Mardy Roux

Set Day Fasting: Resetting Your Metabolism and Your Mind

In The Mardy Roux Obesity Treatment Project Step By Step on June 26, 2010 at 2:55 am

Well this sounds extreme!
Late in 2009 I received an interesting email from my mother, bless her cotton socks. In the subject bar was written “Feast or famine: The diet that won’t just help you lose weight, you’ll live longer and be brainier!” Well, what a promise! I half suspected it would give me a face lift as well! It was the headline of a newspaper article in England’s tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail. The article featured a diet plan in which you diet one day and don’t diet the next day. I think my Mum sent it to me because in the past year I had been diagnosed with asthma, and the diet was reported as having positive effects for asthmatics. Although I normally read most newspapers with a grain of salt these days I scanned the article with increasing interest. Could it really be possible to eat anything you like one day and then diet the next day and still lose weight? My little internal “bells”  – the ones I’ve spent almost half a century learning I’m supposed to listen to, started ringing loudly. Something was striking the right chord with me on this. It sounded a little extreme initially, because the diet day wasn’t a normal day on any usual diet, it was a very low calorie day. It was essentially a fasting day.

I read every single comment below the article and saw how passionate some people were in their opposition to this idea. Fasting, they said, would ruin your metabolism! Fasting, they said, would cause you to become anorexic or bulimic! Fasting, they said, was unhealthy because we all know that we need to eat three good meals every day (conveniently forgetting that three-meals-per-day is a very recent concept in human evolution)! Yet the evidence appeared to be that many people were not ruining their metabolisms at all by Alternate Day Fasting. In fact, their previously ruined metabolisms were coming back to life! My subsequent research on the subject found that there was also zero evidence to suggest that the people on this plan were suddenly becoming anorexic or bulimic. Certainly there were people experiencing relief from asthma symptoms. And Lupus symptoms amongst a number of other diseases. And many more were losing weight. This was interesting. My mind was buzzing. Could this be the solution I was looking for?

The benefits of fasting have been known for years
I started researching and reading everything I could find online about the “Alternate Day Diet”, although I quickly found many different names for it. It had been around for years. The concept had evolved from some research that took place early in the 20th century in which very low calorie diets were found to dramatically extend the lifespan of mice. This evidence has been correlated over time amongst humans with the recognition of various societies that have lived on very low calories and also had typically seen long life spans amongst the people. Eventually, researchers found that the same extended life span effect could be attained by offering mice a normal diet every other day, and letting them fast for the day in-between.

Some researchers believe that fasting every other day activates a gene called SIRT1, a gene some believe may be a kind of “long life” gene. The approach of fasting every second day definitely appears to reduce inflammation in the body, which is probably why asthma, an inflammatory disease, is eased for so many people who follow this style of eating. One doctor, Dr. James Johnson, has written a book about his version of the diet, which he calls the “Up Day Down Day Diet”, with up days being eating days and down days being diet days in which one consumes no more than 500 calories.

It’s not about the calories, it’s about the fasting
People who are vehemently opposed to Alternate Day Fasting tend to see it as a set of extremes. They think it’s about starving yourself one day and gluttonising maybe 40,000 calories the next day. That’s not true, and really, most people who say this are still in that judgmental frame of mind in which they see overweight people as people of “bad character” who they believe would behave in a gluttonous manner in the first place. In Alternate Day Fasting you are consuming up to 500 calories one day and then the next day eating normally, although the calories you consume appear to have no effect on the weight you lose or the reduction of inflammation. So, you could eat two days worth of calories on your “eating day” to make up for what you missed the day before and only 500 calories on your fasting day and still appreciate the benefits of the plan. The reality is that most people who are fasting on alternate days find that they are eating a fairly normal number of calories on their eating day. In that sense, most people are roughly halving their caloric intake, although, as I just said, if they maintain their average weekly caloric intake, the effects tend to be the same. The thing that makes the difference is that they fasted.

Positive effects in the first few weeks
Within the first couple of weeks of my Set Day Fasting, I saw the puffiness around my eyes, that has plagued me for years and years, decrease significantly. Even more exciting was that puffiness I had never really known I had around my feet and ankles disappeared. Now when I look at my feet I feel like I’m looking back in time at a younger me. Months later, and in a different phase of MROTP I just feel less “puffy” overall, which as a peri-menopausal woman is quite the thrill! My skin also gradually started to become clearer and healthier-looking and I experienced bursts of sudden energy (and a surprisingly clean house), although I remained generally tired due to the adrenal fatigue I suspect many of us who suffer from obesity are experiencing, and which we’ll address in due course.

The fasting days could be fairly difficult, but I could always make it through to the end of one because I knew I could eat whatever I wanted to eat the next day. For me, the psychology of this approach is the number one factor in my being able to maintain the program for an extended period of time. When you know you can eat to your heart’s content the next day you can summon up the willpower to get through one day of fasting.

No starvation mode, instead, a reset metabolism!
Your body does not go into “starvation mode” when you fast for one day at a time, because it takes days for your body to decide it’s actually starving and to start to slow down the metabolism. On the contrary, people who follow Alternate Day Fasting practices find that it appears to act as a resetting mechanism for the metabolism. Your body really doesn’t know what’s coming next and so it cannot second guess you. It’s almost like the body starts going back to the “presets” it began with.

Improved Insulin sensitivity
In addition to seeing inflammation (the scourge of modern living and possibly a factor behind most of the diseases of civilization) reduced and feeling like your metabolism is beginning to work properly, Alternate Day Fasting helps to reduce insulin resistance, which is possibly the number one problem being suffered by obese people. Over the first couple of months on the MROTP I experienced fewer and fewer problems with insulin over-production, although I simultaneously became aware of how horrible I felt on eating days compared to how wonderful I felt on fasting days….a direct result of my food choices and something we’ll work on later on.

It’s extremely important to get to the stage at which you know you feel great on a fasting day and lousy on an eating day because this personal realisation will provide the authentic motivation later on to make other small adjustments. So, in the first months at least, it’s really important that on your eating days you eat the foods you craved on your fasting days, because by eating them you will eventually be able to gauge how those foods make you feel. So many of the foods we crave are the foods we’re struggling with physically. And because fasting days will become a revelation of how good you can feel even if you’re a little bit hungry, you’ll start to want to feel that good all of the time! You’ll begin to notice the difference in how you feel every time you eat something.

Rediscovering the wonder of good food!
Not every food you crave is because of an allergic response. One other amazing side effect I experienced when I started Set Day Fasting was the rediscovery of how wonderful food tastes! After a day of fasting, a favourite meal tastes better than it ever did before, and nuances of flavour come to life. I started craving fresh fruit and vegetables, which although I’ve always liked them anyway I had never really craved before. Eating a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable on an eating day becomes a wonder of just how our cells can get a thrill by eating good, live food. I describe it as a “sparkling” feeling that accompanies the fresh food as it enters your digestive tract. And you can feel the living energy of the fruit or vegetable entering your cells almost immediately, like a cool “rush” feeding every part of your body.

More than half a year later I have not lost my desire to eat fresh food as a result of this process, and the exciting part of it for me is that I never tried to do any of this. All I did was follow the lead of the cravings in my body. If you are enjoying a fasting day and you start craving apple, then make sure you give your body a lovely, cool, fresh crisp apple as a treat on your eating day, and then take a moment to feel how your body connects with the energy in the apple. You will suddenly realize that you are a connected, living being!

The big discovery
The biggest discovery I made in the first month of my Phase 1 Set Day Fasting was that my problem was not “not eating”, it was “eating”. What I mean by that is that eating is the thing that causes me to spiral into hunger, mood changes and weight gain. What I discovered was that I could feel really wonderful when I didn’t eat anything at all. However, once I put some food in my mouth, down I went on the spiral into hell. This is so important for those of us who are obese! We cannot just give up eating altogether like a drug addict gives up drugs or a smoker gives up cigarettes. We have to confront food each and every day and learn from the experience. This process is not a difficult one, but it is one in which we have to start switching on our consciousness when it comes to the food we put in our mouths. I have tried almost every diet you could possibly name, and this is the first time I have ever experienced this revelation with such purity and clarity. Not eating is easy. Eating can give me hell. But as it can also give me joy, I now have something I can really work with!

Make sure you read MROTP Phase 1
As you experience the first month or Phase 1 of the MROTP you will be dropping some pounds, resetting your metabolism, eating anything you want to eat four days each week, and rediscovering the joys of eating the foods you love and the foods you may never have known you loved until you get that sudden and unexpected craving. You’ll also be discovering the foods that cause you grief. Go with the flow! Rest. Don’t exercise. You want to go for a nice walk? Excellent! You feel too tired? No problem.

If you are wanting to follow my approach, make sure you take your doctor’s advice first and then make sure you read my posts about my own MROTP rules and the way to do Phase 1. As I’ve said in a previous post, my MROTP is not identical to Dr. Johnson’s Up Day Down Day Diet, except for eating aspects during the first two weeks. After that, there are gradual changes. However, his diet is where I started in food terms. And the positive impacts of that first month of fasting on three set days each week were, for me, a life saver. Over time, I incorporate other plans and concepts and evolve to a new place, but I cannot over-emphasize how important it is to regain control over our lives in the first instance, and I believe that Set Day Fasting is the best way to begin that process.

Mardy Roux

  1. Hey Mardy: I didn’t know how to get ahold of you other than posting on your blog.

    I’ve been hearing a lot about the “China Study”. It purportedly showed a strong connection between the consumption of animal protein and chronic diseases.

    According to this analysis …

    … it showed no such thing.

    Thought you’d like to know.


  2. Mardy, I’ve tried the set day fasting for the last month. I’ll admit I’m not good with no food at all, so I have broth-based soup and lots of juice and teas on those days, but still keep it within 500 calories.

    I’ve lost nearly 10 lbs. and my clothes feel looser and I’ve noticed my face looks less puffy. I’ll keep at this for a while. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to stick to. I see results and don’t feel beaten down. And best of all, I don’t obsess over food any more! On diets I’m always wondering when the next meal is coming and how much I’m “allowed.” Not now! I know my next meal is tomorrow and it can be whatever I want! It’s wonderful! And I’ve found I don’t gorge myself on an eating day, while to be honest I thought I probably would. In fact, I eat less than I ever imagined, but can still eat until I’m satisfied. That has never happened to me before!

    Thanks for your blog and the inspiration. I hope you’ll update it soon with new info. I’m a convert and when I tell people what I’m doing, they freak a little at first, but I assure them I’m not starving. I think they’re still skeptical, but I hope to prove them wrong.

    Thanks again!

    • Regina…Wow! I wish I had a star to pin on you or something…excellent! Except…how do you KNOW you’ve lost 10 pounds??? Are you weighing yourself? Tsk. Tsk. Let go of the scales Regina…or do you know by your clothes the way I do? If you keep following this for a few more months, we’ll then alter SOME of the eating, although rest assured, you will still be able to have plenty of days when you eat all the stuff you really really love without having to worry about it. You are doing the toughest bit right now…it gets easier and easier in my opinion. I also thought I would gorge myself on my first eating day after my first fasting day…but nope…I found I was less hungry than I used to be. It’s just so important to release ourselves from the fears of not being able to eat the fattening things we love…I mean really…as if I would ever have a Thanksgiving turkey dinner without all the trimmings and a big pumpkin pie…life wouldn’t be worth living. I have a solution to quieten your skeptical friends too…if I haven’t posted it by next week try to remind me. You’ll love it! They’ll never utter another negative word! Keep going Regina…and please…eat plenty of your eating days…and eat the foods you love and crave. In no time at all you will separate those foods and the enjoyment of good food from the previous negative associations with “dieting”. Let me know how you’re doing.


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