*excuse the pun ;)
Many have now discovered when they eat is just as (maybe more so...) important as what they eat.
Many have now discovered when they eat is just as (maybe more so...) important as what they eat.
Fasting is no longer a terrible f word met with tsk tsk noises and warnings about slowing metabolisms. In fact, I was just at a market this weekend and when offered samples I would let them know I couldn’t partake because I was fasting, I was astonished at the amount of people who also fasted or had a story about someone else’s fasting success.
Fasting is the quickest way to reduce insulin levels and your body weight set point. Bye bye buddha belly. Studies also point to fasting potentially for longevity enhancement . In fact, longevity improvements are seen with intermittent fasting even without caloric reduction. Fasting can also cause a reduction in inflammation. Inflammation is bad for the joints, the heart, your waist line and can even play a role in cancer and depression.
So how can we see all these great benefits from fasting and yet no decrease in metabolic rate like we do with calorie restriction diets? One word, adrenaline. When you fast, adrenaline spikes. Your body starts to get a little worried that you haven’t been feeding it so it gives you a little energy boost so you can go out and hunt for dinner. Fasting actually increases your metabolism.
Before you jump into your first fast remember that fasting can be dangerous if you don’t do your homework and take care of yourself before, during, and after. Keeping your water intake and electrolytes up is very important if you want to have a successful fast. Make sure you do your research and consult you physician before trying it out.
Fasting is a muscle, it takes time to build it up. I have to remind myself of this as I have struggled to make it past the 48 hour mark. But there are ways of making it easier. A ketogenic diet certainly reduces hunger pains while fasting, primarily if you are fat-adapted. Fat- adaption occurs when your body has run through all your glycogen stores and is comfortable running off fat. Your body gets to a point where it doesn’t much care if it’s running off of the fat you ingest or the fat on your thighs. At this point the hormone ghrelin is substantially reduced and hunger pains are mild or absent.
The other benefit to being a fat burner when you enter your fast is you will likely enter Autophagy earlier than if you are not. For more information on Autophagy, check out my previous post.
Drip, drip, drip...goes the water.
Hydration is key when fasting. I personally have to drink more than my thirst indicates when fasting. I also add quite a bit of sea salt to water while extended fasting. Some people can’t stand the taste but I personally really enjoy it as long as I am using high quality sea salts. Salt crystals under the tongue and salted bone broth are also often suggested, but be aware that the bone broth will likely turn Autophagy off when your body senses the presence of protein.
Long gone are the days where we were told to avoid salt in order to stay hydrated. In fact, for the vast majority of people, sodium intake will actually help you retain enough water to keep you hydrated. If you are experiencing headaches, heavy fatigue, brain fog, dizziness when standing from a sitted position or heart palpitations (irregular or heavy) , it is probably a sign of dehydration. If drinking water and salt doesn’t improve your symptoms, always break your fast, ALWAYS. You should not feel crappy when you’re fasting. You can always have a few healthy meals, rehydrate and try again. It is never worth the risk to push through. In fact, if you are fasting for weight loss, dehydration can actually prevent you from losing any fat! The dehydration will stress your body out to the point where it starts producing levels of cortisol that will prevent fat loss. You will only lose water weight and immediately regain it once you begin eating again. So there is no point in fighting through if you’re stressing out your body.
Now, there are two main types of fasting I am familiar with: Intermittent fasting (<24 hrs) and extended fasting (>24 hours). Your initial thought may be that longer is going to be better but the team at one of my favourite fasting resource website, www.idmprogram.com explain that that’s not always the case. If weight loss or insulin sensitivity are your goals, you might actually find intermittent fasting more beneficial! You really need to experiment to find your sweet spot based on your physiology, as well as your social and family commitments. Megan Ramos at IDM has said that fasting benefits are cumulative. Fasting for 18 hours a day will eventually give you the same results as a 7 day fast, it will just take longer than the 7 days.
Let’s look at the specifics of both types of fasting.
For the reset I am starting with intermittent fasting (or time restricted eating as some call it). The goal here is to go 16-18 hours without eating each day and restrict yourself to two meals within your 6-8 hour eating period. This protocol is often called 16/8 and 18/6. Eating within these boundaries will help keep insulin low because it is only spiked twice a day instead of three times (or 5 or 6....). If you are eating more fat and less carbs, intermittent fasting should be a breeze, especially if you are fat adapted.
This type of fasting is likely the easiest to introduce into your current lifestyle. You can plan social events around your fast, still enjoy your meals daily and you can often get away with not having to share your eating window with too many people.
There are many helpful apps for your phone to help you track your eating window. (Vora and fastrac are my personal favourites). The key here is to stick to 2 meals per day and to not ingest any other calories in your day. No snacking!
Other common intermittent fasting schedules are 20-4 (4 hour eating window) and OMAD (one meal a day). OMAD is a great protocol for maintenance once you have achieved your goal weight. You can lose a lot of fat when you first start OMADing but your body gets used to the schedule and will eventually prevent further fat loss in a similar fashion to calorie restriction. So if this protocol resonates with you, save it for maintenance.
If you have insulin resistance or a lot of weight to lose, you may want to do your research on extended fasting (>24hrs). Extended fasts take a lot of discipline to start out but you will see the greatest reduction of insulin and quickest increase in insulin sensitivity. In addition to weight loss benefits, extended fasts are when you get the greatest increases in Autophagy. Remember, Autophagy is the wrinkle eating, skin tightening, old junky cell eating process that your body turns on when it stops getting fed. By not ingesting any food for about 3 days, your body will take this as a sign to clean your cellular house! As I mentioned earlier, if you are fat adapted you will likely reach Authophagy early, like in the 24 to 48 hour period. And the more Autophagy, the better!
Other popular intervals are multiple 36 or 42 hour fasts a week. You are essentially eating one or two meals on Monday, not eating Tuesday, one or two meals on Wednesday, not eating Thursday, and one or two meals on Friday. Your weekends can consist of 2 or 3 meals per day depending on your fasting experience and your goals.
I decided to water fast for the final 72 hours of my 21 day reset. I have had trouble getting past the 48 hour mark in the past but was feeling so good during my reset I wanted to try it out. In my final post of this series I will tell you all about the experience but spoiler alert - it was amazing- I have already planned my next 5 day fast.
I’m stronger than yesterday
It’s no secret that as we age we start to lose lean muscle mass and bone density. Part of the reason we see this happen is our production of human growth hormone (hgh) decreases as we age. Many people head to the gym and spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars trying to prevent or reverse this lose. Some have even injected themselves with synthetic hgh in order to bulk up on the quick. Well, I bet you can tell where I’m heading by now. Fasting increases human growth hormone? I know, I know. Soon I’m going to tell you fasting with make your mother-in-law treat you with more respect. (I’m not saying it won’t. We will just have to wait for the studies to come out! ;) )
Even a two day fast can increase hgh 5 fold!This means you can increase your lean body mass, lose fat and increase your bone density with fasting alone! Now add in a couple strength training days and your results will be even quicker. So much for the old notion that fasting will make you lose lean muscle not body fat! Dr. Jason Fung, arguably the number one authority on fasting for type 2 diabetics and insulin resistance individuals, has come up with my favourite analogy on the subject. You spend all summer long chopping wood and saving it in the back yard in preparation for the cold winter months. Yet as soon as the temperature drops you ignore the wood piles and instead start tearing up the couch and throwing it in the fire place to keep the house warm! You would have to be an idiot to combat the cold that way. Do you really think your body is that stupid? That it stores body fat as extra energy but as soon as it needs to use it, it starts tearing into your lean muscle mass instead? I don’t think our ancestors would have survived long enough to procreate if that was the case.
Slow down! You are going to fast!
Unless you are dealing with type 2 diabetes or substantial obesity and have medical supervision, I would start out intermittently fasting and move your way up. Remember you have to build up your fasting muscle. You wouldn’t step into the gym on your first day working out and pick up the heaviest weight. If you did, you would really hurt yourself. Same here.
Extended fasting can be dangerous if you have a preexisting medical condition or don’t follow the proper precautions. So I am going to stop the conversation here and encourage you to speak with your doctor and do your own research to see if fasting is right for you. Any fast over 7 days should definitely be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Fasting is a powerful tool for health and longevity, do not underestimate it.
Even when you start mastering a 5 day fast, I still suggest you switch up your protocol often. You want to prevent your body from predicting when it’s next meal is coming. Remember your body loves achieving homeostasis and as soon as it determines a pattern it will likely adjust your caloric output (how many calories your body is burning) to match your schedule.
Almost every religion speaks of some type of fasting protocol to its followers. Yet it is easier to experience the spiritual benefits of fasting than to describe them. The act of processing food through our digestive tract takes quite a bit of physical energy. Relieving your body of this task frees up this energy for other purposes. Some people find it easier to raise their vibration for manifesting during a fasted period. All that energy can be syphoned towards whatever you feel called towards. Choose your thoughts and emotions wisely during this time.
Some people find a closer connection with spirit during their fast while others see their mind body connection strengthen, often with the helps of a yoga practice. Twisting into difficult yoga positions can be more easily accomplished when food is no longer taking up real-estate in the body.
You will also begin to reevaluate your relationship with hunger during your fast. What once may have been an unignorable necessity is now a passing suggestion. Hunger doesn’t keep increasing during a fast as many expect, it actual decreases. You start to realize how often you are feeding yourself out of emotion or habit. This can be a very powerful realization that has the potential to permanently change your relationship with food.
In summary, fasting can help you live longer, get stronger, lose body fat, look younger and help your spiritual development. It will also give you more time (less cooking, cleaning dishes, planning meals, grocery shopping) and it’s free. Sounds pretty good to me!
If you want to know more about how to fast correctly and effectively, I suggest you head to idmprogram.com or grab a copy of The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting (linked below).
Next week I tell you about my exercise plan and why I don’t exercise for weight loss! Thanks for stopping by!
P.S. Want the inside scoop on the best research materials I have come across in my studies of the mind, body and spirit? Click Here!