From the time you get up until the time your head hits the pillow to go to sleep, one thing always remains constant… You can’t fool mother nature.
Sure, you may run through a revolving door of thoughts in your head during the day and your situations may change without warning, but gravity always wins in the end. And you have mother nature to thank.
This is the case with the work you do, the people you hang out with, the weights you lift at the gym, AND… your diet. And that paves a nice segue to what you are about to learn about it.
A popular trend called “Intermittent Fasting.” Remember, it always comes back to gravity and mother nature at the end of the day. Fasting couldn’t be any closer to both of these.
What is Fasting?
This may come as a shock to you, but there are still people who don’t know exactly what fasting is. Simply put, you abstain from eating food for an extended period of time. The idea is to do this with an end-goal in mind of physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual betterment.
Fasting is not starving, as some people think. Starving usually occurs when you are put into a compromising position against your will and you are unable to nourish your body.
A good example of this is if you went on a hiking trip and got lost, deep into the woods for days. You then ran out of food and began to starve.
That process is uncontrolled, uncomfortable and for the most part dangerous. When planned out and done correctly, fasting can be a wonderful tool for overall health and longevity.
Benefits of Fasting
Now that you have a better understanding of what fasting is, you need to know a little more about the actual benefits. This is what usually gives people the motivation to go down the path of fasting in the first place. And here’s what you can expect.
Faster Weight Loss
First of all, weight loss comes to the surface right out of the gate. Take TRF, for example. When you restrict the time you eat, chances are good that you will not consume as much food through the course of the day.
The end result is less overall calories. When you eat less calories than you burn, you end up in caloric deficit, which promotes weight loss.
Another interesting fact is that people are sometimes reluctant to fast because they think their metabolism will slow down. That was one of the reasons why grazing became so popular way back in the day.
People thought by eating small meals every few hours, it would keep their metabolism elevated and promote weight loss. In reality, this does nothing more than keep your hunger hormones elevated, which can spell danger if you did in fact miss one of those five to six meals in a day.
While you fast, on the other hand, your hunger hormones become regulated, your body turns more to fat for fuel and your metabolism gets reset.
Improved Brain Function
And weight loss is not the only thing fasting can do for the body. The brain benefits as well. When you do not eat for an extended period of time, you do not get brain fog. That occurs at the hands of eating foods or meals that are high in simple carbs.
You actually are able to think more clearly and stay more focused because there is no sharp rise and fall in blood sugar levels.
It is also worth noting that intermittent fasting can also help with diseases associated with the brain. According to a study from the National Institute on Aging, fasting two days a week can have a profound effect on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease risk.
At the cellular level, your body has a chance to go through a natural detox. The longer the fast, the bigger the effect. When you flush toxins from your system, your pH level rises, and in turn, your immunity goes up, your energy levels rise, and your joints don’t feel as stiff.
Autophagy and Stem Cell Release
If you can work your way up to 48 to 60 hours, another phenomenon takes place. Actually, it’s a two-part series of events. First of all, your body purges cells that it coins as dangerous or rogue, and they get removed from the system. This is called autophagy.
According to the National Institutes of Health, autophagy plays a housekeeping role in removing and eliminating intracellular pathogens from the body. Think of it as a way to quickly boost your immune system without having to do a long “cleanse” as some people do.
The other thing that happens after you go closer to the 48-hour mark is you get a stem cell dump. As you are probably well aware, stem cells are the body’s natural healers. When they get pumped out in high volumes through the medium of fasting, you end up healing faster from joint and muscle injuries.
When your body does not have to work so hard to break down food, it gets to recover and regenerate at a faster pace. This helps increase longevity. Plus, when you experience the detoxing, immune-boosting effect and weight maintenance caused from fasting, this further helps reverse the aging process.
It should also be mentioned that fasting makes it easier go about your day. You don’t have to take so much time thinking about food or preparing it, and you have more time to work on projects. This might not necessarily be a physical benefit, but it can definitely come in handy if you are a busy person.
Types of Fasting
Here’s where a bit of confusion tends to set in. There are a lot of moving pieces involved with fasting. And with that, there are several different approaches to take.
You are best served knowing the different types, so you can decide what the right fit is for your lifestyle. Here is a glimpse at some of the most common ones.
Perhaps the most popular and talked about version of fasting is time-restricted feeding, or TRF for short. You may also hear this referred to as time-restricted eating (TRE), but it’s still the same thing.
The idea here is to eat in shorter windows of time than the amount of time you are fasting.
A popular ratio that people follow is 16/8, where they fast for 16 hours and eat in 8 hours. That’s pretty easy to remember and that’s why it is often favored.
Then you have extended fasts, which last usually two to four days. People often do these after they’ve done TRF for a while and want to stretch their boundaries a bit more. This can be due to the benefits, which you’ll learn about shortly.
A prolonged fast is a bit different. This can last five to 40-plus days. In cases like these, it is NOT recommended to do it on your own. In fact, any duration of this magnitude should always be medically supervised in a clinic that specializes in fasting. True North Health Center in Santa Rosa, CA is one such place.
Then you have another type of prolonged fast where food is involved called fasting mimicking. It was created by the team of Dr. Valter Longo of the USC Longevity Institute. The body gets fed a low-calorie, plant-based diet five days in a row, once every month.
The theory is that the body recognizes this time period as a fast going on, but you still get to eat a little bit of food. This is a good approach for people who lack the discipline to go longer periods without eating or are too intimidated.
Juice fasts are pretty self-explanatory and they’re still rather popular to this day. They consist of drinking fresh juice one to three times a day and having nothing else. These juices consist of fruits, vegetables, herbs and extracts that are organic and medicinal to the body.
Lastly, you have actual intermittent fasts where people refrain from eating one or two days a week and then eat normally the rest of the time. In these instances, the fasting windows are usually 24 hours.
To dig deeper into the most popular techniques, we recommend Dr. Jason Fung’s The Complete Guide to Fasting.
The Steps of Fasting
Often times people are afraid to fast because they think they’re going to pass out, get dizzy, be exhausted and the list goes on and on.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The trick is, you just need to know how to roll into fasting correctly and not bite off more than you can chew. No pun intended.
The best way to start a fasting protocol is by aiming for 12 hours and doing it for five days in a row. Then eat regularly for two days and then go back to fasting for 12 hours, five days in a row.
Follow this pattern for two weeks and then bump your fasting window up to 13 hours. Follow again for two weeks and keep on doing this until you arrive at 16 hours and can do it comfortably for an extended period of time.
And you may be wondering about the 2 days off from fasting. Well, quite simply, the same advantages of time-restricted feeding can be had with five days a week or seven days a week.
In some cases, it’s less threatening for people when they know they can eat in a “normal” schedule on the weekends.
But, if you feel it will prevent you from falling off the wagon, then by all means, stick to the shortened window every day of the week.
Once you hit your stride, you can then look into doing longer fasts every month like 24 or 48 hours.
There are still some things you need to take into consideration with fasting that are less obvious. For example, when you eat food, it takes about 4 hours for digestion to occur.
If you are a physiology nerd, the process at which food starts getting pushed through the intestines is called peristalsis.
Then it takes about another four hours for the digested food to get further broken down and distributed to the outlying areas of your body.
That’s why having a good digestive system is so important. You want to make sure you’re breaking down the food you’re eating. Otherwise, it can putrefy, and you won’t really tap into the benefits it offers.
Once you cross the 8-hour mark, your body then starts to “run programs.” Compare this to your computer. Every now and then you’ll get a notification that it’s time to run updates.
You’ll be asked to shut down your computer or close all the windows you have open. After the updates are done, your computer will run faster, smoother and all-around better.
Well, that’s sort of what goes on after you’ve been fasting for 12 hours. Updates start to run, and you begin to perform better and better in all aspects.
And as for the 16-hour fasting window, that’s not set in stone. It just makes sense to stretch out your fast a few more hours after you hit the 12-hour mark to ensure you are constantly getting the benefits.
At the very least, always try to hit 12 hours. Anything beyond that will be an added bonus.
As mentioned above, it takes about 4 hours for digestion to occur. When you are eating in a shortened window, try to still honor this and create eating periods inside your eating windows.
And you can build these based off the number of hours you are going to eat. For example, if you are going to follow an 8-hour eating window, it would be best for you to eat in two, 1 ½ hour time frames.
This will give your body plenty of time to process the food you ate, while not disturbing your hunger stimulating and regulating hormones. For example, if you decide to eat between 11 and 7, eat between 11 and 12:30, and 5:30 and 7 pm.
This gives you plenty of time to eat and plenty of time to let your food digest. If you ate in a 9-hour window, you can conceivably fit three meals in that are consumed in one-hour time periods.
You may not be aware of this, but your organs work on the circadian rhythms. After 7 pm, you start getting tired because your body wants to close up shop for the night. This includes your organs, namely your pancreas.
If you eat at say, 8 or 9 pm, and have a carb-heavy meal, you’re asking your pancreas to release a high amount of insulin to stabilize the elevated blood sugar levels you caused. It doesn’t want to do that. It would rather shut down and go into sleep mode.
Doing this over and over again will eventually wear out the pancreas and raise the risk for diabetes.
As a rule of thumb, just remember this… stop eating by 7 pm and fast for a bare minimum of 12 hours.
Another thing to look at are the conditions in which you fast. You will see a lot of people drinking black coffee first thing in the morning or adding grass-fed butter and coconut oil to their mug.
The idea here is that pure fat will not bounce you out of a fast. Neither will coffee. This is often done in an attempt to burn more calories, boost metabolism and reduce hunger as caffeine has an affect on satiety.
Although this is all true, you also have to consider something else. When you are fasting, the idea is to allow your systems to take a break. Coffee is a stimulant, so you don’t really tap completely into that resting zone. It’s just something to think about.
It’s also a good idea to carry some sea salt in your pocket when you first start fasting. Not literally, but a small container of sea salt.
When you are not used to fasting and you bypass the time slot that you usually eat, you will likely be hungry because your ghrelin levels will be elevated. That’s your hunger-stimulating hormone.
But over the course of time, your body will get used to not eating and your hunger will drastically decline.
If you did a longer fast of 24 to 48 hours, generally your hunger will start to diminish after 20 hours.
And here’s where the sea salt comes in. Any time you’re feeling hungry, put a pinch in your palm and down it. You will then notice two things happening. First, your hunger will go away instantly, and second, you’ll be giving yourself a shot of electrolytes that will quickly get absorbed.
This can take away your fear of getting lightheaded and it can also keep your hunger at bay.
Lastly, although you can eat at any time, two days a week, don’t take advantage of that. In other words, the fastest path to optimal health through the medium of fasting is by eating clean.
What makes sense is that your hormones get affected when you eat. If you were to consume a sleeve of girl scout cookies in your eating window, you’re still eating a sleeve of girl scout cookies and your blood sugar will shoot through the roof. Then comes insulin and then comes a crash.
You are better served, keeping your diet tight and clean, and including as many enzymatically active foods as you can in it. Think in terms of fruits, vegetables, good sources of fat and fermented foods.
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha all contain really high amounts of probiotics, which help boost the good bacteria in your stomach. Remember, good digestion is what keeps the body healthy. By getting a daily dose of fermented foods, you can keep your gut in good shape too.
Remember, although fasting has been around for thousands of years, it’s still a work in progress and there are things about it that are abstract. Follow the basics and set your sights on a path that is doable and easy to integrate into your daily life. You can do no wrong when you have this game plan in place. Again, a good place to dig deeper into the specifics of fasting and most popular techniques, we recommend Dr. Jason Fung’s The Complete Guide to Fasting. It is highly rated on Amazon with over 1,000 reviews.