Time-Restricted Fasting Is My Frenemy - Guest Post by Sarb Johal
IF Insider No. 58
Our last issue (IF Insider No. 57) was a bit different as we wanted to introduce you to our new direction as we expand into the topic of longevity. As we explained, we are not abandoning our emphasis on intermittent fasting as a core longevity practice but will be looking at it, as well as many other topics, through the lens of longevity.
Today, we are featuring an article by our distinguished guest, Sarb Johal, a psychologist, author, broadcaster, and the founder of Noise Reduction, also hosted on Substack.
For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we’ll be taking a close look at a new randomized, double-blind study examining the effects of four weeks of consumption of a concentrated green tea extract on people with metabolic syndrome…a cluster of heart disease markers that greatly increases their chances of developing heart disease, having a stroke, or other devastating consequences. But the researchers also uncovered a surprise finding…how the green tea extract benefits the gut health of healthy people.
Our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month. Last month, we brought a delicious way to stay cool with her Chocolate Olive Oil Plant-Based Ice Cream recipe. This month, we are featuring Ellen’s Southern Style Deviled Eggs. These protein-rich spicy deviled eggs served cold as a side dish with Ellen’s Mint Garlic Potato Salad, make such a great addition to an outdoor barbecue, a picnic, or just eaten out of hand.
Just a friendly reminder that the monthly live Q&A call with Ellen and Denise for our paid subscribers is retired, and we look forward to bringing our paid subscribers some exciting new options soon. Stay tuned!
Looking for a supportive group that “gets” your interest in IF and other cutting-edge health information? Our free intermittent fasting Facebook group, with over 1800 members, is a wealth of info, in addition to our new Longevity Experience membership.
TRF Is My Frenemy - Guest Post by Sarb Johal
Frenemy (noun) Informal: a person who is or pretends to be a friend but who is also in some ways an enemy or rival.
I’ve been using time-restricted fasting (TRF) for a few years. Here’s a rundown of where I have learned it works for me and where it just seems to run counter to what I’m trying to achieve.
When TRF has had my back
TRF works great for me to improve my sleep. I notice that if I eat close to when I go to sleep, I wake after a couple of hours once my digestive cycle has reached a certain point. It’s a physiologically noisy process and enough to wake me. I can sometimes have trouble falling back off to sleep after this, so I’ve learned that my personal brand of TRF means I need to eat my last food / shake at 7-8pm latest. That way, I don’t get woken up by that physiological noise and improve my chances of better sleep. It makes a measurable difference.
What I’ve also noticed is that I feel better after fasting for 10-12 hours at night, and not appreciably different if I extend that out to 14-16 hours. I suspect that might be the better sleep that I’m feeling.
Of course, there may be extra effects of TRF on my gut microbiome that have cascading effects upon my wellbeing, as well as improvements to my immune system. But it’s hard to get an objective view of this. My personal experience is that any difference is pretty difficult to discriminate or perceive.
When TRF has pulled against me
I’ve experienced the classic weight loss plateau and regain while using TRF. I lost an astonishing 9kg or 20lb when I was fasting 12-13 hours a day in a matter of 2-3 months. But this slowly crept back on again, even though I did not change my fasting schedule. I don’t believe my eating habits changed, but I can’t say for sure. What is more likely to have taken place is that the body’s homeostatic tendency slowed my metabolism to ensure that I regained the weight again to what it has ordained to be my dynamic “ideal” weight.
This is heavier than I would like it to be. So, I’m changing my target to focus more on waist size and wellbeing, while also investigating how to apply sports training periodisation principles to my diet and calorie input.
So what does my stack look like now?
So which of my other friends do I turn to when TRF seems to compete against what I want to achieve?
My goals are changing. Our family is hitting some birthdays this week, so lifestyles are changing. Our middle daughter turns 5 and starts school next week, and our youngest turns 3. With our oldest already 11 years old, and my wife changing her workdays, it means I have to organise my days differently.
But this also offers me an opportunity to get back to running again. Though I started running at age 40 from a couch-to-5K programme, I ran 8 marathons and 2 ultra-marathons in the 7 years that followed. All that stopped with daughters 2 and 3, but here’s where I change back up again.
I’m getting back into running, but my number one goal while doing this is staying un-injured. So, my exercise regimen as a middle-aged runner starting back again looks something like this:
10 week programme of track workouts comprising 2 weeks of 6 x (5 minutes walking + 1 minute running as threshold of HR Zones 2 / 3), followed by progressive two weeks blocks increasing running time by one minute and reducing walking time by one minute, until running for 36 minutes non-stop. I run these workouts 2 x per week, making sure I get at least 72 hours of recovery time between runs.
As there is about a 3 week lag in aerobic training effect, I expect my heart rate to drop after that period, meaning I will maintain a faster pace at that Zone 2 / 3 threshold.
I’m doing yoga / core / pilates work 2-3 times a week to support my running and get better control and flexibility in my hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and especially targeting my calves which seem to be especially tender recently.
I’ll also be doing strength routines once a week in this initial conditioning phase, targeting both upper and lower body.
I use an app called Balance, an excellent meditation tool that fits my life well. I wouldn’t say I engage in my practice every day, but more days than not. My yoga workouts are more ‘slow flow’, focusing on breath control too.
Nutritionally, I’m shrinking down my non-eating periods to more like 10-12 hours, stopping eating at 7-8pm, and eating breakfast at about 7.30-8am.
I drink coffee 3 times a day and have a casein protein shake in the afternoon or mixed nuts and pumpkin seeds to make sure I try not to snack before dinner. But I’m not averse to the odd sweet treat after lunch or dinner every now and again.
I try to sleep 7 hours a night, but that’s sometimes tough with such a young family. Actually, it’s tough most nights.
Maybe not my frenemy after all
Perhaps a better way of thinking about TRF in my circle is that it is just one friend out of many. And you know what they say - you can’t get everything you want in a relationship from just one person. So maybe TRF shouldn’t be my universal go-to either.
The key thing I have learned is that TRF is just one tool to achieve my goals. When my goals change then, TRF may not be the friend I turn to. Just as you turn to different friends according to what is going on in your life, I’ve learned I need to use different wellbeing tools depending on what I’m aiming for.
TRF is great - but it’s not a one-size-fit-all kind of deal. Used sparingly and wisely, it hits the mark. But diversify your friendship circle if you want the best support.
Sarb Johal is a psychologist (35+ years of experience, picking up a couple of doctorates on the way), dad, and middle-aged mid-pack late-starting runner from London, now living in Wellington, New Zealand, where he has been based for most of his adult life.
He is also a writer, speaker and broadcaster with an insatiable curiosity about this human experience. He’s the author of the bestselling ‘Finding Calm: Managing Fear and Anxiety in an Uncertain World’; ‘The Little Book of Sleep‘, and ‘Steady: Keeping Calm in a World Gone Viral.’ With bylines for The Guardian (UK), The Hill (USA), Psychology Today (USA) and the Sunday Star-Times in New Zealand, find out more about his latest project - writing on Substack, and follow him on Twitter @sarb
What We Are Reading 📚
Denise - On a long drive from L.A. to Northern California, I listened to an episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast: New Insights from Sam Harris, Dr. Peter Attia, Ramit Sethi, and Elizabeth Gilbert (#599).
Sam Harris on meditation sharing excerpts from his Waking Up app…Dr. Peter Attia on cardiovascular disease, nutrition, TRF (intermittent fasting), and exercise…Ramit Sethi on money, couples, and trust…finally, Elizabeth Gilbert conversed with Tim Ferriss about Marcus Aurelius, Martha Beck and Byron Katie.
The compilation of “best of” clips chosen by each speaker kept me riveted for 2.5 hours of a 6.5 hour drive. Recommended if you’re looking for an intro to any one of these smart, interesting people.
Ellen - In the summer of 1962, the late Rachel Carson sounded the environmental alarm about the ravages of DDT with her seminal book, Silent Spring. But years before, in 1955, she began work on an essay, The Sense of Wonder, that she would later consider her most important work. The work was begun when Roger Christie, Carson’s grandnephew, visited her that summer at her Maine cottage, and they had explored together the surrounding woods and tide pools.
As she introduced Roger to the marvels of natural wonders around them, she began to see them as if for the first time herself, and she determined to convey some of that magic to others, in the hope that they too would introduce a child to the beauty and mystery of nature. The Sense of Wonder will become a treasured keepsake to be passed on to children and grandchildren
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