FASTING - why starving yourself isn't as bad as it seems.
Fasting is one of the newer dieting trends that has been showing a lot of positive results both scientifically and anecdotally. Note that most major religions have some type of fasting ritual instituted in their doctrine. Also note that the father of medicine Hippocrates understood fasting cures seizures back in 400 BC. A big argument for fasting is that our hunter gatherer ancestors fasted everyday until they found their food. They did that for tens of thousands of years, way before agriculture, grocery stores, and personal refrigeration. This means our bodies are accustomed to fasting, and perhaps not used to having food so readily available.
Today, science is showing that it can help with many chronic illnesses such as obesity, inflammation, arthritis, MS, diabetes, seizures, epilepsy, cancer, and probably much more. Healthy individuals have seen positive effects from fasting such as improved mental clarity, focus, endurance, performance, sleep, and recovery. So how do you do it?
Fasting is the act of your body using its stored calories (glycogen, triglycerides, and sometimes muscle tissue in extreme cases) instead of the calories from the food you consume. Basically, don’t eat or drink calories. Technically, anything that isn’t water will trigger your body to release enzymes to digest or process whatever that non-water matter is you consumed, which stops your fasting. Don’t let that dissuade you, we’ll discuss how to get around that later. Now, there are a few different ways people are using fasting:
Intermittent fasting - also known as a restricted eating window, an individual will break their fast and eat whatever they would usually eat within a certain amount of time, then begin fasting again. A popular eating window (one that I try to use at least 5 days a week) is an 8 hour eating window. Science shows the smaller the window, the more benefits one experiences.
24 hour fast - just like it sounds.
72 hour fast - just like it sounds.
7 day fast - this is more on the extreme side of fasting for specific illnesses.
**** DISCLAIMER - consult your doctor or physician before attempting a fast. ****
Yes, consult your doctor, do research, be smart - don’t jump right into a large fast right away.
So why do I like fasting?
I enjoy the mental clarity and focus while doing a 24-72 hour fast. I get a healthy fraction of that focus and clarity when I’m on intermittent fasting path.
It’s nice not having to worry about food. The searching, deciding, buying, prepping, cooking, eating, digesting, etc. Think about all the time that goes into each of those steps. It’s relieving not having to deal with that every now and then.
I GOT ABS! When I first incorporated intermittent fasting into my life, along with a healthy diet and consistently difficult exercise, I started sleeping better, feeling better, and lost some excessed stored calories. This resulted in my body fat % to decrease low enough to show my abdominal muscles for the first time in my life. Now it was never a real concern or goal of mine to just be ripped and have a six pack, but by incorporating fasting, it made it pretty easy. I enjoyed feeling healthier much more than looking in the mirror. That being said, if having aesthetically pleasing 6 pack abs is your goal, which is not a bad goal to have, think about incorporating fasting.
I definitely saw improved physical and mental endurance and performance. Who doesn’t want that?
Now, I know fasting seems like TORTURE! You easily get “hangry” or you can’t function without your early morning breakfast. I get it, I’ve been there. But here I am now, just completed my first 72 hour fast last week WITH EASE. Really, I never really felt the anxiety of hungry the entire 72 hours, just more like a friendly reminiscent feeling that I should eat. Otherwise, I was feeling clear and alert, had enough energy to wake up at 5 AM, do a light workout in the morning, work my construction job, and then fit in a vigorous workout after that, and get to bed early. All while not eating a thing. You can get there too. Here are some tips on how to get there:
BABY STEPS - If you have no experience with fasting, start slow. Don’t jump into a large fast - the cravings might be too strong and you’ll give in. Set yourself up for success. Try shifting your breakfast (breaking the fast that occurs from last meal before you sleep) in 30 minute increments, or whatever you feel comfortable with. Use your intuition, find the balance between effort and ease. Eat if you feel weak or slow, but try to eat healthy. Work your way up to where you don’t break your fast in the morning but in the afternoon. Think about it, if you have “breakfast” at noon, and you have a 8 hour eating window, then you get to eat all the way up to 8PM. Depending on when you go to sleep, this is an ideal time to start your 16 hour fast before your 8 hour eating window opens again. Again, adjust as needed, but your body will adjust if you stick with it.
STAY BUSY - while fasting, whether it be intermittent fasting or a longer fast, the trick is to stay busy. If you stay busy with work or leisure activities, it keeps your mind off of food. If you are sitting around watching tv, it’s easy to think about food and cravings may take over. Stay out of the kitchen, go for a walk or hang out in the backyard instead. If you have dinner with your family every night, focus on the conversation (share the benefits of fasting) or bring something occupy your mind.
EAT HEALTHY, EAT BIG - this will vary between folks, but I enjoy eating a large healthy meal for breakfast and dinner (my last meal before my 16 - 72 hour fast.) A large health meal will keep you satiated throughout your eating window and as you fast. If you eat junk food, you might be able to fast, but you’ll probably have stronger cravings.
HAVE A BUDDY - like most health ventures, having support from family or friends while you fast makes it more enjoyable and increases success.
IT’S OKAY TO CHEAT - shhhh, I won’t tell the fasting committee if you have a hand full of nuts, or snack on some sunflower seeds, or some cream with your coffee. Make fasting a fun yet challenging health discipline, not torture. Continue to have your morning coffee. Have herbal tea if water gets monotonous. Yes, the stricture you are, the more benefits you’re going to get. No, you won’t be a failure if you eat. That’s the awesome thing about fasting, the worse thing if you fail at fasting is that you get to eat! Then you start fasting again. It’s pretty much a win - win.
Let me know if you have questions, need help, or how your fasting goes!
Thanks for reading, stay on the path!