Do I really need to fast?
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In short, yes...and maybe. A cleanse (or fast, as I’ll refer to it from here on out) is an important part of many cultures, for the spiritual and physical effects.  Extended fasts are typically done during a season change, allowing the body to rest and fully be in tune with nature.  At the return to food, we ideally dive into whatever is flourishing during that season. This is how I began my research and fascination with fasting about 20 years ago.  I fasted on Mondays back then, and would complete a 3-day Ayurvedic detox during the change in season.  Mondays were ideal for many reasons in the Corporate America world, because my job was demanding and kept my mind off of food.  Typically, Sundays were my cheat day, so I wasn’t as hungry the next day and/or knew my body needed a recharge. At some point, I fell off the wagon.   It’s taken me the last 20 years to jump back on the bandwagon, and find a fast that worked best for my body and mind. I’ve personally completed quite a few different types of detoxification programs, as well as led clients through them.  What I can tell you is that there are as many ways of going through a detox, as there are ways to meditate.  My favourite fast throughout the years is what’s known as an intermittent fast; this is simply an extended period of avoiding foods (typically 24 hours). If you are a follower or fan of the Paleo diet, pay attention—this is how our ancestors ate.  Though we have research to prove this, common sense tells us our ancient predecessors didn’t have grocery and convenient stores nearby, and we weren’t all that great at hunting.  Thankfully, we figured out how to forage and eventually plant/gather! From masteringdiabetes.org: “your body can stay alive for long periods of time with limited calorie intake.” In fact, if you want to live longer, perform fasts. Regularly. Eating is a metabolic process, and reducing calories reduces the process of oxidation/aging (if you don’t believe me, research calorie-restricting diets).  If you want to improve insulin sensitivity, perform regular fasts.  I’ll write about insulin sensitivity in a later blog, but for now, check out this wonderful site on diabetes for more information on an intermittent fast and a free guide about the research and benefits of performing one.  (It was one of their many webinars that I’ve taken, which led me to fasting and has in fact, reduced my A1C level .2 points in 9 months.)

Who needs to fast?

Anyone that has the ability.  I know that sounds ridiculous on the onset, but keep reading. You automatically fast nightly when you’re sleeping (hence the word break-fast); we’re simply looking to extend the length of time you’re fasting, and do it consciously. There are so many benefits to fasting, that I find there are few people who cannot handle a 24-hour cleanse.  Below, I’ll show you some options for a 24-hour fast that will make it a little more tolerable for most of the population. For those with extremely unstable blood sugar or those who are seriously ill, I would urge you to only follow this under the observation of a physician or naturopathic physician.  If you just get “hangry” (angry when hungry) when you don’t eat, don’t just throw up your hands and say you have unstable blood sugar.  Even if you feel a bit shaky and you feel you’re “starving” when we haven’t eaten in a few hours (it will pass, trust me!) —know these feelings are often eliminated after a few weeks of following intermittent fasting. Fasting is 98% mental, in my opinion.  You’ll be surprised how much your mind is actually in control of your hunger and your thoughts about food.  You’ll be surprised how many times you may unconsciously reach for food, when it’s not truly needed.

What is intermittent fasting? 

As stated above, it’s simply an extended period of time, when no food is taken in the body.  It provides a period of rest for your entire system.  It gives your body a negative-calorie deficit/negative energy balance, in which it becomes impossible to eat the amount of calories you have not consumed in the last 24-hours.  But this isn’t about weight-loss, it’s about optimal health…

There are 4 different ways to complete intermittent fasts: 

  1. The 12:12 method - fast for 12 hours and eat for 12, doing this daily.
  2. The 16:8 method - fast for 16 hours and eat only for 8, doing this daily.
  3. The 24-hour method - fast for 24-hours (dinner to dinner, for example) on the same day each week (I started with this process, performing it on Thursdays, when my work load was lightest and I had more time alone).
  4. The alternate-day fasting method which involves eating normally one day, and then eating zero or very low-calories (500 or less) the following day.  After about 1.5 months of doing the 24-hour fast above, I started fasting for 2 days each week, when I feel it’s necessary…the effects feel that good!

If this seems too difficult, you can also succeed by reducing calories as such:

  1. The 5:2 method - eat your normal caloric intake for 5 days of the week, and restrict your calories to 500 for women or 600 for men, for the other two days.
  2. 25% Calorie Restriction - reduce your calorie intake by 25% every day (a standard 2000 calorie diet would be converted to 1500 calories).
  3. 40% Calorie Restriction - reduce your calorie intake by 40% every day (a standard 2000 calorie diet would be converted to 1200 calories).
Choose what works for you, or perhaps combine them…it may be easier for you to follow these in the order I have them listed, or mix-n-match.  I personally find it easier to consume NO food and avoid the temptation altogether, rather than restrict calories and have to worry about counting calories each day.  For those who are used to calorie-counting, the calorie reduction methods may be best for you to start with. A note: you may find it harder to stick with calorie restriction, as you will be hungry every day of the week.  With a regular fasting regimen, your body gets used to the fasting routine, and begins to actually crave the day of rest.  In my case, it certainly makes meal planning simple—there are too many days when thinking about what I need to put in my mouth is just too daunting of a task (ironic, I know!).

When should a fast be completed?

Let’s be realistic for a minute.  If you drive a school bus full of elementary children at 5am or work on Wall Street, a fast isn’t the best idea for you when working.  I’ve never studied a detox or fast that ever suggested working during a fast, though I am able to do it now (and as most of you know, I am a chef 6 days a week, so I’m cooking during the days I’m fasting—further proof that it’s mind over body!). Fasting is best completed when you’re alone and/or can rest a bit.  Don’t try and run a triathlon when you’re fasting.  You need to be in a place where you feel safest and won’t be agitated.  If you’re reading this and saying that’s not possible, email me and let’s figure out HOW to make it work for you!

Where should a fast be completed?

Wherever you can mentally and physically handle it.  I do my fasts when I’m at work and at home, but I am also in a job that I love, and one that keeps me very busy.  Make sure you’re in a place where you can access a good amount of liquid, so you stay full and hydrated.  Your body often confuses the need for oxygen as a need for food.  Try drinking water when you’re hungry next—you may be surprised to feel the urge to eat dissipate. As a friend of mine stated when doing an alternate cleanse I offer, “The last few days were a battle of mind over matter, mostly. Though there were times I was hungry some water and a little deep breathing helped that pass.  It made me realize how little we actually need to exist, and how much we consume in just indulgence. I know D has decided to start making better choices and realizes with the difficulty of this detox how badly he has been punishing his body.”

Why should a fast be completed?

Simply put, we eat too much.  Our portion sizes grow and grow, to the point where a healthy portion is often looked at as “chintzy” in a restaurant.  We snack constantly, which never allows our blood sugar to stabilize.  Eating frequently also never allows our body to burn fat, only glucose.  When your body can’t burn fat, it stores it and all the toxins that reside there.  When your body can’t burn fat, it becomes insulin-resistant, which leads to a HOST of other health concerns. If you want a tad more information on frequent eating, check out Dr. Douillard’s blog on frequent eating here.

How should a fast be completed?

With intent.  Please communicate to your body about why you are fasting. There’s a mind-body connection that we are often lacking in our culture—a little self-talk goes a long way! Have a plethora of herbal teas and pure water available!  I suggest this herbal teas anyway, but especially during a cleanse!  Dandelion and nettles are two powerhouse herbs for nutrition, and mint tea helps with headaches and stomach discomfort.  When you’re fasting, you can consume non-caloric beverages that include coffee, herbal tea, and water. If you’re an athlete, intermittent fasting is still absolutely possible and recommended.  If you are familiar with Matt Frazier, you’ll know the No Meat Athlete is into rigorous sports, is 100% plant-powered and oh yes…loves his intermittent fasting!  There’s a bit more guidance on his site, which details the benefits and logistics of this process. Also remember the power of oxygen.  Above, I stated that we often confuse hunger for thirst…the body wants oxygen, and breathing absolutely helps center you and cure hunger cravings during a fast.  I’ve found that several deep breaths during a bout of hunger (especially when driving), can help the urge for food to pass right by. Are you convinced to give intermittent fasting a shot?  For your health, I hope so.  Trust me when I say it makes a huge difference in how you feel and think!