Intermittent fasting (IF) and the resulting autophagy have made enormous improvements in my health, and isn’t better health the ultimate goal in adjusting our eating patterns? Far too often we conflate better health with reduced weight, but they are by no means the same thing. My previous posts about IF focused on weight loss, but I firmly reject the approach that the number on the scale is the end-all, be-all. In fact, it’s not even the point.
IF has provided me a cascade of victories that have little to do with my weight. In health-related discussion circles, these are often called non-scale victories, or NSVs. I regularly listen to Gin Stephens’s Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast. Recently, one of her guests said she thought non-scale victories should simply be called “victories” because they’re just as, if not more important, than victories that happen on the scale. What’s a beautiful way of looking at it! These are true victories in their own right and we should celebrate them.
Before I started IF in June of 2019, I was still scraping my life back together following the health disaster of severe lumbar foraminal stenosis. This spinal condition incapacitated me for six excruciating months, from November of 2017 to May of 2018. Bone growth had completely crushed my L3 nerve root. Even after the surgery to free it, I remained in intractable pain. Unable to sit — let alone walk — I faced several months of physical therapy and a torturously painful and slow recovery.
It wasn’t just the extra 35 pounds or so I was carrying on my small frame (and compromised spine) making me miserable. I was inflamed, lethargic and felt desperately tired all the time. Menopause, hypothyroidism, insomnia, digestive troubles, and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis all plagued me. Intermittent fasting didn’t make these issues go away overnight, but my commitment to the practice has alleviated most of them while curing some others entirely. I present to you my IF victories.
My not-so-hypo thyroid
This victory stunned me. I had heard stories of people whose thyroid health improved but I never thought it would happen to me. I’d had the condition for so long; my hypothyroid diagnosis was in 2007. I’d been retested annually and while my thyroid medication had been increased a few times over the years, it had never been decreased.
About five months after I started intermittent fasting, my doctor retested my thyroid and told me she was cutting my thyroid dosage in half. I asked her if this could be the result of intermittent fasting and autophagy and she said it was.
The apothecary is closed
When I returned to my job after my surgery, I kept a small apothecary of OTC pain relievers in fancy glass jars on my desk to help me make it through my workday. I also stocked my purse, car, and kitchen with ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I wondered what taking them so often might be doing to my organs, but the pain I was experiencing drown out the little voices warning me that combining three Motrin with an Extra-Strength Tylenol every few hours might not be ideal.
After just a few months of intermittent fasting, I no longer needed any pain relievers to get through my days. The apothecary is closed.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Before I started intermittent fasting, I was developing the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. I’d wake up with painfully stiff hands and could barely move my fingers. I struggled to take my rings off at night — a ritual that required soap and cold water — and thought twice before putting them back on in the morning. My ankles wouldn’t bend when I got out of bed, and I’d have to stomp around until they finally loosened up.
No more. These RA symptoms have disappeared completely. I actually forgot I’d been experiencing them until someone mentioned their own RA improvement in a comment on one of my other IF posts.
This makes perfect sense because IF reduces inflammation, which is a big factor in RA.
One really great side effect of closing my eating window after dinner is I’m no longer plagued with middle-of-the-night indigestion and insomnia. I sleep really well for what feels like the first time in my adult life. Even when I do wake up in the middle of the night (an inevitability with my hot flashes), I drift right back to sleep and in the morning I feel well-rested.
After using sleep medications throughout most of my adulthood, I now no longer need anything stronger than the Headspace meditation app for a great night’s sleep.
I get my teeth cleaned every six months like the decently insured person that I am. I have always taken very good care of my teeth, brushing three times a day and flossing regularly. Still, I dreaded the dental hygenist’s chair because of the relentless scraping away of tartar.
After five months of intermittent fasting, I had my biannual dental cleaning. There was significantly less scraping and my hygienist was surprised how little tartar buildup I had. I told her I’d been practicing intermittent fasting and she said it absolutely made sense that this would result in a lot less tartar on my teeth. For someone who dreads getting her teeth scraped, this is a huge victory!
After a few months of eating one meal a day (OMAD), the skin under my eyes suddenly turned dry and crepy. I was horrified, thinking my face had aged 15 years overnight. I briefly considered giving up intermittent fasting if this is what it was going to do to my skin. This untenable state of affairs lasted about 48 hours. Then the tissue flaked away revealing fresh, younger-looking skin. Turns out I was aging after all — in reverse. Whew!
The incredible shrinking bump
For years I’ve had this weird little brown bump near my elbow, just under the skin. It was the size of a small pea for as long as I can remember. But since I’ve been intermittent fasting it has gradually shrunk to less than a quarter of its original size. One day it will be gone entirely. I shan't miss it.
10 Myths About Intermittent Fasting
When I started intermittent fasting I searched the internet and found a glut of blog posts beginning with “I tried…
Baby soft elbows
Speaking of elbows, I used to have a lot of dry skin on mine despite regularly exfoliating them and applying moisturizer. Now they are soft and no longer snag on my sweaters. I don’t even think about putting lotion on them anymore.
Intermittent fasting has made my skin less icky in all kinds of nifty ways I didn’t expect to experience in middle age.
Moo-ving down my belts
Years ago, I bought my favorite nautical belt from Belted Cow (which has the cutest, high-quality web-and-ribbon belts). It has whales on it. Whales! After my illness and subsequent weight gain, I could no longer fasten it, so I ordered a second, larger belt from them. It had mermaids on it. Mermaids! Did I mention I love Belted Cow belts?
My IF lifestlye reduced my waist circumference by so many inches (9, last time I checked) that I could no longer fasten either belt, but this time in the other direction.
I took both belts to our local cobbler and had him remove several inches of webbing from each of them. Now I’m on the last hole once again on the mermaid belt and will need to have him cut it down for me a second time. Our cobbler runs a great little shop, and I’m happy to give him some extra business.
What’s up, Docs?
I love Doc Marten boots and own more pairs than I care to admit to. After my illness, I could no longer zip my knee-high Doc Martens Philippa riding boots that I’ve had forever (these babies are probably vintage by now). My calves had grown too wide for them. This fall, following a few months of OMAD, they zipped right up without giving me the least bit of fight, and that was over a pair of jeans and socks.
So long, tent shirts
I can now tuck my shirts in. I don’t need yards of extra fabric for obscuring my menopause belly. It's now gone. The exciting thing about that is it means I have a lot less visceral fat messing with my organs. I’m not mad that I no longer look like a pregnant grandmother. I don’t miss the collection of middle-age “maternity” blouses and oversized sweaters I used to wear to hide my belly. I wasn’t fooling anyone, not even myself.
Speaking of maternity, my hair is growing thick and fast, much the way it did back when I was gestating my babies and awash in Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising; IF is said to increase HGH. It makes sense that the hormone that made my hair crazy thick while I was pregnant would do the same thing for me in middle age.
We’re told to expect a lot of things in middle age, but I’ve never seen “longer, thicker hair” on the list. In any case, I need a haircut because I’m starting to look a little too much like Janis Joplin.
Irrevelant thigh gap
I never had a thigh gap before. I thought those were for other people. Svelt people. Models. Dancers in Michael Jackson videos. Well, now I have one and I wasn’t even trying for it.
Of course, I’m 55 years old now and I don’t remember why it was I’d ever wanted a thigh gap in the first place. But there it is.
I saved the best for last. I absolutely adore the surge of energy I feel when I hit heavy ketosis around 17 hours into my daily fast. My mind is clear, my mood is good, I feel excited about life and I get things done. This energy keeps me committed to intermittent fasting more than any of my other victories. I rarely want to break my fast early because when I do, I no longer have that sense of bottomless, clean-burning energy.
My high energy level is obvious to others, too. The other day, my sister was telling me about a health supplement she uses. My mother butted in to quip “Grace isn’t allowed to take that. If she gets any healthier, she’s going to start flying.”
We had a good laugh about it, but it really does feel that way.
I showed you mine…
Now show me yours. If you’re intermittent fasting, I’d love to hear about all of your non-scale victories in the comments.