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Dr. Michael Leung Dr. Michael Leung

A ‘Fast’ Fix for Better Health

“I don’t think intermittent fasting is a fad because, honestly, this is one of the best things I’ve done for myself health-wise in the last 20 years.” – Dr. Michael Leung

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Michael Leung, MD, FACOG: Gynecology, OB/GYN. Pearland Clinic, Rice Village Clinic

June 2024

When his father passed away, it sparked a need in Dr. Leung to evaluate his own health. Even though he’s a self-proclaimed health nut, he knew he could do more to help ensure longevity. He felt as if the universe was trying to tell him something when it seemed that he was hearing about intermittent fasting everywhere he turned. Now, even healthier than he was before, he believes combining clean eating and intermittent fasting is a game changer.

You were already living a healthy lifestyle. What made you take a closer look at your diet?

My dad passed away last year, and he had health issues that run in my family. It seems cliché, but when something like that happens, it makes you re-evaluate what you’re doing and where you are. Yes, I had always tried to eat healthy and eat clean, but I found that I was plateauing, maybe even gaining a few pounds here and there. We all get older, and our metabolism slows.

Why did you decide to try intermittent fasting?

I saw in the Wellness Heroes calendar last year that Dr. Desiree Thomas had been intermittent fasting. Then, I heard some guy on the radio talking about it. Then I bumped into our clinic administrator and found out he’d been doing it. And then this guy on the radio is talking about a book called ‘Life in the Fasting Lane’ by Dr. Jason Fung. ‘I think the universe is trying to tell me something,’ I thought. So, I downloaded Dr. Fung’s audio book right before the holidays and decided to give it a try.

So, what does intermittent fasting look like for you?

I typically eat my first meal, lunch, at around 1:00 and then stop eating around 8:00. On the weekends, or every other weekend, I’ll skip breakfast and lunch and just sip on some mint tea until dinner. But I just try to discipline myself mainly during the work week. When I do eat, I try to eat clean most of the time. But some weekends I also let myself eat whatever. I mean, life is hard, right? You can’t be a robot. You have to let yourself enjoy things. If I let myself go at dinner, for example, and have as many fries as I want, the next day maybe I’ll skip breakfast and lunch and I’ll eat cleaner. If you feast, you should then fast.

What changes have you seen in yourself since you started intermittent fasting?

The first couple of weeks, my weight didn’t budge. Then, between four and six weeks, it was like, ‘Holy smokes!’ It really started to make a dramatic difference. I’ve lost around 15 pounds, which is crazy because I thought I was pretty healthy. I thought I looked pretty good. But I feel better. It’s tough at first. But after maybe three weeks or so, there’s this mental clarity. I feel like I’m in a better mood and my wife agrees. Also, my blood pressure has always been borderline and it’s normal now.

Do you ever suggest intermittent fasting to your patients?

I do suggest it to patients who are struggling with weight management or losing weight, especially if they’re maybe going through difficult times or transitioning to menopause. During that time, your metabolism definitely slows. And I’ve had some of them email me back and say, ‘This really works.’ It’s been really rewarding.

Does intermittent fasting fit within western medicine?

I think what’s important for all of us as doctors to remember is that no one size fits all. We have to have an open mind because everybody’s different. You never know what’s going to work for a given person.

What do you do in terms of exercise?

I’m a total gym rat. If I didn’t have to work, I’d probably be in the gym four hours a day. I love it. I do CrossFit, tennis, yoga, running, strength training – I do it all. During the pandemic, I invested in a home gym with barbells, kettlebells, boxes for box jumping, and jump ropes. I try to always do some kind of strength training, and I’ll do cardio maybe three days a week.

I also listened to an audio book called ‘Outlive’ by Dr. Peter Attia. It’s basically about what you can do now to bulk up your muscle mass so that you’ll be able to do the same things in your 70s and 80s that you can do in your 40s and 50s. The author said one of the best exercises to do this is rucking, which is wearing some kind of weight while walking. So, I invested in a weighted vest that’s about 40 pounds and walk for around 45 minutes wearing that once a week.

What do you think are the biggest barriers to being healthy today?

That's a tough question. I think most of it is a mental barrier. People say they can’t do something because they’ve never done it. But you don’t know until you’ve tried it. I can’t presume to know what somebody feels like because I don’t know what it’s like living in their shoes, but I think people tend to get set in their ways. We’re all creatures of habit.

What would you say to someone who maybe feels like it’s too late to make a change?

I think it's kind of like questioning what you believe and what you think and then saying, ‘Okay, I think I do need to make a change.’ Unfortunately, for a lot of people sometimes something significant has to happen before they really start making that change. But I tell my kids all the time, ‘Today's another opportunity to turn it all around.’ You know, you have a bad day, you can change. You can change what you decide to put in your mouth, or what you decide to put in your brain, or how you decide to spend your hours. Just give it a shot. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. You don’t have to change everything day one. And don’t be hard on yourself. Just give it a try.

Also, don’t assume that you’re healthy just because you look healthy. I thought I was in pretty good shape until I got my numbers back with my cholesterol and whatnot. It took me a long time to figure out that you can't out-exercise a bad diet. And I think when it comes to health, diet probably plays more of a role than exercise.

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