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.

More News on Dementia and Lifestyle

Image result for factors to prevent dementia

Well, it’s not really “news” since it is simply reconfirming what we already have seen in recent research.

There are studies recently shared at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last week that show that there are five factors that have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life.

Both studies pointed to:

  1. A healthy diet
  2. At least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  3. Light to moderate drinking (alcohol)
  4. No smoking
  5. Engaging in mentally stimulating activity

Engaging in all five decreased risk of Alzheimer’s by 60% compared to those who only had one healthy behavior. Those who added only one of the habits above saw their risk lowered by 22%!

It is becoming more and more clear every day that the decisions we make about our lifestyles at every point in our lives have implications downstream. There is no point at which we are “too late” to add healthy behaviors, and when we do add them the impact is noticeable.

For the full article in http://www.cnn.com, click here: https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/14/health/dementia-risk-lifestyle-study/index.html

Judaism teaches us that we are to pursue life. This means we cannot simply wait around and see what is in store for us health-wise. We must at every moment, make healthy decisions; not only will we sense the difference now, but in the years ahead as well.

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!

A Registered Dietitian Weighs in on your Metabolism

This article, by Samantha Cassety, was featured on http://www.NBCNews.com. It is a pretty thorough explanation of how we can and cannot affect our metabolisms…and just what metabolism is in the first place.

The conclusion is something that those in the Fitness industry have been saying for years: regular exercise is good for us but may not necessarily help us lose weight; our diet is most important to dropping those pounds. On our journeys to weight loss and fitness, we need to assess our approach: we have little control over how many calories our bodies will burn, but we have total control over how many we will put in our bodies!


https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/everything-you-need-know-about-your-metabolism-according-dietitian-ncna1000301

A long-ish read but worth it!

Simple Rules for Fitness

Several years ago an associate recommended to me the book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald N. Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. Although the book is really directed at the business world, it has applications far beyond that field.

The argument made by Sull and Eisenhardt is that often we seek complex solutions to problems (or we don’t seek them, but they end up being the solution we go with) when simple rules can serve just as well. The process involves getting down to the roots of the problem–understanding what is truly at work–and then applying a consistent set of rules that correspond to the values/qualities/outcomes we seek.

For example, if someone is looking for a person to fill a position at a company, s/he may receive hundreds of applications. That person may put together a team to go through the applications to find candidates who might fit. Those applicants can then be re-reviewed, etc. The Simple Rules philosophy would have him/her set very limited criteria (just a handful or less) and eliminate all those who do not fit from the get go. This cuts down on the amount of work and speeds up the process, while leaving little room for subjectivity. This is, of course, not a perfect approach…but we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a complex world, and sometimes the best approach is to simplify.

What does this have to do with fitness? Often when individuals seek to improve their fitness they come up with plans that are too complicated; they become more trouble than they are worth. Take a diet plan, for instance; counting calories, weighing portions, keeping track of calories burned in exercise might be too much for some people–especially those starting out. It is intimidating and overwhelming. The Simple Rules approach would say “come up with a few behaviors to change that are simple;” base them on an honest assessment of where you think your weaknesses are. Examples could be: it’s ok to fill my plate, but no seconds; eat out only once per week; no “grazing” after dinner; or no calories from drinks. These are not complicated and don’t require overthinking. Choose a few and change the behavior.

When I started to get more serious about my own fitness, the Simple Rules philosophy was central to my initiative. I started by committing to seeing a personal trainer for an hour each week, doing cardio at least 4 times a week for 30 minutes, and not eating after dinner (except for very special occasions). The results were easy to see and I could sense the progress. Over time, I have changed the rules, but always kept them to a few, and simple enough that I don’t need a paragraph to express it.

What do you think? Simple Rules…too simple or simply a wonderful idea? At the very least, I think it’s worth a try for those who find diet and exercise to be too overwhelming/complicated/intimidating.

Proteins in a Plant-Based Diet

Many folks who try to cut out animal-based are worried that they won’t get the protein that they need–especially if they like to work out or participate in active sports.

I have been a pescatarian for the last dozen or so years; a pescatarian does not eat meat or poultry, but still eats fish (in my case this excludes shellfish and other crustaceans). When I made the change, I knew that I could not feed my children and myself pasta every night; I had to plan in advance. Putting together a week’s meal plan at one time helped me to make sure there was variety in what we ate, sufficient protein and greens, and prevented me from having to run to the supermarket every day. The biggest challenge was definitely what to do about protein; I am ovo/lacto so cheeses and eggs helped out a lot. Even if you are vegan, though, there are lots of options out there. Here is an article–complete with some recipes–that addresses the issue. It also talks about some of the concerns that have come up in the past around tofu.

Here is the link from NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/ask-nutritionist-what-are-best-sources-plant-based-protein-ncna982496.

As the article states near the beginning, we don’t have to jump into a completely plant-based diet all at once; even little baby steps make a difference and have health and wellness implications.

Bon Appetit! Voulez-vous de veggies?