I recently discussed Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Diet .The main message is that the science supports a whole food plant based as the most important step in successful weight loss and maintenance. But in addition, there were some relatively easy adjustments we can make to our eating habits that also support achieving and maintaining our ideal weight. Two that stuck out for me, because I’d seen them also mentioned elsewhere, were eating in a narrower window of time, and following the maxim “breakfast is golden, supper is lead”.
My wife and I tend to eat supper fairly early, like around 5:00 pm. And in the morning I sometimes putter about a bit, tidying up the kitchen, etc, before breakfast, which may not come until 9:00 am. This means that if I avoid eating snacks after supper, that all my eating takes place in the relatively narrow window of a little over 8 hours, so my body goes through a “mini-fast” each night of almost 16 hours. This is perhaps the easiest form to implement of intermittent fasting, the health benefits of which I’ve discussed previously.
So why am I rehashing this now? Recently the experience of a friend has lent anecdotal evidence to support this approach that I find inspiring. Tim is one of the other “old goats” that I ride my bike with each week. He is a strong rider that is fast on flatter ground but does less well in the hills, because he is overweight. The extra payload really gets to you when you have to drag it up a hill. I learned his story over lunch. He is 70, and until about 3 years ago had been a very serious rider. He likes to ride double centuries, or 200 mile bike rides. He’s even ridden some triple centuries, and 24 hour events. He has “Everested”, which is participating in a ride that accumulates more than 29000 feet (8800 meters) of climbing. He described a transcendent experience in a 24 hour event in southern California, which included riding along the Pacific coast highway near Malibu for a couple of hours around 4 AM. There was almost no traffic, there was a full moon so the light was beautiful, and there was the hypnotic sound of the waves crashing. I must admit that this intrigued me to get my butt out out sack in the middle of the night and ride my bike along the PCH the next time I’m visiting SoCal. But I think I’d skip the other 22 hours. But anyway you get the picture, He was a serious athlete, at his ideal weight, in great shape.
Then 3 years ago tragedy struck. He witnessed a friend get killed on his bike, during one of these rides. This led to depression and giving up biking for a significant length of time, during which he gained 60 pounds over his healthy weight. Now he has fought off that depression and is making a comeback, at 70. So far he has lost 20 pounds of the weight, steadily and reliably. His secret is the two points above. Breakfast is his biggest meal, supper is light, and all his eating is in a window of 8 hours or less. He does eat a pretty healthy diet, but does not obsess about it, nor does he deprive himself enough to feel hungry. He is also riding a lot again, but not the mega-riding described above (at least not yet!). I am confident that at this rate he will be leaving me in the dust on hills within a couple of months.
He showed us a fancy high tech ring he wears (I think it’s the Oura ring) which takes various measurements from which it can calculate, among other things, heart-rate variability and sleep quality. Hie showed us the display of cool info this was sending to his phone. Higher heart-rate variability is a good thing, it indicates lower stress levels and good recovery from training. Overtrained athletes have lower hrv, so it is a good indicator you need to back off and get some rest when it goes down. The bottom line is that since he switched to the eating pattern described, Tim’s sleep quality and hrv have both improved dramatically.
I learned about this a little over two weeks ago. My bmi is in the healthy range but I’m still over what I consider my ideal “fighting weight”. I had lost some weight by eating a healthier diet and avoiding junk, as I described last week, but then it had plateaued out. I was already doing the “narrow eating window” as I described above, but had never tried the “breakfast is golden, supper is lead” idea. I tend to eat a lighter breakfast and heavier supper, I tweaked that a bit, making breakfast a little hardier and supper something lighter like a WFPB chef’s salad. It worked, the needle is moving again. I don’t have the magic ring so I can’t tell, but my sleep does appear to be sounder.
It’s funny how statistically significant data is the most important thing but it’s a good anecdote that inspires you. You might read that “3,637 people were randomized into 2 groups. Group A tried X and the control group B did Y. Group A was 27% healthier”. That might intrigue you, but maybe not motivate you enough to try X. Then you read, or hear in person, an inspiring story about someone who followed X and it lights a fire. I get it that anecdotal evidence is not enough by itself though. Hearing that Uncle Bert smoked a pack of Camels every day and lived to be 100 is not enough to inspire me to smoke, because there’s no science to back it up.