Fast Tips for Intermittent Fasting

TAGS: body fat levels, fasting, fitness industry, fat loss

Fast Tips for Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has recently emerged as a hot topic, particularly for those seeking an effective tool for reducing or maintaining body fat levels. I first got into intermittent fasting nearly a year ago after reading Eat, Stop, Eat by Brad Pilon. Since reading the book, I've fasted one to two days per week. The following are some fast tips and random thoughts for those contemplating intermittent fasting.

Why fast?

While emerging as a new trend in the fitness industry, fasting is a concept as old as human kind itself. If our hunter gatherer ancestors were unable to gather fruits or vegetables or kill an unsuspecting animal for food, they went hungry. They fasted, not by choice but by necessity. This may help to explain why mankind can store and metabolize fat effectively. Without delving deeply into the science of Paleo-based eating, fasting has remained with man throughout evolution, and we seem genetically capable of completing regular fasts. Indeed, if you consider most of the world’s major religions, many of them have regular periods of fasting as part of their practices.

Apart from getting in touch with your inner caveman (or woman) or complying with the beliefs of your faith, why else would you want to fast? Research into intermittent fasting has identified the following as some, but by no means all, of the benefits of fasting:

  • The creation of a significant calorie deficit forcing the body to metabolize fat for energy
  • Reductions in insulin release and blood sugar levels because there isn't any incoming food to digest (particularly handy for those of us with a history of diabetes in the family;  but if you're diabetic, don't fast without clearance from your physician)
  • Reduced levels of inflammation within the body because the body gets an opportunity to repair itself without being distracted by needing to digest food
  • Improved blood profiles

While many fear switching to “starvation mode” or suffering muscle wastage during fasts, I'm unaware of any research showing this to be an issue if the fasts are for limited duration and intermittent in nature.

In addition to these benefits, I also utilize intermittent fasts to:

  • Give the body an opportunity to cleanse itself and purge itself of unwanted and unnecessary extras
  • Challenge myself to deal with the sensory signals of hunger received during fasts

For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of fasting, Brad Pilon, Mark Sisson, and Paul Bragg have written extensively on fasting and the science behind it (which is extensive).

Do not fast for extended periods or too often. Once or twice per week is more than enough and try to take at least two full days between fasts.

Tips for beginning a fast

If you have never fasted before but are keen to give it a go, my first tip would be to start slowly. Try a gentle introductory fast of eight to ten hours. You can do this by simply skipping lunch and snacks one day. Eat a normal breakfast and supper and nothing else for the day. From here, you can progress to completing a full twenty-four hour fast. Extended fasts of three to seven days are practiced by some but are something I haven't attempted. From my reading of the research, many of the benefits are derived within the initial twenty-four hour period.

Once you are ready for a twenty-four hour (or more) fast my tips are:

  • Pick a twenty-four hour period that suits your natural rhythms and preferences
  • Fast on a day on which you know you will be busy

I can’t stand going to bed hungry. My stomach growls at me unmercifully and disrupts my sleep. The easy way to avoid this—I fast after my last meal on one day until it's time for my last meal on the next day. This way I never need to go to bed hungry. By planning your fast in this way, you can make it a more comfortable experience.

The second tip—fast on a day when you know you will be busy— is intended to minimize the time you have available to think about how you haven’t eaten. I try and time my fasts for days when I have large amounts of work that I have to get through as it means that I can work longer without losing time to eat. In the same manner, focusing on another task distracts me from the contemplating the fact that I haven’t eaten. For this reason, I tend to fast mostly on weekdays. Fasting on weekends is practical if you can keep busy and avoid social situations built around food (easier said than done in our modern world).

Tips for during the fast

When you're fasting, you must keep yourself hydrated. No food but lots of fluids. The key here is to ensure that the fluids you drink don’t compromise your fast. Drinks containing sugar will defeat the purpose of fasting. As such, and I’m sorry to do this, soft drinks are definitely out as is the sugar in your coffee. The offset to this, however, is that you can still drink coffee provided that it is black and without sugar. Hey, I never said this would be easy. I’m just trying to put a silver lining on your cloud.

Try, wherever possible, to limit your fluids to water and herbal teas. These can keep you hydrated without compromising your fast.

While fasting, your body will signal to you that it is hungry on a regular basis. Rather than give into it or dwell on it, distract yourself. Do something to take your mind off it. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Just do it (now I sound like a footwear commercial—sorry about that).

It should be remembered, however, that fasting should be a tool, not a torture. If you find yourself unable to continue, end the fast early and do better next time around.

Don’t let the fact that you are fasting keep you from your regular training schedule. I have lifted and done conditioning work during fasts without any ill effects. More than once, a training session has been used as a distraction during a fast. Remember that many people do fasted cardio in the morning. This gives you the opportunity to do fasted cardio or other training at any time during the day.

Tips for ending the fast

Once a fast is over, start eating. That’s the incredibly obvious taken care of. Before you go crazy and consume everything in sight because Lord knows you’ve denied yourself all day, remember one simple thing. At the end of your fast, resume eating as you would normally. Don't go to an 'all you can eat' buffet or have any special treats for completing the fast. Return to normal programming.

Experience tells me to try and limit your intake of carbohydrates in your first post-fast meal. Having a meal with lots of carbohydrates, particularly pasta and rice, really increases my feelings of hunger and it becomes possible to try and cram a day's worth of eating into a condensed timeframe to calm things down. Meat and fibrous vegetables or a simple soup can fill the body without bringing on an all-consuming need for large amounts of food. This is also why I fast from last meal to last meal. In this way, I can limit the amount of time that remains available in the day to consume food before retiring.

Conclusion

There are real benefits that can accrue from engaging in intermittent fasts. It isn't for everyone, and for those with existing metabolic issues, professional medical advice should be obtained prior to starting down the path. Experience does tell me, however, that fasting gets easier with experience. Don’t be afraid to experiment with how you fast, how long you fast, and what you consume when you end a fast. Everyone is different and everyone will have different experiences.

I hope that these tips prove effective in helping those engaged in or contemplating intermittent fasting. If anyone else has tips for completing fasts, I’d love to hear them.

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