Fasting has become en vogue the past few years, and what started as a very niche idea in the fitness industry has now become something that the general public is interested in. While simple on paper, fasting creates A LOT of “what/why/how” questions. To keep things lucid, lets start with the WHAT.
What is Fasting?
On the surface, fasting is a very simple concept- You do not eat. Fasting is abstaining from eating for longer than normal periods of time. This means NOTHING that has calories in it. The positive health effects of fasting are found when NO calories are consumed. Note that this DOES NOT mean you do not drink fluids (ie, water). Dry Fasting is another form of fasting, which means no food, and no fluids. While dry fasting can have some very interesting health benefits (it can dramatically halt infections and slow down cancer growth), its not something I readily recommend anyone casually attempt. During a fast, you consume only zero calorie fluids, and nothing else. Tea and coffee are fine, as is diet soda, and obviously water. But anything that contains usable caloric energy, you would not consume. How do I Fast exactly? You select a period of time to NOT EAT food, and then you do not eat food that entire time. How much time? This is where you have options. There are TWO types of Fasting.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
For intermittent fasting, 16 hours is considered the marker for being in fast. Why not 15 hours? Or 14, or 2? The 16 hour mark has become established as it represents 2/3rds of the total amount of hours in a day. Consider the human body is evolved to sleep about 8 hours total, and then presumably you would eat on and off throughout the 16 hours you are awake. Reversing this means you eat only 1/3rd out of the day, and fast the remaining 16 (8 hours of that being sleep) So be clear, anything beyond 16-hours is considered a fast. Anything less than 16 hours, that would not be categorized as fasting. You would likely refer to that as “calorie cycling” (Calorie Cycling is fluctuating the amount of calories you eat each day. Low-medium-high. It can be an effective means of weight loss and weight control for some people Intermittent Fasting is very popular because its very easy to set up. In the 16/8 model, you do the following:
-The fast starts from when you fall asleep (let us say midnight for ease of explanation) -You wake up at 8am -You fast for another 8 hours after waking -You have your first meal at 4pm -You eat from 4pm to midnight -Repeat What if you wake up at 6am??? Then you eat at 2pm. You simply slide the time scale to whenever your hit the 16 hour mark. 16/8 IF is very popular, because it can be incorporated into most peoples lifestyles without much trouble. Often times it simply means skipping breakfast and lunch, and then eating later a late lunch and big dinner.
The Warrior Diet
The other model of Intermittent Fasting is the 20/4 Model, commonly referred to the Warrior Diet. This model is generally more difficult to execute, you only eat 4 hours out of the day. This comes to a period of 4 hour “feasting”, usually at the end of the day. Some people attempt to a Morning Warrrior Diet, but trying to eat 4 hours of breakast upon is generally ill advised, as you are then sluggish from the large quantity of food the rest of the day, not to mention the impracticality of trying to start your day by continuously eating.
Which is “better”??? Wrong question. Better questions: -what are you fasting for? -what are you expecting to get out of fasting? -what’s likely to be more conducive with your lifestyle? What about Long Term Fasting (24 Hours)? Long term fasting is essentially anything past 20 hours. Now, long term fasting could mean multiple days, but I cannot readily recommend any attempt anything longer than a 48 hour fast. Past the 2 day mark, energy levels are going to be LOW, and I would seriously question what you think fasting that long is going to do for you (spiritual reasons aside, but thats beyond the scope of this email) Relative to most peoples needs, a 24 hour fast would be the most relevant and effective fasting method to use. So how does a 24 hour fast work?
How to Fast (24 Hours)
Simple-you do not eat for an entire day. For a 24 hour fast, there is no right/wrong way to do it. The most often practiced way is to simply set a even marker (say 8pm), and then not eat anything until that time the next day. You could do morning, afternoon, evening “which is better???” Again, wrong question. There is no best way to do this, it will come down entirely to lifestyle. Most people find it easier to set a morning or afternoon time, that way you mentally remove the “Im not eating for an entire day” mental barrier. You ate PART of the day, and did not eat until later the next day. All this information accounted for, WHY fast at all? Why You MIGHT Want to Try Fasting Fasting has MANY health benefits. I’m not going to dissect all of them, but a broad view gives us the following:
- Calorie control – When you LIMIT when you eat, its easier to limit how much you eat.
- Fat loss – when you limit calorie consumption, fat loss will obviously happen.
- Insulin sensitivity – Fasting immensely improves your bodies usage of blood sugar and responsiveness to insulin.
- Blood sugar control – With the improvement in insulin sensitivity comes an improvement in fasted and fed blood sugar levels.
- Improved digestion – Fasting restores digestion and improves digestive efficiency.
- Immune system boost – The immune system is strengthened through fasting.
- Increased focus – Fasting improves cognitive focus by increasing the release of various neurological growth factors.
- Increased fat burning – Your body uses stored fat and liver glycogen for fuel.
- Freedom from emotional eating – Overcoming the socially conditioned “need” to eat is immensely helpful in freeing yourself from disordered patterns of eating.
- Lower blood pressure – Fasting can improve hypertension, and lower blood pressure in health people.
How does fasting do all of this?
Simple. YOU ARE NOT EATING. Eating is a metabolically expensive process to be doing 24/7. When you abstain from eating, your body can repair itself, it gives all the subsequent system linked to eating a break (basically everything), and it acts a sort of “Reset” on the entire metabolism Try It Out For beginners, I suggest doing a 16/8 fast. Skip breakfast, skip lunch, and do not eat until late afternoon of evening. Its very common you may feel low energy initially. This can be easily overcome by WALKING around for 5-10 minutes, doing some concentrated breathing to calm yourself, and drinking some caffeinated beverage. Also, during your fasting period, WORK. Use the time you would normally eat to do DEEP WORK . You may find that you get much more done than would ordinarily.