If IF Works, Why FI?

I first heard about IF in the BBC programme, Trust Me I’m a Doctor, hosted by Michael Mosley. It changed me forever. IF. It is something so simple and free! Proponents of Intermittent Fasting (IF) have no products to sell to us, there is no buck for them at the end of it. It is not a “you-beaut” low fat diet fad that will see us sign up to an expensive weight loss programme that limits our daily calorie intake with a menu that is professionally prepared by an expert dietitian. No, it is absolutely free. Mosley promoted a 5:2 method, eat “normally” for five days and restrict our daily calorie intake to 500 for women or 600 for men for the following two days. Did I say simple? That was in 2015, he could still get away with being “sexist”. Today, we don’t even know who is male or female, maybe some can be male and female at the time of their choosing. Anyway, I was too lazy to figure out what would equate to 600 calories a day. It is too hard for me if I need to weigh and measure what I eat. So, I chose the 16:8 method instead. Fast for 16 hours and limit my eating time to the remaining 8 hours of the day. Although it was only a small group that did the trial, Michael Mosley found that those who were on IF during that short period of 12 weeks reduced both their blood sugar level and LDL cholesterol. My dear father lost a limb to Type 2 diabetes. Pa suffered from cardiovascular problems too – his mobility was terribly reduced by the mini strokes he suffered after his recovery from the first stroke, a major one that left him briefly paralysed. I didn’t want these hereditary defects to cut me down if there are options to reduce the risks. I want to avoid being bed-ridden like Pa was in the last two years of his life. I dislike taking drugs – long-term use of any drug will have its side effects. If IF can do it for me, then it will be a life-changing lifestyle for me. And it has been life-changing. The moon face I had, well, that’s gone. I hated it from my 40’s right through to my late-50’s but it wouldn’t go away. A round and bloated face accentuated my slit eyes and made them appear even more beady. Any cartoonist would have happily picked my face as the perfect example to illustrate the typical China-man. I think you’ll know what I mean, you won’t need me to dig out an old photo to show you. Goodbye, moon face. Goodbye, beer belly. I didn’t have a ginormous gut but it was ugly enough to turn anyone off. A small beer gut would not be revolting if I had a Thor-like stature to hide it. My wardrobe was therefore limited to loose clothing only. During the prime of my life, I could not wear body-hugging muscle-fit shirts. I looked like a perennial footballer except the ball was under my shirt. Well, I am pleased to report that IF has got rid of the ball – the bump that made me look ridiculously pregnant has finally gone. I am now able to walk into my office looking a million bucks – a svelte bloke in slim-fit long-sleeved Lululemon top with long-flowing hair blowing in the wind.

Rob said I look young, for my age. Urghh, he didn’t have to add those last three words. If I dyed my hair black, I still cannot hide my age these days. My unruly facial hair below my chin has turned all white. Never mind, those looking at me from behind will still be fooled by my gait, posture and slim body with a BMI of 22. Folks, it is no challenge really. IF is so simple I can’t understand what the fuss is about. I can’t understand why many people think it is too hard to start or to stay the course. Some say I’m foolish to miss out on breakfast, it being “the most important meal of the day.” One doctor even briefly sowed doubts in my mind by saying the science doesn’t prove it – sure, fasting may work in the lab for rats only. But, I knew better. I had read up on Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work, not that I can fully understand the science he promulgated to win the 2016 Noble Prize for Physiology or Medicine. All I needed to understand was that we need to let our body rest when our body clock requires us to. When we rest, our stomach should be relatively empty to allow our digestive system to also rest. The mantra, eat regularly but in small amounts, is no good if it means we eat all the time.

For most of my life, I lived that way. I ate regularly even after a full meal. I loved to snack – an ice-cream cone, peanuts or Smiths crisps during TV time after dinner. TV viewing was a nightly habit before Netflix became a norm. These days, free-to-air TV time takes up 30 minutes of my life, if that. I can’t see how the TV channels can survive for much longer at this rate. Who watches TV these days? It’s all about HBO, Disney, Stan and Netflix. After a movie, it wasn’t unusual for me to cook myself a packet of duck-flavoured instant noodles or partake in The Mrs’ very wonderful “pei dun choak” or “century egg and pork mince rice porridge”. There was never ever a moment when the larder was empty – a cup of hot milky Milo was my “nightcap” if the fridge was bare. Otherwise, Chinatown was only a few minutes away and a Pizza Hut delivery even more effortless with a simple phone call. It has been four years since I started IF. I don’t count my daily calories because I don’t know how to. I can’t be bothered to figure out how many calories is in a piece of beef rendang or a handful of my favourite Garuda roasted groundnuts. My regime is easy going, I eat as much as I like within the 8 hours my clock allows me to eat. Yes, I do keep to the clock in the Zero app I have in my phone. The Zero app is free too, so adhering to this discipline is free. No membership fees, no specially formulated diet for me. When a thing is free, it cannot be tainted by the evils of money. There is nothing for the merchants to sell to us. No money to be made, no ulterior motive. It is truly practised for our own health and well-being. Fasting activates autophagy after 16 hours and that encourages cell regeneration and therefore promotes better health. Cell regeneration equates to slowing down the ageing process. I hope I got that right, Dr Ohsumi. Well, I hope you got it right too, Dr Ohsumi.

I have been doing IF for 4 years. The Zero app has given me a lot of medals. I don’t see why they need to reward their users for their personal achievements. We don’t need this extra incentive! Rob, a work colleague of mine has started to practise IF also. This is his 4th week. A little blip compared to my 4 years. But take a look at him today! The transformation in his physical appearance is no small blip; it is massive! He looks amazingly good today compared with a mere 3 months ago. I now call him the Italian Stallion at work. I think he appreciates it – there is a bit of Rocky Balboa in every Italian who is fit, strong and virile. He used to look a bit on the unhealthy side and owned a huge double chin which detracted from his otherwise good looks. I could have sworn that Rob did not have a neck when he came for his first job interview. I saw him walk into my office with a laboured gait after struggling up a short flight of steps. I had to wait for him to collect his breath before he could speak. He left a faint hint of an ashtray in the air after the interview. For a weekend surfer, he looked weakened and was surprisingly unfit. But, that was many moons ago. Look at him 3 months ago – he was still without a neck and his smile was unintentionally turned into a smug due to his puffy cheeks. Just prior to starting IF, he changed his eating habits. No more beer, sweets, sugar and wheat carbs. For an Italian to say no to a mountain of pasta and pizza for dinner would have been difficult but so far, he has stuck to his new discipline. Daily 2-3 km walks have become more enjoyable as the routine sets in. Today, he looks a lot younger; his face is radiant with a healthy glow. His sagging jowls have incredibly disappeared enabling his smiles to flash sweetly with sincerity. His eyes are no longer buried by fat around his eye bags, and they are free to reveal the inner warmth and kindness of his soul. I seriously think he needs to change his whole wardrobe. His clothes don’t fit him so well now. Today, he would not look out of place queueing to get in to a rave party for uni students. Yeah, he has shaven years off his age and his newfound youthfulness now happily bears the mark of a reborn man whose confidence and assuredness will deliver him more rewards than the improved health and fitness he has already gained. Rob, you are a wonderful role model for those who harbour any doubts that IF works. I am so pleased to see the huge improvements you have made to your own well-being. You are such a big inspiration to everyone around you. I suspect our work colleagues will be thinking they want to achieve the weight loss that you have made and the health benefits you have gained. Please continue to make them jealous!

Rob has a healthy glow and exudes a picture of health

Fuh, the YouTuber who calls himself Penang AA Cook, is a food lover. Yet, he has managed to lose 8kg since he learned about IF from one of our chats 2 years ago. He shares many photos of the food he cooks at home. I have to say it is amazing he has lost weight rather than put on weight, the amount of rich food he eats daily. Fuh practises fasting, he reckons dieting is a lot less effective. Those who diet tend to gain back their weight because the sacrifice is too much to bear for an extended period. People don’t want to miss out on the foods they enjoy. With IF, we can still enjoy the food we like without gaining weight. https://youtube.com/channel/UC5KMJTeAcBI-0mzea9tN1qA

Fuh, looking a lot less full after IF

If IF works so well, why have some people around me jettisoned their resolve to continue? Some are so cynical they do not even make an attempt to fast even though they can’t hide their body fat. A niece has been the most disappointing. Having lost some 20 kg, she inexplicably stopped IF and her weight has crept back up to over 85 kg. It won’t surprise me if she went back up to her original weight of 99 kg. She tells us she fasts intermittently (FI). So my question is if IF works, why FI?

Tennis with Murray?

The Taciturn Man’s Tacit Nod

The weekend breezed past especially quickly. It always does when we have a visitor. Mei is The Mrs’ Miri school friend from Form 1. She arrived last Thursday night and left Monday morning. Four nights in Adelaide, that is a long stay for most Sydney-siders. She had heard from other friends that this city is a small town, a kind word for boring. The roads are wide and the drivers are annoyingly slow. “South Australians drive like everyday is a Sunday. What can you expect from the city of churches?” A friend once asked acidly. Mei was fresh air for The Mrs. As soon as they gave each other a long welcome hug, The Mrs was resuscitated from sinking deeper into depression after having both her hips replaced. “My left hip was done exactly three months ago.” The Mrs informed her friend. “No, it was five days shy of three months.” I corrected her. Mei did not pull me to one side when she firmly advised me that The Mrs is always right when she is telling stories about herself. My silly behaviour that dared question the accuracy of her own stories was intolerable. “You do understand that, right?” She sought my confirmation. I turned taciturn and merely gave her a tacit nod. Her mellifluous voice is wasted on her, I decided. She does not sing and she does not enjoy karaoke sessions. Mei’s genius demonstration on how to be a nice listener was admirable. It was simply unnecessary to argue about inconsequential matters. No one should know better than me to be fully supportive when The Mrs is feeling despondent and dreading the general nastiness of her bed-bound life for the past three months. But, it was Mei who reminded me to be a nicer person when The Mrs obviously was beginning to resent the prolonged pain and prison-like restrictions to free movement. Again, I gave her a tacit nod and consciously refrained from giving out my habitual grunt. It was clear their friendship was never a sham. They lapped up their waking hours together with total alacrity. With Mei by her side, the frowns on The Mrs’ forehead smoothened, the laments and melancholy evaporated from her vocabulary. Adelaide surprised Mei. She had come fully prepared to “tut-tut” at everything we can showcase here. The wineries would not interest her, she does not enjoy the occasional tipple, no matter how little. Scratch out the Barossa Valley and McLaren Valley. Kangaroo Island off Adelaide, although bigger than Singapore, did not prick her ears either. We are the Festival State, but she was not into the arts. The Mrs cranked up Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in the car, but Mei said a little introduction of it was pleasant enough. We have a Chinatown here, but Sydney has a much bigger one and so she declined the offer to take her there. The Adelaide Central Market is a hub for South Australia’s farm produce, the buzz and din attract some 9 million visitors annually. But, Mei had been to Sydney’s Hay Market and Melbourne’s Victoria Market too often in her youth – markets no longer attract her. In the end, what surprised her did not surprise me. She discovered the secrets of Adelaide that bound The Mrs and me to this place when we first visited as a young family in 1985 and promptly settled here permanently the following year. It is the beautiful Jacaranda lined streets, the roses in full bloom on council verges, the stately Federation-style homes, the gum-scented neighbourhoods and the courteous and pleasant locals. I gave her a tacit nod, a silent “Bravo!” to have discovered our secret so quickly.


IMG_2243Mei was meticulously dressed in the four days I saw her. Graceful and lady-like, her movements were noticeably elegant despite her rounded shoulders. A short stint of yoga will easily fix them. She wore the cutest nose scrunch whenever she laughed. Her silky smooth skin attracted much praise from other women who were introduced to her. She had the perfect pink tone on her ultra fair skin. Even at her age, she could be a great ambassador for Maybelline. Her high nose bridge was unusual for her Chinese genes, which may be why her oversize Gucci sunglasses fitted her with aplomb. Big brands somehow suit women like her; her beige Prada handbag seemed to blend in with whichever day dress she wore. The Mrs possesses a high degree of self confidence, packed with the knowledge that she is well read, well informed of current affairs and keeps abreast of minutiae bytes of cooking shortcuts. Mei, however, was the exact opposite. Quick to announce her disdain for gardening, house chores and cooking, she was almost proud to dismiss any notion of her trying out The Mrs’ quick and easy recipes. “It is so easy!” The Mrs encouraged Mei to try her easy Jajangmyeon recipe but without much success. Mei merely scrunched up her nose and smiled and exclaimed,

“It is easier not to know anything!”

“Try it, you will have so much time for yourself!” “And look, you will have slender and smooth hands like mine..” as she offered her wrinkle-free baby-soft fingers for closer scrutiny.

The Mrs loves our four chooks. She told Mei that when she is well again – when her hips are fully operational again – she will be back to catching worms for her pets. They lay the most delicious eggs when fed with such a high protein diet. “Where do you go to catch the worms?” Mei asked, feigning interest.

“From my four compost bins in the backyard.”

“With my bare hands, of course.” The Mrs added, with a matter-of-fact voice. Mei scrunched up her nose again, but this time she was visibly repulsed, and was no longer cute.

Mei taught The Mrs her “know nothing and therefore do nothing” tactic decades ago, but The Mrs being the proud woman that she is, would rather the world know how smart and knowledgeable she is. She did adopt the strategy on a few occasions – which explains why I am better than her at ironing, vacuuming, washing (dishes and clothes), cleaning the aquarium and pond, mopping and frying Penang Char Koay Teow and Sar Hor Fun. In my household, the one who is better at a chore gets to own it for life. I gave Mei a tacit nod to let her know I am fully aware of her clever strategy.

When Mei found out I have been practising Intermittent Fasting (IF) for almost two years, she finally became genuinely interested in something I had to say. After rattling off to her the many health benefits one can get from IF, I hastened to ask why she would be interested. She did not seem like a candidate for our IF club, she already possessed a taut body many ladies would die for. But, there she was, asking sensible questions about the merits of fasting and the main differences of fasting versus dieting. Her husband had lost a lot of weight once from a strict diet but she told him he was shrivelling up like an old man with flabby skin hanging off his arms like those of a turkey’s wattle. He promptly gave up after that. “But, your arms don’t look like a turkey’s neck. Why?” she asked. I gave her a simple answer – fasting is not dieting. It is a lifestyle that leads to a taut, healthy body. Just like that, she was sold on IF and started her first 14-hour fast that same evening. She gave me a tacit nod the next day, as if to say it was really easy. Her husband will be her disciple when they return to Sydney.

For lunch on Saturday, we went to an Italian cafe. I was a dollar short at the cashier’s, and so I went over to my sister and asked if she had any small change. The cashier said loudly with his strong Italiano accent, “It’s ok, doanch worry ’bout it.” My sister could not help herself and quickly relayed to Mei my many stories of getting freebies around the world. “Even on an MAS plane to KL, a stewardess gave him a huge bag of peanuts. A HUGE bag that contained over twenty-five sachets of the best MAS peanuts!”  Francis, a brother-in-law who was unnecessarily frank one day, gave me a name that sounded like Jeffrey but he bastardised it to “Jiak-fre”, a play on the hokkien word Jiak (eat) and the English word free. He too had witnessed my many free meals whenever he travelled with me. On their last night, The Mrs and I threw them a farewell party. Mei said her husband would bring some of their golfing friends along. They had all come here to compete in three days of golf. Sure, why not. I have to portray myself as a generous host and it was a good opportunity to dispel the myth about my pseudo name Jiak-fre. Mei’s husband has a handicap of 18, quite a good golfer as I understood it. He showed me photos of him with many of golf’s elite, such as Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Nicklaus, Montgomery, Vijay Singh, Jason Day, and so on. That made him an elite in the business world – how else would one get so many prized opportunities to play with these legends of the game? I failed to display the myth about me that night. Someone at the table said The Mrs and I are lucky to live so close to such a fantastic Chinese restaurant – The Empress was voted Best Chinese Restaurant 2019. Yes, we are indeed lucky. As if to prove it, we were later served free desserts – a tropical fruit pudding. Nice! Later, I found out Mei’s husband had already taken care of the bill as I returned from the men’s washroom. I gave Mei a tacit nod. She understood. Jiak-fre, again. 

They Flip When I Flop

In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the alluring fragrance of bread, freshly baking in the kitchen. Aaaaahh, right at that moment, it was so tempting it almost broke my will to maintain my longest IF streak of 323 days. Intermittent Fasting has been a breeze for me, not even the decadent breakfasts served on the cruise ship to the Baltic countries could weaken my resolve. But, this wasn’t a visual sensation. It was olfactory. My senses were heightened by the temptation of the wicked scent. I had to subdue the strong urge inside me that wanted to quickly devour the enticing bread in the kitchen. I imagined getting up right that moment from my cosy bed and braving the chilly dawn. In the dark, I would not find my dressing gown. It is the one piece of clothing that I don’t habitually hang in a fixed spot, whereas my bedroom slippers, always at my side of the bed, were neatly placed side by side on the carpet. They don’t wander off. They never require me to look for them, unlike the itinerant dressing gown. In my mind, I was already in the kitchen, unscrewing the nut on the base of the bread container to free the bread onto a plate. As I slice the wonderful soft white bread, more of the aroma that had seduced me to leave my bed is released. Spread a wafer thin piece of butter onto it, and bring it towards my eager lips. As I consume it, I surrender to the wickedness of the carbohydrates that will cause my insulin level to spike. My mind may be weak but my shadow self is strong. It only allowed me to think it happened. It didn’t happen, except in my mind. That’s as real as it gets, right? After all, it is the same chemicals that the brain releases that tell us how we feel. Whether it is physical, virtual or imagined, to the brain the sensations are the same. Serotonin, endorphins and dopamine are the happy chemicals that are released by the brain irrespective of whether the trigger is real or imagined.

Back to my bread. I rushed out of my bed before 7.20 AM, put on my bedroom slippers and darted to the kitchen. I was eager to see if the bread matched the one in my mind for fluffiness, size and height. It did not. It was a total flop. Do I throw it away, make another one before The Mrs wakes up? “Don’t let her find out!” my shadow self implored me. Disappointed with myself, I went outside to the front garden to console myself. Where did I go wrong? Never mind, I’ll find out soon enough. The Mrs won’t let this opportunity slip by, it is her chance to tell me what I’m worth. She will flip when she finds out the bread is a flop. “Aiyaya, you waste the flour! You waste the elektrikcity! You waste your time!” I have heard this many times in my life, the way she emphasises the “K’s” in electricity. An hour later, she purrs out of the bedroom. “The bread smells so gooood!” she chirps happily. She limps out gingerly as she appears in the hallway. At least she doesn’t waddle anymore. In another week or so, she will fully recover from her second hip replacement. By then, I had better watch out. Better not cry. She will have her vengeance. The new bionic woman will eat me for breakfast if I don’t make her good bread. She flips when I flop. A no-nonsense woman. She has no truck with failure. “We do not fail. That’s for the weak. We will rise up!” (As surely as my bread must, next time) I added silently in my mind. Why did my bread fail to rise? “Warm water! Yeast is a living thing. It needs warm water, stupid!” She didn’t call me stupid but I heard it anyway, in my mind. So, The Mrs grabs her chance and pours cold water at my silliness. I used tap water instead, thinking the time set for three hours would be enough for the yeast to work and make the bread rise. Worse was to come. Having had to chew on soggy heavy bread and missing out on the enjoyment from what is normally the best meal of the day for her, the demeanour of The Mrs turned from chirpy to annoyed. “If you want to stick to your (stupid) cold water theory, I’ll eat Coles bread instead. I don’t enjoy chewing leather. I can’t afford to lose my teeth!” Untethered, free to show her annoyance, she plonks her plate and coffee mug loudly into the sink. I was pouring a cup of coffee for myself when I heard the commotion. Quickly putting the moka pot back on the stove, I rushed to empty the sink of its dirty contents, transferring them to the dishwasher. In my haste, the moka pot was placed precariously on the gas ring and it toppled over. “Aiyaya! What a disastrous morning!” she exclaimed. My freshly brewed coffee spilt everywhere. Into the gas burners, into the gas oven, it drowned the oven clock, and splashed all over the kitchen floor. Somehow the coffee must have got to the electrical bits of the oven and tripped the main fuse box of the house. Everything stopped. The noisy pond fountain, the soothing trickling of water from the aquarium, the whirring of the washing machine, the background humming from the central heating system. The dead silence didn’t last long. I shan’t repeat what transpired between the two occupants of the house after that, except that the bedroom door slammed shut soon after. The unintended consequence of wanting to make bread for The Mrs. I later found out the flour was four months past its expiry date, which leads me to think I was dealing with dead yeast.

Dead yeast can’t make fluffy bread

A son sent me a few messages. “Life is short, ba. Why make mum eat that bread?

“She said it’s as tough as leather!”

“The bread flopped, so what? Go to a cafe and enjoy the weekend”.

He too flips when I flop. Why would anyone think I can force their mum to eat anything? She is a strong woman. Strong headed too. There is no way I can make her do anything that she doesn’t want. Besides, that would be misogynistic and I am certainly not built that way. I did not dare to argue their preposterous suggestion about the bread being as tough as leather. I am quite sure none of us have tried leather. But, they will freak out if I dare voice my thoughts on the matter.

A lesson learnt. The next time I use active dry yeast, I will definitely check to see if it’s alive first. Dissolve half a teaspoon of sugar in half a cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and stir. After ten minutes, I will know the yeast is alive and will proof the bread dough if there are bubbles and foam in the mixture. Failure is forever only if we quit. On second thoughts, the other lesson learnt is easier to remember. Just don’t bother making my own bread.

I just came home with a fresh loaf from Foodland. Urghhling.

Making my own bread. A sour experience.

The Commoner And The Common Friends

It is Sunday. A day of rest, I get to sleep in. But, at the back of my mind, I know the chooks will be restless. They will want to get out of their coop and stretch their legs. Flap their wings, sing to the neighbouring kookaburras and excitable parakeets. Instead, I remain in my bed, beneath layers of crumpled moth-loved blankets and decades-old thinning quilt. It may be spring but the unseasonal heat wave conditions earlier in the week have retreated and surrendered to the cold Antarctic winds. The chooks will be more comfortable in their home, I reasoned with myself. My shadow self lost the debate, he too did not look forward to brave the cold. Moth ridden blankets still serve their purpose, there is no need to consign them to the bin, let us be kind to the environment. I did not have to wait for Greta Thunberg to evoke her thunder and lightning at us, the older folk. I have been using the “Save the environment” catchcry for all my life.

But, it is Sunday! He is also late.

“Time to throw away your singlets and undies. They are full of holes.” The shadow self hollered. “Nope, save the environment” I told him.

“Why don’t you update your wardrobe, ba? Sharp long collars are so out. Long before rounded collars were in.” “ Nope, save the environment, son.” I said with much conviction about saving the world.

“Heard of the latest QLED 8K big screen tv?!”, asked my shadow self. “You still spend your free time watching old movies on your old Panasonic Plasma tv!”, he mocked. “Look at the depth and detail 8K offers. Look at the vivid colours. It’s QLED, you know!” My shadow self loves all things modern, high tech and expensive.

“It’s ok. Let’s save the environment.” That was all I said. I did not bother to learn what QLED means.

Three Christmases ago, my son from London suggested it was time to change the carpets downstairs. “How about changing to solid timber flooring? The natural smell of Tassie Oak will be a welcome change.”

“Nope, save the environment, son.” I was quietly thinking more about the money saved than the planet’s well-being.

He pointed out that my house was beginning to welcome visitors with the previously familiar “old person’s smell”. Previously, my parents-in-law lived with us for many years until they passed away. Poh-Poh’s last breath was drained away by the emphysema she got from a lifelong habit of smoking. Gung-gung was forever strong until he broke his hips from a nasty fall. Euthanasia was illegal then, in 2002, and still is in South Australia. He was transferred to a palliative care unit where he passed away peacefully in the wee hours of the next dawn. When one is at that junction of one’s life, the issues are no longer quality of life versus longevity or right to live. It is no longer weighing up the burden of medical treatment versus the benefits of gaining it. It is not even about God’s will or God’s words. I am so glad Gung-gung did not hang around at all. Why endure immense suffering and pain at end of life? He lived a dignified life, it is only right he retained his dignity at death. I will want that for myself also.

Oh, the chooks!! Sorry, girls. I forgot to let you out! It’s 8.35 a.m. now!! “C’mon me ladies. Time for your breakfast.” I am a strict adherent of IF (Intermittent Fasting) but I do not impose it on my girls. They have a habit of lowering their body whenever I stroll by. Squatting low, Reddy’s underside almost touches the ground. She shivers momentarily as if expecting a sexual encounter. All she gets is a gentle pat on her back. “Good girl, Reddy. Did you sleep well, darling?” She has been stooping low at my feet ever since she lowered her guard about me. Always offering herself whenever I enter the chicken run, she wants to be straddled by a male. I should keep a cock for her, but the local council frowns at cockerels in the suburbs. My shadow self hopes she does not feel dejected by my rejection of her advances. I will only pat her back, that is the extent of our friendship. She knows I will never harm her. All my four ladies will never experience a black swan day. They should know this is always their home, till they die a natural death. Yes, with tender palliative care too.

Late in the morning, Chip, a good childhood friend, shared some food pics of his Nyonya dinner with some common friends in Adelaide. The Baba’s and Nyonya’s have a colourful history in Malaysia. The meeting and eventual merger of cultures between the early Chinese migrants and the local Malays enriched not only the cultural fabric of the society there but also impressively created a new type of cuisine. A Baba friend encourages us to keep using “Baba-Nyonya” for the Straits-born Chinese-Malays rather than adopt the more commonly used word for their culture, the Peranakans. Legend has it that in 1459, the emperor of China sent his daughter Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Malacca. The nobles and servants who accompanied her married the native Malays and they gave rise to the new class of Straits-born later known as baba-nyonya. Apparently, the term Peranakan is predominantly used by the Indonesians and later exported to Singapore. Last night’s party theme was to celebrate the baba-nyonyas. I imagine the women all went dressed in their best lacy see-through kebaya, with colourful batik sarong and manek slippers. The photo of the nyonya fish curry was mouth-watering but it did not affect my mood considering I was still on IF. But, when Chip sent me the photo of his wife’s Pulut Tai Tai, I couldn’t help but feel like a commoner. They were all our common friends yet I missed out on my favourite snack. Made of fluffy glutinous rice steamed in coconut milk, it is a heavenly dessert especially if you slather it with generous dollops of pandan-flavoured kaya (egg and coconut jam). Commoners miss out on all things exotic in life, including nyonya delicacies, that’s the hierarchical rule. When do ordinary folk without any significant social status get invited to such special parties? That is what I want to know, Chip. Urghhling.

Chip The Chairman

The Morning After

I woke up feeling somewhat blithe about life. Finally, it sinks in, I am truly a senior citizen. There is no longer the need for any pretentious actions or words to please others. It is exhilarating. The air smells fresher, cleaner, intoxicating. I can be myself, warts and all. I can look into the mirror and be comfortable with the ugly reflection of a sixty-one-year-old bloke. Who cares what others think? So what if they frown at my behaviour? Be it childish, selfish, impulsive or even irrational. So long as we are not abusive, repulsive or dismissive of other people’s rights, we have every right to be honest with ourselves and therefore with them, right? Writing has been a catharsis for me. Past demons have since not returned and I am more apt in keeping my emotions in check now. I can be blithely ignorant of societal norms, be who I want to be and not be subjected to restrictive rules that try to mould me into someone different. In actual fact, I have shown little regard for unsolicited opinions for much of my adult life. Maybe, that is the unintended benefit of being my own boss in my own business for almost thirty years. I am indifferent to what people say about me. “Be silent! You’re truculent.” Even today, I am described as argumentative, provocative, even annoying. Unintended consequences, perhaps, for being honest and direct or foolish. I rather prefer to call a spade a spade – after determining it is a spade – there’s no need to beat around the bush. After all, I am not in politics and I see being political as being untrue to myself.

All I said was a spade is a spade!

But, who am I kidding? I forget I have someone in my life who I refer to as The Mrs, she who must be obeyed unless I fancy an “eventful” day or week. My uncontrolled sneeze from a Spring allergy roused The Mrs from her deep sleep. That woke me up too. Time to get ready for work. And then it dawns on me, it is Saturday today! I can continue with my dream. It’s reassuring to note that ageing has not interfered with both the ionotropic receptors and metabotropic GABA receptors that inhibit me from acting out my dreams during REM phase of deep sleep. It is these receptors that prevent us from physically moving during our dreams. If either receptor is blocked, The Mrs might very well wake up totally bruised by my kungfu kicks and Superman punches which I execute with perfection in my dreams. Unfortunately, she will not get the opportunity to experience my stupendous sexual prowess which I repeatedly exhibit in my dreams. The difference between reality and dreams sometimes is opportunity. Other times, it is our physical impairment that limits us from our full potential. Having gotten a year older – a silly notion, since ageing is a daily occurrence – I woke up with a renewed resolution to improve my physical fitness, and as silly as it may sound, the incentive comes from the sudden enthusiasm to gain a better physique rather than a quest to demonstrate to The Mrs the prowess I possess in my dreams. Dinner finished late last night, breaking my fast of sixteen hours will be at 1.15pm today. Whilst indulging in a strong cup of black coffee, my Kiwi friend directs my attention to an article in the Weekend Australian. “Hey bro, 61 is the new 41!” John is a real nice guy who recently retired as a GP. He is the bloke who inspired me to go out and buy a floral shirt. A rare breed, he refused to charge those patients who couldn’t afford his fees. The newspaper article is about an international study of mortality. Singapore, three days ago, emerged as the world’s most competitive economy. It is also ranked number one in life expectancy. For me, that is incongruous, intense competition leads to stress which usually means a blight on life expectancy. Australia is ranked 12 in life expectancy (82.4 years) and 14 in healthy life expectancy (70.4 years). This means that since 1990, my life expectancy has increased 5.5 years but of this increase, four years has been in “health-adjusted” life expectancy. So, what’s the point of living longer but in less than full health?

The Weekend Australian Oct 12-13, 2019

As I dwell on the prospect of enjoying only nine more years of healthy life, my eldest son uncannily shares with me a podcast about Ben Greenfield’s top basic and ancestral anti-ageing tactics. Greenfield talks about lobsters with the capability to prevent the shrinking of the telomeres, thereby slowing down ageing. Lobsters can live for hundreds of years by producing an enzyme called telomerase that acts to constantly fix the bits of the telomere that are lost with each cell division. Similarly the humming bird doesn’t die as early as we expect as they can produce their own endogenous antioxidants. Their internal degradation is slow even though they have extremely high metabolism. The immortal jellyfish is called that because it can live forever; the sexually mature jellyfish has the ability to revert to an immature one using a cell development process called cell transdifferentiation which transforms differentiated cells into new cells. Greenfield recommends a multi model approach to slow down the ageing process, after analysing societies that show a high concentration of centenarians. These are his twelve rules. The 13th is mine.

1. Don’t smoke. Avoid air pollution. Clean up the air around you. Outfit your home with an air filtration system. Air pollution has been linked in epidemiological studies to increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Reduce cortisol or stress hormones by adding plants that exude polyphenols to your environment.

2. High intake of wild herbs, bitter plants and spices e.g. Kale, Turmeric, Dandelion. These provide a hormesis response when taking things that, in large amounts are bad for us can actually help us in small amounts. Read Eating On The Wild Side by Jo Robinson.

3. Avoid processed packaged foods, they usually contain sugar and vegetable oil which wreck our blood sugar level, and inflammation (CRP level).

4. Consume legumes. Purple potato and taro. Select lowest glycemic index (GI) foods that are slow-release carbohydrates.

5. Exercise. Use standing work stations, walk as much as possible and casually lift things during the day, avoid sitting down. Going to the gym should be an option, we ought to get enough exercise during our normal day engaging in low level activity.

6. Social physical interaction. Eat at the dinner table with family. Mingle with friends. Chat and laugh.

7. One drink a day for females, two for males. Gin or vodka mixed with bitters. Bitters are packed with immune boosters, help suppress appetite, ease indigestion and help detox the liver. Non-herbicide wine is also beneficial as it is high in antioxidants.

8. Calorie restriction, e.g. Intermittent Fasting. Daily 14-16 hour fast. Cellular autophagy occurs when the body is deprived of food during fasting. Read The Longevity Diet by Valter Longo.

9. Purpose of existence. We must be able to have a single succinct statement of our purpose in life. What makes our day fly past? Do things that make us forget to eat and poo.

10. Avoid stress. Breathe. Learn to breathe to control stress.

11. Spiritual discipline. Meditation, silence, solitude, prayer. Or writing a simple daily journal of three things that you are grateful for.

12. Engage in sex. When your body knows you’re trying to make babies on a regular basis, it will realise your organs need to be healthy, robust and virile. Nature doesn’t keep living organisms around for a long time unless it knows it is useful for the propagation of the species.

13. Eat slowly. This allows you to digest the food you eat properly. An indirect benefit from this is we consume a lot less given the same time to eat. My mother is the perfect example; a slow eater and therefore eats till she is only 70% full.

This is the morning after. Now I am ready for the final phase of my life.

So, Sow, Sew And Show

Ah Beng has been away for over a month. The pumpkin seeds he smuggled into Penang have sprouted, he told me he planned to sow them a few weeks ago. He is eager to show the young men in today’s world, culinary knowledge is superior to carnal knowledge. Not only is he the gourmet cook, he is also the gourmet farmer. Sow it, grow it, throw it in a pan. Then, show it and crow about it. He is the epitome of the modern day urban hero. The paragon of the modern man. Move aside, metrosexuals. Move aside, spornosexuals. The spornosexual’s reign did not last long. Most of us cannot persist with the punishing and rigorous gym work required to sculpt our bodies into those of sports stars and porno stars. Too much effort! We don’t have the discipline. Ah Beng has an unfair advantage already, he is naturally tanned, and never requires a shave, there is no body hair for him to worry about. He is slim built, an early follower of the IF gurus in my chatgroup. Fasting intermittently, his belly no longer overhangs from his belt. He is an ardent tennis player, enthusiastically during the weekend. And, of course I imagine he also contorts his body like a yogi but I do not have access to his bedroom where he professes to perform. I have seen his Tai Chi moves, he isn’t quite as lethal as the Drunken Master, he may appear drunken only, after a long session with his favourite Yamazaki whiskey. Yet, he’s still the best candidate amongst the sixty year olds in my group to be crowned the Urban Hero. The Urban Hero is the new modern man who embodies all the sexy charm of the late 20th century metrosexual, such as window shopping with the spouse and the must-have muscular, tough, lean and mean features of the 21st century spornosexual, and adding to that, an irresistible acreage lifestyle in a groovy hobby farm with a you-beaut state of the art commercial kitchen.

The Urban Hero also knows how to sew, skills learned when he was a Metrosexual. I still haven’t figured out why Ah Beng is itching to do some stitching. Why would the ability to sew be relevant to the Urban Hero? Does it enhance his sex appeal to the ladies? Maybe it ties in with today’s conversation about the environment and climate change. Reduce our carbon print. An old suit becomes new again with fresh buttons. Becoming green is a prerequisite for being taken seriously, it seems. He is still very much moisturised and teeth-whitened, well informed of everything under the sun, and stylish in his smart casuals. He is well-versed in the fine arts, fine wines and fine foods. It’s not cheesy to admit he knows all there is to know about cheese. He no longer calls himself Ah Beng, but I still do because I have known him since his childhood days. His appreciation for music, cinema, drama, interior design, even garden designs still raise eyebrows. He is the latest version of cool, I suspect he owns a guide book on how to be suave. Just like a James or a Bond, he is now known with an Anglo monosyllabic name. Calling himself Ah Beng just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Can I chip in and call him Beckham? Or Ronaldo? With the right name, his demonic sex appeal will break many hearts.

Hey Ah Beng, you have been in Penang now for four weeks. That means four weeks without the discipline of IF. Do you remember IF, Intermittent Fasting? Or has IF evolved into Intermittent Feasting, Incessant Feeding, Intoxicated Frenzy? How many kgs have you put on since your arrival at the island of Incredible Food? After all, Penang holds the enviable title of Street Food Paradise, doesn’t it? Too many durian excursions? Excuses, excuses. You sow the seeds, now show us a selfie.

IF Stalls By The Food Stalls

Penang, my birthplace, is still a street food paradise. Once upon a time, its beautiful pristine beaches and unrivalled leisurely tropical lifestyle made it the Pearl of the Orient. Today, there are many cities that vie for that title. Shanghai with its old French Quarters, Hong Kong, Manila, Saigon, Goa, Colombo in Sri Lanka all have reasons to claim to be The Pearl in Asia. Why the pearl? What makes a pearl beautiful, valuable and sought after? Is it the rarity of a natural pearl? Pearl divers purportedly are saying they are almost extinct. Its value is dependent upon the size, shape, colour, surface quality and nacre quality. Even before the Middle Ages, pearls were cherished for their beauty and rarity. Eventually, pearls symbolised power, most European royalty and aristocracy were often painted wearing pearls. Even Christianity used pearls as an attribute for chastity and purity. In the 17th century, the Dutch master Vermeer loved painting his subjects with pearls to depict wealth and power. Arguably the most famous pearl isn’t Penang, but the pearl worn by the girl in The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

But, what’s indisputable about Penang is it is still the street food paradise of the world. I arrived in Penang with a cocky confidence of a very disciplined Intermittent Fasting practitioner. During a recent three week holiday in Europe, I travelled from London via Amsterdam and Copenhagen to St Petersburg. Much of that holiday was enjoyed in the Viking Jupiter, a luxury cruise ship that presented the most delectable meals from breakfast to late suppers. Yet, this IF guy was resolute right through, never did I waiver or submit to the temptations from the ship’s kitchens. The strict regime of IF was so important to me that nothing and no one could weaken my discipline. I observe IF strictly for health reasons. After 18 months, I no longer have a weight problem and neither do I have a waistline to worry about. To the constant chagrin of my fellow travellers, their teasing and harmless mocking could not tease me out of my cabin to join them for breakfast.

When I arrived in Penang three nights ago, I was absolutely confident I would continue with my IF routine. Fasting for 16 hours leaving a window of 8 hours to eat, isn’t punishing when it is so beneficial for my health. It’s a lifestyle that I’m now totally accustomed to and in fact, enjoy. Importantly, I feel good and I look spritely for my age. Many of my friends and even friends’ friends have declared that they too are giving IF a try. This alone has made me feel good, that I have imparted something good to others. Prior to IF, I did not think there was anything I know in health matters that I could promulgate and share, let alone influence.

But I got to admit my self belief in my rock-solid absolutely unshakeable willpower was irrational. It took a mere 24 hours to shatter the mirror in my mind. We often look at the mirror and don’t see a true reflection of ourselves. Either we are too critical and we blame the devil for it or we are too lenient and we see the angel that we are not. I have lost my swagger. I have lost that absolute belief in myself. Penang broke me. It broke my will well before it was time to break my fast. There are simply too many amazing food stalls here that dish out the most delicious temptations that somehow my steely resolve cannot fight. Last night, a mere morsel of Penang Hokkien Mee was enough to render me a mere mortal. IF stalls whilst the food stalls of Penang are near me.

Intermittent Fasting: Time Restricted Eating

Why do I practise IF if it’s so difficult to follow, and when so many good folk around me oppose it?

I have been an IF practitioner for over 18 months. A very disciplined one, I didn’t stop my 16:8 fast even during my three week holiday recently in Europe. The cruise ship Viking Jupiter’s amazing supply of exquisite culinary cuisine and abundance of wine, glorious breakfasts and desserts couldn’t break my resolve; I didn’t break my fasts prematurely. The good uncomprehending and incredulous folk around me exhorted, “You’ve paid for it, this is expensive food you’re missing out on! What a waste! You can fast after your holiday!” Yes, I’ve paid for my holiday but I don’t need to pay more for it with my health, I whispered inside my mind. I was too polite to come up with such a retort, I only resorted to flash a smile. They must think I’m such an idiot. So I kept telling myself I’m just a local idiotes ( old Greek word).

There are a few versions of IF. I follow the 16:8, fast for 16 hours leaving a window of 8 continuous hours to enjoy my healthy diet. Does anyone really need more than 8 hours to consume the food that they want? Hunter gatherers in neolithic times inform me otherwise. They were very unlike us, unspecialised in any field but needed to be adept in every task to survive. There was no agriculture, therefore little consumption of carbohydrates and sugars that are so bad for us. They didn’t lead a sedentary lifestyle, most of us are desk bound specialists in our jobs. Taxi drivers, truckies, pilots all sit on their bums when they work.

It’s now 11.40 am. My last meal finished at 7.45 last night. In another 5 min, I can break fast and have my breakfast. I’ve been up since 8 this morning. It’s Sunday, my day of rest. I got up and had a full mug of warm water. My body needed to be rehydrated, it appreciated that mug. It’s the second day of winter, so it’s a bit cold. I went out to say hello to my four chooks. They don’t have to fast, so I fed them some seeds and grain. Organic ones I hope so I’ll have organic eggs. The coop was filthy, these chooks aren’t toilet trained, so today’s my turn to be their toilet cleaner. Aah, the Zero app which I use to record my daily IF history just flashed the message that I’ve reached my goal of 16 hours. But I’m not hungry, so I’ll continue writing. After the chook poo’s been transferred to the compost bin and floor of the coop flushed clean, I walked to my neighbour’s garden via the side gate that we share, to say hello to my fish. They think the koi belongs to them now that they are in their pond. I shan’t argue, since I know they are mine. Hello, my beautiful koi, you give me so much joy. I spent the next hour cleaning the pond and flushed out the waste from the water filter system. The waste is collected and becomes a wonderful source of fertiliser for my neighbour’s veggie patch and flower beds. It’s a fresh morning, so I didn’t linger to enjoy their garden. My sons are yoga enthusiasts, they popped into my mind, so I came back inside and did some simple yoga stretches. I saluted to the sun even though it didn’t appear this morning. I did the dog pose, almost as easily as Murray does it. Murray isn’t my dog but he adores me like a best friend would.

Lunch will be at 1pm. It will be a gathering of a big family. Which means lunch won’t start at 1. I’m still not hungry, will make myself a cup of black coffee. Apparently it’s ok to have black coffee when fasting, without sugar or milk, it doesn’t add calories and glucose that require our body to burn off. The idea is to let the body burn off the glycogen in the body so that it gets to burn off some of the fat stored. IF is a great way to slim down. I weighed 74kg before I started IF, now I’m consistently at 69-70 kg. During my three week holiday, the glutton, no, gourmand in me added 1.2 kg but that was soon lost after a 19.9 hour fast when I got home. My BMI has been hovering around 21.9 for a long while. A niece in Miri was over 99 kg three months ago after decades of failed diets; today she is a gorgeous youthful 81.9 kg woman on IF. Her friends now ask for her secret.

My niece, before IF
Three months with IF
Six months with IF

Yum! Ok I’ll share a secret with you. That first cup of black coffee for the day tastes amazing! When the body has been deprived of food and drinks for so long, that first sip or that first morsel tastes simply divine. It’s as if my body is thankful and it’s its way of showing great appreciation when it enjoys that first taste sensation. It’s 12.49 pm, I should stop here and make my way to lunch. The yumcha will be awesome!

It’s now 4.15 pm. Lunch was delicious! The bill was only $164, for 20 of us, meaning most of us were 70% full, did not over indulge. After that we went to a sister’s house for afternoon tea. There, I ate a bit more of her Macadamia tart than I should, so I’m feeling a bit full. It’s not a nice feeling, this feeling of satiety. My body has gotten accustomed to a “clean system”, it no longer welcomes the feeling of over eating, that sense of heaviness and fullness inside. Tonight’s dinner will be light, maybe some veggies, an omelette and some fruits to close my 8 hour window. I may even close it after 6 hours. That will allow me to have a breakfast of rolled oats drizzled with pure honey, with mixed dried fruit tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that!

Twelve months with IF

I’m encouraged by a recent study published by The British Journal of Nutrition which shows that fasting not only helps reduce the incidence of strokes but also helps the body repair the damaged tissues caused from a stroke. Subjects who participated in the above mentioned study were able to clear triglycerides from their blood more quickly than the control group. Triglycerides drive up the LDL-P. The higher the LDL-P, the more they will penetrate the endothelial membrane causing plaque buildup. It’s the burst plaque that causes strokes if they travel to the brain and restrict/block blood flow to it. The fasting group’s systolic blood pressure reduced by 9% compared to the control group. The lowering of pressure on the arteries is good news, it may reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. Research also finds that fasting supports neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons and neuronal connections after a stroke.

Apart from the early benefits of rapid weight loss and shrinking bellies, IF may deliver other more important health benefits such as lowering risks of diabetes, heart disease and therefore offer us a longer healthier life. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine, for his discovery that fasting enhances the process of autophagy. It clears out old, unwanted cellular materials and proteins, especially weak or damaged cells, and also stimulates the production of growth hormones which enables cell regeneration. When autophagy does not take place frequently, our body accumulates a variety of weak cellular material and proteins which show up starkly in Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and even cancers. With autophagy, levels of 1GF1 marker of various cancers decreased. To induce autophagy, we need low liver glycogen which is usually achieved only after 16-20 hours of fasting.

Another benefit from fasting is mental alertness and clarity. When our body is deprived of food, it goes into a state of heightened awareness and sharpened senses. The now retired UFC champion, Georges St-Pierre attributed his faster reflex to IF. According to the journal Neuroscience, from an evolutionary perspective, “those individuals whose brains functioned best during periods of resource scarcity would be the most successful in meeting the challenges (of survival)”. IF also increases the production of a molecule known as BDNF, improving synaptic plasticity, thereby increasing the brain’s ability to resist ageing.

Apart from regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet, IF is also a great tool to help fight against diabetes. Recent studies suggested that IF enhances the regeneration of pancreatic cells, helps reduce insulin resistance which in turn keeps blood sugar levels under control. But, the science lags behind the fad. Therefore, responsible doctors continue to refrain from recommending IF to combat specific illnesses even though IF has gone mainstream. Having turned 60, I can’t afford to wait for studies to prove the benefits of IF. I know it’s benefiting me, I feel good, I feel I look good too, having lost that fat belly.

Another big benefit of fasting can be had if we go into ketosis. Ketosis is only achieved when our body, having burned up glycogen, starts burning fat for energy instead, producing ketones. Ketones unlike glucose, does not affect our insulin levels. The presence of ketones is evidence of the body regenerating itself, which protects against ageing and disease. Glucose buildup in our brain causes brain cells to die, leading to Alzheimer’s. Through ketogenesis, the body can produce ketone bodies that provide a source of energy that the brain can utilise. Being in ketosis reliably reduces blood glucose and insulin levels, i.e. reduces Type 2 Diabetes. When we reduce our blood glucose levels, insulin typically falls, and the HDL/triglyceride ratio usually improves, reducing the risk of heart disease. As the incidence of diseases reduces, we gain a prolonged healthy life.

One big caveat: People with eating disorders should not fast. It will have unintended consequences,  disrupting hard-won efforts to maintain a regular eating pattern. Please do not sue me for this article or bombard me with criticisms for any inaccuracies. I am not a professional in the medical field, merely an uneducated urghhling in the field of medicine and science, who has been asked to share his IF experience.