What is fasting?
I recently came across an ebook that talked about the benefits of fasting. I had never considered fasting as a possible weapon in my fitness arsenal before but after reading the ebook and educating myself I was amazed by the purported benefits. I decided that I would like to try a one day fast and in this blog I have diarized how I went on my fasting day. First though, here is some brief background information for you about fasting in case it is a new concept to you.
Eating food in excess creates a burden on the body. This burden can result in illness. Our bodies are so overworked from processing processed foods that it does not have the capacity to deal with toxins so they stay in the tissues until some point in the future when they can be dealt with. Fasting time is when the body can catch up with these overdue tasks. Fasting lets the body take a break from using energy to burn food which allows the energy to be used to heal the body instead.
Fasting is a difficult concept for some people to deal with as we have been taught that food is energy, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, if we stop eating our metabolism will slow down and we will get fat and so on. Research tells us that fasting gives our internal machine a rest from the constant barrage of food we throw at it. Studies show that around 65% of our energy is needed for the digestive system to do its work following a big meal. Think of fasting as a gift to yourself. You are giving your hard working body a well-earned vacation.
Here are some benefits of fasting:
- Allows your digestive system to take a break from the over-indulgence of our modern world
- Sense of physical lightness
- Increased energy
- Greater mental and emotional clarity
- Fasting forces a break in your eating patterns to help you understand how you eat. It creates an opportunity to change your eating habits for the better and help you understand what your emotional attachments to food are
- Body Cleansing and detox
- Closer spiritual connection – Many Eastern religions fast and meditate while fasting as the fasted state provides clearer vision and deeper connection to your higher self
- Fat burning – Note that I prefer this term to weight loss – if you want to become healthier, focus on reducing fat, not losing weight. Eventually you will stop losing weight and actually re-gain weight as your fat reserves are depleted and you gain solid muscle. Fat reduction should be the goal otherwise you will be feel like you are failing when you look at the scales and see your weight has gone up
- Studies have shown that short term fasting can help alleviate many conditions including digestive disorders, allergies, arthritis, asthma, skin conditions, and cardiovascular disease
- Clearer skin
- Anti-ageing benefits
- Cell and tissue repair
- Sense of accomplishment when you have finished the fast and realise that you are in control of your eating habits
- Improved senses
- Better sleep
- Reduced anxiety
So today is Monday and I decided that tomorrow will be the day that I do my first fast. I have chosen to do a water fast meaning 0 calories and only drinking water, non-sweetened herbal tea and black coffee. I wanted to do it on a regular work day because food is not as accessible as at home and because my mind will be focused for most of the day. I work in IT and have a desk job so given I am sitting for most of the day and not using much physical energy, this seemed like an ideal time to fast. I also chose a day when I have no scheduled meetings as I didn’t like the idea of sitting in meetings with my stomach rumbling away!
I had a very early dinner tonight at 16:30 which consisted of smoked chicken, baked kumara and asparagus. I wasn’t going to eat any more tonight but my lovely personal trainer wife got home from the gym and made a healthy snack of crushed almonds and grated apple (this is a delicious snack if you haven’t tried it). So while light, that was my last meal of the day. If I feel good in the morning, my intention is to fast until my next dinner meal which will probably be around 18:00.
Right, so fast forward to Tuesday morning and I have decided today is still the day. Below is my diary for my fasting day:
Woke up. Feel a little hungry. Set an intention that I will be fasting today until about 6pm. Rather than be concerned that I am missing meals, I got myself excited that I will be trying something new, cleansing my body and burning stubborn belly fat that I need to get rid of if I ever want to reveal my abs.
Got the kids breakfast, tried not to take too much notice of the food I was preparing for them! Then poured a glass of water with half a squeezed lemon, followed by black tea (I normally have low fat milk in my tea, no sugar but this is a no-no when fasting). Weekday breakfast normally consists of half a cup of muesli, 125g of low fat probiotic yoghurt, a piece of cut up fruit, and 5g of chia seeds.
I also normally eat vitamins in the morning – B Complex, Omega 3 and Magnesium. I have elected not to take these this morning.
Showered and got kids ready for school.
I made a Nespresso lungo coffee, no milk, no sugar on the way out the door to drop kids to preschool and school. I usually have low fat milk and 1 teaspoon/cube of sugar in my coffee. I read that having coffee helps the fat burning process as it speeds up the metabolism.
At work. Filled my BPA Free water bottle with filtered water – bottle size is 650ml (1.4 pints).
Feeling OK. No hunger pangs as such, but am conscious of the fact my stomach is empty. Am now past my usual morning tea time. I usually eat a handful of nuts, sunflower seeds and raisins around 10am.
Finished 650ml (1.4 pints) of water. Refilled water bottle. Also made a Red Bush (rooibos) herbal tea (0 calories). Some herbal teas have fruit and therefore a few calories – I have one in my desk drawer called Be Happy tea that is just like that so I chose not to have that tea today.
This is my usual lunch time. I’m still feeling good. Quite energetic actually. I am still aware of having an empty stomach. I haven’t had any stomach rumblings this morning. 6 hours to go!
I feel like I am past the point of being hungry now. I feel less hungry now that I did early in the day. I am only slightly aware of having an empty stomach now. The fast is not proving as difficult as I thought it might. My energy levels are good and I’m not feeling tired.
Finished another bottle of water. That’s 1300ml (2.7 pints) so far today + another 750ml (1.6 pints) from my morning water, tea and herbal tea. I have refilled my water bottle to try to finish another bottle before I finish work for the day. I am also going to have a black plunger coffee to give my metabolism another boost.
I’m on the home stretch now! I’m certainly not starving or dying for a meal. I guess drinking a lot of water has helped my hunger a lot.
Finished another bottle of water. That’s a total of 2.2L (4.6 pints) of water today not counting my herbal tea and two coffees.
Dinner time! I made it. Well that wasn’t so hard. Based on my results today, I intend to fast one day per week. My next fast will be 24 hours.
So I’m feeling pretty darn good for having done this. I think that my preparation for this fast has helped a lot. Three things in particular:
1. Mental preparation – by reading a lot about fasting and understanding the benefits prior to doing the fast, it helped me understand WHY I wanted to do the fast. I never had focussed on any possible pain of fasting which could have derailed my efforts. Instead, I only focussed on the benefits.
2. Clear Short Term Goal – By clearly deciding WHEN I would do the fast and for HOW LONG, I was mentally prepared to deal with it rather than it being open ended.
3. I have been eating well the last 4 weeks as part of my awesome plan to improve my overall health. I believe this has helped reduce toxicity in my body which has helped me prepare for the fast. I had no idea I was going to do this 4 weeks ago – the decision to eat healthier was independent but my good progress has influenced me to look for even more ways of being healthy, hence I discovered the concept of fasting and started reading more about it. Don’t get me wrong though – I haven’t been good 100% of the time over the last 4 weeks. For example, I went to a Scottish Ceilidh (for a friend’s 40th) on the weekend and I ate pizza and had a few beers but what was important is that 90% of the time I was eating well. I think that fasting would be a lot more difficult for someone who has high toxicity and has emotional attachments to food.
So that’s it for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts below. If you’d like to read more about fasting, there are good resources available – the book below is a good starting point. Click to read the reviews.
Footnote: I’m writing note this a week after I did my first fast. I lost 1kg and felt great to decided to do another fast the following Tuesday. This time I fasted for 24 hours, from dinner Monday night (5pm) until dinner Tuesday night. I intend to do a weekly fast so I can measure the results over time.