Disclaimer: this may or may not be a great time to post this article after a Memorial Day Weekend where I’m sure most of you absolutely destroyed your bodies and/or morals, and are looking to get back on the Tuesday-Friday salad kick. This isn’t meant for getting skinny, this is meant for long-term health benefits. Don’t be stupid.
Three years ago, you would’ve been crazy to convince me to “fast.” Not eating? For how long? I don’t think I had gone over 4 waking hours without food in my life. But as I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts on nutrition, health and longevity (as told by doctors, physicians, an experts in the field), fasting is one of the things I see commonly talked about in recent years. I’m not claiming I’m an expert on this – I can only provide anecdotal evidence based off what I’ve tried, along with insights from friends who have also experimented.
In the U.S., we’re accustomed to food being around us all the time. The media and advertisers and even personal trainers tell us we have to be eating every 3 hours and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And don’t get me wrong, I used to follow that rule to a tee. But that’s not how humans have lived for thousands of years. Early hunter-gatherers didn’t have access to food 24/7. They hunted on empty stomachs throughout most of the day (or week during tough times) and then cooked and ate their big, nutrient-rich meal after a successful hunt. That’s how we evolved and grew smarter, but as time went on and access to food became as easy as a click of a button, we started eating more and more frequently, and producing food that will last longer by adding sugar, corn syrup, palm oil and preservatives – giving rise to obesity. Just because food is around us all the time does not mean we have to eat it as often as possible.
I’m not promoting calorie restriction, and I never would. Restricting calories and starving yourself are unhealthy methods and not a common sense way to lose weight.
Regardless, be careful when attempting this and don’t be stupid.
First, let’s talk Intermittent Fasting and the positive health benefits.
Although probably the easier form of fasting, intermittent fasting is something I’ve tried to implement in to my life but I haven’t been too successful at. If you’re not familiar, intermittent fasting is limiting your eating period to a 8-12 hour window. That means after you have your last meal at 6pm on Tuesday, you shouldn’t eat your next meal until 10am Wednesday. And your last meal Wednesday should also be at 6pm. This not only helps you lose weight and jackrate your metabolism, it also helps regulate your sleep patterns. One of the worst things you can do is eat right before you go to bed. I try to have my last meal 3 hours before I sleep.
If you’re still skeptical, here are some benefits of intermittent fasting from a quick Google search to save you the time:
- Changes The Function of Cells, Genes and Hormones
- Can Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat
- Can Reduce Insulin Resistance, Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Can Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body
- Fasting May Help Prevent Cancer
If that doesn’t convince you then maybe the following list of people who follow intermittent fasting will:
The Rock, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, Terry Crews, and Tom Hardy. Do a quick google image of their bodies why don’t ya?
I’ve tried IF before, and it definitely works. I can control my appetite better and I feel more mentally alert in the morning before I’ve had my first meal. To be clear, in order to be in a fasting mode, the only thing you should be ingesting is water (w/ lemon if you like), black coffee, or unsweetened tea. Anything else and your body will begin metabolizing and digesting, thus taking you out of fasting mode and starting the metabolizing day for your body.
To be honest, I still feel the hunger pangs in the morning, but I listen to my body and eat when it tells me “I NEED FOOD.” It took me a month or two to get used to not eating breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite meal so it is really tough for me to skip. I’d rather have breakfast before work and just eat dinner a little earlier than try to skip breakfast entirely.
Don’t bother Intermittent Fasting if you are eating grains, sugar, and processed foods. These will impede any of the benefits of IF. You’ll notice a lot of overweight people tend to skip breakfast and they’re not healthy. What separates them vs. a healthy Intermittent Faster is the type of food consumed. Stick to only natural foods and no grains and you will see all of the benefits come to life.
What Do I Eat?
- I wake up and have a large glass of water with lemon and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt
- Sometimes I’ll have a coffee around the time I get in to the office. If I’m good, I’ll get a black coffee. But if not, I may add a bit of grass-fed butter and MCT oil to keep me sharp and full until lunch. If I don’t do coffee, I’ll have a green tea
- Usually around 11am I start to crave something, so I’ll have a scoop of organic peanut butter from the jar I keep in my desk drawer
- For lunch I’ll get grilled chicken or salmon with some veggies and avocado and then later on snack on some almonds or a Quest Bar
- Dinner is typically the same – some form of protein (chicken, turkey burger, or salmon) and a side of veggies
The only reason it doesn’t necessarily fit in to my daily life is because I like to workout hard early in the morning. I usually burn upwards of 500 calories in a workout so by the time I’m done, I’m starving. I simply can’t wait until 10 or 12 to eat my first meal. So I start by eating two or three eggs at 8am. In order to follow the Intermittent Fasting model, that means I would have to eat dinner at 4pm… Not happening. So, I only do it on days when I don’t work out. But that kind of defeats the purpose. Intermittent fasting is meant to be a lifestyle change. The people who follow it tend to do it every single day. On the other hand…
Full-on fasting is a much different ballgame. This means not ingesting any digestible food for a 24+ hour period. Surprisingly, I find this method much easier than IF. Since I know I’m not going to be eating at all, I have nothing to look forward to and thus am less tempted than I would be if I knew I had to jut hold out until noon. The hunger pangs never really kick in when you have that mental advantage and psychological mindset.
I typically will have dinner on a Tuesday night and then won’t eat until Wednesday night. You’d be shocked to realize how easy a 24 hour fast actually is. The longest fast I ever did was two and a half days – about 60 hours. That was over Christmas break where I had nothing to do, so I basically just walked all over my neighborhood for hours, listening to podcasts, and sipping lemon water with a pinch of salt. I’d reward myself at the end of a 3 hour walk with a small iced coffee (black).
It’s actually a lot of fun. And the mental clarity you get is shocking. Especially right after you enter some caffeine into the mix on a completely empty stomach. I was listening to podcasts a 2x speed because my mind was moving faster than I could listen. I found myself thinking so clearly and coming up with great ideas and realizations throughout my daily walks. It was really cool. This is a common effect that multiple friends have reported as well. You can really tap in to a different level or sharpness in your thought patterns.
Now I don’t recommend jumping right in to a 24 hour fast without first attempting smaller trial runs of IF in 12, 14, 16 hour increments. Build your tolerance up slowly rather than trying a big fast right away and failing miserably.
My goal every few months is to attempt a three-day fast. I still haven’t been able to complete the full 72 hours, but I think the best time to do it would be from Thursday-Sunday. The key is to find a time in your life where you’ll be able to make a lot of phone calls and walk a lot. Which is obviously hard to find. I seek refuge in golf, where I can focus on something for several hours without once thinking about food. The difficult part is cutting out alcohol, or trying to explain to friends why you’re not eating.
Regardless, here is how I would structure my 72-hour fast (most of this taken from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss:
- 6pm Thursday night – Dinner w/ protein, veggies, and low amount of carbs (brown rice, sweet potato, etc.)
- Day One
- Friday morning – sleep in as late as possible. Let the sleep do the fasting for you while you can. The first day is usually relatively easy, you’ll get hungry but drink water and it will go away. Make sure to keep yourself busy and distracted. Do not work out or go for a run.
- Day Two – drink caffeine and WALK
- Carry a liter of water with lemon juice and a pinch of salt
- Your body needs salt for its electrolytes and mineral value, and to help retain water. This is important. Without salt, you will experience dizziness and headaches
- Hydration and walking are key (walk 3 to 4 hours if possible)
- Do this within 30 minutes of waking
- Consume exogenous ketones or MCT oil upon waking and two more times throughout the day at 3-4 hour intervals.
- *Full discretion I have no idea what “exogenous ketones” are and google didn’t convince me that they were necessary. So I just bought a bottle of MCT oil at GNC and added a tablespoon to my coffee or tea. It’s basically a healthy saturated fat just gives you a little mood boost and extra energy that you need on an empty stomach. You barely taste it in your coffee but some residue will stick to your lips
- Ones that were recommended Dom D’Agostino Ph.D in Tim Ferris’ Tools of Titans were KetoCaNa, Quest MCT Oil (powdered), Quest Cocunut Oil or Brain Octane
- These are for carb withdrawl
- I just picked up a random one that said “MCT Oil” on it, works for me
- It definitely gives you a noticeable energy boost. I put a drop of MCT oil into my black coffee and I was wired
- Carry a liter of water with lemon juice and a pinch of salt
- Day Three – repeat day 2
- Sunday Night
- Eat whatever you want!
One random thing I noticed when I do a 24+ hour fast was that I would get a bad taste in my mouth and also some muscle aching. Bad breath is a common symptom of entering ketosis. I found that adding a bit more salt and lemon to my water helps with both of these symptoms.
If this is new to you, I would suggest trying out small fasts first. Work your way up – 12 hours, 14 hours, 16 hours. If you try to go all out with a 24 hour fast without any experience you will fail guaranteed. I tried many times and wasn’t able to make it. Take it slow and easy. If you feel like you need to eat, then eat. You won’t feel like a failure for not making it all the way – it happens to me every week. At some point you need to eat. But if you do want to achieve that amazing mental clarity, it takes discipline and a lot of it. Train your mind to say no to desserts and fried foods. Eventually you will work your willpower to the point that you’re ready for a full 24 hour fast. After that you can eat you face off with all the pizza, oreos, and donuts possible. Enjoy!
And if you still think I’m crazy for doing these kinds of things – welp, I can’t argue with you. Food is good.