Do you ever think about how often you eat and/or how long you eat and handle food? I don’t think most people do. I surely didn’t, at least not until I started implementing intermittent fasting and eventually extended water fasting into my life.
I’d estimate that I was eating at least a dozen times a day before I started on my new way of life. Snacking was a big deal. Meals were a big deal. Most of my daily entertainment had to do with food, whether planning it, thinking about it, or actually doing it. We have to eat and most cultures are built around eating, so it makes sense that it’d take up so much of my life, especially considering the kinds of foods I was eating that were making me hungrier.
But I didn’t realize how much food consumed my time until I stopped. That’s right.
I stopped eating.
What’s So Great About Fasting
I mentioned in my last blog that I had trouble getting into the keto diet by bringing my carb load down. It eventually seemed easier to me to just quit eating than to struggle. And it was.
When I did that first 61-hour fast, it was like something switched in my brain. My appetite was a fraction of what it was 3 days before, my cravings were almost nothing, and I felt amazing. It definitely wasn’t what I expected at all. I was able to jump into a daily 16:8 intermittent fasting regimen after that with total ease (that’s 16 hours fasting, 8-hour eating window). At this point, I tracked my calories and macros and could barely get to 1,000 calories a day. I wasn’t hungry.
And the benefits lasted for a lonnnng time. Not days, not weeks. Months. It took 7 months before I had any sort of breakdown in my system (I got hungry again).
I took a 3-month break from IF and calorie counting, but stayed keto. Nothing gained, nothing lost. During this time, I read The Complete Guide to Fasting, The Diabetes Code, and The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, who runs a diabetes clinic in Toronto, treating patients with fasting regimens. His philosophy in a nutshell: to get patients to lower their insulin, it was easiest to prescribe fasting than anything else, including diet change.
I couldn’t get fasting out of my head and I soon returned to my regularly scheduled 16:8 eating pattern. Also, at this point, after having read Why We Get Fat and Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, I was done forever with metabolism-wrecking calorie counting. Enter ADF, Alternate Day Fasting.
Alternate Day Fasting can be done a few ways. Some do 36 to 48 hour fasts every other day into perpetuity. Some do 36 to 42 hour fasts 3 times a week. Some do either one of those but with up to 500 calories during fasting days, although this is technically Alternate Day Modified Fasting.
At first, I did a 40ish hour fast every other day, including weekends, with just water and some salt. I’d stop eating Sunday evening around 8 p.m. until Tuesday around lunch time. Rinse & Repeat.
Then I switched to fasting 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) at the recommendation of Dr. Jason Fung. This was much easier to handle.
But a new problem arose the longer I did this protocol: hormones.
Hormones are a bitch. No matter what you’re doing, even if it’s nothing, the female hormone cycles come in, stomp around on your dreams, make you want to eat garbage, and then leave you on the floor in a puddle of your own tears.
Hormones make me hangry and cravy, and it wasn’t something I had really considered until I started fasting more than 24 hours. From ovulation to menstruation, fasting became almost impossible, so I had to shift my system. Enter extended fasting.
One good thing about hormones, at least my hormones, is that they are predictable. For the first 10 days of my cycle, about 1 to 2 days into menstruation, fasting is easy as pie. Energy is up, cravings and hunger signals are down, mood stabilizes: Life is friggin’ fab.
So I fast for at least 5 days, but usually 6 or 7. My longest so far has been 8. Unless you have a lot of metabolic problems, there’s really no need to do extended fasting beyond a few days. Time-restricted eating is often sufficient with a few 24 to 42 hours fasts every so often. But everyone is different and there are quite a few fasting protocols to choose from.
I personally still have a lot of body fat I need to ditch, so I’ve been implementing that one extended fast per month. The other 3 weeks, I (try to) do 2 to 3 40-hour fasts per week. Or at least OMAD (One Meal a Day). I eat keto in between, which makes fasting tons easier. When I’m eating, I eat to satiety, which the keto diet also makes easier. Unless hormones.
How To Avoid Sudden Onset Death
If there’s one constant in the nutrition world, it’s that we are always one bad day away from dropping dead. Fasting, of course, is no different.
You might hear these claims:
- Fasting is hard on the liver.
- Fasting puts you into starvation mode.
- Fasting reduces your metabolic rate.
- Fasting causes too much stress on your organs.
- Fasting will drop your blood sugar to dangerously low levels.
- Fasting causes ketosis, which sounds like ketoacidosis, so it’s bad.
- Fasting is or will cause an eating disorder.
Fasting is one of those lifestyle choices that actually has quite a number of clinical trials behind it, not just faulty epidemiological (observational) studies. Besides the benefits of appetite control that I’ve found, there are more:
- Fasting improves insulin resistance.
- Fasting improves dyslipidemia.
- Fasting improves inflammation cytokines.
- Fasting reduces visceral fat.
- Fasting reduces adipose fat.
- Fasting improves blood pressure.
- Fasting improves blood sugar levels & HbA1c levels.
- Fasting improves mitochondrial function.
- Fasting improves osteoarthritis, lipid profiles, thrombophlebitis, and refractory dermal ulcers.
- Fasting increases tolerance of elective surgery.
- Fasting increases metabolic rate by up to 14%.
- Fasting increases human growth hormone.
- Fasting increases norepinephrine.
- Fasting protects against muscle loss (when compared to traditional calorie counting).
- Fasting prompts cell repair & recycling.
- Fasting improves gene expression related to longevity & disease-fighting.
- Fasting helps improve side effects & treatment of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
- Fasting helps the body resist oxidative stress.
- Fasting induces ketosis, which has a whole other realm of benefits.
Most of our common diseases are metabolic in nature, and fasting flips a metabolic switch. It, like the keto diet, turns your body from glucose-dependent to fat-dependent for energy. But unlike the keto diet, fasting rests your entire system completely for a period of time, which induces and amplifies healing and benefits.
As for the disordered eating argument: someone once said, “Fasting is to an eating disorder as getting a tattoo is to self-harm.” They’re not the same, but if you have disordered eating in your past, I understand it’s something serious to take into consideration. I, on the contrary, still super enjoy eating and await the day I can do only occasional fasts for longevity’s sake.
How I Get Through It
Most people who fast agree that the first two days are always the worst, but only mentally. There are many fasters who have a range of diets from paleo to vegan to SAD (Standard American Diet). Keto is not a requirement, but it does absolutely help.
Since the keto diet evens out blood sugar, the only thing I have to worry about is hunger & electrolytes.
Salt is easy. I just eat it.
And since hunger is run by hormones, the signals don’t accumulate. I’m just as hungry at 11 a.m. as I’ll be at 11 p.m. And they tend to only signal me at times I’m used to eating (or if I get a whiff of something tasty). By about the 3rd or 4th day, I can cook and exist around food with no problem whatsoever.
Fair warning, though: Life can get boring without food. It takes up a lot of mental power whether you’re dieting or not, so when it’s not there, you notice. If you have a lot of work to do, it is a great time to get things done. If you have nothing to do…well…it’s a lot tougher.
So please, find something to do.
*Note: None of this is medical advice.