Updated: 26 Sep 2018
This article is written with deep respect in the process of fasting and consciousness that its epigenetic effects are far reaching. Fasting in my opinion is something we all need to be comfortable with. There are many disputes on what the healthiest diet is, with advocates of the different diets often trying to support their view using ethnological and ancestral data. It is clear though to everyone that our ancestors had to survive periods of fasting independent of their diet (whether the famine was caused due to lack of game or a disaster in the crops).
My Journey with the Fasting Diet
I have been following a Fasting Diet on and off since September 2009. In my first attempt to fast (after reading my first book on nutrition called: Food Governs your Destiny) I set x3 2hour slots in the day during which I allowed myself to eat. Outside these windows I would consume only liquids. I stayed on the diet for 6 months, during which I:
?? reduced my waist circumference from 34 to 29 inches.
?? lost 7.5 kilos.
?? achieved mental clarity I have never experienced before.
During a big part of these 6 months I was vegetarian.
In 2016 I decided that as a way of monitoring my metabolism I would like to measure the production of ketones in my body. Between October 2016 and February 2017 I monitored my Blood Glucose (BG) and Ketone Bodies (KB) – beta-hydroxybutyric acid on a daily basis. Monitoring can be useful:
?? as feedback for one’s response to food / exercise.
?? for compliance when BG & KB targets are set.
During this period there were weeks of following a vegetarian diet but most days I consumed meat.
Fast Diet: Progressions
Bellow I share what I consider to be a natural progression of fasting. Of course everyone’s starting point is different: not everyone starts with a: 3 meals and 2 snacks diet and neither do we all have the same tolerance to the changes each step requires. I imagine you have not been eating the same way all your life, after all. If you are not sure how quickly you should progress from one stage to the next I suggest you err on the safe side. Most people will find progressions comfortable if they spend 1-2 months on each stage. Those with a healthy relationship to food will evolve our fasting practice over our lifespan.
⏱ Time restrict your eating
I consider the 16-8h type-diet to be an easy one for most people to adopt. During this diet you restrict your caloric intake over an 8 hour window. The remaining 16 hours one is allowed to have non-caloric drinks such as water, coffee and tea. The easiest way to get into it, is to prolong the overnight fast. Assuming one sleeps for 8 hours and stops eating 4 hours prior to going to bed, she / he can achieve the 16/8h fast by eating 4 hours after waking up. If the idea still feels daunting here are a few tips to ease your way into it:
?? Start with a 12-12h diet and gradually increase the fasting window. The danger here is not to be consistent. Decide which window schedule suits you and stick to it for at least 1 week before increasing the fasting phase.
?? Take days off if you find the idea of doing it daily suffocating. However have the days scheduled before hand and do not change them. You know you are ready to proceed when you have completed 4 consecutive weeks with 5 days per week on your “Time Restricted Eating” schedule.
🌞 Eat while the sun is up
While I acknowledge that many people working in offices have more physically active evenings than mornings; the body’s biological clock will not flip upside down because you signed up at the 20:30 CrossFit class. Neither your sleeping time can accommodate all the digestion you wish just because your gym class finishes at 22:00. As a next step to a “Time Restricted Eating” I consider to be the swift of the eating window earlier in the day. How early is early? – you decide. My suggestion is to finish eating prior to the sunset and ideally by midday. As you can see in the infographic from a 2018 paper , time restricting food to the earlier part of the day causes an number of beneficial effects:
Actions that helped me with this transition:
?? Exercise earlier in the day.
?? Make sure the quality of my sleep is not compromised. Supplements as well as breathing practices can support a good night sleep. Initially prolonged fasts can lead to elevated cortisol levels which will mess up with sleep. Poor sleep leads to tiredness and erratic appetite the next day.
⏰ Set your eating times
That stage could also be called: Stop snaking. Most of us (living a western lifestyle) have constant access to food and numerous stressors during our day. The combination of the two in many cases lead to binging / snaking. Whether you call it comfort food or not, every extra meal (and by meal let’s call anything containing more than 20 calories) requires the activation of the pancreas and the subsequent release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone with multiple roles in our biochemistry other than food metabolism. With that in mind I don’t find strange that hormonal imbalances are common in those with erratic eating patterns.
If one attempts to “Set her Eating Times” while she is eating during daytime only, I expect this transition not to be a big challenge. On the other hand shifting from a 16-8h fast to a “Set Eating Times” schedule can be a bigger step.
Setting the times when someone eats is a personal issue and can be scheduled around her lifestyle. My suggestion is to schedule no more than 3 meals a day and if for whatever reason a meal is lost not to be replaced.
☝ Eat once a day
If you have been following the progression described above I would be surprised if you are eating more than twice a day by now. Eating once can be something you want to try occasionally based on your energy expenditure & mood.
😶 Eat only when hungry & as much as you need
Even when I eat once a day I sometimes find hard not to overeat. I consider our relationship with food complex and the addictive aspect of it multidimensional. We can be addicted to:
?? certain foods.
?? the sensation of fullness.
Whatever the addiction is it will always manifest to emotions which make it hard to break loose off. To that extent I would like to clarify that:
“I consider eating one of the big joys of life & fasting can only enhance this sensation.”
Fasting works as a challenge for the body. This doesn’t mean it makes it makes the body weaker. In the same way that you would not assume a runner to be doing harm to her body just because her legs are weak at the end of a training session, don’t be afraid of fasting.
Fast Diet: Considerations
Most people when they consider fasting, they are worried about their energy levels and muscle mass maintenance. The energy levels may fluctuate initially: that is due not to lack of energy but to poor hormone regulation. Even if you have 9% of body fat, there is enough energy stored in your body to keep you alive for days. Fluctuations in energy levels can be caused because your metabolism has no access to your fat. If you are concerned with maintaining muscle mass I suggest you keep your protein intake high when you eat (~x1.6 gr of protein per body weight in kg)
Those that depend on constant energy supply (ie. 3 meals a day + 2 snacks) are the ones that would benefit the most from fasting.
4 Things to consider
1 Always keep your (AME) Appetite, Mood and Energy levels in check. If one of them is not under control adjustments may be necessary. In most cases soon after one gets out of control the other 2 follow.
2 Our life changes constantly and so will our mood, circadian cycle, appetite, needs for nutrients etc. I hope this article works as a road map not an itinerary.
3 Food composition can affect your Blood Glucose and consequently your fasting phases. Fibre, fat, protein can slow down your meals’ metabolism which is necessary initially.
4 Metabolism is complex and its efficiency depends on many factors including oxygen availability & insulin sensitivity. Practicing yoga, breathing exercise and cold exposure can be very useful for improving metabolic efficiency and supporting a fasting practice.
Things to consume while fasting
In order to maintain the calories low during fasting my suggestion is to limit your liquid intake to coffee & teas. If stimulants play havoc in your metabolism & appetite you should avoid caffeinated drinks altogether. I have been consuming them freely. Two things that can help a lot in extending your fasting periods are:
1 Water – in particular carbonated. I think it is easier if one takes sips during the day aiming for 1-3 litters as opposed to drinking 3 glasses when filling peckish.
2 Magnesium Citrate powder (I like the one from Designers for Health). Its sweet taste can help deal with a sweet tooth while the Magnesium supports the adrenals & promotes gut mobility.
?? Brushing teeth after eating. Making sure mouth hygiene is in check can help in 2 ways: 1. some associate a clean mouth with the end of eating 2. food leftovers will stop triggering taste buds receptors.
1. Sutton, E. F., Beyl, R., Early, K. S., Cefalu, W. T., Ravussin, E., & Peterson, C. M. (2018). Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metabolism.