Articles about fasting are popping up all over the place, either describing it as the latest way to attain your best health, or calling it a surefire route to making yourself sick, depending on the writer’s slant. The evidence that fasting is beneficial is strong. (My last blog addresses this. Read more about it HERE.) Recently golfer Phil Mickelson made headlines for his 6 day fast to reset his health. While this is a longer fast than I would recommend to anyone without doctor supervision, it is interesting that he undertook this for healing, rather than for weight loss. (And lost 15 pounds in the process.)
The following are some of the most important things you need to know if you want to try fasting.
The number one rule for fasting is if you feel unwell stop. (But first make sure you have taken in enough water and salt as this is the most common reason for feeling unwell.) This doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful if you try again another day. It does mean that today is not the day for your body to fast. And that’s ok. Feeling unwell or sick is not the same as feeling hungry by the way. Hungry is ok. You are going to feel hungry. And sometimes you are going to think you are hungry but you are actually bored. Try to distinguish these. Both will pass.
The most important aspect of fasting is keeping up with water and salt intake. Water keeps you feeling full but it is essential beyond just making your tummy happy. Insulin causes water retention in the body. When you fast, your insulin levels drop causing you to need to go to the washroom more, and so you need to replace that water. Water alone can be dangerous though. You also need to replace salt. You can do this by making a salty broth a couple of times during the day. You can also just take the salt directly from the palm of your hand, followed by a few gulps of water. The salty tastes only lasts for a few seconds. Salt crystals, for example Himalayan salt, allows you to take the same amount of salt in a quick dose with less of a salty taste. (Worried about blood pressure? Contrary to the information that has been pushed on the public, most people are not salt sensitive. If you have a history of high blood pressure, take in the salt and monitor your blood pressure to be sure it’s not elevated.)
What about other liquids like coffee, tea and bone broth? This depends on two things- how experienced you are with fasting and what your goals are. New fasters should consider having bone broth and coffee/tea with cream or other fat (butter or coconut oil) in it. This is helpful to get through the fast both physically and mentally. You can be very successful at weight loss while still taking in these drinks, so for some people consuming them is a good strategy, even when they become experienced fasters, because it helps them complete their fast. Many people are successful at losing weight while using bone broth and/or coffee with cream. However, if you are aiming to activate the anti-aging magic of autophagy (see the LAST BLOG for more info on this), then eliminating all calories and sugar free-sweeteners is important. Both of these can derail autophagy. So even a sugar-free mint, although it contains no calories, may stimulate insulin and disrupt the anti-aging process of autophagy. Could you still see weight loss benefits in this case? Absolutely. Again, it’s all about what your goals are.
What you eat as your last meal before the fast will make a big difference in how you do. A lower carb, higher fat meal will decrease your hunger and make the fast less challenging. Lowering your carbs (if you are not already on a low carb diet) for several meals before fasting is even better. This will help decrease hunger and cravings.
Getting your body used to fasting is like anything else. You don’t go out and run a marathon without going for many shorter runs and building yourself up to the race. Similarly, you shouldn’t start with a 36 hour fast. I would recommend skipping breakfast the first couple of times to see how that feels. Once this feels comfortable you can try missing breakfast and lunch. If you start your fast after supper- say at 6 and then don’t eat again until supper the next day at 6—guess what?– you’ve just done a 24 hour fast! Congratulations! Do several of these (no more than 3 per week but I would recommend starting with one per week) before you try to push into the anti-aging zone. Autophagy is believed to start after 24 hours of fasting. So this would mean skipping breakfast, lunch, and supper then not eating until the next morning to access these benefits. (And remember- no liquids with fat, protein, carbs or sweeteners in them.)
Many fasters say that the first day is the most difficult. I don’t recommend going beyond 36 hours without doctor supervision, just to be on the safe side, although many people do.
The last important detail about fasting is re-feeding, which is the first meal after the fast. The longer the fast, the more challenging this can be. Generally when fasting 24 hours or less (some call this time restricted eating), the meal that breaks your fast doesn’t cause any problems. With longer fasts though, you need to be careful. Some people are more sensitive than others, but in general, a light snack/small meal, such as mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar and some nuts, is a good idea. A heavy, high fat meal can be too hard on the digestive system. Some people experience loose stools almost no matter what they eat when they break a longer fast. It’s a good idea to plan to be home for the first few hours after breaking a fast in case your stomach is sensitive.
Fasting is an amazing way to improve health. It can help with weight loss, diabetes reversal and fatty liver. The anti-aging benefits of fasting are truly impressive. Although fasting may seem intimidating at first, it does become easier with time and experience. Even if you only try skipping breakfast a few times a week, you may still see benefits such as weight loss. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fast!
Note: The above information is not to be used as medical advice. Check with your primary care provider before starting any sort of fasting program. If you take any medications, especially those for blood sugar you MUST check with your doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist as to how to proceed. And check your blood sugars very frequently, as directed by your health care provider. Fasting is never recommended for people who have heart conditions or are on dialysis.