An Easy Guide to Fasting
This blog is an easy guide to fasting, both traditional fasting, then a type of fasting called intermittent fasting, which is not only about calorie restriction, but is restricting when you can eat.
Fasting has long been advocated by many around the world as a way to elevate your health. There is plenty of evidence for positive health benefits. One main benefit is that fasting greatly promotes cellular regeneration and has been shown to trigger autophagy; part of how your body detoxifies and repairs itself. As we age, cellular turnover slows down, the body can’t regenerate cells as efficiently as it used to.
Clinical studies have shown that water only fasting may improve hypertension and be beneficial to those with chronic disease. A 2015 study showed that fasting promotes the growth of neurons (a specialized cell that transmit information to other cells, muscle, and gland cells).
Scientist at University of Southern California, say fasting “flips a regenerative switch” which helps boost the body’s production of new white blood cells. A very important part of the immune system.
Unlike daily calorie restriction, traditional fasting means taking in no calories at all. Zero calorie liquids such as water, unsweetened teas and the like are allowed during the fasting period. This type of fasting should be done under a doctor's supervision.
Alternate Day Fasting
A 2016 pilot research study published in the journal Obesity, looked at daily calorie restriction compared to fasting on alternate days. The researchers were looking at a method to promote weight loss that people could stick with and not abandon after a few weeks, like many people eventually do who go on a calorie restricted diet.
Fasting has been demonstrated to protect normal cells but not cancerous cells against chemotherapeutic agents. The researchers compared one group of obese people who went on a daily calorie restricted (CR) diet (the standard weight loss diet) with another group who ate a normal diet one day then a zero calorie diet the next (the alternate day fast diet or ADF) Even though this was a small pilot study the results were promising, with the ADF group showing very similar patterns of weight loss, body composition, and blood fats as the calorie restricted group. The most interesting thing about this study is that the results show alternate day fasting to not only be a safe and well tolerated method of weight loss, ADF after eight weeks did not increase the participant’s risk for regaining weight a full twenty-four weeks after the study was completed. Alternate day fasting is fasting every other day, which can be extremely hard to sustain.
Intermittent and Time Restricted Fasting
Alternate day fasting is a bit different than intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not really fasting in the traditional sense, but rather a specific time period or window during the day in which you choose to eat (the feeding window) and a specific time period during the day in which you choose not to eat (the fasting window.)
There are several regularly used fasting protocols, with three of them being the most popular. Nutritional expert and personal trainer Martin Berkhan developed the 16:8 protocol, in which you fast for 16 hours a day and then eat during the remaining 8-hour window. Most people who adopt this method fast from 8pm on one day until 12 noon the next (the fasting window) and during the remaining time, you eat as you normally would. In intermittent fasting, you are not skipping any of your daily caloric load, you are just getting those calories in within a prescribed window.
But you don’t have to adhere to these times if it is not convenient to your schedule as long as you maintain the 16:8 fasting/feeding windows. This protocol has been referred to as the ‘lean gains’ method, as it was originally developed for people who wanted to build muscle mass with minimum fat accumulation or who wanted to both build muscle mass and lose fat.
The second popular intermittent fasting protocol is the 24-hour protocol, also known as Eat-Stop-Eat by fitness expert Brad Pilon. With this protocol, you skip two meals in one day which ensures you are taking 24 hours off from eating. For example, you could eat dinner one evening at 7 pm, then go to bed, get up the next day and skip breakfast and lunch. Then eat dinner again at 7 pm or later.
The only rule is to give yourself 24 hours without eating. Unlike intermittent fasting, you are leaving off two meals’ worth of calories. If you do this twice a week, that’s four meals worth of calories that are not consumed. When combined with even a moderate exercise program, consistent weight loss will follow.
For the 24-hour fast, the only rule is don't eat for 24 hours; this is much easier than a 36 hour fast, especially for those new to it.
Also popular is the 5:2 fast developed by doctor Michael Mosley. This technically speaking, isn’t really an intermittent fasting protocol at all but is a combination of eating a regular diet five days of the week and then for two nonconsecutive days a week decreasing your calorie intake by about 500 calories for women and 600 for men or a quarter of your normal intake. This seems simple on the surface, but unless you are already on a diet that has you counting calories, you may not really know how many calories you consume daily.
So, if you are interested in the 5:2 protocol and don’t know how many calories you consume, you may want to begin keeping a food journal for a week or two and then using an online calculator to figure out your daily calorie totals before you begin.
If you are trying to figure out what to consume during a fast, that’s simple. You should consume zero calories. That means you can have water and that’s good because drinking water can help to suppress your hunger and help you to feel full.
Also, many people enjoy a cup of black coffee or tea in the morning, as these beverages have been shown to increase the fat burning potential of intermittent fasting. Plus, having a beverage can keep you from feeling hungry when you awaken. But be sure you don’t slip into any old habits by adding cream or sugar to your coffee or tea.
Intermittent fasting is an extremely powerful diet tool, but this way of eating, just like any other way, is NOT a miracle diet. Paired with good food choices and consistent workout routine, intermittent fasting should give you fairly quick results and think of how happy your cells will be! Many people who begin intermittent fasting cannot imagine going back to their old dietary routines.
- Maday Labrador