I think food and me need some time apart...
July 14, 2009 7:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm a chubby guy with a chronic sweet tooth, and a problem with overeating. Will fasting actually do anything for me?

Okay, I've checked the previous questions on this sort of thing, but they don't quite address one of the main reasons I'm interested in trying a fast. I'm a bit of an overeater, and a fast eater, and I'm wondering if doing a fast will help my relationship to food. This way I can perhaps neutralize my chronic sweet tooth, train myself to eat less, and perhaps develop a healthier diet.

I realize that the whole detoxification thing from fasting is a load of bunk and hoo-ha. I'm not expecting or desiring any sort of spiritual benefit, and the like. I'm very devout in my non-spirituality. Thing is, my weight's gotten up to friggin' 230 pounds (and I'm 5'9"), and that's not good. Anything that can help me deal with how I eat and improve it has to be good for me, right?

And if I do this sort of thing, what's the *sanest* way to fast without killing myself?
posted by SansPoint to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
As a fellow sweet-addict, personally I think that fasting would just make your cravings more intense. if you eat a lot of sugar you spend a lot of time spiking your energy and dropping, and without the artificial highs you'll probably end up depressed and bingey.

I do fins that for myself if I can cut sugar out of my diet completely - not fasting, just no more sugar - it's terrible for a couple of weeks and then I stop wanting it. Eating more natural sugars like fruit when you're craving can be very useful for transitioning healthily.

If I indulge in sugar I find I always have to struggle back to cutting it out of my diet, but I always feel MUCH better without it. But eat other things.
posted by Billegible at 7:48 PM on July 14, 2009

This is one half of a classic cycle - binge & purge.

I get where you're coming from, but I would be concerned as to what happens after the fast. I know that when I'm coming off a long run of not eating much for awhile, regardless of the reason, I tend to wanna gorge. Which is a lousy way to make progress.

You're better off reeducating your palette without starving yourself, I think. Develop an appreciation for fruit. Fruit's the absolute greatest for those of us who tend to overindulge. It's delicious, it's good for you and you often have to eat a bunch of it if you wanna get some value out of it before it goes bad. Dried fruit is good too, but take care in selecting the stuff you buy - the cheapest dried fruit also tends to be the most sugared.

Figure out your favorite stuff, then figure out healthy alternatives. There's a lot of great web resources for this - this is a good place to start.
posted by EatTheWeek at 7:49 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Funny, just two mouse clicks ago, I literally just bought this book based on Amazon.com reviews. I don't like his politics, but lots of people had good things to say.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:50 PM on July 14, 2009

Well, you can read up on Intermittent Fasting (see: http://www.eatstopeat.com for one resource). Some people really swear by this, I think there's no harm in the general idea. But, I doubt it's going to be the quick fix you're looking for. If you need to get a better relationship with food I would try one of the many lower-carb/paleo/primal diets out there (cut out processed shit, eat more protein and veggies). IF is fine to add once you have a handle on your overall diet, but if you just starve and then binge you're probably not going to lose much weight and possibly set yourself up for an eating disorder. There are really better ways to control sugar cravings than fasting.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:52 PM on July 14, 2009

Honestly, I think, in your case, fasting will only serve to further focus your attention on food.

I was an obese child. When I was in college, I weighed 240. I was 5'8". Today, I weigh 160. I've been at, or around, that weight for about 20 years or so. I have a sweet tooth, too. Chocolate, mainly. I learned to control it. I eat chocolate. But, I moderate it. I taught myself to use it for what it is...a treat...not a staple.

You need to learn to eat correctly. It's a hard lesson for some to learn. I struggled with it all my life. My "breakthrough" was when I went with my wife and signed-on to one of those chain diets. I think it was NutriSystem or something. Yeah, yeah...I know. It's a semi-scam to get you to buy their food. But, the weight did come off. And I came away with some important lessons on how I needed to treat my relationship with food and how to better integrate food into my life. I was on the program for only a year. But, I continued to shed the pounds and I've kept the weight off ever since.

It takes a shitload of willpower, though. You need to learn to tell yourself "no" a lot. We live in a culture where self-denial is almost a traitorous act. But, honestly, the only way you will take the weight off and keep it off is to learn the power of the word "no." You don't have to cut-out the sweets completely. You just need to put them in their proper context.

And exercise. Regular exercise and a sane diet.

Good luck!
posted by Thorzdad at 7:59 PM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]

It depends on the fast.

When a lot of people talk about fasting, they talk about juice fasting, "master cleansing," or other fasts that involve a very limited number of calories and minimal protein for a period of a few days. I think that's it's virtually assured that most people do this for reasons that involve spirituality or concern for their digestive systems and that such fasting isn't likely to decrease hunger and cravings.

On the other hand, physicians will often prescribe someone who's morbidly obese a fast of what amount to 500-800 calories of protein/vitamin shakes per day -- Optifast, Medifast and HMR are the big ones. I've done one of those personally, and I did lose weight and found it easier to control cravings than with other diets. The key is sticking to it, though; even though protein shakes may actually reduce the physical cravings for food, they can't kill the temptation of giving into the sight or smell of food. If that sounds desirable, you can talk to any reputable weight loss doctor and they can get you hooked up with a safe way doing a protein shake fast.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:05 PM on July 14, 2009

I do IF (intermittent fasting) off and on and I think this is a terrible idea. If you don't have the willpower to eat only healthy foods normally, you won't have the willpower to eat only healthy foods when you are chowing down on anything within a ten foot radius of you. I will house ridiculous amounts of fruit, veggies, meats and nuts during my feeding window. I do this because I know if I eat crap I'll feel like crap, but the first time I tried IF I found myself carb-binging on grains and snack food.

The general suggestion when trying IF is to first get your food quality in order, then your sleep (it really makes a difference) and then finally introduce it one day a week and work up to more.
posted by Loto at 8:09 PM on July 14, 2009

Fasting is not a good idea.
Your body won't know why you are fasting and will likely go into conservation mode.
Then when you do start eating, your body won't react fast enough and you will put on more weight.

Not only that, but as others said, you risk binging.
Also when you fast, you will lose muscle, and what's the use in losing weight if you are not going to lose the right weight.

In conclusion, fasting as a weight loss approach=bad

You yourself said that you want to "help your relationship to food". Fasting is not a good way to do this. You need to start healthy habits now.

1. Cut the sweets. You were willing to try fasting completely. So, just fast on the sweets.
2. Buy a food scale - you can probably pick one up at the pharmacy
3. Weigh your food and count your current calorie intake calories. It's a bit cumbersome at the beginning but you get used to it.
4. Once you establish how you eat, focus on where you can cut.
- Less snacking
- Smaller portions
- Lower-calorie alternatives
5. Increase your fiber content. Fiber is good for you, and fills you up.
6. If you really need to have something sweet, eat MiniWheats. They're sweet, but are made from whole wheat and have fiber so they will fill you up
7. Invest some money for a few consultations with a dietician to teach you about carbs, proteins and fats and about basic nutritional requirements, or join a group like the NutriSystem plan like above or WeightWatchers.
8. Start exercising and maintain it.

Good Luck!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:15 PM on July 14, 2009

I have the same thing going on as you (extra weight and a killer sweet tooth). Me and the wife did the South Beach diet a while back. The first week was hell (although I was never actually hungry, I just craved sugar all the time), but after that, my cravings for sugar went away, and it got to the point where there could be a tray of candy right in front of me, and I wouldn't even look at it. I think once you can get the sugar out of your system for a week or two, your body stops craving it. That was my experience. I also felt a lot better too, and lost about 20 pounds.
posted by markblasco at 8:17 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you considered doing a detox diet instead? The version I've used (which I think is pretty common) cuts out meat, dairy, refined sugar, and any processed flour. Oh, and alcohol. So things that are okay include: oatmeal, all fruits, all vegetables, nuts, olive oil, beans, etc. Not okay: bread of any sort, chips, soda, chicken, yogurt, candy, wheat, gluten. Here's a pretty good list of foods to eat and foods to avoid.

I've definitely found that eating like this for a few weeks cuts WAY down on my desire to consume crap (my problem is more with complex carbs--pretzels and bread and the like--than with sugar), I feel much better overall, and because there's so much I CAN eat I don't feel all that deprived, as I imagine I would with a regular fast.
posted by ethorson at 8:19 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who is smack in the middle of a forty day master cleanse and who has also done a water fast every Wednesday for the last twenty years or so I can definitely say - it depends.

I believe the intermittent fasting does wonders for willpower and allowing you to determine when (and what) you eat. It gives you perspective on who's actually in charge of what goes into your mouth - your mouth/belly or your brain.

I decided to do the master cleanse not to lose weight, but in an attempt to clear up a psoriasis affliction with which I've been dealing on & off for the last 30 years. I'm on my 24th day of the cleanse and it's nearly totally cleared all of my psoriasis - something which has not happened in a very, very long time. I've only lost 10 pounds on the MC, I believe it's because I usually eat mostly slow food and never consume sugar, soda, refined wheat products, prepackaged meals, etc. Matter of fact, I'm consuming more sugar in the form of maple syrup on the master cleanse than I've had in 30 years - easily. I could stand to lose another ten or twenty pounds but I've still got a couple of weeks to go.

If you'd like, you can check out the journal i'm keeping over at the MC forum. Lots of other info available over there, too.

Speaking from my experience on the master cleanse, I did decrease hunger and cravings. On top of that, I experienced higher energy levels as well. But then I'm used to fasting.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:28 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

This documentary may give you some perspective on doing a detox.
posted by wiretap at 8:35 PM on July 14, 2009

You are fasting. Your body is in desperate need for glycogen and to elevate your blood sugar. What will satisfy that need best? Simple sugars. So, I think it is a terrible idea. But, give it a whirl. If it works for you and you can change your eating behaviors long term, mazal tov.

I think the best thing would be to work with a nutritionist. You need a short term nutrition plan to lose weight (in conjunction with exercise). You need a long term nutrition plan to maintain a healthy weight (also in conjunction with exercise). A nutritionist can help find out what things you are doing wrong, what things you are doing right, design a plan to help you, and give you some tools to stick to it.

Fasting is like goji berries, thighmasters, colonics, and those strange vibrating belts.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:40 PM on July 14, 2009

Fasting will teach you how to fast - how to make a heroic, agonizing effort for a short time, and then stop.

Healthy eating habits are the exact opposite of that. Don't do it.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:43 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Diets don't work. You might loose weight in the short term, but when you get off the diet you quickly fall back into old habits and the pounds are always eager to pile back on. Best is to try to actually change your attitude towards food. Michael Pollan is a terrific writer on the subject. I recommend "In Defense of Food" http://www.michaelpollan.com/indefense.php Opened my eyes in a lot of ways. Well written too.

Also, on the subject of chocolate- (I'm a big fan also) I like to buy the expensive dark stuff from Whole Foods that come in bite size chips in those little plastic tubs. When I want some chocolaty goodness I let a few of those melt on my tongue and I'm good. Way better than a Snickers bar, and a fraction of the fat and sugar.
posted by letstrythis at 8:46 PM on July 14, 2009

Seconding markblasco. Also, the South Beach diet book does a great job of explaining how diabetes develops and what happens once it does. (I know that's fairly common knowledge but somehow the book made it easier for me to internalize.) Which all by itself is enough to make you re-think your devotion to soda, white bread, and candy.
posted by txvtchick at 8:56 PM on July 14, 2009

nthing fruit. Get fresh strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, whatever you like and make sure you have some on hand at all times. Eat it after meals and whenever you feel a craving; you'll resensitize yourself to them in no time at all and feel much better for it.
posted by Merzbau at 9:00 PM on July 14, 2009

I've done 3 to 6 day juice fasts, and coming out of the fasts is the only time in my adult life I've been able to gain weight. For me, gaining weight is good. For people trying to lose weight, it might foster a counterproductive binge/purge kind of pattern. I'd 2nd Loto's point that If you don't have the willpower to eat only healthy foods normally, you won't have the willpower to eat only healthy foods when you are chowing down on anything within a ten foot radius of you.

Also, 2nding the idea that cutting sweets out is a lot easier after surviving the initial period of cravings and you've just gotten used to not having them. I find it much easier to achieve this to just not have sweets in the house at all, and to have people in my social circles who also eat healthy stuff as a matter of course. No external pressure to order desserts, eg.

For developing a healthy relationship to food, have you googled "mindful eating"? I've found the concept helpful.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:23 PM on July 14, 2009

I do Intermittent Fasting as part of a paleo diet. Intermittent fasting is not OK as part of a normal diet. Processed sugars + fasting = blood sugar crash, binging, all kinds of bad things. Intermittent fasting is a technique that people on successful paleo diets use to tweak their results, as it gives many of the benefits of calorie restriction. By the time most people use this technique, they are usually done with the weight loss thing and are looking for other benefits.

The good news is that there are tons of strategies for overcoming sweet addictions.

My boyfriend and I were a bunch of chubby nerds and we lost our weight in very different ways. My boyfriend lost weight through gradually cutting out foods on a week by week basis: first soda, then ice cream, then gummy bears...he only kept the stuff he really liked. I did it by never ever bringing sweets home with me, going cold turkey off wheat and dairy, and learning to get satisfaction from just plain ol' fruit. It's led to a few conflicts, but at this point our strategy is that we only eat sweets as part of social occasions like birthdays and dinners out with friends (I guess it's good we don't have these more than a few times a week and since our tastebuds are now used to less sugar, we tend to overindulge less).

I guess my point is that there are lots of ways to do it, but IF isn't a good way. I have heard of juice fasts as a starting point to a better diet though.
posted by melissam at 9:45 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I too, tend to bolt my meals and crave sweets. I'd say fasting is just setting yourself up for failure.

I've gone from 210 to 175ish (165 is the goal) by reducing portions and light exercise. The first 20 came off easily as I went from walking to walk/jogging to slow jogging. I've never managed to do it religiously and I'm not athletic at all.

I plateaued but have recently resumed progress by counting calories. By not reducing my calories much below 2000 per day, I don't feel starved and can even treat myself to some icecream every other day without having to feel guilty or disappointed with myself. Also, I'm not burning a lot of muscle as well as fat.

It's taken me nearly 2 years to lose the weight. My philosophy right now is not to try too hard and set myself up for failure. I just try to track what I eat, cook at home and be a bit active. The scale goes up and down but is trending down over the long term.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:38 PM on July 14, 2009

Fasting is NOT dieting.
Eliminate eating after 6pm.
Eat a large healthy breakfast
and reduce portions during lunch and dinner
Eat less and MOVE more (exercise)
The obligatory "take the stairs" and park farthest from the door.

Do not eat in between meals
Gum is your friend.
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 10:43 PM on July 14, 2009

Replace, don't remove. I had a big sweet tooth, and when I just replaced sweets with equally delicious fruit (Fuji apples, pluots, sweet white grapes), I was pretty satisfied. Occasionally I'll have a fruit bar too, since there's less sugar in those than other forms of dessert.
posted by spiderskull at 12:26 AM on July 15, 2009

First off, well done, realising that your relationship to food is problematic is a big step. Making the decision to seek out a better, more sustainable relationship with food is a really mature decision.

As I see it you really have two problems. One is your possible addiction to simple sugars, the other is that you are overweight. Obviously these problems are related, but at least in theory you could combat one and not the other. For example, I know someone who has a simple sugar addiction, but no weight problem. And I know someone who has a mild weight problem, but no sugar addiction.

You will probably find it easy to battle your sugar addiction first, and your weight issues latter. Combining the two into a radical fasting regime, is not going to help you have a sustainable relationship with food. This is exactly the opposite of having a healthy relationship with food. In any case, long term dieting does not work; short term, both dieting and exercise work equally well, but as someone already said, dieting leads to muscle loss - (not good if you want to exercise).

As ever the best nutrition advice is the same old boring advice (which crucially is the only nutrition advice with a scientific evidence base). Eat more healthily, (i.e. more veg, less sweets), and take exercise.

Therefore, start off by really just trying to restrict your sugar intake as much as you possibly can, but try not to battle the rest of your diet. Carbs which have a slower release than your sugary snacks should help battle your cravings, for example. Visit a medical nutritionist, or even GP, for specific advice.
posted by munchbunch at 2:28 AM on July 15, 2009

In this earlier thread about diabetes, some of the people said that after cutting out sweets and starches entirely for a couple weeks "reset" their tastebuds, so the cravings weren't as intense.

So many not an all out fast, but a fast on just sugary things may help you reaccustom your tastes to be more healthy.

I don't have any experience with it, I was just reading that thread a bit ago and thought some of the advice might apply here.
posted by losvedir at 3:36 AM on July 15, 2009

Fasting + eating processed food when your relationship is food is not healthy is the fast way to an eating disorder.

There's a good chance your sweet tooth is "processed sweet crap tooth". You could try going no-carb or primal for a couple of week, it really re-adjusts your palate.

The easiest fix is to stop keeping sweet sugared crap in your house or your desk. Throw everything out. Switch to fruit to get your sweets - mangos and melons are really sweet.

On preview: what they said.
posted by ye#ara at 3:56 AM on July 15, 2009

I'm gonna go against the crowd and stick my hand up in favour of fasting.

I fast once or twice a year, for a week. It's my own devised fast, which works for me, based on raw fruit and veg, then cooked. OP, memail me if you want more details.

This has never led to any eating disorder as I know after a week it is up. When that week is over, i NEVER binge, as my willpower seems rejuvenated by the fast.

YMM lead to an eating disorder, i hope not!

posted by greenish at 4:53 AM on July 15, 2009

Fasting will most likely not help you.

Overeating half the time and fasting the other half will only strengthen your "all or nothing" attitude towards food. This is not moderation.

If what you're striving for is a healthy relationship towards food, the best way to do it is not by countering one unhealthy attitude with another in the hopes that they will somehow balance each other out. They won't -- they'll just perpetuate the cycle.

The best way to teach yourself moderation is by practicing moderation.

Eat a small meal (400-500 calories) every three hours. Include protein in every meal. Eat fruits in the morning, and vegetables throughout the day. Limit sweets and junk food to 10% of your total calories for the day (300 calories on a 3000 calorie diet).

This may be easier said than done at first, but it's the only way to achieve what you're after.
posted by tipthepizzaguy at 5:07 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Based on reading information and looking at research about the way that human metabolism works, I think that from a physiological point of view, a fast would not be a good idea. From a psychological point of view, it may very well help you adjust your attitude towards food. The problem from a physiological standpoint is that fasting causes your metabolism to slow down, and when you increase the number of calories you take in at some future time your body will be more likely to try to squirrel them away in case of a future famine.

It is my understanding that the reason that a high level of sugar intake leads to obesity and other problems is the way that the body deals with excess sugar. The human body can only have about 10g (the figure is somewhat up for debate and dependent on mass) of glucose in the bloodstream at any one time. After it reaches that limit it immediately begins a whole bunch of metabolic processes that lead to "bad things" from a health standpoint. The most important of these for your purposes is that the body begins working as hard as it can to store the excess sugar as fat. Also, any part of the body that can burn either fat or sugar for energy switches over to burning sugar. The body also begins storing as much sugar as it can out of the bloodstream in the liver and in muscles (by producing insulin).

The problem with taking in a bunch of simple sugars is that these go into the bloodstream almost immediately and all at once. One serving of a Snickers candy bar has 28 grams of sugar. This will quickly spike the amount of sugar in the bloodsteam and kick off the pain train of metabolic badness.

The solution, as you might surmise, is to eat much smaller amounts of sugars and eat more complex carbohydrates. Eating complex carbohydrates, especially whole grains, causes the blood sugar levels to rise slowly and evenly. For someone with a sweet tooth, this is quite a problem. I would say the best thing to do would be to very conscious of the nutrition facts information of any junk food or high sugar items that you eat. Ideally, you would like to keep the sugar numbers as low as possible, but the first step would be to realize how much sugar you are actually putting into your body at one time.
posted by jefeweiss at 7:26 AM on July 15, 2009

My opinion: Don't fast. In the short term, it will actually signal your body to store more food as fat when you resume eating.

Talk to a dietitian/nutritionist, or follow one of the generally accepted decent diet programs (Weight Watchers, et al.), and you'll be OK. Changing how you eat and how you think about food is a long, slow slog, and not something that happens overnight.
posted by Citrus at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2009

I have some very simple advice for you that worked for me. Contrary to popular opinion, losing weight is not and should not be torture. It can actually be a pleasure. The key, as many others above have pointed out is to break your sugar addiction. The sugar addiction stimulates your desire for more food. So naturally, it's the first thing you have to break. All high carb foods (like bread, some fruit) have similar properties so go easy as much as possible on them too - but the sugar addiction is the main one.

Now just think of all the delicious fatty foods you love to eat (but be careful, some of those burgers out there are full of sugar). Every time you get a craving for something sugary, go and treat yourself to some fatty (low carb) food. Try a juicy, fat-oozing steak. Stuff yourself full of your favourite nuts. Make a massive sandwich overflowing with your favourite evil (non-sweet) pleasures. Your brain might tell you sometimes that you dont feel like a sandwich - you feel like chocolate icecream. Ignore it - after you down the deliciously fatty food, the hunger response will go away. After some time the sugar cravings will fade.

Ok once you break the sugar addiction, you can work on the fatty foods but that is a whole lot easier because they don't generate the same cravings as sugary foods do. Seriously, please try this. Avoid self-torture at all costs - it just doesn't work in the long run.
posted by zaebiz at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

As someone who is both gourmet and gourmand (i.e., I eat well and I (can) eat a lot), I can say that a few days of eating very light can really help re-calibrate your body's view of portioning and hunger.

I don't think you should all-out fast, though. What I've done in the past is spend a week eating a MASSIVE salad (with a simple olive oil dressing) before allowing myself to eat anything else, and then keeping the overall daily caloric intake very low. It can take a lot of willpower, but just tell yourself that you're only doing it for a week. By the end of the week, I find that my food cravings are much diminished and that I'm satisfied with smaller portions.

I'm definitely nthing the rule of not keeping stuff around that house that you risk binging on. I don't bring cookies home, because that will end in milk and stomach aches (and tears). Similarly, I only bring dark chocolate home.

If you have access to a decent fishmonger, go out and buy small-ish fish (about 200-300 grams per fish) and then roast them whole in the oven. If you put them in an envelope made of parchment paper and filled with onions, fennel, garlic and lemon juice, you will have an excellent, low calorie meal—and the effort of pulling the meat off of a whole fish will keep you from eating too fast.
posted by LMGM at 6:01 PM on July 15, 2009

I see a lot of opinions about fasting by people who it seems have never fasted.

When I did my 30 day juice fast, I not only felt great during the fast (with craving for food ending after the third day), but when I ended the fast I ate much less than I had for a long time. At least for me, it really did "reset" my relationship to food, and I saw that so much of what we eat has nothing to do with true hunger. Binging after my fast would have been unthinkable.

It took six months or a year after my fast to return to unhealthy eating behavior on a regular basis.
posted by zachawry at 5:12 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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