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My Modified Fast

Summary:
In “How Low Insulin Opens a Way to Escape Dieting Hell” I write about how you need to be eating low on the insulin index in order to have the calories in/calories out logic to be much help, since if your insulin levels are high, your body will try to get you to eat more and will try to burn fewer calories. Insulin tells your fat cells to take sugar from your bloodstream and store it as fat in order to get blood sugar levels down. (See “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Evidence that High Insulin Levels Lead to Weight Gain.”)On how to eat in a way that keeps insulin levels from spiking, I have “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin

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My Modified Fast

In “How Low Insulin Opens a Way to Escape Dieting Hell” I write about how you need to be eating low on the insulin index in order to have the calories in/calories out logic to be much help, since if your insulin levels are high, your body will try to get you to eat more and will try to burn fewer calories. Insulin tells your fat cells to take sugar from your bloodstream and store it as fat in order to get blood sugar levels down. (See “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Evidence that High Insulin Levels Lead to Weight Gain.”)

On how to eat in a way that keeps insulin levels from spiking, I have “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid” and “Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index.” But the “Forget Calorie Counting” in the title of the first is a little too strong. You should forget about calorie counting until you have made sure that you are keeping you insulin from spiking, and have begun using fasting in the way I talk about in the posts I link to at the bottom of this one.

The great secret is that even eating nothing at all becomes easy when you are eating low on the insulin index before you start a period of eating nothing. The reason is that by eating low on the insulin index, you avoid the inhibition of body-fat-burning that comes from high insulin levels. And the cells of your body will be much better adapted to getting their energy from the ketones your body makes from fatty acids. (When there are a lot of ketones in your bloodstream, it is called “ketosis.”)

But partial or “modified” fasts can also be quite beneficial. This year, I have begun doing many multiday modified fasts. My motivation for not doing a total fast has been partly the desire to feed the good microbes in my gut something. When I do a total fast, I notice that it takes some time after I end the fast for my bowel movements to become regular again; part of that may be mechanical, but part may be that it takes time for my good gut microbes to recover from a period with nothing for them to eat. In addition, although even a total fast is not that hard for me physically, the sense of psychological deprivation is less if I am eating something.

I have been beginning these multi-day modified fasts with 48 hours or so of total fasting. I figure my good gut microbes will be fine within that time. Each day after that, I eat a set of things designed to be (a) extremely low on the insulin index, (b) high in bulk, but (c) very low in calories. I don’t bend the rules on being very low on the insulin index, but I bend (b) and (c) a bit to have (d) some relatively fun things in the mix to lower the psychological sense of deprivation.

You can see a picture of what I eat on this modified fast at the top of this post. It is quite possible to have a lot of bulk with very few calories! For bulk, I have spinach, cabbage (hidden in the bowl), chopped celery, chopped anise and chopped mushrooms (on the cutting board) and radishes. I eat the radishes separately, but the rest of these bulky items I mix in a bowl and add a tablespoon and a half of olive oil, which is sparing, but enough to make the resulting salad taste reasonably good.

I add several things for variety. I have a couple pieces of hearts of palm. These appear at Costco around Easter time; I stock up for the rest of the year. I also have a couple of pieces of 100% chocolate. By far the best-tasting is the kind shown below, which I didn’t know about when I wrote “Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review”:

My Modified Fast

Finally I drink a kind of almond-milk smoothy. (Most of the ingredients are up front in the picture; the completed smoothy is visible in back.) Almond milk is both very low on the insulin index and quite low-calorie. I use a whisk to stir three different Gundry powders into the almond milk. Somewhat loosely, I think of Vital Reds as a wide variety of ground-up fruit without the sugar from the fruit. Primal Plants includes probiotics. Prebio Thrive is a prebiotic—that is, food for good gut bacteria. I have grown more skeptical of Steven Gundry over time, especially of his newest, most blatantly commercial products (“commercial” in the sense of “bend-the-rules to make a buck”), but I find these three powders useful. (See “What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet” and “Reexamining Steve Gundry's `The Plant Paradox’.”) I also add a tablespoon or so of cream to make it taste good.

I think this adds up to only a few hundred calories, but feels like a surprisingly full meal because of the bulk and the other satisfactions. Even when I am eating up a storm, I normally do it in one big meal a day, so having just one meal during the modified fast doesn’t seem hard to me.

The key takeaway message is that fasting doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing, if you are eating low on the insulin index. You can design a modified fast that includes a finite list of things for which you have carefully counted the calories, and all of which are extremely low on the insulin index. It’s OK that it is a limited list of things, because after the modified fast you’ll go back to eating your usual broader set of things (hopefully all reasonably low on the insulin index). I don’t count calories when I am back to eating normally, and the modified fast has the same things every day, so there isn’t big burden of counting calories.

Many food plans have a lot of bossiness to them. Here you can design your own based on a few general principles. (You do need to read “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid” to get a sense of which foods are low on the insulin index and which foods are likely to give you an insulin spike.)

Here are the links to posts on fasting I promised. (You especially need to read “Fasting Tips.”)

Also see the other posts laid out in Miles Kimball on Diet and Health: A Reader's Guide.”

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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