I’m going to start off with a little anecdote: Years ago (before Mrs. RRR and I married, and long before either of us had ever heard of FIRE or even considered early-retirement a thing) I trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and competed in a few tournaments. Because of the obvious benefits (read: bigger, stronger, heavier) I would cut weight to reach a lighter weight class so I could be more competitive. While researching one night, I stumbled upon a diet, or really lifestyle, called “Intermittent Fasting”. That caused a lengthy exploration down a rabbit hole that eventually led me to this blog called Lean Gains. The benefits read like a late night infomercial:
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved blood lipids
- Increased mental focus
- Increased metabolism
- Appetite supression
- Increase in natural production of HGH
- Easier to increase lean muscle mass
- Decrease in cancer, Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s
- Decrease in inflammation
Sheesh, with all these benefits, it’s not surprising that I, at the time a young guy obsessed with physical appearance, jumped in feet first. Now, be warned, there isn’t anything new about the idea of fasting. For centuries, people have fasted for religious reasons, health benefits, in protest of things, and sometimes out of sheer stupidity. But, the general consensus now is that there are huge health benefits to fasting, and there are many different types of intermittent fasting. For example: 5:2- a 5 day period of eating followed by a 2 day fast; 1:1- you guessed it, a day of eating followed by a day of fasting; the ‘warrior diet’- consuming one huge meal per day; or my personal choice the 16/8 method- a 16 hour fasting period followed by a 8 hour feasting period. I’ve followed the 16/8 method on and off for the past few years, and it’s still my preferred way of scheduling my meals and workouts, when my schedule permits.
This is the polar opposite of the way society has molded us. We are not only supposed to eat at every opportunity, but we are supposed to eat in excess, as evidenced by the ever growing rampant obesity in the United States, and specifically the South, where I was born and raised. Somehow, the common consensus has become that skipping a meal is unhealthy, even if that meal means eating sugar cereal coated in sugar in a bowl of fat and sugars, or a pseudo strawberry syrup pastry covered in icing. Funnily enough, the peer pressure of others trying to get me to eat was worse than I ever experienced in high school. What a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in. Hell, when we went to visit my wife’s grandparents in Cyprus, I skipped breakfast, and her grandmother wanted me to go to the hospital because she was convinced I was sick, so this misconception has even made it across the world. And, admittedly, at times it was hard to turn down food, but with every occurrence, it became easier and easier.
A secondary benefit of fasting that I hadn’t really realized until long after I began doing it was the mental fortitude that I had suddenly discovered. In my strict following of the 16/8 I turned down meal after meal, sweet after sweet, savory after savory, and that translated over to my 8 hour feasting period. It became much easier for me to turn down unhealthy foods even during the period when I could over-indulge. Much like Mrs. RRR and I do today with all the societal pressure to have more and more. A newer car, a bigger house, new clothes, a bigger tv, new phones, even though you’ve somehow made it this far with all the items you already have. This is an unsubtle example of the stock that I put in delayed gratification. At a time that saving money and investing would’ve been lower on my priority list than trying to knit my own socks (which is still really, really low on my priority list), I was preparing myself mentally to turn down things that may tempt you, but do not benefit you in the big picture.
An unattributed, overlooked, benefit to fasting is the mental fortitude that it fosters. I think we as a society are weak, and everyone is pressured to stay within the realm that everyone else operates in. This is true in everything from finances and spending, to even meal timing, and rejecting the societal norms takes thick skin and a little callousness. Look our society as a whole, we are overweight, and have little-to-no financial savings, we are unhealthy in almost all aspects. What about the norms are working? Reject them and become a healthier, wealthier, happier person.