An interview with Howard Baetjer
Why I Fast
About once or twice a year, I undertake a period of intermittent fasting (IF) for six weeks. During that time, I usually eat a light breakfast and then not again until late evening where I’ll eat ad libitum, for a daily fasting period of about 10-12 hours. Occasionally I’ll skip breakfast for a 24-hour fasting period.
My current IF period (March 26th - April 30th) is a little different in that I’m restricting myself to 2,800 calories a day, my basal metabolic rate while I strength train. Additionally, once a week I’ll fast for 36 hours, essentially skipping one day of eating entirely.
While nutritional, dieting, and exercise recommendations are inherently limited-the body is so complex-I have found that intermittent fasting helps with:
- Weight maintenance. Eating less and less often means fewer calories in the calories-in-calories-out equation of mass and body composition. This makes for a leaner physique.
- Guilt management. Eating all day makes me feel sick and guilty.
- Health benefits. The 2017 Nobel in medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work in demonstrating the mechanisms and benefits of autophagy, the orderly process of recycling cellular components in order of most-degraded first. This process occurs more often during periods of fasting.
- Train the hunger mechanism. The beginning of the fasting period is the toughest. The hunger mechanism aches at you. But after a week or two, it noticeably abates. I can now go for 40-hour periods without eating without much distraction.
The pandemic created an additional dynamic that fasting helps alleviate. I notice that during periods of relative inactivity, I am hungrier than I would be had I been out all day occupied with work, commuting, and errands. It’s like stillness begets a more voracious kind of hunger.
These days, I’m sitting down all day working from home. The fridge is seconds away. Hunger strikes even shortly after eating. This dynamic, if left unchecked, would likely lead to overeating and weight gain, disappointment and stress, and more work for myself losing weight. Best to avoid that with a prolonged intermittent fast.
More subtly, I’ve found that fasting changed my relationship with food and hunger. Lucky enough to be born in a stable, developed country, I simply hadn’t had the experience of going longer than a few hours without eating. I learned what the person on the other side of a long fast is like. I would be curious what the experience of communities that fast together, like Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, is like.
I find that I complain less about hunger and am more grateful for food and how it finds its way to me.
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