What is fasting?
Whenever I suggest that people fast for weight loss or to help diabetics I always get the same stare and comment. “I am not going to starve myself!” Let’s define some terms:
Starvation: To starve is an involuntary or unintentional avoidance of food. Usually this if from an injury or a famine caused by nature or war.
Fasting: To fast is a decision and is the intentional, voluntary, and controlled abstention from food. Normally this is only done for a short period of time and usually for spiritual or health reasons.
In a sense, they are direct opposites. Think of it this way. Starvation is like running for your life from a murderer. If you don’t find safety (some food) you will die. Fasting is jogging for your health. You’ll feel better and you can always stop when you are ready.
The truth is, we fast every day when we sleep. We take a period to rest from eating (and rest from our lives) to sleep. Then, we eat breakfast (the meal that breaks your fast) and go through a period of eating again.
The History of Fasting
Intentional fasting dates back thousands of years and nearly every major religion has some type of fasting as part of its philosophy. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for the 40 days of Ramadan. Jesus fasted for 40 days and the bible mentions it numerous times and as such is part of both Christian and Jewish traditions. Buddhist monks are known for periods of fasting. The modern record for fasting is 382 days without food.
Can you do it? YES! Should you do it? YES with few exceptions.
The problem we have is a hormonal issue. Specifically the hormone insulin. The reason? We have all become insulin resistant. Years ago we slept longer, ate 3 meals, and didn’t snack. When we eat our insulin levels rise. This wasn’t an issue because we ate breakfast at 7 or 8, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6. We always had about a 12 hour window of fasting between dinner and breakfast and during the day our insulin levels would drop between meals. However, today, our insulin levels stay constantly high because of snacking throughout the day and we eat earlier in the morning and later in the evening. Our bodies aren’t given enough time without insulin. This causes insulin resistance (same philosophy as how vaccines work, we give you a little of a virus, your body builds up resistance to the virus. Allergy shots work on the same principle.) Do you know why doctors don’t give antibiotics so easily any longer? Because we become resistant to them which means they must come up with new ones.
So the problem is not that insulin isn’t good, it is, we need it to handle our sugar. Rather it’s our constant release of insulin that is the problem.
Intermittent fasting prevents this issue, because of its intermittency. So the goal is to have longer periods of low insulin levels compared to periods of high insulin.
Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Feeding
I ask my clients, which would you prefer, fasting or time restricted eating? Almost everyone says time restricted eating. The truth is, depending on the type of intermittent fasting you do, it is the same thing as time restricted eating. Time restricted eating essentially gives you a daily window of say 6 to 8 hours to eat and all your calories are eaten during that window of time. The rest of the day, you are fasting.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are so many ways to do intermittent fasting, and if you include some of the popular modifications to each, it seems the options may be endless. Let’s go over a few of them. Choose one that works best for you and give it a shot. You can always change and try different ways. You can even do it one way one week and a different way the next based on your needs for that week. Intermittent fasting is very flexible and all versions have benefits. And speaking of benefits, the back cover of this pamphlet shows you some of the benefits. Take a look and you’ll agree that the one things you need to do is fast!
Shorter daily Fasts or Time-Restricted Eating
These plans are basically daily (as best you can) fasts. The intermittency is in the timing making sure your eating window is much less than your feeding window. Your eating window should not skimp on calories. Eating food speeds up your metabolism.
The 16/8 Fast
This means you are eating all your food in an 8 hour window which means not eating any calories in a 16 hour window. An example would be I will eat all my caloric intake (food) from 10 AM to 6 PM daily. Time of day can vary based on your schedule. Then you wouldn’t eat from 6 PM until 10 AM the next day.
The 18/6 Fast
This one is a little stricter leaving only a 6 hour eating window. Most people choose 12 to 6 or 1 to 7. I personally like breakfast so I do 8 to 2 essentially eating breakfast and lunch. With this type of a plan you need to make sure you eat enough, so a snack in between breakfast and lunch is fine. Just don’t eat outside that window.
If you don’t need to lose weight and are otherwise healthy, a 14/10 window is fine. Again, everyone should be on at least a 12/12 plan.
The longer fasts are not done daily. They are usually done weekly if you have issues you need to correct.
The 24 Hour Fast
24 hour fasts are ones where you aren’t eating for 24 hours straight. Essentially you are skipping 2 meals a day. This is usually done 2 to 3 non-consecutive days a week. The number of days depends on what you want to accomplish. If you are healthy and don’t need to lose weight, you can do this 1 day a week or even less. One example would be to stop eating at 7 PM on Sunday night, then don’t eat any calories until 7 PM the next day (Monday) meaning you are skipping breakfast and lunch on Monday. Many like this plan because they are eating something every day. Alternate day fasting is doing this every other day if you wish.
The 36 Hour Fast
36 hour fasts are similar to the 24 hour one. But this time you are not eating for a full day. You stop eating on say Sunday at 8 PM, you then skip all meals not eating anything Monday until Tuesday morning at 8 AM. So you are skipping all 3 meals on Monday.
48 Hour and Longer Fasts
48 hour fasts and longer. I wouldn’t do these more than 1x a week or even less like every other week or monthly.
Modified and Alternative Fasting Methods
The 5/2 Diet
A very popular “diet” in Europe is called the 5/2 diet. This diet basically means eating for 5 days and fasting for 2 days. (The 36 hour diet) But it allows for up to 500 calories on fasting days. They allow the 500 calories to be throughout the day. This isn’t fasting. This is calorie reduction. Will it benefit you? Perhaps. But not as much as fasting. If you feel this is the way to go I have a suggestion. Eat your 500 calories in one meal, at dinner time. This essentially turns the 36 hour fast into a 24 hour fast but still low caloric intake over the day and then you are fasting 12 hours that night.
One Meal a Day
Studies have shown that eating 1 meal a day may prolong life. This is not quite a 24 hour fast as it takes time to eat the food which should be the same amount of calories you would normally have in a day. Not really easy to do in one sitting healthily.
The Modified Warrior Diet
This diet is essentially the one meal a day diet but allows raw fruits and veggies during your 20 hour fasting window. The one meal would be 4 hours of eating, not really one meal. Again, this isn’t really fasting because you are eating during a portion of your fasting window. Make sure to leave at least 12 hours without eating anything overnight.
The Rules of Fasting
- During your periods of eating, called feasting periods, you must make sure NOT to skimp on food. Don’t try to do a caloric reduction diet along with fasting. Your metabolism will come to a grinding halt.
- You can and should drink plenty of water and non-caloric beverages like tea and coffee. If you must use sweetener, use real stevia, no milk or cream if possible, very little if you do.
- Regardless of the method, you must leave at least a daily 12 hour fasting window. For example, if you are doing the 24 hour diet, on your feasting days (eating days) you should still leave 12 hours at night where you aren’t eating.
- Be very careful if you are taking medications. Especially diabetic and blood pressure medications. You may need to lower your dosage on fasting days or even skip all together. Discuss your plans with your doctor and take your readings often to ensure your sugar levels or blood pressure doesn’t get too low.
- If your sugar gets too low, eat something sugary immediately! You will break your fast but that is less important than your health.
- Don’t go crazy with counting the hours. Just make sure your fasting time is more than your feasting time. If you are doing the 18/6 diet and you eat at 17 hours, don't fret. It’s still beneficial.
Fat Burning and the Ketogenic Diet
The purpose to fasting is to deplete your sugar stores that are being used for energy and switch to fat burning for energy. This state is called Ketosis. In this state you will be surprised how much energy you have. Most people think we need carbs and sugar for energy but our bodies can also run on fat and it is a cleaner burn.
The diet I have been giving you, if followed correctly, may allow this process to put you in a ketogenic state. However, a ketogenic diet is not easy for people to follow continuously. Intermittent fasting also puts you into that state of fat burning without worrying about how many carbs you are eating. For woman this starts to happen around 14 hours, for men 16 hours. So notice that is why there is a 16/8 and 18/6 diet. That gives a few hours of fat burning after ketosis should start. Longer is always great. Combining fasting with the Keto diet allows for greater results when trying to lose weight because it keeps you in that state longer.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Changes the function of cells, genes and hormones
- Reduces insulin levels and insulin resistance
- Increases human growth hormone
- Increases fat burning
- Repairs cells and Changes genes and molecules for longevity and disease protection
- Helps you lose weight and belly fat
- Increases metabolic rate
- Lowers insulin and blood sugar levels
- Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation
- Lowers your risk of heart disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers total and LDL cholesterol
- Lowers triglycerides
- Reduces your risk of cancer
- Increasers brain health and function
- May help to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
- May extend your lifespan
- It can reverse Diabetes
- Syncs circadian rhythms and fights off metabolic diseases
- Clearer thinking and more energy on fasting days
Summing Up Fasting
Almost anyone can and should fast intermittently. There is pretty much a method for anyone. If you are taking medications that may be affected by fasting like insulin or other diabetic medications and blood pressure you must be under a doctor’s care and check your numbers often. Medications may need to be lowered. Those with eating disorders, pregnant women, type 1 diabetics, and the very elderly should not fast. Everyone should fast at least 12 hours overnight every day.