences here. It will be great to have a wider sample size to examine aggregate effects.

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My Experiment With Intermittent Fasting

Passive Information Consumption

In February 2016, we stopped our newspaper subscription at home. This was a huge step for me at the time. Since I can remember, my top morning ritual was reading the newspaper. Even when I was a child who barely understood the words, I made sure that I glanced through the headlines and clarify things I didn’t understand with dad.

11 months down the line, this was one of the best things I did this year. Along with other changes and even by itself, this allowed my day to be not as influenced by events (esp. the depressing ones) that had little influence over my life or more importantly, over which I had little influence.

It has been my biggest life-hack this year – consciously, actively stopping information flow into my life yielded immense benefits. I also recently uninstalled (well, functionally – I still need it to schedule football games and stay in touch with remote friends) WhatsApp, deactivated my Twitter account (a separate section on this) and cut my Reddit browsing time by over 60% (I still follow curated sub-reddits of interest occasionally but I’ve stopped browsing the front page).

I haven’t read a newspaper or a magazine all of this year. Either on the web or in print. I’ve uninstalled the one news app (WSJ) I had on my phone. I’ve found that there’s a significant cognitive overload required to navigate to a website in a mobile browser, instead of easy-access apps, that reduced time I spent on mindlessly browsing news stories.

A more recent obsession, soccer, also has moved to the back-burner. In the last few years, I’d deluded myself into thinking that following football matches through 40 weekends (!?!) was worth my attention. It ended up swallowing my precious weekend hours and killed my thin social life. Without conscious effort but by design (my cable operator stopped live telecasts of these matches), I’ve got rid of this obsession too. One fine weekend it was gone and I realized I didn’t miss it at all. I continue to play football but I can’t be bothered about keeping tabs on clubs and their performances through an entire season.

Between August and November 2016, I was heavily active on Twitter, scrolling through thousands of tweets every morning, noon and night. I curated my follow list but it didn’t help in avoiding the negativity that is rampant on Twitter. I think many have used it very well but it clearly isn’t a tool for me.

So, in turn, my primary and only source of news was what I heard through friends, family and co-workers. In its digital form, this took the shape of Facebook news feeds. After a few years of tweaking to figure the best way to use Facebook (including ‘cold’ exits, daily posts and active sharing), I’ve designed my Facebook now as a curated news medium, filtered by following ONLY people whose opinions I value highly and people who form the group of loved ones.

Similarly, in its physical form, by hanging around with like-minded friends, I was able to have focused, in-depth discussions about things I’m genuinely interested.

In a year of heightened passions, political divides and unpredictable outcomes, this helped moderate my political positions. I take my own and everyone else’s political positions a lot less seriously. Despite all the rhetoric and ridiculous positions, the fact that events like Trump POTUS, Brexit and demonetization all happened means that I can safely ignore mainstream opinions. I did and it has had absolutely no impact on my life. There are fewer inane conversations about ‘current affairs’ and instead I tend to have more meaningful and personal conversations with people I meet around their hobbies, interests and passions and mine.

As a positive side-effect, I have been able to channel my unused time, memory and cognitive abilities into more productive activities. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve learned to code in Python, using it for a wide variety of tasks from writing mini productivity programs to using it for machine-learning projects. For the first time since my teens (when I used to read Hardy Boys books), I’ve read 15 books in a year including a mammoth ‘War and Peace’. Both of these have been incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable activities.

A few other relevant anecdotes
  • http://www.raptitude.com/2016/12/five-things-you-notice-when-you-quit-the-news/ – This guy too quit reading the news and realized benefits — “You’ll find that your abstinence did not result in any worse cabinet appointments than were already being made, and that disaster relief efforts carried on without your involvement, just as they always do. As it turns out, your hobby of monitoring the “state of the world” did not actually affect the world.”
Passive Information Consumption

A Travel About Nothing

The Airport – Class divide on transport modes

Day 6 – Back Home

In the wee hours of late midnight, I was awoken by a sudden outburst of a Marathi song, from the speakers in the bus. I stared at my acrobatic feet, splayed in physically impossible directions, ahead of me. I had barely managed to nod off and this unwanted wake-up call got me angry.

I thought to myself, ‘ I haven’t slept for 10 minutes and now this?’.  War and Peace had just put me to sleep at 1230 am, despite my body situated in a position in which it was impossible to sleep.

I re-adjusted my feet and was about to get out to give a mouthful to the driver when I chanced upon my silver watch lying on the floor. I picked it up. Glanced at the time. It showed 330 am. I had slept for more than 3 hours with my body contorted. Amazing what traveling does to you.

Earlier that day, I woke up in a town I’ve always wanted to visit. I had booked tickets to travel at least twice earlier but had to drop plans each time. Bidar. Not many people I know have wished to travel to Bidar. Neither would I have except for the fact that it’s the northernmost town in Karnataka. Like a crown on a concave king.

I woke up bright and early, just like I had on all previous days of my trip. I was staying in a hotel that had a fading facade but was filled with warmth hospitality. Rooms were well-maintained, affordable and airy. Plus, the location was worth its weight in gold – right opposite the bus stand, saving conversational time while negotiating directions with the auto drivers. I ventured out with the air of a man who was here to rake in all the delights of Bidar, that elusive frontier town.

The first spot on the list was the Bidar fort. I hopped on to a local bus. Yes, even for a town with a population of a shade under 180K, Bidar had a great fleet of local buses. They were new and very clean. The break-up of KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corp) into NEKRTC  (North-East) and NWKRTC (North-West) was clearly working out well, at least in the north-east.

I got dropped off at an Ambedkar circle from where I was instructed to hire an auto. This conversation followed the tourist – auto driver template:

Me: ‘To the fort?’

AD: ‘Yes. 30 rupees only.’ (Watch out whenever someone uses only after specifying an amount. It is anything but.)

Me: ‘No, I’m going to give you 7’

AD: (with a look that sought to establish me as an evil capitalist alien) ‘Are you mad? It is way inside. I’ll drop you to the market for 5′

Me: (in no mood to be fleeced) ‘Alright’

I hopped in with a large(r) man as a co-passenger. All autos in Bidar are shared autos. We waited for a few more passengers to fill this small auto up and three more ladies joined us shortly. Chivalry demanded that I move out of the backseat and hop on to the front, sharing a 3 feet seat with the driver and the man, which it clearly wasn’t designed to.

A Travel About Nothing

A New Trip and A New Journey

I visited the US for the first time. I was there for 11 days and it left me tired.

True, partly because there was so much of work to get done. But, also because, the country is so bloody vast and …… exhausting.

Random observations follow:

  • The winters in the northern parts of the US are downright depressing. I’ve never seen the sun set at 3 in the afternoon and after 3 days of this, I was completely bummed out.

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  • This probably also is the reason for the general grouchiness of the people? I was racially abused, provoked into fights and met many unhelpful (busy?) people.
  • But all of the three cities I visited here – Boston, Buffalo and NYC – are beautiful. Boston with its historical buildings, pathways and the awesome MIT campus. Buffalo is the kind of American city that I had envisaged and it was true to type. Delis, 7-11s and small pizzerias.

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  • NYC though deserves a section of its town. From being conned to getting overawed by its skyscrapers, NYC blew me away. I’m glad I spent a non-working weekend here; I walked its streets and avenues. Negotiated the swathes of holiday crowd adroitly ( thanks to training received traversing by-lanes of Avenue Road). Stayed at an expensive hotel yet managed to feel very poor. Went to the top of the Rockefeller, bought expensive souvenirs and consumed the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

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  • The icing on the experience that was NYC deserves yet another section of its own. MoMA was recommended by many and rightly so. I’ve never been a sucker for art but the paintings, sculptures, photographs and the striking, unpredictable pieces of art in everyday things – motel signs, barricades, a telephone directory even. A talking counter. A jarring screen of white. What left me the most stunned were the large paintings by Henry Rousseau, a 19th century French painter who was a life-long city-dweller yet drew a series of striking, richly coloured images of the forest and wild. Purely from what he’d read and what he’d heard others describe. Yet, it was the stand-out work for me in this vast gallery.

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  • Down below the country, I next visited the proud (a bit too proud probably?) state of Texas. Both of them were filled with beautiful sunshine and equally warm people. I met at least three Uber drivers who’d moved there from California because it was more affordable. Plus, there’s so much space – parking lots that never end, roads that have so much width, it’ll make you jealous if you live in Bangalore. I also enjoyed it because I was among friends again. Work kept me busy but from the little that I went out, I’m piqued sufficiently to explore further. It means that I’ll have to learn to drive though.img4
A New Trip and A New Journey

Miraculous Games

A few years back, I picked up FIFA 13 to play on my brand-new PS3. It is a game with various modes, including one where you play as a manager of a team. I did and I chose to manage a club from the second-tier of the English footballing system. Leicester City. Leicester City Football Club. LCFC.

This, of course, was a video game with various difficulty settings. I chose an easy setting and promptly etched a fairy-tale story of getting LCFC promoted to the first-tier, winning the premier league and yes, the European Champions League too while I was at it. It took me a matter of few days to acquire these faux trophies.

Yesterday, though, LCFC did this for real. A team of 23 players, fighting off relegation from the top tier of English football, rose through the ranks, played out of their skins and beat odds of 5000-1 to finish as the champions of English football. Outside of football, very few are able to appreciate the significance of this achievement.

Unlike Boris Becker winning Wimbledon as an unseeded rookie, this wasn’t a two-week affair. It wasn’t an individual achievement.

Unlike a previously undefeated Mike Tyson getting knocked out by underdog Buster Douglas, this wasn’t just one past champion being dethroned. Multiple championship winners were laid by the wayside as LCFC marched on.

Unlike Greece winning Euro 2004, this was no knock-out tournament where form and luck can get you across the fence. This was a 9-month slog of 38 matches.

Unlike the famous Jamaican bobsled team at the Winter Olympics, LCFC finished the job. This wasn’t an unfinished affair.

Unlike Lance Armstrong’s rampant siege of the Tour De France, this was no dope-infused victory. (Of course, if you don’t want to ignore  the ‘IfNotForPearsonSonOrgyInThailand’ story).

Football is a supremely difficult sport. It is demanding – you have to be 100% in the game throughout. It is physical – you are running throughout. It is hazardous – injuries can hurt and set you back months.

Apart from this, in a game lasting 90 minutes, it is imperative that all eleven members of a team have crystal-clear coordination and timing among and between each other. Sixty-six separate one-on-one connections that need to work every single game to ensure victory.

Now, extend this thought experiment – there are a further 12 members of the team who operate as substitutes and reserves. Every time a team member is replaced, new connections need to work as well as the old to maintain winning form.

This is true of all football leagues around the world. The top ones have 20 teams in the top tier. Every year there is a champion. So, what’s so special with what LCFC have done? Every there is a champion and so there is one now for the 2015-16 season.

Only that Leicester were playing in the third tier of the footballing system 6 years back. During those six years, they have fought up through similar grueling seasons of 40+ matches to move up the promotion ladder.

Aren’t there other teams that have done this? Yes, except for crossing that last, enormous hurdle of actually finishing as the winners of the English Premier League.

That honor has been shared by just 5 teams (Manchester United, Chlesea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers) of which only 3 have won it more than twice in the last 25 years.Since football is such a commercial sport, it has been seen and expected that teams that have the funds to spend on top players, coaches and support staff are the only ones who are able to finish as champions. Like a capitalist system gone wrong, the ones at the top keep rising further and the ones at the bottom are in endless relegation battles. There is a set pattern to this dance every year. Bottom-placed clubs occasionally win matches against the big clubs to bring some rare moments of joy to their supporters but no one realistically expects them to win enough number of times to finish as champions.

But, this season, LCFC did just that. Every weekend, since September, when they first rose to the top of the league, commentators would brush them aside and talk about how they’ll drop momentum soon. Who could blame them? It happens every season. A surprise outsider in the top 4 only for injuries and fatigue to set in and push them down.

Miraculous Games

Mehico!

Forget Paris, Mexico City is the most romantic city on earth.

Beautifully dressed people where all men, young and old, wear jackets. The women are all beautiful. My god, are they beautiful or what? Immaculately dressed, mildly perfumed and make up that just about enhances their looks. They sway and sashay in the most stylish dresses.

Waking along Reforma, you have a large expanse of cobbled and stoned pathways lined with shrubs, trees and historical statues. Sure, vehicles whizz past you to remind you of present times and its symbols but for those, the monuments transport you to a different era of mixed European and Mexican mores.

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The weather is so so wonderful. Pleasantly cold it never gets uncomfortably warm or unbearably chilly. There are many cars but many more people walking on the streets. How happily different from the dead, lifeless roads of America.

Public displays of affection abound all through. There are roses and flowers and trinkets to buy for one’s romantic partner everywhere. None of it is gaudy or vulgar though.

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They love their dance and music, the Mexicans do. Bars and pubs straddle and overflow into the streets with the laughing patrons guzzling liters of cerveza. How they laugh!

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Mehico!

A commuting flowchart

8:30: Swipe right, delete the alarm.

Error: You were supposed to swipe left and snooze.

8.45: Gather your limbs and body off the bed. Assemble.

8.50: Finish ablutions.

8.55: Consume black coffee and the newspaper headlines.

9.00: Get ready. Get out.

9.05: Laptop check. Earphones check.  Book to read and show-off check. Wallet check. Jabra Lync Headset check. Orbit check. Badge check. Most importantly, check phone charger cable’s present.

Else, repeat 9.00 step

9.15: Wish wife goodbye. Start bike.

9.25: Reach railway station. Park bike. Lock bike.

WARNING: Bike handle lock engaged. Expect damage when you return since haphazard parking translates to brutal man-handling of locked bikes by attendants. Reset step 9.25 and disengage bike’s handle lock.

9.30: IMPORTANT: Collect parking ticket from attendant. Forget at your own peril. Lost or absent ticket = exorbitant fine.

9.32: Fold ticket and slip in safe nook in the wallet.

9.38: Walk to railway ticket counter, check Rs. 20 availability.

Else, reset at step 9.00 and ensure availability of “change”.

Else, forgo Rs. 80 in cash to be returned by grumpy, angry cashier at counter.

9.42: Saunter to platform. Examine potential co-passengers. Plot entry point to minimize crowd entry.

9.45: Customary phone check

9.48: Train arrives. Occupy seat closest to exit. Plop bag on the luggage counter above.

Until 10.24: note and observe the below occurrences. Factor in new ones.

10:30: Lady seeking alms and wearing dark glasses, a scarf over her head.

10:35: On cue, versatile vendor hawking miracle headache cures, memory drugs, pencils and small eats

10:39: Train mysteriously stops between Baiyappanahalli and KR Puram stations. No one in my compartment appears to be bothered by this. I used to.

11:15: DECISION TIME: Choose to jump off on to the tracks behind Prestige Shantiniketan (A) OR Continue on to the Whitefield station (B)

If (A):

  • Walk 1500 mtrs on tracks with hundreds of other stone-stomping, well-heeled (not for long, if those stones have any say) zombies
  • Cross over a muddy, slippery path. Negotiate bikes. Reach the other side.
  • Flurry of autos driven by mad men arrives
  • Rush to the one that’s headed towards ITPL
  • Multiple decision points: Where to stand so that you get a seat on the auto, whether to ‘capture’ the tiny space next to driver’s thighs or be un-chivalrous and huddle at the back, which auto looks the least likely to kill you this fine morning
  • Reach ITPL. Hop any bus. Wait for it to accumulate enough passengers. Get down. You’ve REACHED!

If (B):

  • Peek out to see if goods train of infinite length is parked on the other side of the platform.If train isn’t parked, jump to (C)
  • DECISION: Is your life worth living? If Yes, follow path (D).
  • Many self-help books recommend doing one thing that scares you every day. If you’re at this point in this flowchart, you are are in luck. A freakishly long goods-carrier train plonks itself on many mornings at WFD station, blocking the path to the walkway that will get you out of this station. Most people choose to jump over this train between the bogies, walking 5 ft above ground on short metal connectors. All hunky-dory so far? Here’s the exciting bit. Often, (too often for it to not be statistically insignificant), the train driver returns from his breakfast and starts the engine! If you survive this, congratulations! You’ve saved yourself a long walk and the search for finding something scary to do today. Climb up the bridge and reach the other side to get the bus
  • D: Walk out through the station, land at the opposite side, walk over 1000 mtrs (!?) to the bridge, climb up and reach the other side to get the bus.
  • C: Pass the vegetable hawkers, Bengali signboards, overhear conversations in at least seven different languages and hop in to the bus. Bus will take more time than planned. ALWAYS. Listen to podcast, spy on co-passengers and avoid air-conditioned, cold draft hitting your head.
  • You’ve REACHED!
A commuting flowchart