WHY FASTING IS AN ANCIENT SUPERPOWER
First of all, we will surely not get a recommendation NOT to eat from companies such as McDonald’s, KFC or Nestlé.
They are actually the type of companies that push at least 3 meals a day, preferably 5-6. From their perspective that seems logical.
But how normal is this for the human body?
As we evolved, as human beings, we never had so much abundance of food.
In the past, humans would be happy if they successfully hunted 1 animal a week.
And that’s how our body evolved over time to feast and fast.
It was normal to eat one big meal.
Either if you caught a big prey or you found some berries.
When you eat, your body goes into storing mode. This means it will satisfy the body’s needs, at that time, and then store some of the excess food as fat.
When our body won’t have food at its disposal, it will start eating our own body fat.
That’s why low-calorie diets work. If you don’t get enough calories/energy from food, then you will require to tap into other sources of fuel.
Our bodies are adapted to feast and fast.
This means that first, we feast.
Did you notice how our body is usually a little tired after eating? Anyone who celebrates Thanksgiving knows it so well.
Our body starts concentrating on digesting the food. That’s why it’s not a good idea to exercise, or actually start working on something right after a big meal.
However, after the food is digested and we start the fast, we can notice that we are much sharper, mentally and physically.
How else would we be able to catch our prey for the next meal?
The reason why we’re sharper is more complex because it involves our hormones, but there’s no need to add complexity here. I just want to tell you what you actually need to know.
It’s better to remember 20% of the information that brings 80% of the results, rather than 80% of the information that brings 20% of the results. I previously wrote a blog post about why what you choose to do is so important.
Long story short, we are at our best when we are in a semi-fasted or totally fasted state.
What do you think? Would it be easier to catch a prey in the wild with a full stomach or when we’d be so hungry that some chemicals in our body will start giving us some energy boost?
Adrenaline is actually a response we get when we are in a (perceived) dangerous situation. When we’re almost starving, our body gives us that energy boost to actually do something about it.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO FAST
First of all, keep in mind that you have to do your own research and apply the fasting principles to your own body’s needs. I’m not a medical doctor, and probably not even a real one can tell you 100% what is good for YOU.
So remember that you need to look at the benefits that come with fasting (which I’ll cover shortly) and see if its right for your condition. If you are perfectly healthy, you are good to go. If you have some disease, be sure to check if it’s safe to do it, but trust me, in most cases, it can actually heal your body.
You don’t think I would fast for no reason, do you?
The truth is that fasting is so revolutionary that the person who discovered what it can do to the body, received a Nobel prize in 2016.
If you think about it, food is mainly fuel.
A car works with sunflower oil as well, but we don’t use it since it’s not the most efficient fuel for the car, is it?
And we also can’t put more than the car’s capacity to store it.
The same applies to our body.
If we want an optimally functioning body, in the long run, we have to give it the right amount of fuel, at the right time.
We wouldn’t want to treat our invaluable body worse than just a material object, such as a car, would we?
Top performers such as Tim Ferriss and many others, regularly utilize fasting to keep their body at peak-performance levels.
Although there are many benefits of fasting, which I will point out in this post, first I want to talk about the main challenge of a fast, which is hunger.
GETTING PAST HUNGER
For most people, not eating for a few hours skyrockets the hunger.
But let me tell you one thing.
The only reason why this happens is that most people run on sugars.
And sugar doesn’t mean only plain white sugar, but anything that has naturally or unnaturally a high amount of carbohydrates in it.
Simply put, if you eat foods rich in carbohydrates, they will only give you energy for a short amount of time.
However, if you eat foods mainly rich in protein and fats, you will get longer lasting energy, because of 2 reasons :
1. Protein is essential to the body, so after you eat a certain amount, usually the body tells you “thank you for the food, that’s enough”
2. Fat is more satiating. You could eat 200-300g of rice easily. Imagine eating olive oil or butter in the same amount. Your body will usually tell you pretty fast when you’ve had enough.
That’s why it’s advisable to go on a low carb or even keto style of eating before a fast, so your body won’t crave those “fast energy” carbohydrates.
You’d already be “fat-adapted” and your body would rely on fat rather than carbohydrates for fuel.
It just makes your life way easier during a fast.
BENEFITS OF FASTING
As I said earlier, fasting is really a superpower.
One of the top promoters of fasting is a well-known doctor, which actually treats people for a living.
His name is Jason Fung.
You can read more about his work in a previous article of mine where I wrote about reading his book.
If you want to check out a full summary of the book, click here to read my personal notes on Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code.
Back to the topic, there are 5 major benefits of fasting:
- this means your body will start eating it’s old and dead cells
- it is the main way your body can regenerate
- you know it’s important when someone wins a Nobel prize for it, just 2 years ago, in 2016
- there are so many benefits to fasting in itself, that you can read entire posts on it
2. Stronger Mental Clarity
- when you fast, your alertness is improved
- when you don’t eat, you don’t feel fatigued mentally (if your body is used to it)
- we know from studies that it improves memory
3. Fortifying Your Immune System
- autophagy means healing, so your immune system will be the one to let you feel the benefits later on
- fasting, just like a keto diet, is a life-saver for people with epilepsy
- if you have any problems with your insulin, or you know anyone who has disabetes, you’ll be glad to hear that studies show an improvement
4. Improving Your Willpower
- if it’s the first time you do it, it will need some effort to get used to it
- after decades of not doing it, most of us will need to go through those first 1-2 days in order to let our body know that it won’t be in danger from not eating during a controlled period of time
- it’s considered one of the secrets to superhuman willpower (nice title of the article I must say)
5. Losing Weight
- since the body won’t have food at its disposal, it will start using the fat on the body as energy
- unless you are at a 5% body fat, which is rare and not healthy or sustainable, you will only benefit from losing some of that body fat
- you become lighter and more agile, while getting rid of the unwanted cells
- there are several ways in which fasting can be utilized for losing weight, but no matter what type of fast you use, it is one of the most efficient ways to lose weight in a simple and easy way
6. Minimizing Cancer risk
- there are more and more studies showing that fasting has an impact on different processes in our body that can help us minimize cancer cells proliferation
- fasting is one of the main protocols professional centers are using to treat cancer because the evidence shows that it can heal the body and increase longevity
WHAT CAN YOU CONSUME DURING A FAST
The answer is simple.
Does that mean you can drink coke zero?
I would mainly recommend using only drinks such as coffee or tea, beside water.
You may also want to use baking soda and salt.
Check symptoms of low electrolytes to get a better idea of why you may want or need to add some electrolytes, which are basically 3 main minerals our body needs:
All 3 of them are powerhouses and I personally take care of getting enough of them each and every day, even if I’m not fasting.
If you want to do a proper fast, it should be water only, but since coffee and tea have scientifically proven benefits, they are welcome in a fast.
Adding any chemicals that don’t bring any benefit may actually interfere with the body’s capacity to fully use autophagy.
If it’s a prolonged fast, like this one, which you usually don’t do every weekend but rather once a quarter or month, depending on your preferences, I wouldn’t risk messing up with it, since there’s not much science to back it up just yet, but in the future we’ll probably get more information on why we shouldn’t consume much else beside water.
I’m still on the fence with coffee and tea, but at the moment, we don’t know if taking them out of the equation brings any significant benefit.
So if it helps, drink them without any worry.
SHORT DAY BY DAY BREAKDOWN
I stopped eating at 3 PM on Friday, 10th of August 2018.
My last meal was around 2000 calories with eggs, bacon, cheese and some sour cream with coconut flakes.
You might want to prepare your body with more easily digestible foods, but since I ate a very low-carb meal and I was already in ketosis, I knew hunger won’t be that bad.
Day 1 – Saturday
3:00 PM: At this point, 24 hours have passed.
Usually, I recommend not having a “stay-at-home-all-day” during the first or even the next days, since it’s easier to fast while being busier with other things. On that day I actually traveled to another city so it was easier, but that 2000 calorie meal was going to keep me full until the end of the day on Friday.
On Saturday, I did drink 3 cups of coffee in total.
I split them at around 8 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM.
I also added a tea at around 7 PM.
It may have been a little late for the coffee and I usually don’t recommend drinking caffeine so late into the day, but fasting is a mental warfare, and anything that keeps your momentum going, as far as satisfaction goes, is welcomed.
Day 2 – Sunday
3:00 PM: Now there are already 2 full days of fasting, meaning 48 hours.
That morning I went to the gym and worked most of my muscles. I knew this was probably the only time I’d go to the gym during the fasting period and I wanted to be sure my body will remember that I still need those precious muscles and that it needs to spare them in case it wants to get some energy from the body.
Due to the exercise, I did feel a spike in hunger later in the day.
Willpower is your best friend at this point, but I also met with my cup of coffee 3 times during that day, so I had another ally as well.
Day 3 – Monday
8:00 AM: I was traveling again back to my hometown. Fortunately, this always helps when fasting, to keep your mind busy with other things.
3:00 PM: 72 hours / 3 days have passed and I was thinking of breaking the fast.
Not so much about the feeling that I had, but I felt it was enough.
After that, I remembered my last experience from my birthday, when I started the fast on the 3rd of August and finished it on the 6th of August, with many keto desserts. It was not a nice experience, especially since I already felt uncomfortable from the moment I started with the first few dishes, which were probably a little higher in carbs and in overall quantity.
With that in mind and the fact that I had some things to do on Thursday, I said to myself I could wait for another day, just to be sure.
7:00 PM: Now I felt that this was the longest fast I ever did.
It was clear that my body wanted some outside source of energy. I knew it had enough body fat to use, although I was seeing it decreasing. I was sore from the workout on Sunday so it was pretty clear that the body wanted some nutrients to recover.
Since I knew the difference between 3 or 4 days wasn’t that much for my body anyway, I did push for it, mostly because it was a mental game anyway.
I consumed 3 cups of coffee starting at 7 PM and finished the day with a cup of tea at around 8 PM.
Because I felt light headed and tired at one point during the day, I consumed some salt with added potassium as well (for electrolytes). I mixed it with water and that was all.
I ended the day as I always do, with Magnesium.
Day 4 – Tuesday
6:00 AM: This is when I woke up and continued writing on this post, I knew I had to keep myself busy and at the same time, I find writing great content the easiest in the morning, when I’m all alone and I can only concentrate on the words and the person who is going to read this, which yeah, it’s you.
9:30 PM: Made a cup of coffee. If you like coffee you know this is one of those moments in the day where you associate a good feeling.
11:30 AM: Went out to get several things done.
This is when I went shopping as well, to get some of my “fast-breaking” foods.
Mainly lemons and organ meats. 2 cans of sardines also snuch into my basket.
Lemons to kick-start the digestive system and prepare it for eating again.
Organ meats because they are packed with nutrients, and of course, the essential complete protein.
Sardines because they are among the kings of omega 3.
2:30 PM: Made the pre-meal drink. Really tasty to be honest.
It was made out of just 3 ingredients, with 1 optional one just because I had it:
- 1/2 lemon juice
- liquid stevia – totally optional and I added it just to make sure it might taste better
3:00 PM: Finally, eating time.
I made 6 scrambled eggs and that was basically all for this meal. I did add some butter, just to make sure my body got some extra calories and wouldn’t complain later that I didn’t refeed it properly.
After the last experience, I wasn’t going to risk anything. Eggs are easy to digest and there wasn’t any way I was going to mess this up.
To add some gut help and anti-inflammatory bonus, I took a probiotic + an omega 3 supplement.
Didn’t feel anything in particular after this meal.
8:00 PM: Time for the real nutrient dense refeed.
It was a lot of meat because that’s what I usually eat for getting my nutrients on a daily basis.
The main reason is how easy it is on my digestive system. Most keto foods are actually very easy to digest for our body because we eliminate most of the possible threats to our gut.
Personally, I am gluten and lactose intolerant, so you can imagine how efficient I am at digesting most carbohydrates and sugars in general.
I put on my plate around 200g of pork liver and 150g of pork heart.
Just so it wasn’t extremely protein heavy, I added some fat as well. It helps with slowing down the digestion and balancing the protein to fat ratio.
The 3 healthy fat choices I picked were butter, coconut paste, and olive oil .
After I ate half of the meat, I remembered I have 100% organic tomatoes in my fridge, so I took one and added it to the plate. Unless you have a problem eating foods from the nightshade family, they are a good choice for some extra healthy nutrients.
Below you can see an image of my plate. Remember that I’m not good at taking pictures or at timing. You can clearly see how I took a picture half-way during the meal, from a lousy angle, with a less than perfect focus and with the fork and knife around.
With some feedback, I might get better at doing this, but hey, at least you can see how it looks and maybe it gives you an idea or two of how you could incorporate a refeed if you’re ever thinking about doing a prolonged fast.
The main reason why this time the refeed went so well is that I actually did my research and made a plan.
As I previously mentioned, the first time I remember doing a 3 day fast, it didn’t end that well, since the refeed day was my birthday.
It was mainly low carb and you could argue keto if you have a look at the desserts, but I might have overdone it with the first few dishes of cooked food, which had a small mix of yellow peas, which I was falsely informed it was green beans.
For reference, yellow peas have ~60g of carbs/100g, while green beans have ~4g of carbs/100g. Quite a difference.
However, this time I did some research and there are 3 main things I took away from it. If you ever think of doing a prolonged fast, take these 3 key principles into account:
1. Start breaking the fast with some acidic mix
In a glass of water, I mixed lemon juice with some cinnamon and salt.
You can add apple cider vinegar as well if you can digest it properly. I skipped it because in the past I’ve had some digestive discomfort from consuming it.
This mix prepares the digestive system by “waking it up”, after a period of inactivity.
2. Eat around 500 calories of easily digestible food as your first meal.
As you’ve seen, what I did is eat some eggs, because they are easier to digest and don’t shock the body.
Fruits and vegetables seem to fall into the same category, but I really wouldn’t recommend anything that is higher in carbs. It can spike your insulin and blood sugars and it would basically be the shock I previously mentioned I would rather avoid.
I wouldn’t go overboard with this first meal. Although you might be able to digest it without any problems, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Meat should be the last introduced food since it is harder on your digestive system
With this in mind, I didn’t introduce meat right after the fast. I first consumed something easier to digest, such as eggs.
Still, I did eat meat a few hours later after breaking the fast, and I can say there wasn’t any discomfort. It’s probably just a matter of your gut and what it can handle.
At the end of the day, everything depends on YOUR body, but there are a few key principles that make sure you will minimize the risk of having a bad experience.
Let’s wrap it up with the main takeaways from this post.
Is fasting for everybody?
But the truth is that most of the population would benefit from doing it.
In part, the benefits of fasting may come from a caloric deficit, which has been proven to be a good strategy of increasing longevity.
We eat so much food, that sometimes we need a rest from all of that “stress” on the body.
The main reason why I’m labeling eating as a “stress” is that our body needs to digest it, and digestion is the 2nd energy drainer on our body.
Compare someone who eats 5 meals a day with a person who eats 1 meal a day.
- Who do you think has more energy?
- Who do you think has more time?
- Who do you think is less dependent on food?
The obvious answer is the 2nd person.
That is why fasting and keto are so popular nowadays.
Many people have seen or actually felt first-hand the benefits of fasting, either through intermittent fasting or prolonged fasting.
Fasting is not only an effective tool for handling our nutrition. It is much more than that.
If it gives you more time and more energy, it can help you in any area of your life.
I think everyone can agree with that.
Do you remember a day when you woke up feeling tired and lethargic?
For most people, it happens daily.
The truth is that nutrition can be one of the most important factors in how much energy we have.
Can you imagine the difference between having 90% energy vs 60% energy on a daily basis?
If you think about it for a second, that could be 3 more tasks done each day. If you add it up, in a year, it’s over 1000 more things that you could achieve.
And the only change you would need to do is change your eating habits.
I know I’ve experimented with a lot different eating habits, and doing intermittent fasting and even this prolonged fast did help in increasing my free time, my mental clarity, my willpower and most importantly, my health.
Did I mention less fat on my body?
However, keep in mind that it’s all about context.
Fasting is a useful tool you have at your disposal.
You may use it some of the time. You might NOT use it some of the time.
Imagine you are going to have a project to intensely work on for a few days. At that time, you might want to skip having 25 meals in 5 days and would rather have 5 meals in 5 days. As mentioned previously, this can help with mental clarity, energy and overall time.
However, if you’re pregnant, want to put on weight or have a medical condition, you might want to optimize and maximize nutrient intake.
To wrap it up, I hope that you took away from this post what you found interesting and relevant for your particular case. It might not seem like it if we don’t stop for a second and think about it, but incorporating fasting could yield significant changes and it’s a tool to keep in mind when thinking about your time, your energy, your mental focus, your willpower or your overall quality of life.
Personally, when I want to remind myself of many key principles of nutrition and the importance of fasting, I re-read my notes on The Obesity Code book by Jason Fung.
Most of the time, all the information we need is out there, but either scattered or bulked up in books of hundreds of pages, that can be summarized in short, elegant and actionable ways.
If there’s anything you want to share or ask, the comment section down below is open to anyone. I’d be glad to hear your opinion or experiences.
If there’s anything on your mind, don’t be shy, you have the comment box down below ⇩⇩⇩ Promise I won’t bite ⇩⇩⇩
Life enthusiast with a great desire to constantly perfect myself, get in better physical and mental shape, while also helping other people by sharing everything I’ve been able to learn.