Fasting and Intermittent Fasting

empty plate

Today on the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av; it is a 25-hour fast that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Ancient Jerusalem. Aside from Yom Kippur, it is the only full fast (others just go from sunrise to sunset)…and I’ve got about 6 hours to go.

The goal of the fast (which is the case on Yom Kippur too) is not to lose weight or to suffer greatly, but rather to focus less on the physical and more on the metaphysical. Tisha B’Av causes those who observe it to reflect on the history of the Jewish people: the enemies who have arisen against us from the outside, as well as the enemies from within. Not having to think about eating (which isn’t easy), allows the day to be mostly spiritual, and also gives us a small taste of the suffering of our ancestors.

Interestingly, fasting has been a hot trend in the diet/fitness world the last several years. In particular, a lot of attention has been paid to Intermittent Fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting? There are several versions. One way to do it is to restrict eating to only certain times of the day (generally an 8-hour period). Others fast one or two days out of the week. Others choose 1-3 days to eat a very restricted calorie count (say around 500 KCals) during the week, and eat normally the rest of the week. The science behind it is that during the fasting periods, the body is required to burn fat in order to maintain its regular functions; in particular, this kind of fasting seems to target belly fat. Other health benefits may include better control of insulin and cholesterol levels.

Why this is appealing to many is that you don’t have to think about calories or only eating certain kinds of food. The process is very simple: eat during certain times and not during others. This can also simplify the dieting process: no need for extensive reading of labels, less meals to plan , etc. Of course, one shouldn’t assume that during non-fasting times root beer floats, corned beef sandwiches and tubs of whipped topping should be the staples of the diet. As always, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and less-processed foods are recommended.

I started doing Intermittent Fasting many years ago not really knowing that it was a “thing.” I noticed that I grazed a LOT after dinner, and it added up to hundreds of calories. I made a rule for myself that I still follow pretty closely: after dinner, no eating! I can drink calorie-free liquids, but that is it. (I do make exceptions for special occasions but don’t go crazy). I found that it helps me control my weight and that my cravings for after-dinner snacks quickly subsided.

There is admittedly a big difference between the kind of religious fasting to which many of us are accustomed (Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc.), but there is a commonality as well. While one focuses on a physiological goal and the other on a more spiritual goal, both require self-control and self-sacrifice. Both also are means to an end: either greater physical health or greater spiritual awareness.

Readers, I would be interested to know how many of you have tried Intermittent Fasting, or if you currently practice it now. What are the challenges and what are the advantages? What are the results you have seen?

I am a believer–as long as it is done in moderation. Before jumping into Intermittent Fasting, though, do some research and talk to your physician. Be safe and be healthy.

There are many articles on the topic on-line, but a good introduction is: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide .

Wishing those observing Tisha B’Av a meaningful fast.

Is “Eating Clean” a Dirty Word(s)?

sshhh. dont say it! the x-word is the un-word of the day. and tomorrow!

As some of you may recall from my June 17 post “What I Hadn’t Counted on After Surgery,” I am working on taking off the weight that I put on after my foot surgery. I had even turned to a subscription weight-loss app to help me; the jury is still out on that.

I have been counting calories using the app and generally feel like I am depriving myself of a lot of stuff I really like…(mmmm, pastry). Not seeing the results I would like yet, but I am being patient. I am also trying to follow the advice that I give to others about what they eat: a lot less processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc.

In my mind, I am trying to remind myself to “eat clean.” I first heard this term from a personal trainer and wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Turns out, there is no one definition of what eating clean means. To me, it means trying to eat the right stuff–cutting out junk foods, fatty foods and overly-processed foods.

Turns out that the term “eat clean” has some pretty serious connotations for a lot of people. There are those who argue that this kind of terminology makes moral judgments. I think this is a bit far-fetched. A donut is a donut; it does not have moral implications. It has no moral force for me, but for others it does. Can eating a brownie make a person feel somehow “less than?” I guess so.

A recent article by Samantha Cassety (who else?) was published on http://www.nbcnews.com today, exploring this issue: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/better-way-think-about-clean-eating-ncna1020996 . She gives what I consider to be sane advice about approaching “clean eating.” Cassety recognizes the complexity of the concept for many, but says it need not lead to negative results. Each of us can create our own definition of what eating clean means–one that is helpful to us rather than intimidating or shaming.

Beyond the journey that I am on now to lose the weight that accumulated after my surgery, I know that I want to continue to eat in healthy ways after I hit my goal. It is not about being “clean” as a opposed to being “dirty,” but rather about remembering that I am what I eat. While I may not see this directly as a moral issue, I do see it as a way to help me live a longer and healthier life.

What I Hadn’t Counted on After Surgery

Scales

It has been 9 weeks since my surgeries on my leg and foot. The recovery has been more arduous and painful than I expected. And I have learned a lot.

It is only since I began physical therapy exercises a couple of weeks ago that i finally began to see progress in my mobility and levels of pain. As a personal trainer, I am on my feet a lot; after a month of putting no weight on my foot, the shock of doing that again was dramatic. After having been off pain medications, I went back on again for a short time. I’m still taking Ibuprofen and Tylenol–although a lot less now. It has only been in the last week that I finally have been able to go through a large part of the day without pain.

To those of you doing PT…listen to the instructions and do what you are told! It makes a difference. PTs are amazing skilled health professionals and I am really impressed with their ability to spot (diagnose) issues and recommend the appropriate exercises. I even “borrow” some of them for clients who have similar complaints.

Here is what I really did not expect. I put on quite a bit of weight–about a 5% gain. This is due to a number of issues. I was forced to be sedentary. Medications (especially pain meds) messed with my system. I did not eat as I normally did since I was sitting around with little to do but…snack. My exercise regimen was interrupted.

I have been trying for over 6 weeks to get back to my pre-surgery weight and really been finding it difficult. I finally turned to a subscription weight-loss app. Too soon to say if I am making progress, but the tracking of calories is scary as hell and definitely showing me where I am making mistakes. I will let you know if it works.

It is noteworthy that weight gain is quite common after many different kinds of surgery. It is also notable that few doctors warn their patients that this is a possibility and to prepare for it–physically and emotionally. I wish I had known; not that it would necessarily have made a difference, but I believe that knowledge is power.

My big takeaway? With regard to both the pain and weight gain after surgery, patience is required. Others who have had foot surgery have told me to not give up hope or get anxious; it takes a while for recovery. This is true of nearly any surgery. I now see a pain-free light at the end of the tunnel, but it took me longer to get here than I thought it would. With regard to the weight, I am also learning that what took 8 weeks to come on will not come off in 8 days. Slow and steady wins the race.

At some point, most of us will have to undergo some kind of surgery; in my experience, I never felt like I adequately understood what the recovery would be like (if we did, would we ever agree to the procedure?!?). If there is a next time, I will ask more questions, adjust my expectations, and remember that there is a reason why we are called patients!

Just how Evil is Bread?

Bread!

Several years ago I made the switch from white bread to whole wheat bread, and eventually to whole grain bread. When I was raising a family, bread was a thing…sandwiches at lunchtime for sure!

I never thought my kids would go for anything other than plain white bread, but when I switched things up they surprised me. In particular, we have become fans of Dave’s Breads, http://www.daveskillerbread.com/ . They make several kinds of bread and to me it tastes almost like eating cake. Filled with fiber, seeds and just delicious. And it’s certified kosher!

But, wait! What!?! Bread??? How can that be part of a healthy diet. Well, (literally) not all breads are baked equal. We have been taught that too many carbs and the wrong kind are not good for us. Even so, carbohydrates do play a role in our diet and how we fuel our bodies. There is a huge spectrum between what is actually OK and what is just turning into gunk in your insides.

An article published on http://www.medicalnewstoday.com has a good, brief discussion about the differences between breads and their nutritional value. Here is a link to the article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325351.php

Sometimes you feel like a sandwich or toast; now you have a little more info about the choices you can make. No need to just go for the national brand white breads; try the Ezekiel bread and multi-grain and you might just be surprised!

Processed vs Unprocessed Foods and Weight

In my May 2, 2019 post about metabolism, I shared an article by registered dietitian Samantha Cassety. Among the many points she made about how our foods are used as energy, was an explanation about the difference between a diet made up of more processed foods versus more unprocessed. Bottom line: your body has to expend more energy (calories) to absorb unprocessed food, ie, to “process” it; processed foods are much more easily absorbed and burn less calories.

An article out a few weeks ago on http://www.cell.com, reiterated this point and brought a recent study to prove it. Here is the link: https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(19)30248-7 . Not only does Cassety’s explanation hold up, this article goes further to say that generally speaking those who eat processed foods are more likely to overeat than those who eat unprocessed foods. The methodology of the exam is very interesting; one group had no choice but to eat either highly processed foods and the other to eat unprocessed foods. The results were unmistakable. Eating highly processed foods contributes to weight gain.

What do we learn? There is a price to pay for the convenience of prepared foods. The deeper question: is that price worth it?

Thanks to my colleagues at the Mandel JCC, Brandon Colon and Jeff Yannarell, for sharing this article.

This whole Celery Juice thing is Stalking me…

I cannot resist a pun.

But can I resist Celery Juice. Several weeks ago, one of my clients mentioned to me that as part of my surgery recovery I should do a celery juice cleanse. She extolled the virtues of this concoction as a way to clear the body (in particular, the liver) of toxins, i.e., the medications that I have taken as part of the recovery.

I thought it sounded a little crazy, but my client seems like a relatively sane person, so I went on line to see what I could find. I encountered a few articles that mentioned celery juice a having the ability to do exactly what she promised. None of them was an article from the New England Journal of Medicine or even WebMD. Even so, I figured that in a few weeks I would give it a try. What did I have to lose?

Then this morning, this article came out on http://www.NBCNews.com: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/what-does-celery-juice-do-you-why-diet-wellness-fad-ncna1007171

The article suggests that this is just another diet fad without a whole lot of science around it. Not enough research has been done to show what the benefits might be…and on the flip-side, what the dangers might be. Dangers? What danger could there be in drinking celery juice? Remember the grapefruit diets? All fun in games unless you are on a statin drug or certain antihistamines!

Celery is a healthy food. It is a green vegetable and it is low in calories and high in fiber. One of my favorite cities in the world, Kalamazoo, was once considered the Celery Capital of the World, and some still refer to it as Celery City. The article mentions, however, that much of the benefit of consuming celery is lost when you juice it; eating celery is a calorie zero sum game–the energy you expend chewing it, balances the calories in the celery itself. The fiber is mostly lost in the juicing process as well.

The point here: the latest fad, miracle cure, must-eat vegetable, etc., is most likely not harmful (although more research is needed), but less likely to be of any significant dietary or health advantage. There are tried and true methods to accomplish our health goals like eating a variety of vegetables in the full spectrum of colors, following a Mediterranean-style diet, avoiding overly processed foods, etc., so why run after the latest shiny, new fad?

So, will I try the Celery Juice? I might give it a try for a day or two. I wonder how it will taste with a little vodka and Bloody Mary mix….