Fasting or more specifically intermittent fasting is a fast-growing trend that is getting crazy popular. In this complete guide to fasting, you’re going to learn everything you need to know in five minutes.
People are using intermittent fasting (IF) for a variety of reasons, including to improve their health, lose weight without dieting, and even just to simplify their lifestyles away from focusing on the rituals of food at specific times of the day.
So let’s not hang around, let’s dive straight into this and tell you everything you need to know about fasting so that you can see if it’s for you, and how exactly you can do it safely.
What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting, or even sometimes just called fasting, is a variety of techniques where you abstain from food, and sometimes liquid as well.
So there are variations here that you need to be aware of:
Intermittent fasting is the process of fasting at different times of the day or different days of the week.
Dry fasting is where no food or liquid is taken in at all, which is mostly seen as pretty unhealthy for more than just a few hours.
Water fasting as you’ve probably guessed is where you fast from food but not water.
So intermittent fasting can be dry fasting or water fasting, and it usually doesn’t last for more than 24-hours.
The Three Main Types Of Fasting
When people talk about fasting or more specifically intermittent fasting, they are actually referring to 3 main strategies.
Now there is actually a myriad of strategies, but these are the three basic structures that are most talked about and followed:
The 18/8 Method
This method is also known as the LeanGains protocol. It consists of only eating for eight hours of the day, usually between lunchtime and late evening, say between 12 and 8 PM, or 1 PM and 9 PM, something like that. So you’re basically skipping breakfast and fasting for 16 hours. It’s probably the most popular methods out there.
The 5:2 Diet
The second variation on the theme, this is about lower calorie intake on certain days. So say your calorie intake is usually 2000 cal per day, you might drop that down to 500 cal per day on two days of the week. So there’s no 24-hour farce, and no long period of fasting, just a dramatic drop in calories on certain days.
A variation on the intermittent fasting theme, it’s all about days of fasting for whole days during the week. So this is tougher because it’s a 24-hour fast. That’s why it’s seen as an advanced fasting method. Most people do it once per week, and some people do it twice per week. But it’s done cleverly because it’s not done from waking until sleeping. They will start it after lunch and go through until after lunch the next day. So there is a daily meal before the fast begins.
The Key Potential Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Whichever variation on the theme of intermittent fasting you decide is best for you, you can gain some significant potential benefits:
Continual weight loss without going on a diet or feeling like you are really restricting calories. This is particularly good for people who have struggled with weight loss in the past. It’s a great strategy for lowering your calorie intake and learning food discipline without the drama of a diet.
When you fast, things change in the body. It’s been shown that cells start to undertake repair processes, and even start to change the expression of some genes in the body. For example, levels of HGH (human growth hormone) have been shown to rise. This key hormone helps with faster and leaner muscle gains and fat loss.
The levels of insulin in the body drop significantly. Lower levels of insulin help to make body fat more accessible.
Intermittent fasting can actually help you live longer. It’s been shown that continually eating large amounts of calories is detrimental to health. It’s actually not the natural state of things. Think about it, when we were hunter-gatherers, there would have been periods where food was scarce. Our bodies evolved in that situation, so we are literally designed for managing periods of food scarcity.
I want to briefly cover the diet aspect of this. It’s one of the main reasons that people will try intermittent fasting.
With intermittent fasting, you automatically lower your calorie intake. As long as you are disciplined as you come out of that fast, then you won’t then overeat. That’s the trick, but as long as you eat a protein-rich meal that fills you up, or something with oats in it, something which gives you long calorie burning, then you can get around that initial bump in the road as you come out of the fast. So what to eat after fasting can be crucial.
But it appears that the changes in hormone levels and the fasting itself actually help to increase the body’s metabolic rate significantly. By as much as 14%, which is at the low end of significant.
Also, studies have shown that fasting rather than continual dieting does not trigger the body starvation mode. That’s when the body realizes food is getting scarce and stores body fat. Instead, it burns muscle tissue because that’s less needed initially, and it burns more calories in its own right. So you will lose weight, without losing muscle tone and storing fat.
How To Do Weekly Intermittent Fasting
Now obviously it depends on which of the three main models of intermittent fasting that you want to follow.
There are some key principles that you can follow to make sure that your fasting, whether it’s dry fasting or water fasting, works as well as it can:
It doesn’t matter when you start your fast. Just make sure that it’s a convenient time when you’re not hungry, and you’re full of energy. That way you won’t crave food for several hours.
Try and make sure that your fasting period includes as much as late evening and overnight as possible. That’s when your metabolism is slowing down, and when you don’t want to be taking food in. Also, because you’ll obviously be sleeping for part of this, you won’t be thinking about food as often.
Think about your lifestyle. For example, if you regularly go out for lunch with friends, then you might want to do the LeanGains model of a 16 hour fast. That would allow you to have lunch, and also eat with your friends or family in the early evening, and then stop around 8 PM until 1 PM the next day.
Look at your current eating habits. Create a diary for a couple of weeks to build up a pattern. You’ll find one of two things usually. You’ll either eat fixed meals within very narrow time bands, meaning that you are a habit eater. Or, many people actually find that they are semi-fasting anyway, sometimes skipping breakfast, often a light lunch and then a late tea, which means they can target the areas of the day that they can extend into more easily.
A crucial principle is to not focus on food but to focus on advantages and lifestyle. The more you focus on food, the more you will crave it. You need to do consistent intermittent fasting so that it becomes natural. Build healthy habits on behavior and exercise at the same time, and you’ll find that you are losing weight without trying.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fail for some reason that is justified. Obviously, if you break into the fast because you are hungry then you are failing and you need to look at that. But if a friend turns up unexpectedly and you end up ordering a Chinese takeaway or drinking beer, for example, don’t beat yourself up, just go again the next day.
Is Intermittent Fasting Unhealthy?
Intermittent fasting is not unhealthy, in fact, it’s been proven to be healthier in some ways than eating large amounts of calories every day. However, there is a big caveat to that. It depends on how you do the fast, and what you do in terms of what to eat after fasting that is important.
It’s fine to do the occasional 24-hour fast (Eat-Stop-Eat) as long as you don’t go crazy. Once per week is fine, twice per week if you’re really disciplined and don’t completely lose two days calories every week. But that’s where it becomes borderline. Three times per week is starting to enter a significant calorie deficit that could impact on your physical and mental health.
It’s also what you do after the fast that’s important. If you finish fasting after 24 hours for example, and then you are stuffing cakes, fatty foods, huge volumes of calories, then you are going to train yourself into a binge and bust mindset. This can actually cause a binge eating disorder.
So yes, intermittent fasting can be incredibly good for your health, and your waistline. But if you are not careful, if you go too far, or unhealthy eating habits creep in, it can actually make things worse.
Also, look at it from the societal and historical point of view. People have always had to fast in times of famine. Until the past 50 years or so, food has been more scarce, and people weren’t dropping dead everywhere, they just weren’t obese. So there’s no evidence from history that it’s actually unhealthy.
Add to that, look at different religions. For example, Islam, where there is a month of fasting in daylight hours during Ramadan. Those religious practitioners are not dropping dead, nor do they have a higher incidence of health problems. In fact, that heightened food discipline mindset seems to lead to lower levels of obesity.
Intermittent Fasting Can Be As Effective As Dieting
I said earlier how good fasting could be your waistline. And it’s true, in many ways intermittent fasting can be as good as dieting, if not better.
The benefits of intermittent fasting over dieting are as follows:
You don’t enter the mindset that all food is forbidden
You are not constantly in a state of hunger and food cravings
There are breaks rather than a constant struggle
Because the gaps are greater, you’ll notice the weight drops happening
You don’t have to feel guilty or miss out as long as you time the fast
As long as meal choices are sensible then calorie counting goes out the window
So as you can see, as long as you are healthy in the meal choices you make on either side of your fast, then it can be as effective as that 24-hour hell of feeling constantly hungry and ground down by weeks and weeks of dieting.
Water fasting results are definitely worth the effort. It’s less hassle than a diet, and you don’t have to watch what you eat as much. But those water fasting results won’t come quickly, so don’t be tempted to prolong the length of the fast if you get frustrated after a couple of weeks. You should fast for at least one month using your chosen method to see the results.
Safety And Side Effects Of Fasting To Watch Out For
Having talked so positively about this topic in the complete guide to fasting here, I want to now offer some warnings as well.
If you are already underweight then you should seriously consider keeping your fasting to a minimum.
If you have current eating disorders or a history of eating disorders then you should not be doing intermittent fasting. Even if you’ve never been diagnosed, deep down you will know if you have an unhealthy attitude towards food and use it as a control mechanism.
If you have problems with insulin levels or blood sugar problems, then you should not be fasting for long periods of time.
Females are more at risk than males from negative side effects from not having enough calories. Studies in rats have shown more frequent infertility in malnourished specimens. In addition, some women report that intermittent fasting affects their menstrual cycle. Also, it’s been shown that women with eating disorders have a higher rate of fertility and related problems.
What To Eat After Fasting?
One big question that is not actually answered in a lot of guides to fasting is what to eat after fasting has finished.
Now the obvious problem here is that you’ll be hungry, and you want fatty foods, in bulk. It’s the craving we all have for fat and carbohydrates (think how you feel when you are hungover).
But you must avoid this temptation. Your first meal should be lean and healthy:
If it’s breakfast make it something like porridge and fruit
If it’s lunch makes it something like rice and fish
If it’s dinner lean meat and vegetables and moderate carbs
The idea is to give the body nourishment with food which will be really healthy, and also contains protein and carbs to fill you up and stop you being immediately ravenous again.
I’ll also say here that when you are fasting you can take multivitamins and supplements. This will make sure that any deficiencies are covered and don’t become a problem.
Also, you can work out when you’re fasting, but I would advise that you only work out after fasting, and after you have eaten and replenish the nutrients so that your workout is productive and maintains good form throughout. Also, go easy on yourself first workout back after fasting.
How Do I Get Started With Intermittent Fasting?
There is absolutely no doubt that intermittent fasting done sensibly can have several health benefits and make you feel happier.
As long as you are sensible, then there really is nothing to fear. But you should do an assessment of yourself in advance:
Look at your health and lifestyle. Be brutally honest, and maybe even speak to a doctor before starting.
Use a calorie tracking app for one month before you start fasting. This will help you to see the patterns of eating, what your diet consists of, and your total calorie intake daily and weekly. This will help you to choose a fasting pattern more easily.
Look at what else you are trying to achieve. If you are going into a heavy period at work, or you’re now about to hit the gym for a bulking phase, then it would be crazy to start intermittent fasting. During a cutting phase of bodybuilding sure, or when you are about to go into two weeks’ holiday, is another great time to start fasting.
Test the water in a small way if you are unsure. Nobody says you have to suddenly do a week of fasting. Just try it for a day using one of the three methods I’ve outlined here and see how you feel. Fast when it’s convenient, and then assess where you are.