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Maybe the 'Worrier Diet' is right for me

Tammy Swift, columnist.

After a lifetime of battling what to eat in order to triumph over the scale, I've realized that I've been asking the wrong question.

Maybe the reaI question is when to eat. It's true.

One of the latest trends in dieting seems to be "intermittent fasting," a method of alternating mini-fasting periods with regular food intake as a way to lose fat and build muscle. Along the way, intermittent-fasting proponents claim this eating style can do everything from enhance cellular repair and increase brain function to control insulin levels and burn belly fat.

The fasting philosophy is a 180-degree turn from the long-held belief that regular meals and mini-snacks throughout the day are key to regulating weight and blood sugar levels. After all, our ancient ancestors didn't keep fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt in the fridge. They likely had long periods of hunger in between the occasional mastodon feed or berry-picking expedition.

We're not talking about weeklong juice fasts here. One of the most popular fads involves chaining up the refrigerator for just 16 hours at a time, after which you ideally will eat "in moderation."

See? You don't need to give up Twinkies. You just need to eat all your Twinkies in short, scheduled periods of time, like a Twinkie cobra.

The first time I heard about fasting, it sounded ideal. I've spent a lifetime forsaking whole food groups — everything from fat and meat to sugar and flour — without seeing much success on the scale.

Besides, I'm no stranger to self-imposed hunger strikes. I've often said it is easier for me to not eat at all than it is to try and make the right food choice.

In fact, I was fasting when fasting wasn't cool. In my early days as a reporter, I routinely ate absolutely nothing from the time I got up until dinner. During those hours, I was fueled by a healthy cocktail of adrenaline, rancid coffee from the vending machine and the fear that my boss would suddenly realize I didn't know what I was doing and fire me.

When the evening meal rolled around, I would eat a Henry VIII-worthy feast at a restaurant, typically followed by an extra-large brownie sundae and anywhere from two to 36 Long Island iced teas.

Granted, this was a dietary Waterloo, best reserved for burly lumberjacks with cast-iron livers, bionic pancreases and hollow legs. (And it may be one teensy reason I had to have my gallbladder removed by age 22.)

Even so, it did keep me in a size 8 for a couple of years. I also don't remember feeling the energy lags, cravings or hunger pangs that sometimes still nag me when I consume three squares a day.

According to the widely respected, meticulously vetted, internationally recognized journal on nutritional standards, Allure magazine, the aspiring faster can try a variety of methods. This includes, but is not limited to:

• The 16:8 rule: You basically go 16 hours without eating, then proceed to wedge all your nutrition into the other eight hours.

So if you're not a breakfast eater, you can skip breakfast and wait until 11 or 12 for your first meal, thus completing your final meal by 7 or 8 p.m. that night. This is attractive to me, as I've never really liked eating breakfast, whereas I have been known to eat an entire spiral-cut ham in the late evening.

But, as always, there's a downside: Although 16:8 followers won't tell you what to eat, they do advise that you don't use your eight hours to rampage through the doughnut shop like a hypoglycemic carb camel.

If I know me (which, unfortunately, I do), I will spend all awake fasting hours obsessing and all asleep fasting hours dreaming about food. And when the clock strikes "eat," I will be speed-dialing the spiral-ham store.

• Whole day fasting: For one or two nonconsecutive days per week, you consume water plus 500 calories — 200 of which are protein. The other days of the week, you eat whatever you want, "in moderation." (Ugh. That word again.)

This approach is not unlike my college diet, especially when I ran out of money a couple of days before payday. For a few sad days, I lived on watered-down ramen and that squishy apple in the back of the crisper. But once the check came, mealtime became an all-you-can-gulp Grand Guignol of Velveeta-Hormel chip dip, Domino's pizza and mocha ice cream pie.

That's just the beginning. There's also alternate-day fasting, Eat-Stop-Eat and the Warrior Diet, in which you eat fruits and veggies during the day — and one massive meal at night. (Sounds eerily similar to the Scared Young Reporter Diet.)

Better known as the Worrier Diet.