As I spoke about in parts 3 of my hormesis series on fasting and time-restricted eating, there is some good scientific basis for why fasting could be beneficial. While I am still not sold on the benefits of time-restricted eating from a purely biological basis, I am starting to gain a deeper appreciation for the psychological benefits it could incur, specifically in prepping an individual for fasting. When talking with most about intermittent fasting, even something as easy as ~43 hours for a first fast to start, most look in horror and believe they could never skip a day of food. Interestingly, a high percentage of these people are just as resistant to the idea of only eating in a 6-hour window, believing they could not function through the day.
As I quoted in part 3 of my hormesis series, my first three day fast would not crack the top 100 hardest thing I had ever done in my life. This may be in part because I often follow time-restricted eating, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by accident. Going 24 or more hours without food was not a challenge for me before I set out to complete a fast, so extending with a leap of faith to go to bed hungry was not a Herculean task. For others, skipping a single meal may seem like a challenge. Every one of us is going to have a different level of tolerance at the start. For some, starting by skipping late night snacks, followed by breakfast, may be all that they are capable. That is ok, and as this becomes comfortable, you can move on to a smaller feeding window, slowly working towards a fast. If this is your goal.
My first fast was rather effortless, and since then, they have just become easier and easier. I have tried slightly longer fasts, and since July 2019, have begun a protocol of weekly fasting. Every week, I skip a day and greatly limit calories in the lead in day, making an effort to cut down on carbs, fully remove meat, and removing alcohol the day before and the day after the fast. I try to cap myself at 1,500 calories on my pre-fast day, which is a 50% decrease in caloric intake, as I consume roughly 3,000 calories on a normal day. I slide into the fast rather easily and break it around the 43-hour mark at the earliest and 48 hours at the latest. Every fourth week I have, and intend to continue, extended this to three days. Rather, depending on timing anywhere from 66 to 72 hours.
The post-fast feast is nearly as important as the fast itself. The day I break my fast, I do it slowly. I begin by slowly eating a handful of nuts and then waiting 30 minutes. I then have some light hummus, olives, sundried tomatoes with the oil rinsed off, and multigrain flatbread (four halves of pieces, 200 calories total). This is about 400 calories, so with the nuts, I am around 500 calories in. This gets my digestion moving and momentarily bumps my blood sugar. I then will not eat for at least 3-4 more hours, at which point my blood glucose will have stabilized back to my fasting rate. As a note, since adding fasting to my arsenal, my fasting blood glucose, whether at 10 hours or 96 hour, does not budge between 4.1-4.6 mmol/L. Once my blood glucose is quickly back to fasting levels, I will have another small meal. One of my go-to meals is the “Guilt Free Pasta” (made from fiber), with an egg and a small amount of vegetables. This recipe will be put up on the site (if it has not already) in the coming weeks, it is about 350-400 calories for the meal, asparagus included. I do not wait longer than an hour after this, as I need to have my last meal of the day before it gets too late. Typically, I will have a similar dinner to how I broke the fast with some flat bread, light hummus, olives, sundried tomatoes, and nuts. I will double the load, consuming 800-1,000 calories. This puts me at 1,700-1900 calories, well below my daily requirements.
When I wake up the next day, I eat as I usually would. My blood glucose is stabilized in the same range as during or before the fast. I’ve found improperly breaking a fast, such as days I have gorged myself, or drank wine, my blood glucose the following day has significantly spiked, trending to high normal. It also will then take two-to-three days to return back to the 4.1-4.6 mmol/L range, indicating several days of slight impairment. As I’ve discussed in some of my recipes, and during the small victories in activity and eating habits intro post, as I have modified my lifestyle to incorporate fasting, my overall appetite has changed. Many of the calorically dense foods I previously craved are now unappealing to me. While my overall ability to consume foods has not dramatically changed, my tolerance to very rich foods has. I stop enjoying chocolate or ice cream after far fewer bites, making it easier to treat myself in moderation. Greasier foods have especially become far less appetizing, and with skipping three days of eating meat, with the remaining three or four days a week focused on seafood, my desire to eat large amounts of “land meat” has greatly diminished. While I still enjoy carbs, I do not feel the same panic to continue eating them as I did in the past.
Throughout my journey into fasting, adopting it as a part of my lifestyle, I have seen dramatic changes in my energy levels. I am reading more, getting more work done, pacing around my house at a clip more intense than before, and actually sleeping better. I can work out during fasts (although to a quite limited extent due to my recent shoulder surgery), with physical exercise no longer being arduous. It feels no more strenuous than days where I have eaten. While I did not start fasting in February, but in March, since February I have lost 37 lbs, I write this August 12/19. While many may think I have dropped muscle, I have not lost any notable muscle mass. In fact, during this time of weight loss, I have added creatine back into my supplemental line-up (except fasting days), so there is an almost guaranteed likelihood I have gained water weight. While many of these benefits are likely due to weight loss and not the biological benefits of fasting, it being impossible to separate the two in my case, fasting has been a an integral part, even a driving force in my quest to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
While my goal in fasting was not originally weight loss, it has been a significant and notable added benefit. My healthier eating and increased activity “campaign” began before fasting but has helped push me past previous plateaus. As the theme of this ongoing series, small victories lead to sustained benefits. When you set out on your journey, a single one day fast, or incorporating time-restricted eating may feel like a big win, and it should. While it will not dramatically alter your health done once, these small daily victories add up, compounding, and leading to better and easier victories. Don’t make the mistake of disregarding fasting as being too difficult. It may just take time and multiple small victories to build towards it.