Fasting and its Benefits

Fasting and its Benefits

Fasting?

What!?

You’re telling me not to eat anything for a period of time?

Yes.

Fasting is not a diet per se but rather a pattern of eating; one of the many ways to structure your daily intake of food. Not only can it make dieting easier, it has a host of health benefits to boot.

Fasting has been practised by humans for millennia, most likely not by choice originally but simply food shortage (and of course later down the line various religions adopted it for their own reasons.) Our ancestors would have been up at the crack of dawn and out tracking, hunting, killing, carrying, preparing, cooking and finally eating whatever they managed to catch.

Perhaps during the day they might have snacked on a handful of berries or a piece of fruit like an apple to keep them going. Fructose (a sugar contained in fruit) is mostly used to replenish liver glycogen which can result in less or no hunger pangs, it doesn’t have this effect on everyone though. Most fruits are also pretty low-calorie and won’t take much away from your daily total.

Humans adapted to going most of the day without food and being energised enough during the fasted state to hunt and catch some prey to feast on later in the day. Had the human race not adapted to this reality it would have gone extinct pretty quickly.

Biologically speaking, we are more or less still running the same as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. A recent study found that we still have muscles in our ears which were once used to move them in response to sound in an effort to more accurately pin-point its source. Although humans no longer require this ability, the necessary pieces have still stuck around for about 25 million years.

We are still set-up to function during and benefit from periods of fasting and feasting as opposed to the mainstream constant and regular feeding intervals you see nowadays (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.)

Our brethren of the medieval period would have had it a little bit easier, depending on their role in society. A King or a Lord would have access to a range of foods whenever he pleased, he would also ensure his fighting and working men were sufficiently fuelled. Knights would also benefit from easier access to food, the lower classes would most likely have been the ones out hunting and preparing food for themselves, their families and their liege lords.

Our approach and use of fasting will be a mixture of all of the above with a modern spin.

Fortify your mind and body with Fasting

knight pose 2

Evidence on the benefits

Firstly, fasting is completely safe provided you do not have any disorder relating to blood sugar such as diabetes or hypoglycemia. When we are fasted, blood level of insulin drop which is great news for fat burning, when insulin (the storing hormone) is low, the body will, as long as there’s no food present, begin to burn body fat. Now you might be wondering about that insulin drop, does it keep going and eventually get too low, like some people claim leading to fainting etc?

No. Not if you are in good health and don’t have any conditions affecting blood sugar.

Your body is incredibly adept at regulating blood sugar levels.

Remember the paragraph above about our ancestors and how we’re more or less the same? Our body is a survival machine, the last thing it wants to do is end up in a position where we might perish. If it couldn’t control blood sugar in the absence of food intake, we wouldn’t be here today.

Think about it, our ancestors didn’t have 24/7 access to quick and easy calories, they had to work for them. If their bodies couldn’t control blood sugar and they ended up collapsing, they’d freeze to death, be eaten by a sabre tooth tiger or succumb to some other fate.

They’d be completely unable to do anything about it.

Doesn’t sound very survival orientated, does it? So the human body adapted and made damn well sure it could regulate something as important as blood sugar to keep us going when we NEED to be energised and alert to catch some tasty calories. [1]

During the fasted state, your sympathetic nervous system is stimulated which keeps you feeling energised, alert, awake and spending energy. Once we’re in a fed state, our  sympathetic nervous system is suppressed and the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated which makes us more relaxed and tired, ready to sleep and in a replenishing/storing energy and rebuilding mode. [2]

  • Fasted = spending energy mode. [2]
  • Fed = replenishing energy. [2]

In a fed state the body uses insulin to bring glucose from food into cells to produce energy, constantly supplying an insulin spike throughout the day can lead to insulin resistance [3], which you do not want. Fasting can reverse this resistance and make your cells much more responsive to an insulin spike. This is great for both fat burning and muscle-building, you want to keep insulin resistance low.

Another benefit of fasting is the significant increase of growth hormone. [4] This increase lends itself well to muscle-building and fat loss. [5]

The body also undergoes cellular repair process while fasted; breaking down and repairing dysfunctional proteins that build up in the cells over time [6] and leads to improved cholesterol levels.

Fasting can reduce your risk of developing diseases such as cancer and keeps your brain healthy possibly reducing the risk of neuro-degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. [7, 8]

Fasting might also increase your life-span [9] and can reduce inflammation [10].

Fasting can INCREASE your metabolic rate leading to more calories burned! [11, 12]

Fasting increases your blood levels of the fat burning hormones catecholamines – also known as norepinephrine/noradrenaline and epinephrine/adrenaline. It also lowers your blood pressure (within a safe range.) [13]

Fasting improves blood flow, especially to “stubborn” body fat areas, which enables more of the fat burning hormones (catecholamines) in your blood to reach those areas and bind to the fat cell receptors resulting in “stubborn” body fat areas being reduced. [14]

Use Fasting to make your diet more enjoyable

There are a bunch of benefits of fasting, more than just helping us achieve our aesthetics goals. Provided you are in good health, you should absolutely practice fasting. You have nothing to lose and many benefits to gain.

There are a number of ways you can implement fasting, the most popular ones being:

  • Fasting and feeding window e.g. 16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of feeding or 18/6, 20/4 etc
  • Implementing one or two 24 hour fasts during the week, but not back to back
  • Having “fasting days” where you eat a small number of calories and “feeding days” where calories are increased

I recommend fasting either every day or once-twice a week.

My personal method is to fast for 6-8 hours after I wake up, skipping breakfast. Assuming around 8 hours of sleep that equates to 14-16 hours of fasting per day. This is a fantastic method I learned from Greg over at Kinobody.

Why fast in this manner? Two reasons.

Firstly, you reap all the benefits mentioned in this article every single day.

Secondly, you can push your calories later into the day and have huge meals, whether you’re currently bulking or cutting, you can enjoy massive meals and still hit your calorie goal. In contrast, if you’re eating 4-6 times per day starting with breakfast, you have much fewer calories to spend come dinner time meaning you’re either A. going to be restricted to a small meal and may not be satisfied or B. splurge and eat a huge meal, going over your calories. Had you skipped breakfast, that huge meal could have still been within your calorie allotment.

Not only that, you don’t have to worry about cooking 6 times per day or carrying Tupperware boxes with your meals in them around.

 

Remember to drink plenty of water during the fast and in general.

Not only is water the elixir of life, it can also help suppress your appetite.

Often, a feeling of hunger is a misinterpreted signal of dehydration.

You can also include some coffee, calorie-free drinks like Monster (my favourites are Ultra White and Ultra Sunrise.)

Just limit the number of calories from these kind of drinks during your fast to 50 or less.

You can also use caffeine pills or fat burners during the fast too.

If you begin to feel hungry, down a huge glass of water and keep yourself busy.

If that isn’t working, either have another coffee or a piece of fruit like an apple to help hold you over for another few hours.

Use the new-found energy to be productive in some aspect of your life and the fasting hours will fly by.

Fasting does take a week or so to adjust to, during this adjustment period you might feel a bit more tired, hungry and possibly have some minor mood swings but they are all normal during the adjustment period, just stick with it!

Warning: Individuals with an MCAD Deficiency should NOT fast. (MCAD deficiency stands for medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase, it is a rare genetic metabolic disorder. Those who suffer from it are unable to break own certain fats while fasting or under stress and therefore their blood sugar levels could become dangerously low. It is usually diagnosed at birth.)

 

To recap, fasting benefits include:

  • Reduced blood glucose and insulin levels (markers of improved health)
  • Improves Insulin sensitivity
  • Increased fatty acid oxidation
  • Increased blood flow to stubborn body fat areas leading to their reduction
  • Maintenance of lean mass (muscle)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced oxidative damage
  • Increased cellular stress resistance (esp of heart and brain)
  • Decreased risks associated with degenerative diseases of aging (cancers, heart diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s)
  • More enjoyable meals
  • Easier to stick to a calorie deficit (improved adherence)
  • Less meal prep required

 

REMEMBER: Fasting is not a magic bullet. Calorie intake still must match your goal (deficit/surplus) otherwise, you won’t gain/lose anything. You’d still benefit from fasting in other ways, though, but just remember that calories are the most important factor in body composition goals.

You don’t need to fast to achieve your goals, it’s just a tool to make life more enjoyable and the plan easier to stick to and might contribute to better overall health.

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