Dealing with cynicism and pessimism about fasting from others

When you have lost some weight and people start to notice, they will almost certainly ask you how you managed it. Or you may be so excited by this new Way of Eating that you mention your new-found health tool to people. Most will be interested and pleased for you, but there may be a few who respond negatively. They may treat intermittent fasting as a fad diet and say gloomily that you will likely put all the weight back on again in a year. They may think that by fasting you are harming yourself. They may just be suspicious of this new approach. A very few may become quite hostile to the idea. You might be somewhat disconcerted by these reactions, especially if they come from a close friend or family member.

Why do people sometimes respond in this way and how can you deal with them?

Cynicism: “It’s just a fad diet and you’ll put the weight back on”

There are so many fad diets (definition of a fad diet: “a weight-loss diet that enjoys temporary popularity”) that come and go in fashion, especially after traditional times of excess eating, that it is hardly surprising that when people hear of a new diet that involves (to them) new ideas, they immediately dismiss it as a ‘fad diet’.

The term ‘fast diet’ and ‘fasting’ has also made people to jump to conclusions: either that ‘fast diet’ means rapid weight loss or that ‘fasting’ means living for weeks on water or juice alone.

Most people think of fad diets as being short-term weight loss tools and that you won’t keep the weight off but the sad truth is that people advised by nutritionists to adopt a healthy eating plan don’t end up keeping the weight off either.

How to respond:

  • Point out that people have fasted intermittently for centuries as most of the world’s religions traditionally incorporate periods of fasting.

  • Point out that everyone fasts every single day of their lives – unless they eat in their sleep that is – and ‘breakfast’ (to break your fast) is a term that scares nobody.

  • Point out that thousands of people using FastDay have lost weight and kept it off by fasting, and are continuing to fast after following the fasting Way of Eating for over a year – hardly a fad diet!

Most skepticism comes from a lack of understanding of what intermittent fasting means together with the number of health and weight loss myths that have been circulating about the need to eat breakfast, to boost metabolism by regular meals and to avoid ‘starvation mode’.

Read the truth about weight loss and nutrition myths here

Pessimism: “You are harming your health by fasting”

People who have strong beliefs about nutrition and health may take the view that fasting will harm your health. Unfortunately, some ‘experts’ who have commented about the fast diet and intermittent fasting have done so without investigating the scientific basis for this Way of Eating and have passed on the view that fasting is not healthy to their readers/listeners. Further, the Fast Diet has been reported inaccurately in newspapers and magazines as ‘eat as much as you want for five days and starve for two’. Actually the formula is ‘eat normally for five days and fast for two’.

How to respond:

  • Explain that, on the contrary, fasting could be the best thing one can do for one’s health.

  • Say that fasting has been shown to prolong the life of animals in studies

  • Say that fasting has been shown to improve the risk factors for several diseases in human studies

  • Tell the person to watch the documentary by Dr Michael Mosley about fasting

  • Tell the person to read the books by Dr Mosley or Dr Varady

Fear of change: “You’ll get thin and then I’ll be the fat one”

People who are normally very polite can become surprisingly vocal when the topic is weight or weight loss. Often those who love to give weight-loss advice could do with losing some weight themselves! Perhaps this hostility comes from fear that a new, slimmer and more confident you would reject them, or be less amenable to them. Some people find change particularly threatening, especially when it is being actively sought by someone close to them.

How to respond:

  • When this happens, try to think ‘”it’s their issue, not mine”, keep smiling and carry on doing what you want. all you can do is carry on as normal, whilst being reassuring about the things that aren’t changing.

Fear for their own health: “Perhaps my eating habits are not so healthy”

Some people may react with hostility because of a personal feeling of guilt. Maybe you have turned down cake with coffee because you are fasting and your friend has ordered a large slice of chocolate cake for themselves – there is something strange about eating in front of someone who isn’t. Your friend may try to persuade you to break your fast and have a piece of cake. Remember this sabotaging behaviour is probably due to their personal anxieties about food.

Alternatively, perhaps this person is struggling with their weight and the suggestion that something different could work better, or that they might be doing something wrong (even if you have not said anything of that kind), can trigger a defensive reaction through fear.

How to respond:

  • Remember that it’s their issue, not yours, keep calm and change the subject.

  • Just say ‘ ok I respect your opinion’ and move on.

Adverse comments from family members

You will, almost certainly, want to tell your close family what you are doing. If a family member reacts badly to your fasting, remember that you are not requesting their approval nor permission – you are taking control of your life, not theirs. You are an adult and can make your own decisions. If your family feel they need to raise the issue repeatedly, it is best if you refuse to discuss it. Change the subject, just say ‘ ok I respect your opinion’.  If necessary, calmly remove yourself from the room or the house without a word. They will then have no audience and will soon stop. It may take a few (maybe a lot) of quiet refusal before they learn that it is just not working.

You may feel that you would rather not tell one or more of your family members. Perhaps if you have young children who have food-related issues themselves for example.  Most of us are brought up to be honest – but sometimes for the sake of our own health and sanity we must be less than honest – a little subterfuge can be used to disguise your fast days:

  • Saving all your calories for the evening meal will give you a substantial meal that will look the same as the rest of the family is eating. Perhaps your portion will have no/less potatoes or rice because “I had a big lunch” or “I’m not so hungry today”

  • You can get up a bit late and say you’ll grab something to eat for breakfast at work.

  • You can say you are going to have a couple of low calorie days a week so as to be able to enjoy the weekends (true!).

Generally, though, it is best to tell your family what you are doing fairly soon. They will soon notice that you are losing weight and may worry that you are ill if you don’t tell them that you are actually trying to!

Our FastDay forum members have found the following tips useful in dealing with people who are skeptical about intermittent fasting.

Lead by example

Of course, the best way of showing the doubters that intermittent fasting is a sustainable, effective way of improving your health is to show them your success.

FastDay forum member Ballerina said:

“When it became obvious I had dropped quite a bit of weight, 21 lbs, people began asking questions and commenting on how well I looked. I now seem to be something of a mild celebrity and champion of the diet round here as friends are now asking me to explain, to folk I do not even know, how it all works. The thing is, it’s difficult to rubbish something when you are faced with a startling success story. Just ignore negative, jealous people and carry on.”

Avoid the F word!

It is often the word ‘Fast’ that causes people to respond negatively, so why not simply avoid using it?

FastDay forum member Joyful Janet said:

“At my last weigh & measure at my gym I was asked how I was managing to lose weight. I guessed they would be anti- fasting because I have often been told not to miss breakfast, and to make sure I ate something before exercising to ‘keep up your blood sugar levels’. I said I am calorie counting, but allowing myself more at weekends and making up during the week by having a couple of low calorie days in order to have an average daily intake of around 1500 calories. That was fine with the instructor. I haven’t really talked about this Way of Eating to anyone else except my close family, who are all so used to me trying all sorts of diets that they just let me get on with it.”

FastDay forum member BruceE said:

“I prefer to describe what we do as ‘eating less and exercising more,’ which is not at all controversial, and I like the term ‘repair day’ or ‘light day’ to ‘fast day.’ Tell them that repair days serve at least two functions: (1) they help to create a weekly caloric deficit (i.e. eating less), and (2) they help to manage your appetite/hunger while you are eating less. There are of course other benefits to not eating for 16–24 hours before ‘breaking your fast’ instead of the normal 8–12 hours everybody does most days, and phrased in that way, because there is nothing controversial about ‘breakfast,’ it comes off as less-severe. In fact, technically-speaking, nobody ever skips breakfast. Whenever you break your daily fast, that IS breakfast!”

Remember that in reality it is their problem not yours

FastDay forum member Ballerina said:

“I didn’t tell people what I was doing, but when it became obvious how much weight I had lost, and how well I looked, the questions started. Funnily enough all my slim friends see nothing wrong with it, or my weight loss, but strangely, all my overweight friends INSIST on telling me that I MUST NOT lose any more weight! They proclaim, quite proudly, that they could never do such a thing, which is, frankly, obvious. It seems to me that if you can’t, or won’t, do something then rubbishing it will make the reality of your own shortcomings painful to face up to, a sort of survival tactic I suppose.”

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