Getting healthy is a delicate metabolic balancing act. Worse, it usually calls on your math skills: many dieters count the calories in every apple and carrot to lose weight.
This method does work. But not everybody wants to micromanage their meal. Talk about taking the joy out of cooking! Isn’t there a simple, straightforward, logical system out there that lets you both eat and lose?
Well, since you ask, it so happens that there is another way. And it’s easier than it sounds at first.
What is Fasting
Fasting is the hot new trend in weight loss, weight management, and general health. For a designated, carefully controlled period of time, you just don’t eat.
There are a lot of reasons that people fast. Fasting sharpens the mind and strengthens the spirit.
But fasting purifies the body, too, and it’s been in vogue as a medical practice for thousands of years.
Finally, fasting in a controlled, safe way is one strategy for taking control of your health. I’ll cover that later in this article. Read on!
Water fasting is easy on the surface: instead of eating, you drink water. Between two and three liters of water, in fact, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you think of a liter of soda. That’s it! You plus a ton of water equals…
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of cancer
- Increased autophagy.
-Explaining autophagy is difficult without a whiteboard, a professor, and a lot of time, so let’s just say that it puts your body in recycling mode. Old cell parts get cleaned up and recycled and your whole physiology is better off for it.
How great! So why doesn’t everybody water fast?
In practice, water fasting is a little more complicated than upgrading your tumbler to a tank.
First of all, you should get approval from a medical professional in case there is a diabetic or similar underlying condition. I want to stress this next part heavily: no human being can live on water alone!
Equally important, it’s critical that you know you’re healthy enough to do a water fast in the first place. When you’re planning a water fast, the first step is to head to the doctor and ask their opinion.
A personal note from Andrew; I have done a few water fasts that lasted over two weeks. Rather than this being dangerous it was quite beneficial for my health.
It’s interesting that many animals will seek refuge near water if injured or poisoned and put themselves on a little water fast. The organs can rest, the toxins begin to leave the body etc.
What is Intermittent Fasting
You know how fasting in general is the practice of not eating? Intermittent fasting both strategies not eating and controls it a little more tightly.
You’ll eat during an intermittent fast, but only at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week.
This causes your body to burn energy differently, giving you a metabolic boost and a bowlful of health benefits.
There are a few different ways to organize an intermittent fast. Here are three of the most popular:
1. Time-restricted feeding. This is the one you’ve heard of. You fast for between 16 and 20 hours, often just skipping breakfast and eating a late lunch.
TRF is about the concept of fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8.
If you’re bodybuilding, be aware that you need to maintain your daily calorie load to gain muscle. You just need to fit all that food into your 8– or 4-hour eating window.
If you’re just trying to lose weight, then talk to a nutritionist about how much you should be consuming per day in terms of calories. This is the strategy most popular among bodybuilders and gym rats.
2. Whole-day fasting. This is exactly what it sounds like: for 24 hours, you don’t eat! Do this a couple times per week and eat normally the rest of the time.
This strategy, pioneered by Brad Pilon, is also called the “Eat Stop Eat” plan. If you’re trying to lose weight, then my friend, you’re in for some weight loss. Under this plan, it doesn’t really matter what you eat, so it’s a preferred method for many people.
3. Alternate-day fasting. A twist on the whole-day fast, this system has you fasting for 24 hours every other day.
It was started by a doctor named James Johnson under the name UpDayDownDay Diet. This is popular among dieters who really want to lose weight and have a specific goal in mind.
First of all, before you start fasting, you’d better talk to your doctor. Not only will a medical professional have personalized opinions about your plans, but they may also have insider tips on how to make a fast work for you!
Once that’s out of the way, then set yourself up for success. Here’s what you have to do to prepare for you first fast:
- Don’t panic. You CAN do this!
- Make your schedule. In other words, decide when you’ll be eating and not eating on a chart or spreadsheet. I’ll talk more about intermittent fasting schedules later in the article.
- Prepare your liquid. Intermittent fasters have to drink extra water to make up for what they aren’t getting in their food, so be ready with a glass.
- Plan what you’ll eat! One problem that a lot of fasters encounter is that once their fast breaks, they go crazy with the food. That’s a great way to wipe out the weight loss benefits you just accrued. Figure out ahead of time what you’ll be consuming when you’re finally allowed to satiate your appetite.
- Embark. You’ve prepared, and now it’s time to take the plunge!
There is one caveat to the intermittent fasting phenomenon, however. There’s some evidence in the scientific community that women don’t get the same benefits from fasting, intermittent and otherwise, that men do.
Intermittent Fasting Women
Here’s where dieting gets tricky. Male and female bodies may react differently to fasting.
There’s some research that suggests that fasting combined with calorie restriction is a very effective weight loss strategy for obese women.
However, there’s also a study in rats that may indicate that fasting messes up female hormones, leading to reproductive issues. Some people counter that rats aren’t people, and they’re certainly right about that.
But women might consider fasting for shorter periods of time if they want to avoid possible side effects, and as always, a doctor can tell you if you should be fasting in a special way.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
So why do this? Why put yourself through the hunger pangs, the cravings, and the regimentation? Well, it turns out that the benefits of fasting aren’t limited to short-term weight loss.
Researchers are starting to think that a number of age-related diseases, including neurodegenerative ones like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s, may have dietary components.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that changing the way you eat would have an effect on this kind of malady, but it’s still striking what an effect fasting can have.
Research now suggests that calorie restriction and fasting consistently lead to a higher number of healthy older brains.
If researchers can confirm this in humans, then fasting may become one of the first big preventative recommendations against neurodegenerative diseases. I think that’s worth skipping breakfast!
That’s not all. According to a 2005 article in the Journal of Applied Physiology, intermittent fasting may mimic how humans evolved to eat.
Because of this, even fit people seem to experience healthier insulin activity when they fast intermittently. In fact, the effects of fasting are similar to exercise, and improvements in fasters’ cardiovascular health reflect that.
Intermittent Fasting Schedule
If you’re convinced, then there’s no time like the present to start fasting! I talked a little about the various fasting schemes out there. Of these, Alternate Day Fasting is probably the easiest to manage.
Every other day, you either don’t eat or eat less than 500 calories. Easy! If you intend to fast twice a week, also known as the 5:2 diet, then your main scheduling concern is making sure that you don’t schedule fasts back to back.
It’s the 16/8 method that you really have to plan out. Remember, this is the diet scheme where you stop eating for about 16 hours every day. But which hours?
Many people like to start fasting after dinner – let’s say around 8:00 pm – and stop at lunch the next day, around noon. Essentially, if you use this system, you skip breakfast. That’s not bad when you consider that you can still have coffee!
If you’re particularly attached to your bacon and eggs, you can skip dinner instead. Or you can start fasting after breakfast, take a siesta, and start eating again at 11:00pm. It all depends on your preferences and daily routine!
Whatever fast you perform, be aware of your goals and calorie needs. Your doctor is a great resource in this case. Always check in with your medical professional before starting a diet!
Intermittent Fasting Results
You may be pondering exactly how effective this practice is in keeping you healthy. Are the results measurable? Is there a point to the pangs?
I referenced an article from the Journal of Biochemistry when I was talking about the benefits of fasting. If you haven’t taken a look at that paper yet, don’t be shy.
It’s a fairly easy read considering that it was written by researchers, for researchers, and I encourage you to check it out. One of the big things that I took away from it was something that the writers mention right at the top: we already know that eating less leads to a longer lifespan. We’ve known that for over 70 years.
Let’s face it: a little hunger is good for you. In addition to lengthening your life, there’s evidence that calorie restriction reduces your risk of developing cancer. It may prevent kidney disease, too.
And then there’s all that evidence to suggest that eating less protects you from Alzheimer’s Disease. When you look at it like that, fasting may be one of the easiest ways you can protect your health long-term.
After all, when modern humans evolved in the Paleolithic era, they adapted to handle long periods without food followed by periods of plenty, also known as “feast or famine.” In a modern context, maybe we could call this “feast or fast.” Our bodies may just work better when they eat a bit less.
Intermittent Fasting 16/8
Of all the intermittent fasting regimens out there, the 16/8 fast is one of the most popular. Particularly famous among fitness buffs, the 16/8 diet lets you eat for eight hours every day.
Those can be any eight consecutive hours you prefer. You can skip dinner, skip breakfast, or follow a midnight-to-dinner schedule that fits in better with your lifestyle. It all depends on when you plan on being awake.
One key to making the 16/8 plan work for you is to schedule most of your fast for the hours that you’re asleep. Barring any severe sleepwalking disorders, you won’t have trouble handling a food-free stretch overnight!
In the morning, you may feel a little hungry, but a cup of coffee or water will help you to adjust to your fast. In fact, as you fall into your new eating routine, you’ll find that your body adapts quite quickly to the new status quo.
After their bodies get used to it, people who practice 16/8 report feeling sharper, more energetic, and more focused than they did when they ate three evenly spaced meals per day.
What Can You Drink While Fasting
Most fasts stress eating nothing or eating as little as possible during fast periods. But liquids are another story!
Water is a critical component of modern fasting, and historically, other liquids have been considered a critical part of a successful fast. Here are some ideal drinks for fasters:
- You can drink as much water as you want when you fast, and in fact, you should drink a lot! Fasting may have health benefits, but dehydration is nothing but bad news.
- Some personal trainers will even let you throw in a tiny bit of milk or cream.
- Zero-calorie energy drinks are allowed under the 16/8 plan, but beware. Some health experts dislike these drinks because of all the artificial sweeteners they tend to include.
- This is important because tea comes in a number of different flavors. If your relationship to food has a psychological angle, as it does for most people, then mixing up the tea you drink can provide you with a flavor fix that might help you maintain your fast. Plus, tea is full of antioxidants. Who can argue with that?
What Doesn’t Break a Fast
You know what it means to eat breakfast. Separate that word – “breakfast” – into its two component words: “break” and “fast.”
The first meal of the day literally describes the end, or the “breaking,” of a fast! In this case, the fast you break in the morning is the one you’ve been on since you finished dinner the night before.
If you’re fasting a little more seriously, then you might not eat breakfast at all. However, you may still want to fill your stomach. The trick is to avoid prompting a caloric response from your body.
Calories equal energy, and energy equals what you get from food. So the question I’m asking starts to sound like a Zen riddle. What can you eat if you’re not eating?
Well, as a matter of fact, fasting doesn’t just mean starvation. Many people who fast also eat a very small amount of specific foods. The key is that what you can consume must be limited to zero-calorie or nearly zero-calorie foods. These include…
- I covered this earlier, but it bears mentioning again. Drinking a ton of water is a great trick to keep your stomach feeling full and to stop your body from getting dehydrated. Remember, a great deal of your daily water intake comes to you through food! Try downing a cup first thing in the morning.
- Zero-calorie energy drinks. Sounds like another riddle, right? How can something that gives you no energy be an energy drink? Actually, there are some energy drinks that boast zero calories. However, because of the artificial sweeteners I mentioned before, some dieticians and health experts discourage the casual use of energy drinks. It’s probably not a great idea to rely on these during a fast. If what you need is a kick, then consider a simpler source…
- You gave up food, but you don’t have to give up your favorite morning buzz. A cup of coffee gives you about one calorie. One single, solitary calorie. And a lift! You might think of this as cheating if you’re a purist, but plenty of intermittent fasters consider coffee fine. And let’s face it: kicking a caffeine addiction while you’re also trying to adjust to a new diet is a lot to deal with on a workday.
- One eight ounce serving of tea carries a whopping two calories.
- Like a cup of tea, a stick of gum stacks up to two calories. Stick to sugar-free, though.
Intermittent Fasting and Ketogenic Diet
Plenty of people who find that they want to fast are already watching their health in other ways. This includes following a ketogenic, or low-carb, diet. Studies indicate that cutting out the bread course is one of the better ways to get healthy. But what if you want to fast, too?
You can absolutely fast while on a ketogenic diet. However you need to take some extra precautions to make sure that you’re able to handle both fasting and keto in a healthy manner.
While some ketogenesis experts recommend an occasional fast of several days bordered by shorter intermittent fasts, they also stress mineral replacement during times when you’re not eating. As always, talk to your doctor before making a big change in your diet.
Is it Safe To Fast?
That depends on the condition of your health. Usually, if you’re an adult under the age of 70, fasting is a perfectly safe practice. But there are a few conditions that may be incompatible with fasting, and your doctor will be able to give you more information if you happen to live with any of them. These are…
- This debilitating psychiatric condition forces sufferers to starve themselves in pursuit of a dream of impossible, and unhealthy, thinness. If you suffer from anorexia, please stop reading this article right now and call your doctor. Your path to health is to get your condition treated, not to lose more weight. The National Eating Disorders Association has a fantastic helpline that’s available 24/7 to assist you if you’re having a crisis.
- This includes both Type I and Type II. If you’ve got diabetes, a good rule of thumb is to not do anything unusual with your diet until you ask a medical professional.
- Ever heard that old saying that goes, “eating for two?” If you’re pregnant, maybe you’ve heard it quite recently! Your baby needs extra nutrients and depriving it of those won’t lead to anything good. Please plan to shed that baby weight after the delivery!
- This is a painful condition that often affects the feet. You might have heard that rich foods can trigger gout episodes. Fasting might affect the presentation of this illness, too.
Different Types of Fasting
So far, we’ve talked about several different fasting styles, from the religious to the health-conscious. Here’s a rundown of the most popular varieties:
- Almost every faith tradition incorporates fast somehow, often as a way to purify the soul.
- Health-based. As we’ve discussed, fasting intermittently can be very good for your health.
- Preparation for surgery. Some major surgery requires that you fast. In this case, it’s especially important not to sneak a snack!
What is the Daniel Fast
I’ve discussed health-based fasts at great length and fasting for surgery is kind of straightforward. But many people in the world fast strictly for spiritual purposes. Right now, the Daniel Fast is popular with many Christians in the United States, not primarily for its health benefits, but because people who follow it grow closer to God when they fast and practice other spiritual disciplines.
The fast itself is named after the old-Testament prophet Daniel, who spent three weeks eating the plainest food possible in order to receive the wisdom of his God. When a practitioner decides to follow the Daniel Fast, they aspire to satisfy their own spiritual hunger.
“The Daniel Fast is based on verses from the Bible found in Daniel 10:2-3. “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” These three weeks refer to the observance of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which take place during the first month of the year (Exodus 12:1-20).” [source: allaboutprayer.org]
If you want to follow the Daniel Fast, be prepared for a diet focused on fruit and vegetables. Nuts and beans are also allowed, as are whole grains like barley. Bread, however, is against the rules, as are all animal products. The fast disallows alcohol, caffeine, iodized salt, and sweeteners as well.
There are no calorie requirements to the Daniel Fast. Fasters just avoid certain foods, denying themselves the culinary pleasures of meats and sweets, and contemplate their faith. The name of the game is self-denial, though many people who practice a Daniel Fast also report positive changes in their health.
Here’s some of what you can eat during a Daniel Fast:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Almond milk and soymilk
- Fresh-pressed vegetable juice
- All nuts
- Chia seeds
What you can’t eat during a Daniel Fast:
- Cow or goat milk
- Iodized salt
- Breath mints
- Energy drinks
Fasting may sound extreme at first, but there’s no question that it’s good for you in small amounts. If nothing else, the controlled intake of food can help you become more aware of what you’re eating.
When you can’t just grab a cracker whenever you feel like it, you develop a greater appreciation for the taste, the feel, and the experience of having that cracker when you finally allow yourself to break your fast.
In addition to fasting’s many other health benefits, it can rearrange your outlook too. Anything that powerful is worth a try.
Have you tried any fasts? Comment below…