Givin’er a go

I recently recommended a book I was reading about a new take — or at least, a take now getting a bit more attention — about how bodies do what they do, and what happens to them that causes illnesses.
Part of the heart of that book was that we’re eating too much too often. Ours has become a very snacky society, which can be comforting and a distraction from our work, etc., but in short leads to blood sugar levels being higher more often and for longer, and to a laundry list of other issues our bodies contend with as a result. The takeaway is that we need to a) eat more healthy food, b) only at better defined mealtimes, c) which themselves should be less often. Intermittent fasting, Dr. Benjamin Bikman concludes in the book, is not only an okay thing to do but is advisable (i.e. to only have blood sugar levels rise twice, or even just once a day, then ease down over the rest of the day until we eat again the next day).

Last week, I happened across a podcast interview with Dr. Tim Spector, a gut health expert, who was echoing some of the same sentiments as far as eating better and, the key bit here, to use intermittent fasting to allow our good gut bacteria to do its necessary growth and cleaning up for what’s meant to be many hours after we’ve eaten. His findings conclude that gut bacteria need a good 12-14 hours of downtime to fully do what they need to do. In other words, not only is societal snacking itself adding to our overall weight gain, but it’s doubly bad because regular intake of food is also not giving our gut the quiet time it needs to help keep us healthier.

I should clarify that this isn’t an echo chamber situation. These healthy eating habit experts didn’t happen into my orbit as a result of me seeking it out in any fashion. One was a book related to something else I was looking at that seemed interesting. The other was from a podcast that covers any and every subject, one item per episode, and gut health happened to be a few dozen episodes in. Wholly unrelated, but clearly connected, topics that I came across independently.

Which gets into my mentioning sometimes feeling like I should be heeding Signs.

I know I don’t make healthy eating choices. From too many snacks to too much sugar and processed foods to when and how often I eat them, that’s been an issue my whole life. Meals themselves are generally pretty healthy affairs, though as a family often on the go (two working parents and a newly minted teen, all with lives and plans and stuff going on), we hit fast food options more often than we should.

Added to that, these days I’m working at primarily one workplace that’s proven physically and mentally stressful, and the hours are all over the road — some days I’m working until after close, other days I’m working hours before opening, sometimes it’s one right after the other — which makes for not only difficultly trying to eat healthy things regularly, but also makes it way (way) too easy to fall into snacking. A lot.
All of which makes for general less-than-ideal eating habits that’s led to weight gain recently. And on the heels of weight-gaining Covid lockdowns, as well. Not a good time.

And with rare exception, I’ve always lived a life that includes breakfast. You get up, hungry because you last ate several hours ago at least, and have some eggs or cereal or a pancake or waffles or whatever practical thing happens to be around.

But Dr. Spector points out in the interview that breakfast is something of a created eating time. He says that going back in the long history of remotely modern humankind, nothing akin to a breakfast meal was typical until relatively recently. People were, for a very long time, just fine without eating breakfast.
And that dovetails nicely into the conclusions both he and Dr. Bikman found: From body chemistry to gut health, going for a longer stretch between meals is more natural and better for our health in myriad ways. So it’s no surprise that Dr. Spector is also a proponent of intermittent fasting. And he points out that eliminating breakfast is the easiest way to dip a toe into doing that: Since you’ve (ideally) already slept most of the way between dinner and morning, tack on a few more hours after you’re up before you eat, and you’re already doing your health a service. (He adds that ongoing research underscores that eating more naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, and having a glass of red wine a day, are also demonstrably beneficial to gut health.)

So. Signs.

I told myself last week that once I was done the last of my cereal — no need to waste it, after all — I’d give skipping breakfast a go.
And here we are.
Day 1.

I expect a two-pronged challenge ahead of me with this:
1. I get hungry. I don’t always wake up hungry, but usually am by the time I’m up and about. I’ve heard that tends to be your body signalling when it expects food, and not necessarily when it actually needs it. That discomfort, it’s said, will fade away the longer I stick to a pattern of not feeding it as often. Meanwhile, even as I write this post, the hunger is not going unnoticed.

2. Caffeine. I’ve been a fan of it for most of my life, particularly in tea and pop like Coke. But I know it’s not great for a body to rely on it. And more, like any drug, the more you have caffeine, the more you need in order to get the same effects from it.
I do get headaches, or at least I have gotten them, seemingly as a result of not having caffeine in the morning. Or it’s headaches that caffeine later helps with or eliminates, which would seem to suggest they’re an aspect of my body unhappy with missing early and sometimes few-times-a-day of caffeine use. (I’m reluctant to say “addiction” to caffeine, as that term comes with a lot of baggage, but in the strictest sense, I’m sure it would fall into that category.)
Years before Covid I was actively cutting down on caffeine with the intent of cutting it out of my life entirely, and was doing well with it. But then fell back into having it again just out of habit. Working at the liquor store isn’t helping, what with needing to be up and about and on my game for a job that includes operating industrial machinery that can be dangerous — see also above, re: the wonky hours leading to snacking — which only entrenched having caffeine on the regular.
But here’s the thing: Drinking much except water on an empty stomach (and even just water, if it’s too cold or hot) doesn’t sit too well for me.
So while I’m very used to having a tea with my breakfast, the breakfast part is now getting removed from the equation. And so the tea has to be, as well. Which is probably doubly good anyway: I usually have milk in my tea, which I’m sure my gut bacteria counts as “food”, and thus having even that bit of milk in my tea is probably undoing at least some of the good I’m trying to be doing by skipping eating in the morning at all.
I’m not going to try to eliminate caffeine at the same time as I’m trying to skip breakfasts and cut down on snacking — I’m only human, after all, and the more and faster I heap on big changes in my life, the more likely they are to fail — but no caffeine at least in the mornings will likely be a thing I’ll have to contend with.

So I’m giving this a go.
A real, solid attempt at starting to intermittently fast, as well as trying to cut out (or, baby steps, at least down on) snacking between meals and after dinner.

I’ll keep you posted.