It was a bright summer’s afternoon in the sun-drenched south of France when I found out that the operation to save my left eye had failed and that I was going to need yet another operation to replace my eye with an artificial one. Despite the blazing sunshine and the blistering heat, my day went cold and dark.
This was the third 2-hour long operation in a short time, and my body had still not recuperated from being saturated with anaesthetic toxins during the last operation.
I decided that something would have to be done. Despite being a medical doctor myself, I made up my mind not to leave everything in the hands of the medical profession. If I was going to be in top form by the time I had the next operation, I was going to have to take myself in hand.
I wanted to be as fit as possible. I already run five days out of seven for 30 minutes at a time, on a treadmill. I figured that was enough, all I needed to add was some stretches and some weights. I used mindfulness meditation to mentally prepare for the previous operations, and I intended to do that again. The only area that needed work was my eating habits. I wanted to make sure that I got rid of the post-operative toxins and fill my stores of essential nutrients before it was time for the next operation.
I went online and did some research about the current thinking about healthy eating. Not much had changed since I last researched the subject, several years ago, except for the new kid on the block: intermittent fasting. Not such a new kid in reality, as many supporters of this way of eating assured me, fasting has been around for as long as man has been around.
What is intermittent fasting? Some sort of diet? Apparently not. More accurately, it could be called time-restricted eating. For a set amount of hours every day, you fast. In other words, you eat nothing and drink only water and black coffee/tea. The rest of the day, you can eat what you want, within reason. The fasting part of the day can last anything from 12 to 23 hours. For example, if you fast for 16 hours, that leaves you 8 hours to eat what your body needs.
I wondered what all the fuss was about. Was it worth changing my eating habits this dramatically? Coping with change is something I have become exceptionally good at, operation after operation, so changing the way I eat would not be a problem. I did some more research. I discovered three potential benefits of intermittent fasting that I found particularly motivating:
· Its anti-ageing effect, including a possible reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as an improvement in symptoms. (ref 3)
· A possible reduction in insulin resistance, lowering the Risk of type 2 diabetes. It may even be possible to reverse type 2 diabetes with intermittent fasting. (ref 4)
Convinced now that it was worth looking into further, I read books, articles and blog posts and watched videos like the one below. I joined several Facebook groups (see below.)
I did not need to lose weight; my BMI was in the normal range even though I was about 10kg heavier than I was in my twenties. I wouldn’t mind losing some of that, but since I hit fifty, it has been extremely difficult to lose weight and impossible to keep it off over time.
What interested me most was the concept of autophagy. Autophagy literally means to “eat oneself,” and refers to the body’s ability to detect and destroy old and damaged cells. In 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his pioneering research about how cells recycle their content. When we fast, cells break down nonessential and damaged components, as well as viruses and bacteria, and reuse them for energy. This is the process that we think goes wrong in cancer, infectious diseases, immunological diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. Disruptions in autophagy possibly also cause us to age faster.
Well, that made me sit up and take notice. I had a lot of damaged cells that needed removing, and I wanted the new ones to be as strong and resistant against infection and inflammation as possible. The possibility of slowing down the ageing process appealed to me too. And if I lost a few kilos in the process, why not? I promptly grabbed the bull by the horns and started intermittent fasting, nine months ago.
Intermittent fasting worked for me. Two months ago, I had my left eye removed and so far, contrary to the previous operations, it looks as if the operation has been a huge success. During the winter, I did not have a single cough or cold, not even after long-haul flights. Usually, I get one bug after another from the begging of autumn to the end of spring. None of the usual allergies, like hayfever, either. I am now the same weight as I was when I was 18. At one point, my BMI went below 20, which was easily remedied by eating more during the non-fasting period of the day. I have loads more energy, so much so that I have to be careful not to overdo things after my operation.
Will it work for you too? I don’t know. Changing your eating habits this significantly takes a fair amount of courage. To help you make this change or any other lifestyle change that you want to make, I have created the 5-Day Introduction to Intermittent Fasting retreat here in the south of France as well as a Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist. In the rest of this series, I will tell you more about intermittent fasting and how I went about it. More about my story.
Disclaimer: While intermittent fasting has many potential and some evidence-based research-backed benefits, it remains a controversial way of eating. Before you make any changes in your eating habits, discuss your plans with your doctor, especially if you are on medication. People who should NOT fast include those who are underweight, have eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people under the age of 18.
The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting by Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore, Delay, Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle by Gin Stephens, The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spenser and Intermittent Fasting — lose weight, burn fat and heal your body by Nicholas Ty
Dr Margaretha Montagu is a recycled medical doctor, a rogue writer of self-help books and passable presenter of personal empowerment workshops. She lives on a small farm in the not-always sun-blessed south of France with five opinionated horses and all her books are horse-inspired, subtly French- flavoured and hopefully life-enriching. She shares her somewhat-outlandish ideas with you on her blog, here on Medium, Twitter and LinkedIn.