Several years ago, at 42, I purposefully got off the cycle of dieting, losing weight, cheating, binging, regaining, and starting all over again. Chronic dieting, I concluded after a lifetime of doing it, was pointless. I freed myself of the burden of losing those last 10 pounds and finally accepted that I’d never be as thin as I’d like to be. My resolution going forward was to eat mindfully, but not to obsess about what I put in my mouth or the number on the scale. In fact, I threw out the scale.
Every year since, my waist got a little thicker. Honestly, it didn’t bother me too much. It was gradual, just what happens as you get older. Around 50, I’d become so accepting of the “it’s only natural” idea that I gave up mindful eating, too. How old did you have to be before you could just relax and enjoy food? Didn’t I deserve dessert after all my hard work? I started to eat sweets whenever I wanted, and predictably, the weight piled on. I didn’t freak out, though. My dress sizes got bigger, but so did my rationalizations.
And then, the reckoning. Due to a change in insurance plans, I had to switch doctors. My new physician, Dr. Nawaz, was not on board with my “weight is just a number” philosophy and insisted I step on a scale. Much to my horror, my BMI was 29, one point from obese. Not only that, my A1c blood sugar was 5.7, in pre-diabetic range.
“You have to lose weight, or you’ll become diabetic,” said the doc. “That would be very bad.” She described the cascading, life-threatening conditions I’d potentially face if I didn’t turn things around: heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage.
I walked out of there in shock, more rocked by this doctor’s visit than the time I learned I had Stage 0 colon cancer. Talk about a wake-up call. In the past, I dieted because I thought being thin would make me prettier and happier. Now, I had a new motivation: If I didn’t lose weight, I might get sick and die.
‘You have to lose weight, or you’ll become diabetic.’
My decade of staunch not-dieting was over. My declaration that I’d never restrict my food choice again? I would have to eat those words. (At least I’d get to eat something.)
For three months straight, July through September of last year, I didn’t have any sweets or alcohol. A dry summer wasn’t easy with so many barbecues and weddings. For inspiration, I watched the evening news for the pharma commercials about shooting, throbbing diabetic nerve pain with scenes of chubby people sitting on park benches, wincing and clutching their feet. “That is not going to be me,” I said to my husband every time, resolve restored.
I went back to the doctor for another blood test and weigh-in in late September, fully expecting good news. My sober summer didn’t amount to much, though. I’d lost only two pounds, and my A1c was unchanged. Dr. Nawaz suggested cutting out carbs, but that strategy hadn’t accomplished much when I’d tried it back in my thirties. Every diet I’d tried had failed. I already exercised regularly. What was I going to do? Stop eating entirely?
Making Up My IF Pod Diet
I said as much to my workout buddy Daryl, and she said, “You should try intermittent fasting.” Jimmy Kimmel lost a bunch of weight that way, as I learned after some Googling. In one version of intermittent fasting (IF), you eat normally for five days a week and only 500 calories for two days, aka 5:2. In another version, you eat within an eight-hour window every day and fast for the remaining 16. The 16:8 version seemed doable, so I downloaded a fasting countdown app to give it a try.
My rules were random, but they made sense in my head.
As for what to eat during the eight-hour window, I researched foods that would reduce blood sugar and came across a TEDx Talk with an obesity doctor about a diet high in healthy fats. Eggs, olives, and avocados were high-fat superstars, so I put them on my shopping list. Seeing them lined up on the kitchen counter, I couldn’t help notice that they were the same shape, pod-like. I decided, for no good reason, I would eat only similarly shaped foods, in as close to their original form as possible. Anything with that oblong shape—chicken breast, fish, nuts, bulbous veggies, beans—fit the new plan.
Some restrictions applied, though. Most fruits are pod-like but full of sugar, so they were out. Lemons and limes were in, because they were sour, and how was I going to make salad dressing or guacamole without them? Although grains are the right shape—think of a single grain of wheat—you don’t eat just one unprocessed grain, so that didn’t fit the “as close to the original form as possible” criteria. Olive oil was fine, though, as a single-process byproduct of a whole olive. Potatoes were allowed, but only if they were baked to retain the shape.
My Midlife IF
Does it seem like I was just making shit up? I totally was! My rules were random, but they made sense in my head. Most importantly, after a decade with no limits, I found that I liked having them. That I’d created my own rules enhanced my commitment.
The idea of delaying breakfast until afternoon was enough to keep me honest.
I began the IF Pod Diet (as in, “if it’s a pod, eat it, but only during the eight-hour window”) the first week in October. After my last bite of dinner, I hit the “begin fasting” button on my app, and nothing but tea or water would pass between my lips until 16 hours had passed. Usually, I would begin breakfast at 10 a.m. and finish dinner by 6 p.m. If I ate anything after dinner, I’d have to reset the countdown, and the idea of delaying breakfast until afternoon was enough to keep me honest.
On the heads of my children, I did not suffer. The first week, I drank a lot of tea while watching TV at night. But by week two, I got used to fasting and my appetite adjusted. Pushing the app button had the effect of switching off hunger. By November, my clothes were looser. Over the holidays, while traveling, I had some trouble sticking with pods and my schedule, once having to delay breakfast until 2 p.m. because of a late-start family dinner. My father and sister were so impressed by my weight loss and commitment that they decided to try IF as well, and both have both lost weight since. They didn’t plug into pod power, though. They thought that part was nuts—literally.
But Did It Work?
I went back to the doctor’s office in January, around my 53rd birthday. The nurse who weighed me said, “Is this right?” I was down 20 pounds! My new BMI was 26—still overweight but just barely.
When Dr. Nawaz saw the number, she said, “I’m jealous! How’d you do it?”
The doctor thought my diet plan sounded bizarre, but she couldn’t argue with the results.
I described IF Pod. She thought it sounded bizarre, but she couldn’t argue with the results. She seemed genuinely amazed, actually. I walked out of there smug and exhilarated. My blood work came in a few days later. My A1c was 5.1—normal.
I’d IF-Podded myself healthy. By restricting my eating window, I’ve simplified my life. By limiting my diet to whole foods that fit snugly in my palm, I’ve lengthened it.
My old thinking about weight—“Isn’t it time I stopped caring about this shit?”—had been misguided. My health is the one thing I must care about, or I won’t live long enough, or well enough, to enjoy anything, let alone the (very) occasional dessert. The key to my success wasn’t willpower. It was facing the reality that if I didn’t make a serious change, things would get real bleak real fast. Knowing previous diets had failed, I had to invent and intuit my own rules. Now I’m wearing my daughter’s size 10 jeans because my size 14s fall to the floor.
If only I’d come up with IF Pod 30 years ago . . . no. We don’t do that. We don’t look back. We can only go forward, with a shopping bag full of avocados and lemons.