How to Win at Alternate Day Fasting

My new motto: Surrender, Dorothy.

After the bumpy fasting ride of last week, I needed an attitude adjustment and a Win, with a capital “w.” Granted, things had started out rocky for me. I had coped with a bout of the stomach flu during week two (I was pissed off, mostly because the virus struck on an eating day) and a couple of failures of compliance, most notably last week after a sugar binge. But I was determined to get myself on track and finish strong. As I myself have preached, fasting is a mental game. What I needed to do was reset my frame of mind.

I had studied Alternate Day Fasting inside and out, I had watched videos, I had followed someone on Instagram who’d lost more than 100 pounds and I had talked about it with friends and family ad nauseam. Now I needed to throw my brain into autopilot and roll with it. This weekend, I had a lightbulb moment: Instead of stewing about my small defeats, what I needed to do was stop overthinking and submit to the plan. (My name is Laura and I have a teeny tiny problem with being headstrong and overthinking things).

Two words came to mind: “Surrender, Dorothy.”

Surprisingly, this little mental reset worked and I had a great fasting day on Saturday. Creatively, I felt re-energized and was able to successfully crank out a 1,500-word magazine article about a certain purple you-know-who. Last night I stayed up writing until 10:30 p.m. and stopped myself only because I looked around and couldn’t find Andy and the kids, only to realize they were in bed! This is a revelation: Normally, I am a grumpy and exhausted zombie by 9 p.m.

Getting on board with Alternate Day Fasting has taken until the last week of January, but the effort has been so very worth it. I’m even considering continuing with the plan in February. I feel like I’m just getting started.

Fasting True Confessions

I had a bad fasting day. A very terrible, awful failure of a fasting day. And what adds insult to injury is that the bad day I had on Tuesday created an even worse day on Wednesday.

Here’s how it started. On Monday, my husband and I had each had a long day. It was exceptionally cold in Minnesota and the feeling of wanting to hibernate on the couch under a bunch of blankets was overwhelming. He decided that the idea of having a beer was appealing. I decided to join him with a glass of wine. It was an eating day, so that was allowed. The glass of wine led to a piece of blueberry pie and no, I did not hold the ice cream. Again — eating day, and allowed.

I slept horribly and the next day, almost from the moment I woke up, I felt overwhelmed with cravings. My body ached. I was grouchy. My nose was stuffy, I kept itching my head, and I felt like I had hayfever — in January, in subzero weather. Around noon, my allotted two cups of Skinny Pop, my mid-day snack, became four cups. It was as if I couldn’t stop myself. Next thing I knew, I had disassociated from my body and found myself ferreting around in the chips drawer. After I blew it by eating chips, I decided I didn’t want my normal fasting day dinner so instead, I ate leftover pasta, which, let’s face it, is more carbs. That caused me to feel even more sluggish. I yelled at the kids. I was on a shame-and-blame rollercoaster and I tried to make it go away by eating chocolate.

Is it possible to have a sugar hangover? Is sugar an addictive substance? The Purple Guinea Pig is here to tell you: Yes, and yes.

Tidying my house was one unintended consequence of fasting. The second is that I am grappling with the fact that I have a sugar problem. I was shocked at how strong my sugar cravings were on my fasting day, after having eaten sugar on my eating day.

While scrolling through Instagram yesterday, a quote from Russell Brand popped up on my feed. He wrote, “If you want to see if something’s problematic in your life, see what happens if you withdraw it from your life.”

Whoa. That hit home. On fasting days, I remove sugar from my diet. I didn’t purposely remove sugar, but I don’t eat it because there is no room for sugary treats in a 500-calorie fasting day. When I added sugar back on my eating day, I was shocked at how sick it made me feel, and how much I craved more and more, even while I felt grumpy and sluggish.

Oh sugar, we had a long love story. But fasting taught me something I never saw coming. You and I are no good together. It’s official: Sugar and I are breaking up.

January: Life in the Fasting Lane

I began my year of “living like a prince” with a daunting decision. If I could do one thing to launch me successfully into what felt like a hugely intimidating (while also incredibly fun) project, what would it be? What is the one thing, that if I could do it successfully, would make each of the next challenges easier?

What came to mind was generating more energy. I was going to need energy, and buckets of it. If there’s one thing that former Prince associates agree on, it’s Prince’s seemingly boundless energy. He was able to maintain a schedule that could (and did) push many otherwise fit and energetic musicians, engineers and managers to the brink of exhaustion. For example, during tours, Prince would do an hours-long soundcheck, play a two-and-a-half-hour show, then go to a local club and play and hours-long aftershow. Later, he might watch the recording of his show, making mental notes on his performance. Other times, he would go to a studio and record, or use a mobile studio brought along for that purpose. Sometimes, between concert dates, he would fly back to Paisley Park and record nonstop for a couple of days, then fly out to the next tour date, much to the relief of his exhausted recording engineers.

Bassist Rhonda Smith, who toured with Prince in the early 2000s, spoke at a PRN Alumni Association (a nonprofit organized by former associates of Prince to continue his legacy of giving) event in Minneapolis in October, laid out the rigors of working at Paisley Park: There was no eating lunch. There was certainly no sleeping. Smith would finish a full day of rehearsing and then would be asked to launch into choreography rehearsals.

For those of us with office jobs, Smith translated it this way: “It was like you finished a heavy report at 4:55 p.m. and breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then your boss walks by and puts another huge stack of paper on your desk and says, `I want that by tomorrow.'”

One of the techniques that Prince used for maintaining his energy, particularly during recording sessions, was fasting. In the final Rolling Stone  article about Prince based on an interview done at Paisley Park on Jan. 24, 2014, reporter Brian Hiatt wrote, “He’s very thin, but not fragile – a strict vegan who, by his own account, sometimes doesn’t eat at all (`I have gone long periods with no food, and also water – people have to remind me to drink water because I always forget to do that’).” 

It did seem that there were specific situations that would cause Prince to decide to go without eating. For example, Steve Parke recalled that Prince told him he hadn’t eaten for two days before they began filming a video. While Prince’s stretches of fasting are documented, we don’t know if he performed fasting in a regimented way, or if it was more a case of forgetting to eat while immersed in work, or a case of wanting to look fit on stage or in a video, or simply nerves. Any and all of these are possible.

I launched into January knowing that I was going to need my own endless font of energy to accomplish the goals I had set out for myself in 2019. Focusing on my eating habits as foundational to creating energy seemed to make a lot of sense as a starting point, so I decided to dedicate myself to a regular fasting regimen and generating more energy through food — or lack thereof.

Fortunately, fasting is all the rage these days and there is plentiful information on how to launch into a regimen. After considering various forms of intermittent fasting, each with a mysterious numerical name (everything from “16:8,” which calls for fasting for 16 hours and then eating during an eight-hour window to “5:2,” which calls for five eating days with two fasting days mixed in), I decided to try Alternate Day Fasting. I had a leg up here, in that I dabbled in Alternate Day Fasting during 2018, and had observed my sister-in-law use it to great success. Knowing I had someone to call when things got tough tipped the scales in the direction of Alternate Day Fasting, and I decided to dedicate myself to it in January, to see if that regimen could stoke my creative fires and boost my energy.

TOMORROW: What is alternate day fasting and what is my actual daily regimen?