“Oh my god, I could never fast!”
This is what every client says to me when I first talk to them about fasting. Then they try it. I give them steps to follow and we ease into it. It’s not long before they’re telling me, “Oh, my gosh, it’s a piece of cake!” And yes, I used a “cake pun” and it was intended!
Fasting is exactly what it sounds like: going without food for a specific period of time. Many religions and cultures all over the world follow fasting as part of their belief system. But in recent years, people have turned to fasting as a weight loss tool and to boost overall health. Studies have shown that fasting can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, improve heart health, increase immune response and help regulate insulin.
There are many variations of fasting. You might hear terms like intermittent fasting, 16/8 fasting, 5/2 fasting, 24-hour-fasting, one-meal-a-day or OMAD fasting, Fasting mimicking diet, 36 hour fasting, etc. If you are a following a 16/8 fasting program, you’re fasting for 16 hours and eating only in the 8-hour time frame designated.
An Old Trend With New Results
Fasting isn’t a new idea in diet and nutrition but it’s a powerful tool we haven’t utilized in our wellness toolbox for a very long time. I think it’s making a comeback because it’s really making a difference for people in their overall improved health. Clients can see and feel a big change. In January 2018, a movie called “Fasting” was released, which highlights the power of fasting and some of the miraculous effects it’s had on real people.
There are different philosophies and approaches to fasting. From when you fast to what you can have while fasting, programs vary on what they allow. Some have unlimited water, herbal tea, coffee and bone broth, while others are more restrictive.
The Effects of Fasting On The Body
Fasting allows you to access and utilize stored body fat for fuel. How often you fast depends on the individual and specific health issues or concerns. Fasting has been shown to improve insulin resistance, reverse Type II diabetes, reduce cholesterol, reset hunger hormones and increase growth hormone naturally.
It also accelerates autophagy. Autophagy is a process of cell regeneration that occurs when the body cleans out cellular debris. It’s the body’s way of cleaning house. Autophagy is thought to help with inflammation and immunity.
I have found that there are many misconceptions about fasting. For example, people are concerned that if they fast they will lose muscle mass and become very weak. In reality, fasting actually promotes muscle growth and brings feelings of clarity and energy.
How To Begin
People have a difficult time wrapping their head around NOT eating anything. They fear being hungry. But hunger comes in waves and there are many strategies you can use to get through a wave of hunger. Fasting is really more of a mental challenge than a physical one.
I suggest clients start by implementing the 16/8 or 18/6 fasting. This means you a fast for either 16 or 18 hours and then have a window of 6-8 hours to eat. I personally believe this is a much healthier way to approach eating and food in general.
Start by implementing no eating 3-4 hours before bed. Basically, your last meal before going to sleep for the night needs to be well before your bedtime. Upon waking, wait 3-4 hours to have your first meal of the day. A good night’s rest, of 7-8 hours added to your window of fasting before bed and after waking, means you’ve easily logged 16 hours of fasting. A regiment like this is quite easy to put into practice every day and the health benefits are long term.
For those with more serious medical conditions or if you have a high amount of body fat to lose, I would recommend more intense fasting like 36 hour fasts 2-3 times a week. For example, you have your last meal on a Monday night, fast all day Tuesday with just water, broth, tea or coffee and then resume meals on Wednesday.
It takes a bit of practice to work up to a longer period of fasting, but I’ve done 36-42 hour fasts many times and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to do. Stay busy, keep moving and drink your liquids and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the time goes. When you resume meals after 36 hours, I always recommend healthy fats like avocados, salmon, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables with moderate protein. You don’t want to go low calorie in this situation.
Why Does Fasting Work?
Insulin is the culprit behind unwanted weight gain and excess body fat. Fasting is effective because it helps the body stop the surging of the insulin. Insulin is what keep us fat. Excess insulin stores body fat. So when we stop eating, we stop the surging of insulin. No surging insulin means we stop storing fat.
Another misconception in the dieting and nutrition world is that you need to eat 5-6 small meals a day. This just doesn’t work for most people who are already overweight. When you follow this strategy, you are surging and storing more insulin and body fat all day long. And you won’t be able to tap in to that stored body fat.
Think about it. It’s the feast/fast mentality that our ancestors followed out of necessity. They feasted when they found food and then fasted until they were fortunate enough to have it again. This philosophy arguably goes back thousands of years and it just makes sense. Our bodies were designed to go without having food 24/7.
It’s Not What You Eat But When You Eat
When you fast regularly, you stabilize hunger hormone imbalances, so most people who regularly practice fasting find they don’t over eat. They crave healthier, whole foods and eat a good variety to satiety. By delaying your first meal, you tap in to stored body fat a little longer, so WHEN is the key here, especially if you are insulin sensitivity and fat loss and improved biochemistry are your objectives.
Fasting is ideal for people with insulin sensitivity, cardio metabolic conditions, obesity and those with a desire to practice optimal anti-aging. I think fasting is safe but always recommend people check with their physicians if they are on any medications that may need to be adjusted.
A Powerful Tool Anyone Can Use
Fasting is free, easy to do, accessible to anyone and highly effective. Once you commit to an “eating window” on a consistent basis, your body will respond. You’ll see changes in your body composition and your biochemistry.
The average Americans has about 40,000 calories of stored fuel in our body fat. We could fuel a small car for a short time if necessary! Defining a set time in which we intake our food is just moderating caloric intake by simply monitoring when we eat. And that is just smart eating.