This Doctor Credits Her 55-Pound Weight Loss to a 6-Hour Eating Windowby Marygrace Taylor, Prevention June 14, 2019
Cecily Anne Clark-Ganheart’s weight had fluctuated for most of her adult life. But when she reached an all-time high of 264 pounds after the birth of her second son in 2014, she knew she had to win the battle with the scale once and for all. Traditional calorie counting helped her lose around 35 pounds, but her efforts plateaued, so she decided to give intermittent fasting (IF) a try.
Clark-Ganheart knew IF was a trendy way to lose weight, but as a physician (she’s an OB/GYN) the physiologic mechanisms of fasting just made sense. “Insulin plays a role in weight regulation, but frequent eating or grazing can cause insulin to become dysfunctional. That can lead to insulin resistance, which makes it difficult to burn stored fat,” she says. “When you’re not eating, insulin levels decrease. That can restore insulin sensitivity and encourage the body to access stored fat for fuel.”
Hopeful that limiting her eating hours would get her blood sugar under control and kick her body into fat-burning mode, Clark-Ganheart began fasting for 18 hours each day. Most days she’d start eating around 10 or 11 a.m. and aim to finish up by 5 p.m. Eighteen months later, she had lost a whopping 55 pounds-and has managed to keep it off ever since. She also managed to reverse her prediabetes and bring down her high blood pressure-not to mention find more energy to keep up with her active sons.
Here’s a look at how she did it-and her advice for making intermittent fasting to work for you.
She eats meals, not snacks
Clark-Ganheart sticks with a six-hour eating window most days, but she doesn’t take that period as permission to eat nonstop. “In that time period I’ll have two discrete meals, and I try not to graze,” she says. Sticking mostly with lower-carb fare, she’ll enjoy a spinach omelet, cheese with berries, or salmon, chicken, or grass-fed meat (from a local farm) with veggies.
She eats real food and keeps sugar to a minimum
Eating for just a few hours out of the day doesn’t mean Clark-Ganheart chows down on whatever she wants either. “You still need that nutrition component, so focus on the quality of your foods,” she says. “A hundred calories from broccoli is a better health choice than 100 calories from a donut, even if it’s a gluten-free donut.”
Before trying fasting, Clark-Ganheart would have sugary bottled smoothies for breakfast and sip two or three diet sodas throughout the workday. “My actual meals weren’t horrible, but all of the beverages and added sugars, whether real or artificial, added up,” she says. These days she steers clear of sugary drinks (and snacks) and makes the most of her food at home. If she wants a sweet treat, she’ll enjoy her favorite pineapple slush bubble tea, just once or twice a month.
She keeps her fasting window flexible
“I try to vary it during the week because I think if you do anything the same way all the time your body starts to get used to it and adjust,” Clark-Ganheart says. On most weekdays, she’ll fast for 18 hours and eat for six, but on the weekends. she might just fast for 16 hours and eat for eight-following the 16:8 intermittent fasting method. And if she needs to break her fasting window early for a special occasion or social event, she’ll start fasting earlier the next day to make up the difference-or even do a 24-hour fast. “The great thing about IF is you can adjust for periods of true feasting,” she says.
She finds non-food ways to connect
A limited eating window means that Clark-Ganheart is often fasting when her family sits down to dinner. But she doesn’t let her diet keep her from missing out. “I still sit at the table and enjoy conversation with them,” she says. “We still make it family time, but I focus on the interaction rather than the food.”
She gets support from likeminded eaters
Clark-Ganheart uses the LIFE Fasting Tracker to keep an eye on her eating windows and fasting times. But she really loves it because it’s a social app that keeps her connected with fellow fasters. “It’s nice to have a group of people with the same kinds of goals,” she says. When some of her family members decided to give IF a try, they created their own social circle on the app so they could share their progress and keep each other motivated. And she blogs about her fasting experience to share what she’s learned with others.
She ignores the naysayers
Clark-Ganheart never expected that others would notice when she was (or wasn’t) eating. “But I was skipping lunch at work, and people were making comments that I don’t eat,” she says. Eventually she got tired of trying to explain her dietary choices, especially to co-workers who disagreed with them. Now she bypasses the uncomfortable conversations by using her lunch hour to do other things. “If I’m going to fast through lunch, I’ll go for a 30-minute jog,” she says.
She aims for consistency
Not everyone can start out fasting for 16 or 18 hours at a time-and that’s OK. Instead of worrying about whether your fasting window is long enough, pick a length of time that you know you can stick with. “It’s about doing something you can do 360 out of 365 days a year,” Clark-Ganheart says. “You’re getting the benefits even if your window isn’t as long.” She recommends starting with a 12-hour fasting period and picking one or two days a week to challenge yourself with a 16-hour fast. “Eventually you can link them together,” she says.