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The Social Ease of Intermittent Fasting

You don’t have to say ‘No’ when you’re not at the table

Following any system of diet, that doesn’t conform to ’normal’, is tough.

Be it simple calorie restriction, or going Keto or Paleo or Vegan, or giving Intermittent Fasting a shot.

It’s tough for three reasons.

First, because it is tough to exercise control. To say no to things you so dearly love to eat. To always be on high alert, always scanning what you’re putting inside your body, always evaluating it’s nutritional constituents and then deciding whether it gets to go through your mouth. Where unfortunately the gatekeeper is a floozy tongue that doesn’t give two hoots about the stomach, as long as it get its fill of thrills for the night.

Second, it’s tough because many versions of the truth exist. Its tough to sort through the money-motivated fitness-industry bull-shit that litters the health landscape and find what really works. That’s why I write this blog every weekend. Because it’s tough to find someone who doesn’t have a financial incentive to keep you obese.

But above these two obvious ones, there is a sinister, oft-overlooked, third problem.

The Social Stigma of Dieting

It starts with seemingly harmless lunch-table banter.

“What! You’re not having any bread?”

“They’re serving mangoes in the canteen today. I just took a bowl-full. Want to try?”

“No milk in your coffee? I hate it black.”

Gentle reminders that what you’re doing is not ’normal’. Reminders that soon become reprimands.

“Oh c’mon. Are you seriously going to remove the top bread of your sandwich! Isn’t that a bit much?”

“You won’t have mangoes all season? That can’t be healthy!”

“You shifted to black coffee completely? You’re just sucking out every bit of joy from your life.”

I know because I’ve been on some form of calorie-restriction or other, for the past 15 years. I know how tough it is, justifying food choices at every meal. To family, to friends and to yourself.

Side note: If someone around you is on a diet, the best you can do for them is leave them alone. No one enjoys depriving themselves of these gastronomical pleasures. So it isn’t exactly tough to push us back into old habits.

And then there are the more intense social events. The birthdays, the parties, the office dinners.

Times when saying ’no’ isn’t just awkward, it can be downright detrimental to your relationships.

Food and drinks, unfortunately, are how we humans share love and celebrate. And only an insensitive asshole says no to a cousin’s birthday cake. Or to the ghee-laden paranthas his mom made especially for him. Because he was coming home after 6 months.

Having been on the 16–8 IF Journey for almost a month now, I’ve started appreciating how IF is perhaps the best diet pattern to help tackle this third, social problem of dieting.

IF is a rare combination of a diet with very clear guidelines, and yet the flexibility to handle most intense social events. Here’s how.

You’re not at the table

Let’s start with the most basic social benefit. Let’s say you’re following 16–8 like me, and are eating only from 2pm -10pm.

So essentially, you’re skipping breakfast and then leading a largely normal day. Unlike, say, regular calorie restriction, where you’re trying to cut a few calories in every meal. So no bread with your omelette, or no pasta in your salad or no mango after dinner.

That’s three, highly fertile occasions for societal intervention throughout the day.

Compare that to IF. You’re restricting calories by skipping a meal. No one can comment on that. You’re not at the table. And then next meal onwards, you’re the normal you.

Doesn’t mean that you eat a full Mango (which, by the way, has 30–50gms of fructose and hence is a sugar bomb) everyday after dinner.

But it does mean that at the odd times when you do give into social pressures, or just your own cravings, the damage done is much lesser. Because you’ve already saved your quota in the morning.

Intense Social Events

There was a party at my place two days ago. The wife and I were hosting her work colleagues and it was a big deal for her. She’d been planning the menu for a week. And I was in charge of the bar. And getting everyone drunk. Which needed me to include myself.

This would’ve been a big problem during my regular calorie-restriction days. I would’ve massively overshot my calorie quote by the end of it.

But now that I was on IF…..I still overshot my quota (there is no beating alchohol), but not by too much.

Much more importantly though, I didn’t come across as an asshole (I hope).

On a regular diet, I would’ve had every drink begrudgingly. I would’ve thrown a tantrum before having each starter and each refill, but I still would’ve had them (because I’m still a foodie and even more so when I’m drunk). Just that I would’ve been pain to everyone around.

And most importantly, I would’ve diluted my own enjoyment of the evening. Always berating myself for losing control.

After a long time, two days ago, I really enjoyed myself at a party. And I think it rubbed off. And the wife agrees (a rare occurrence).

Travel

For four days before that party, I’d been traveling. And traveling not just anywhere. Traveling home.

That’s a real diet double whammy. One because the travel throws off your schedule. And two, because home means mom and mom means awesome food that she is very determined to have you consume by the bucket-loads. Food, after all, is love.

The IF helped with both these whammies.

I’ve written earlier about how to handle airline food when you’re travelling. Well that problem ceased to exist with IF.

Should I have a cappuccino before my very early morning flight? Should I have just the omelette in the calorie loaded meal they served in the flight? Should I just get a juice atleast?

No, No and No. I’ll just have a bottle of water, please. I’m on IF. The rules are clear and there’s no wiggle room.

I love IF for that. It doesn’t allow doubt to enter. You’re either eating or you’re not.

The second, tougher whammy was home.

Mom was visibly shocked when I told her that I won’t be eating anything untill 2pm. It lent a certain gravity to the usual mommy lament of “but you’ve not eaten anything since morning”. I could see that it troubled her.

Side note: The blog really helped. My parents also read the blog. So while they protested, they couldn’t do it very vehemently. I had, after all, explained the science.

But once she got over that intitial resistance, even she saw the positive side of things.

Most Indians (especially North Indians) will get this. For some reason, Indian mom’s find extra pleasure in slapping some home made butter or ghee onto the rotis their kids eat.

There’s something special about adding this grease that makes the meal special. And no one who’s had a roti with ghee can argue otherwise.

But for as long as I can remember, I’d been depriving my mother of this small pleasure. Because I was optimizing every meal.

Well, this time, I decided to let go. Both her smile and my satisfaction after the meal, were priceless.

I also took a bite of the kheer she’d made. And ate a slice of mango.

Ok maybe I went too far. Which reflected in the lack of any weight-loss last week. But it would’ve been a lot worse on a regular calorie-restricted diet.

No special requirements

Lastly, when compared to the other diets like Keto or Vegan, IF is simple.

I’ve tried Keto and I can tell you it’s impossible to follow if you’re not cooking every meal yourself. It might be more effective for fat-loss, but what’s the point if you can’t follow it.

There again, IF wins hands down. It’s the only diet that shifts the game from what you eat to when you eat. Unlike what it seems from the outside, it’s a lot less restrictive than most diets.

Clearly, I’m (almost) sold. Almost, because Week #3 was a bummer.

Week #3 IF Update

I didn’t lose any weight last week. The machine says I gained 100gms infact, but I ignore such minor changes.

It isn’t surprising, given what you know of my week now. 4 days of home travel and then a big home party. I should be thankful that I didn’t wipe out the losses of the first 2 weeks. And I am.

But it still does feel bad. Because even with all the travel I stuck to my 16 hour fasts religiously. Sigh.

Anyway, it’s because so much randomness happened in this week, that I realised how good IF is with social situations. I’ve sacrificed my happiness, and pissed off people I love, at many social occasions in the past. And I would’ve done it again because I put my health above everything else.

But with IF, I felt I had just that little bit more wiggle room, to strike a slightly better balance. Between myself and the ones I love.

→Read Part 1: Intermittent Fasting 101


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