Fast Thinking

Ask any muslim, and they'll tell you. Fasting for 12 hours gives you energy, clear-headedness, focus. The benefits of ramadan fasting are one of the reasons they give for islam being true.

Which is a little strange, as they don't show any great willingness to fast outside of ramadan. And the point of ramadan is to give sympathy for those with nothing to eat. And the fasting is more than offset by the feasting with family at sunset. And I've spent time with muslim students during ramadan, eating and drinking in coffeeshops and resteraunts, hiding from each other, all pretending they don't know they're all breaking the rules. And everyone knows sales of stockpilable snacks go through the roof in the week leading up to the month of no snacking.

But they are right about giving your body the chance to use its supplies of creatine, glycogen, and fat. Diabetics can tell you about "paradoxical euphoria" - a result of low blood sugar. I've experienced it, though for me it's more a kind of sentimentality - a state I also enter when drunk.

Ask any soldier, and they'll tell you about training exercises where you're denied food. After 36 hours - certainly 48 - they've got no energy, no intellect, no willpower. If you want to know what clinical depression feels like, don't eat for two days.

So there's a sweet spot, between "digging into reserves" and "scraping the barrel". Between "Oh, so that's what being alive is supposed to feel like - I didn't realise I'd been feeling like shit for the last few decades" and "Somebody seems to have stolen my brain".

I reckon it's between 8 and 24 hours. But more empirical research needed. After supper.

Thought for Food

Intermittant Fasting is a diet plan for fat loss, where each day is split into two parts.

In the larger window you eat nothing, and in the smaller you eat sensibly. The larger is typically 16 hours, running from (say) midnight when you go to bed, through to 16:00, giving you an 8 hour window to eat at your discretion until the next cycle. Some people make it 20 and 4 hours, or other variations. You can do it every day, every second day, every weekday, or whatever suits you.

I've been trying it for a month, and can now reveal that: I lost a stone. Then gained two pounds.

My problem is not a sweet tooth. It's that once I start eating, I don't want to stop. Even if it's good healthy food with no carbohydrates, something in my brain says too much is not enough.

Two things I can tell you about the human digestive tract:

(1) It's completely incapable of digesting celulose. Dietry fibre as it's known, it makes up about 5% of most vegetables, almost all of the rest being water. It is nothing but bulk, making you feel fuller...and generating quite a lot of gas as a by-product when your gut tries to digest it. So yeah, it can make you feel bloated. And fart.

(2) If you don't eat it, you get constipated. As in: literal tough shit.

So, if you want to avoid a growling empty stomach, and an easy time on the toilet, eat plenty of vegetables. Or a fibre supplement like Psillium Husks. These are basically an edible sponge - absorbing supposedly 14 times their dry mass of liquid, first filling out your stomach with calorieless bulk, then giving your intestines a nice smooth flow.

You can eat them as grains or powder suspended in water or fruit juice, or as capsules. Either way, drink a glass (250ml) of water before, and 2 or 3 glasses immediately afterwards. Skimp on the water, and you can ironically wind up constipated again.

You can use them to replace meals, or as a starter which takes care of the initial hunger, making the meal itself a small-scale indulgence.

The problem is: most of us don't eat because we've got an empty stomach. We eat because we're bored, or because the clock says it's time for food, or the food's there in front of us, or we just like the taste. Or for night owls like me, because we're tired. Exactly what idiot god designed humans to get peckish when sleepy, I don't know. Presumably one invented before electric lights.

You can either think, or digest, but not both. So it makes sense to schedule your food according to when you'll need to be mentally active...or vice versa.

So, as if today, my new diet plan.

(1) A 16:8 day. In the 8-hour windows, one large normal meal. Keep carbs to a minimum. Zero sugar if possible. Sugar-free sweets allowed. Occasional psillium as needed, with at least 1 litre of water.

(2) In the 16-hour window, fast for as long as reasonably possible. When I really need to eat something, one dose (2-4 500mg capsules) of psillium with water. Sugar-free squash allowed.

(3) Tea/Coffee/Water/Squash at any time.

(4) Get enough sleep.