Fasting? I HATE feeling hungry! I dread blood tests that require no-eating 12 hours prior, I always have at least three, healthy snacks about my person and I’ve been known to get quite snarky indeed if it’s been too long since my last meal. Yes, the dreaded ‘Hangries’ monster has been known to possess and overcome my normally friendly nature, not unlike the movie The Exorcist, with the exception that the pea soup would more effective at pacifying me than the crucifix. I’ve been assured numerous times that it would take at least two weeks of absolutely no nourishment whatsoever before I would perish, so I know my fear is irrational, but regardless the anxiety that feeling hungry brings me is very real.
Cut to… my first ever Fast. Yup. I was perhaps the most unlikely volunteer, but when a friend (and fitness coach) became a believer, and after watching some compelling documentaries, reading some equally convincing books and articles, I was sold! Well, sort of. I was at least willing to give it a try. There are incredible health benefits reportedly associated with IF (that’s the hot new acronym in the fitness realm by the way = Intermittent Fasting), and I’d like to tell you it was my desire to avoid heart disease, cancer or even premature aging that provoked this experiment. I’d like to, but I can’t because if I am brutally honest it was also because of the reported weight loss benefits. I’d like to think I’m fitter and more health conscious than the average person, and after following an almost exclusively whole food based diet and a high intensity, 6-day per week exercise program since the start of this year and seeing zero results, I hoped IF might be the secret weapon I needed to shift those last few extra pounds.
Fasting is not a new idea; in fact it’s been a regular part of most cultures throughout human history. There are many ways to fast; alternate day fasting (fasting every other day), 20 hours of fasting every single day, 24 hour windows of no eating a couple of times a week, and many more. The research might be mostly animal-based at present, but with reports of renewed insulin sensitivity, improved sleep, fat reduction and more in these studies, it’s certainly hopeful. For an entertaining overview, I highly recommend you watch The 5:2 Diet hosted by Dr. Michael Mosley, made for the BBC but currently available for streaming in full on YouTube:
Based on that program, a slew of books and an online community bloomed, boasting many heath success stories. For you fellow science boffins who like the micro details, check out this article in The Journal of Applied Physiology:
or this one in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
For those of you who just want to hear about the nitty-gritty details, and perhaps try it yourself, (The health benefits right? Nothing to do with those awesome pair of jeans half a size too small taunting you at the back of your closet, wink, wink.), then read on. This information is based on the 5:2 approach to fasting, the version I tried myself:
What To Do*:
· Choose 1-2 days to fast per week that make the most sense for your schedule. I choose Mondays as I always feel more motivated at the start of the week, and because I’m usually feeling weekend-eating-drink-guilt.
· As of 7pm the evening before (so in my case this would be 7pm Sunday) you stop eating. (Insert dramatic music cue here.)
· On your fasting day you may eat 500 calories (for women, 600 for men) of whatever foods you choose, at whatever time of the day best suits you.
· When you wake the following morning (this would be Tuesday in my example), you can resume your normal eating patterns until your next fast day. (You can do fast days consecutively – so I total of 72 hours, or 2 x 500/600 calorie restricted days.)
· Dr. Mosley advises that you eat a well-balanced well-proportioned diet for your no-fast days and include moderate exercise 4-6 times a week too.
That’s it! Sounds simple huh? And it is, but like most rewarding activities, it’s also challenging. So here are some additional tips that I want to share after my own experience:
· Drink water and lots of it. Flavor it with a little lemon juice, cucumber slices or apple cider vinegar for variance.
· Use a calorie counter to make sure you stay within your calorie limit; I like the Livestrong Daily Plate mobile or desktop app [https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/myplate-calorie-tracker/id502317923?mt=8].
· Eat high fiber, high protein foods. Salads and most vegetables are low in calories so you can eat plenty of volume to help you fill fuller longer. Limit sugary foods (even fruit) as the blood-sugar spike can make you feel nauseous or dizzy. I also drink the low-calorie powdered instant Miso soups. (Including them in my overall calorie count of course.)
· Drink LOTS of water
· Try black coffee or Yerbe Mate for the midday hurdle, but don’t go overboard or you’ll get the shakes or dehydrate yourself. Also limit caffeinated beverages towards the end of the day so you can sleep.
· Don’t grocery shop or make plans to eat meals socially. I made this mistake…the Trader Joe’s sample station has never been as tempting!
· Enlist the help of a co-Faster or a good friend who you can bother with your woe-is-me, “I’m hungry!” texts and emails. It really helps to bitch to someone, and really, really helps when that person can be a cheerleader in return.
· Avoid any crazy-intense workouts on fast days as these can make you feel hungrier, so unless you are a masochist and want to make it even harder on yourself, try some yoga or a brisk walk instead.
· Keep busy! Workdays are easier than days off. Being occupied helps a lot.
· It gets easier! Really. Stick with it for a month.
· Did I mention water? Drink it!
My Fasting Results:
It’s been a month and fasting days are becoming less of a major life event and more of a way of life. I can’t say I’m sleeping better or have more energy, but I’m also starting to see a shift on my scales, (of course weight gain or loss can be caused by any number of factors).
The biggest benefit for me has not been physical. Instead it’s a subtle but powerful shift with my relationship with food in general. I’m less like a drug addict craving my next hit (ahem, snack) during the day, instead I am making healthier choices and I’m eating in response to my real hunger and not my emotional hunger or my schedule. Oh, and being hungry no longer scares me. I just notice the sensation or hear the tummy-grumble and know that I’ll likely eat something soon, but the urgency is gone, and so is the ‘Hangry’ monster! It’s a very freeing and empowering feeling.
Facing our fears is always worthwhile. In fact I often try to use my fears as a compass in life – an arrow pointing you in the direction to go next. What are you scared of? Maybe it’s food or hunger related too? You might want to try Intermittent fasting for this reason or to lose a little extra padding, or even for those lovely life-extending health benefits, but whatever the reason, if it spikes your interest, follow that intuition and give it a go. If I can do it, YOU can do it.*
(And if you care, please share your experience, tips and tricks with us in the comments below.)
*I’m not a doctor! You’re not an idiot! You know your body better than anyone, so if you have any health concerns or illnesses, then I recommend (demand even) that you see your doctor before trying fasting (or any extreme dietary changes).