I started incorporating fasting about a year ago into my weekly health and fitness program. I had done a number of extended fasts over the years but the logic and practicality always escaped me. You fast in order to cleanse and detoxify but then what happens? Invariably most people go back to the same habits until the next New Years resolution or some other new fasting fad comes along.
I wanted to incorporate fasting in a manner that would provide consistent health benefits in a practical manner that was also sustainable; so that is how I started practicing what is called Intermittent Fasting (IF).
IF is nothing revolutionary. It basically involves a day fast once a week – on a consistent basis where you don’t eat anything for a defined period.
There are dozens of fasting methods online involving all forms of juicing, cayenne cleanses, detox shakes, lemon drinks – but mine is pretty simple – I don’t eat for 24 hours once a week – from evening meal to evening meal. IF is easier to do on a consistent basis and its health benefits outweigh the extremes of the longer-term fasts that leave you in a completely deflated, irritable and unnourished state (side-warning: don’t attempt to socialize with anyone undergoing a long term fast – they are generally not in a normal state of mind).
Hundreds of health studies and research have been undertaken on IF including:
- Increased lifespan;
- Lowering bad cholesterol;
- Promoting weight loss;
- Reducing blood pressure;
- Slowing the aging process;
- Increasing Human Growth Hormone in men;
- Reducing the risk of chronic disease;
any many more health benefits.
So why don’t more people do IF?
Well people, we live in America, the land of the super-size! Not eating for a day is akin to asking people to give up their iPhone for a day – or Facebook! We love our food more than any other Nation so why would we not eat? That’s crazy talk! And isn’t fasting just for hippies and those “alternative people”?
But in case you ARE inclined to join me and millions of others who are convinced of the health benefits of IF here are some tips to getting you through your first (of hopefully many) day-fasts.
Chose a day that works for you on a consistent basis. For me that’s Tuesdays. It’s generally a less energetic day physically which I use for lighter exercise (active recovery) compared to my other training and exercise days.
More important though is to not build up to your IF day as if you were training for the event. By this I mean don’t overeat the day before thinking it will get you through your hunger the next day. I know people who have spent the week leading up to a long-term fast gorging themselve’s on as much food as possible. Don’t be that person. One of the other reasons I do Tuesdays is that it follows “Meatless Mondays” which is always vegetarian in my house. So I have a lighter, more nutritious calorie load the day before that eases me in to the IF on Tuesdays.
You also don’t want to do IF on a day that is going to expose you to too many temptations. It’s hard enough not eating as it is so you don’t want to be surrounded by the office birthday party cake or some other function or social event. Try to be consistent, but of course, be flexible if need be on whatever day you choose that week.
Remember your last meal will be dinner the night before your IF day – and you won’t be eating again until that following evenings meal. Have a light dinner – preferably vegetarian – and try to avoid meat and animal protein. Eat early in the evening (around 6-7pm) and try and eat 25% less calories that you would otherwise have at dinner. Oh, and skip the desert.
You’ve woken up and you are already hungry right! For me, one of my mantras is “Always Wake Up Hungry” – hungry for life and for everything that the day brings – so waking up hungry is a good thing! OK, waking up and actually really being hungry is a little bit different – but you get the drift.
You have only got 12 or so hours to go so “stay the course”! When you start feeling hungry my #1 trick is to just drink lots and lots of fluids; which gives me the feeling of fullness. I drink water and detox teas like “EveryDay Detox” but no caffeine or dairy. I also avoid fruit juice and vegetable juices. Keep drinking lots of water and focusing your mind on the tasks of the day.
The mental challenge is the hardest part. You need to positively reinforce the benefits of why you are doing IF. This becomes easier as you do more IF’s because you look forward to the benefits that come with the program; including more energy, a feeling of lightness, better mental clarity and more restful sleep. While you are actually on the fast however this is hard to do and it takes practice. You go through waves of hunger and the trick is to get over these surges and push forward. Remember it’s only a day. Focus on the meal you have waiting for you that evening and the health benefits of IF. Whenever you get the urge to eat, have a cup of tea or drink a lot of water – and get busy – so as to focus your mind on something other than your stomach. Take a light walk or cycle or do some yoga/stretching, but don’t attempt to set a PR on a 10k run or do a Spartan Race.
Also, don’t take supplements on the day. Most supplements should be taken with food so taking them on an empty stomach could make you nauseous or give you gastric problems. Skip them for a day unless you are on medications in which case always consult with your health care provider.
Try and push the IF as late as you can and don’t use it as an excuse for an “early dinner”. Eat at the same time as you had dinner the previous night and eat light. Don’t have a big steak or processed foods. You have just given your body a one-day reprieve from the processed and manufactured foods that the majority of Americans eat. Think of it as if you were gassing up your imaginary Ferrari at the Gas Station. Would you put in 87 or 91? Your body is craving highly nutritious foods so don’t load it up with wine and red meat. Also, try and eat 25% less than you normally would. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full so eat slowly, eat less, and fuel your body with healthy and nutritious foods that your newly pure body craves! And skip the alcohol that evening. Some of the chemicals in wine in particular can give you a headache or other symptoms if you are coming off a fast.
You’ve made it through your fast and it’s the day after. That wasn’t so bad was it? The focus here is very simple – don’t go back to your old habits. And experiment with eating less through the week. As you age, and for men in particular, you lose muscle mass so lean proteins becomes a greater percentage of your daily calories. But don’t go gorging down red meat. Animal proteins can take days to digest so you don’t want to overload your digestive system. Start to think “light and clean” – less food, more vegetables, and more plant proteins.
Like me, I hope you will come to look forward to your IF. It’s never easy but it does get easier. And more so as you start to feel the health benefits of the program. At the end of the day, all these diets, programs and books are all selling you on the same thing – losing weight. But the key is how you ultimately feel. Do you feel lighter, healthier? Is your eyesight better? Do you have more mental clarity and are able to sleep better at night? Losing weight is a small part of doing IF but its not a weight loss program. It’s a lifestyle program to help you feel better and help prevent chronic disease. And that’s worth a day a week any day of the week for me.