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How intermittent fasting helps this doctor stay grounded in uncertain times

While intermittent fasting helped Dr. Kevin Gendreau lose 125 pounds, sticking with it keeps him grounded during the coronavirus pandemic and its stress.
/ Source: TODAY

When Dr. Kevin Gendreau decided to lose weight years ago, he did it because his life felt chaotic. At the time, his sister, Rachel, was dying from ovarian cancer. He realized her health was outside of her control, but his was not. Thanks to a stress eating habit, he weighed 300 pounds at 5 feet 9 inches tall — and knew something had to change.

He decided to try intermittent fasting and lost 125 pounds in 18 months. Now, two years later, he has maintained that loss. Again, in a time of crisis, he finds that intermittent fasting offers some security. Maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits helps him grapple with the uncertainty of COVID-19.

“With this pandemic spiraling out of control," the 32-year-old from Fairhaven, Massachusetts told TODAY. “I can, at least, control my diet and I can, at least, help patients with their diet during this difficult time.”

Gendreau is a family practice physician and helps many of his patients who want to lose weight. As he has moved to providing care via telehealth, he has had to adapt. But for the most part, he’s offering the same support he always did.

“A lot of what I do is conversation. So I've been able to check in on a lot of my patients and accomplish a great deal,” Gendreau said. “They need that human connection. It doesn't necessarily have to be physical touch but some kind of check-in and it's nice that they get to check in with their doctor so I’m happy to provide them with that.”

As someone who once used food to soothe his emotions, Gendreau has had to be mindful of how stress impacts what he eats. While he still follows intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet, meaning he keeps his carbohydrates under 40 grams, he sometimes craves comfort foods, such as sweets or carbs. He makes healthy swaps so he can enjoy the foods he loves in a healthier way.

“I used to turn to cookies, in particular,” he explained. "So I've made a low-carb, keto chocolate chip cookie recipe that I'll go to on a stressful day."

Another way he’s focusing on his diet is with food prep. He goes to the grocery store every 10 to 14 days and he buys fresh vegetables, fruit and meats and prepares and freezes them. That way he can eat as little processed food as possible.

“That way they last a little bit longer,” he said. “I’ve been trying my best when I have to buy food that are nonperishable, like processed foods, I try to make the good dietary decisions.”

While he normally wouldn’t eat pasta or rice, he buys whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and whole grains like quinoa. He stores those in his pantry in case of a strict lockdown where shopping might be prevented.

While fasting helps him stay sane during such unusual times, Gendreau hopes that people are being kind to themselves. Everyone is facing unprecedented levels of stress.

“You have to forgive yourself. A lot of people are filled with such guilt and self-hatred and anger that they make a little mistake or slip up with their diet and then they really go off the deep end and they start cheating like crazy,” he said. “Part of the whole healing process — because really weight loss is all about like healing yourself and your relationship with food — is forgiveness.”