WARNING: This is long. This is important. You MUST read it. It will be vital to your life. So get a nice cup of tea, kick back, and dive in!!!
I love fasting. You should love fasting. You should be fasting. Every human should be fasting.
Lol, right. I mean that truly is all that I want to say and all that needs to be said. However, I recognize this would never be taken seriously because people want evidence! Where is the study? The fact that the vast majority of people have no idea how to interpret nor comprehend studies has no pertinence on the matter.
So I will endeavor to deliver an explanation of my opening statement, nay, of my opening conviction, in the hopes that you can garner a new understanding of why this topic is so very vital to you.
But if you don’t feel like reading at the moment, let me give you the conclusion now so that you can get on with your day: you need to have fasting periods in your life as a regular part of your health plan.
There you go. Objective completed.
For the rest of you, here we go!
I am going to present to you in this article an overview of the primary benefits related to fasting and health. The goal is that you will finish with enough information to guide your own personal inquiry. You should not believe everything I say, in fact you should not believe everything ANYONE says. You should be a competent investigator when it comes to your health. Read, learn, read more, and then formulate your own conclusions. While I am not going to include a list of journal citations (AHA Coach Taylor! I knew it!!! This is all just your personal opinion!! No citations? Then you haven’t done your home work!), I am going to provide a summation of the existing literature. I read journals and expert information on this daily but I believe spoon feeding lists of references simply leads to blind faith followers. That is not my style.
I want you to question me. I want you to doubt me. I want you to go out into the world of information and prove me wrong! This is how I ensure that my arguments are sound.
Ok, ok…I am getting on with it…
Let me first say that I hate the term intermittent fasting. Why? Mainly because it has become far to ‘catch=phrasey’, as most things in the fitness industry do. Over the last five years it has become another ‘diet plan’ or something that ‘you do’ and the true importance of fasting for your body is now overshadowed by the never-ending quest for weight loss.
There is also a complete lack of English comprehension at work here as well. Even if I chose to keep the term ‘intermittent fasting’ it is readily apparent that most people have never read a dictionary.
16:10, warrior fasting, 5:2, eat stop eat, alternate day. All labels within the fitness community for different fasting protocols. Everyone is seemingly oblivious to the fact that by following a schedule you are no longer doing anything ‘intermittently,’ right?
Weight loss. Fat loss. The two primary tenants of the modern concept of fitness. EVERYTHING is related to these concepts and if your diet and/or exercise program is not demonstrating how to lose weight it is relegated to the dustbin of failed promises. Yes, there is the other side of fitness, ‘how much can you lift, bro?’, however, those people are so enchanted by the mythology of eons past I don’t even attempt to explain to them the ignorance of their thinking
The FACTS are simple: fasting is essential to your health and is the easiest way you can make positive changes to your life immediately.
Please note that for the duration of this article I am simply going to say fasting and will be desquamating the term ‘intermittent fasting’ forthwith.
This is the point where dieticians and most of the medical industry will begin to freak out. Their outdated beliefs that we must eat every three hours to balance blood sugar and that breakfast is a vital component to ones health are so ingrained into their DNA that the mountain of evidence and information contrarian to said beliefs are completely ignored. It is disheartening and actually a little bit scary.
The peer-reviewed, longitudinal evidence available on the effects of fasting on human (and actually on all animal) health is voluminous and categorically affirmative. In my five years of studying the results of fasting on biological organisms I have yet to find a negative outcome in the literature. As stated above, PLEASE go out and find the evidence otherwise because I want to ensure I am not missing something!
Typically when people attempt to point out that the outcomes of fasting protocols do not show strong evidence, it is because they are fixated on weight loss.
It is true, ‘intermittent’ fasting as a mechanism of weight loss has mixed evidentiary findings. I would say in my learning that it is pretty evenly divided between the findings that the protocols are effective as a weight loss program and the findings that the protocols are not effective. One very strong finding here is that almost overwhelmingly the data suggests that the protocols studied so far are no more effective than other weight loss interventions. Essentially, if the goal is weight loss the fasting protocols do work, but so do many other weight loss interventions.
This brings me to the essence of this article.
I am not writing about weight loss and I firmly believe we have to take that idea out of the discussion of fasting. Well, actually, I firmly believe that we have to take weight loss completely out of the discussion for everything fitness related but that is an article for another day.
Because when we look at fasting through the lens of every single scientific field that has invested time into researching the effects on biological organisms (yes, that includes you, you beautiful homo sapien you!) the results are truly extraordinary.
Improved health, increased longevity, decreased disease risk, improved immunofunction, and improved cognitive health are just some of the verified outcomes.
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?! And isn’t that what every health program promises? Yes. Yes it does. So what makes this any different? How do you know this is for real?
Simple. Neither myself, nor anyone discovering these findings, is trying to sell you something. Because there is nothing to sell. There are no products, supplements, or specialty foods required. There is no money to be made. And this opens the door wide open to explore actual evidence with no ulterior motive of profit gain.
Trust me, that sucks. I have spent a decade and a half watching sham snake-oil sales people and idiot fitness people make fortunes, while I stay true to my ethics and make ends meet. I’m ok with it. All I truly care about is improving the quality of people’s lives.
I want to provide you a stepping stone to further learning. I am going to give you a very brief overview of my learning to date and all of the areas that fasting has shown positive results for human health. You have two options from there.
First: take what I say as factual, trusting that I have done my research and will continuing to follow all of the latest information as it becomes available. Then you can focus on incorporating fasting into your life. I will talk about strategies for this at the end of the article.
Second: begin your own learning. Use these areas I am about to highlight as a starting point to begin your own investigation into the history and benefits of fasting. Question everything. Hunt for a variety of sources. Ensure you are investigating a variety of fields of study.
Here we go! The primary benefits of fasting I have gleaned from years of research, self-experimentation, and observational information from clients I have helped to incorporate fasting.
In the history of the planet earth it has been the rare exception that any species or organism has had access to nourishment (food) easily and at all times. Life itself is a constant struggle to obtain enough resources to live. The physiology of animals and plants has been completely evolved around the procurement of resources to sustain us.
Only humans through the use of technology and highly evolving intelligence have been able to surpass this limitation. And only in the last 100 years have large numbers of our species been able to have unlimited access to food. Today, modern western societies and increasing numbers of other societies have access to a large variety of immediately accessible food whenever it is desired.
Of course we over eat. We are genetically built to consume and store as many calories as possible. It is how we ensure long term survival – store as much as you can when there is plenty in order to give yourself the best chance of surving the periods of scarce resources.
We are living in a time, however, that food is always available. Not just available but actively pushed on us. Our bodies were not designed for this and as we continually eat we eschew the mechanisms our bodies have to keep us healthy.
Only recently have we begun to understand that these mechanisms are not just about keeping us alive in times of scarce resources but they are actually essential to our health. Our bodies need times of scarcity in order to function at optimal levels. When we eat too often this break never occurs.
While this article is not going to dive too deeply into WHAT we eat it is important to also note here that until around the 1950’s highly processed food that was able to last for weeks or months did not exist. Later we will briefly discuss the importance of what you eat but it must always be remembered that did not evolve to eat 90% of what you currently find in most grocery stores (not to mention about 99% of what you find in convenience stores…)
Eat your breakfast! It is the most important meal of the day! Say’s all of the corporations who want to sell you cereal. There is actually a well documented history of the rise of the cereal companies and I highly recommend you look it up. Although it can be a little bit scary!
My point here is that there are many ideas that have become common place in our modern times, which run completely contrary to the actual history of humanity. I do not want to get all ‘conspiracy theory,’ however, it is important to note that if you dig a little deeper into the history of our food and our food supply almost all of our food habits and food supplies have been crafted, created, and manufactured intentionally to increase profits. Seriously, I am not making this stuff up.
The truth is that for the majority of the existence of humanity we have eaten once or twice a day, typically around mid-day, and experienced times of feast and times of famine.
The idea of three meals a day plus snacks in between is a VERY modern creation and is beginning to show its horrific effects to our health. It is going to be a very hard battle to fight any kind of change to this ideology and I personally believe it is a losing battle. There is too much vested interested in having us consume as much food as possible.
It must also be noted that feasts and treats were VERY different than what we currently experience. I have written a lot about this and delved a little deeper in my article, ‘The Brutally Honest 6 Reasons You are Still Over-fat,’ so I will not go too deep here.
Feasts were rare. Special occasions and after harvests. Obviously, harvests were annual so this was beyond our control. Feasting would have been during celebrations like weddings, specific holidays, or other communal gatherings and would have been very infrequent, most likely only a few time a YEAR.
Today we feast almost daily. Weekends are a constant feasting period and in between there are birthdays, work parties, congratulations you went to sports practice today and deserve a huge meal times. It is constant.
Treats have NO meaning. Cookies, cakes, ice-cream, donuts, pastries, candy, and all of the other shit crap non-nutritive food didn’t even exist before the 20th century! Today they are consumed almost daily. We are especially bad at stuffing this crap down the throats of our children because apparently if they go longer than a day or two without it they will be emotionally devastated and their lives will be terrible.
What does this have to do with fasting? As I will touch on later, when we have fasting periods (as we should) daily there is an even greater importance needed on food quality and there is far less room in our diets for this non-food shit.
Let us dive into the documented benefits of fasting from different disciplines.
In 2016 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discovery on the mechanism for autophagy. Why is this important? Because I want to highlight how new this information is. While we have discovered A LOT about science and nature in the last 400 years, we are still not fully versed in the functioning of our physiology. This concept was hinted at in the 1960’s but wasn’t actually elucidated until the 1990’s!
Autophagy is a term for the underlying mechanisms with our bodies that is a fundamental process for degrading cellular components and then recycling those components. Essentially, it is the garbage truck system of your body and is responsible for cleaning up the degradation of cellular components, which includes things like bacteria and viruses.
“Thanks to Ohsumi and others following in his footsteps, we now know that autophagy controls important physiological functions where cellular components need to be degraded and recycled. Autophagy can rapidly provide fuel for energy and building blocks for renewal of cellular components, and is therefore essential for the cellular response to starvation and other types of stress. After infection, autophagy can eliminate invading intracellular bacteria and viruses. Autophagy contributes to embryo development and cell differentiation. Cells also use autophagy to eliminate damaged proteins and organelles, a quality control mechanism that is critical for counteracting the negative consequences of aging.
Disrupted autophagy has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that appear in the elderly. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause genetic disease. Disturbances in the autophagic machinery have also been linked to cancer.”
-https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2016/press-release (Visited March 14th, 2019)
Did you read that? If not go back and READ IT. This isn’t some random theory spewed off from an over zealous celebrity on GOOP. This is real science that won a Nobel Prize. This process is already recognized as vitally important to our physiology and we are just beginning to learn about it!
You want to do everything you can to keep this process functioning at optimal levels. How do you do that? There are only two known ways:
1) Exercising with rigorous intensity
2) Fasting periods of 16 hours or longer.
Two things that are vital to your health. Do them.
Periods of fasting have been associated recently with reduction in risk of many cognitive issues currently plaguing our population. Research is ongoing in the fields of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, and other areas. So far all of the research is demonstrating positive outcomes for those with fasting periods. Obviously, with these types of conditions longitudinal research will take time but with all of the other benefits, why bother waiting?
The brain itself has been shown to have positive effects from fasting periods which many people associate to the other demonstrable benefits of fasting, which include: better sleep, better focus, increased attention spans, clearer thoughts, and improved memory. There are many mechanisms being investigated at the moment and it is unknown at this time the exact physiological process that is creating these results.
Improved functioning of the immune system has been observed as a result of fasting and current research is being conducted with AIDS patients as well as cancer patients.
Again, the exact processes are currently not known, however the outcomes are all positive.
As far as I can tell, the following is mostly anecdotal, but it is prolific enough that I do think there is something worth noting. Decreases in sickness and illness are very commonly reported from those who fast and I have personally observed this myself and with my clients. It does stand to reason that if fasting has positive effects on the immune system we would be less susceptible to these types of illnesses.
It is unknown if these outcomes are resultant from fasting itself or other mechanism that themselves are improved as a result of fasting, for example our microbiome, which we will discuss shortly.
Multiple studies have linked fasting to decreases in body inflammation and inflammatory response. It is widely accepted that chronic body inflammation has very deleterious effects on the human body so any mechanism of reducing this should be explored rigorously. Again, the exact mechanisms are unknown at this time but the correlation is there.
There is small amounts of data on fasting and cardiovascular health and to my knowledge there have not been any specific studies addressing this. However, there are many research summaries that have found links as well as fasting studies that have found links.
The fact that fasting has been linked consistently with reductions in bodyfat, blood pressure, and improved blood triglycerides is undoubtedly underlying the reduction in CVD risk.
A common fear amongst medical practitioners and dieticians is that prolonged fasting period will wreck havoc on blood sugar levels and the levels of other hormones, such as IGF-1. This in turn could negatively impact both healthy people and those with diseases such as diabetes or metabolic disease.
However, all current research as demonstrated improvements to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well as reduction, if not complete reversal of metabolic disease. Hormonal research has also found the fasting protocols lead to an improvement in the bodies hormone balances.
It is FAR to early to think that fasting is a cure for major disease, however it must be noted that there is a growing body of research demonstrating reductions in incidences of cancer and reductions in incidences and symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Again, this is not yet a viable treatment option but the correlations are beginning to be observed.
It has been known for decades that a reduction in an organisms overall calorie intake is directly related to increases in lifespan. A 30% reduction in overall calories over the course of an organisms life statistically leads to a 30% increase in the organisms lifespan. This has held true across all organisms studies. Fasting invariably leads to long term reduction in calories so it is not surprising that this is correlated to increase life span.
Like autography, our understanding of our gut microbiome and our gut health is still in its infancy. To date however, all data in this field continually supports the idea that the bacteria living inside of us and all over us are VITALLY important to our health.
As I write this article, yet another article, published in the Journal of Physiology, links our microbiota with health benefits, in this case, reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
Our fascination with sterile environments and our war on all bacteria is linked to dozens of modern health issues such as increases in allergies, increases in disease, reduced immunity, and a host of metabolic disorders. This is just to name a VERY few.
Fasting protocols have consistently been found to have positive effects on our microbome and on our gut health. As I shall discuss shortly this is most likely from two factors; giving our body a beak from constant digestive work, and creating a focus on healthier foods by limiting available eating time. Again, this research is still very new and the next few years will be very exciting!
As I have stated, there is no organism on earth that has constant and easy access to a source of sustenance. Life is essentially a battle to obtain enough food to keep us alive so that we can procreate. Yes, humans have developed beyond that into future planning and philosophy, however, our genes and our cells do not know this. They are still operating on the premise that the purpose of life is to consume as much food as possible to prevent starvation.
Because of this fact our bodies have a host of mechanisms to deal with periods of low to no food availability. The keto club LOVES to talk about ketones, which is just one of many tools our body has at its disposal to protect us from starvation. This system flips us over to a fat metabolism in order to keep us alive and this is why people love the idea of it. Burning fat as fuel? I can finally get those abs! Our bodies also will down regulate our metabolism and they will shut of different functions in an effort to preserve energy, to name but a couple of others. There are a host of possible routes our bodies can take to protect us.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss the efficacy, nor the intelligence, of attempting to manipulate these systems as a means of conceivably obtaining some kind of culturally mediated aspiration, but is being written to discuss the benefits of fasting protocols for your body. The question of IF we should manipulate these systems can be left for another day.
The last decade has shone a new spotlight on how our bodies truly work and what has been uncovered is that because the rigours of life have created the multitude of protective systems, our bodies have actually come to need periods of eating restriction. We are literally built to function without constant food ingestion. With the richness of modern culture attempting to prevent any type of starvation because of the fact that we are able to constantly have food (unprecedented in history), the idea that constantly eating must be better for us took a strong foothold.
It is now quickly being understood, however, that this is not the case. Example after example, and data point after data point, is demonstrating that our physiology does its job the best when we eat less frequently.
Our physiology is literally designed for this. The grand experiment of constant eating has been an abject failure and we need to move forward armed with a better understanding of how we actually work.
As of yet I can find no empirical research on this topic so this fasting benefit is a mixture of anecdote and knowledge within the dental health world.
Anecdotally, everyone reports how clean their teeth feel. I have noticed this myself somewhat dramatically. It feels like you have had them cleaned everyday! One of the first things I notice on days with no fasting is that my teeth have that fuzzy feeling to them.
Well, just brush them! Sure, that is possible! Let’s say you subscribe to the three meals a day plus two snacks so typical of modern dietary recommendations and typical of just about every single fitness ‘expert’ out there. That would mean you are brushing your teeth five times a day. Find me the dentist who recommends brushing your teeth five times a day is a good idea. It isn’t. Over-brushing can lead to a host of tooth and gum issues.
And let us not ignore the demands of the amount of time this would eat up combined with the necessity to pack your dental tools with you constantly.
Our teeth don’t want to be covered in food constantly any more than the rest of our digestive system wants to be constantly working.
The last couple of benefits are going to discuss the psychological aspects of fasting.
The first of these is time. Time to cook, prep, pack, carry, and ingest food on a five meal a day basis. Anyone who has attempted this will be the first to tell you how impossible it is for anyone living in our western culture.
Yes, all you fitness buffs out there and wananbe figure and fitness models, I get it. You fucking get off on filling up your perfect little containers with your perfectly portioned little snacks and meals. Cool. Go for it. But please recognize that the rest of us have no interest and most likely no time to do this. Oh, and it’s completely unnecessary but if you disagree with me on that you have learned nothing so far reading this article.
Cooking three meals and prepping snacks for just yourself is time consuming and those who prepare food for their families or others know even more how much time this can take. And then we must also consider the amount of time for shopping, planning, prep, cleaning of dishes and pans and containers, to name just a few other aspects. The fact is that eating this way is very time intensive.
No wonder we have turned to fast food, pre-made meals, boxed and shipped to us meals, delivery, and restaurants. Our modern lifestyles simply do not afford the time to truly prep constant food supplies in a healthy way unless you are able to make that the primary part of your day.
Fasting periods eliminate much of this. Prepping one or two meals a day is far less work and allows the ability to get back to other essential aspects of taking care of our health like cooking. Couple that with creating meals that lend themselves to being eaten multiple days and we can essentially be in the kitchen every other day if that is all that is permitted. Or you can spend a Sunday afternoon preparing a few meals that can be quickly cooked or reheated during the week leaving most of the week free from food preparation.
There are dozens of ways that time is saved by adding in fasting to your life and a quick search of the internet will provide countless blogs with tips, tricks, and advice.
This is a very common criticism of adding fasting to our lives. The argument is that by skipping some meals we will be so hungry that we will become completely fixated on eating all the time, or that this will develop disordered eating patterns.
Even if this were the case that fasting makes us fixate on food (which it does not), how would this be any different than eating five times a day? People are already constantly fixated on food. When is the next meal? When is the next snack? What time is it…oh shit….I was supposed to eat eight almonds and six pieces of celery ten minutes ago….I’M GOING TO GO CATABOLIC – MY METABOLISM IS CRASHING! Lol. Seriously, you’ve thought this before. I know it.
The truth is, for myself and everyone I have seen go through the transition ot adding fasting, that you focus on food FAR less as time passes. Instead you begin to spend your extra time doing non-food related things and do not fill the time constantly pondering the next meal. If you eat good food you aren’t hungry, ever, and eating becomes a very pleasurable experience instead of just cramming food into your mouth because the clock says so.
We are already fixated on food. Fasting decreases this over time.
And what about developing disordered eating patterns? ALWAYS someone throws out how terrible this would be for people dealing with anorexia or bulimia. The answer to that is, as far as I can ascertain, unknown. If you have seen some data on that please send it my way. But this argument is indicative of so many problems within the world of health and fitness. I am not writing this to deal with psychological issues of a very small minority of the population, I am writing this to the vast bulk of the population who are not anorexic or bulimic. Those people should be in the care of practitioners trained to deal with them and should never be assisted by personal trainers and fitness coaches.
To date I am unaware of anyone who has attempted fasting and then become anorexic or bulimic. So I do not think this is something that need be of concern to 99.9% of people reading this article. If you do deal with those conditions or know someone that does, seek proper help for that!
For the majority of people I talk to and coach the common psychological roadblocks are simply culturally mediated. You have been trained your entire life to ‘eat three squares a day!’ and to, ‘never miss breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day!’ (You can thank Mr. Kellogg and a fancy marketing campaign for that last one. Oh, you didn’t know that cereal companies are largely responsible for many of our modern eating habits? Hmmm.) I hear constantly, ‘oh I could never do that, I just get too hungry!’, or my personal favorite, ‘my blood sugar would get too low if I did that.’
This makes me LMFAO (laugh my fucking ass of…it’s a thing…) for real. I promise you that 99% of people who complain about their ‘blood sugar being too low’ have no fucking idea of how their blood glucose levels actually work, how hormone regulation works via negative feedback loops, nor have they enough scientific understanding to even begin attempting to explain how their physiology works in conjunction with food ingestion.
Yes, many people feel hungry when they start to add fasting periods. Of course you will! You have spent decades eating all the time and changing those habits is going to be noticed. Maybe for a while, although my experience is that these feelings disappear within a week or two. And yes, you might feel low energy at times. But guess what? You were already feeling low energy periods BEFORE fasting and you were masking that behind stimulants. You felt low energy so you turned to sugar and caffeine to pick you up. Try some meditation or a 15 minute nap and see just how easy it is to get through those periods WITHOUT eating food.
Fasting periods do not lead to more fixation on food nor to psychological issues like anorexia and bulimia any more than our modern eating habits already do. These issues aren’t mediated by food timing but by a much larger host of issues that are irrelevant to when you are eating.
To date all I have seen are positive outcomes from a psychological perspective from those who adapt fasting periods long term into their lives.
Modern food timing is insane. Eating 8 almonds for a snack in the afternoon to ‘keep your blood sugar up’ (LMFAO – that is one of the stupidest expressions out there that people toss around all the time), or to ‘increase my energy’, makes absolutely no sense. Tired in the afternoon? Did you get enough sleep the night before? Do you exercise? Are you stressed? Are you bored? Those are the most likely contributing factors to the ‘afternoon slump’ and not anything you did or didn’t eat.
When you add fasting into your life the number of meals you have to get in the calories your body needs to function becomes even more vitally important. There is less and less room for bags of chips, chocolate bars, ice cream sandwiches, Halloween candy, and all the other shit we stuff our face with mindlessly that have nothing but deleterious effects on the body. You have to make sure that you are getting everything you need.
Yes, this can be a challenge at first. Most people have no idea what they actually need to be eating and you are going to have to learn. I don’t apologize for this nor will I write an article to make this easier. I firmly believe that it is everyone responsibility to learn for themselves what healthy food is and what we should be eating.
[*** Fine. In order to prevent the bombardment of questions pertaining to this I will tell you how to source what you should be eating. Read: Food, What the Heck Should I Eat, by Dr. Mark Hyman. No, this isn’t a clickable link, search for it yourself and stop being a lazy fuck.
Buy this book, read it, do what it says. Done.]
The truth is that meals and eating are far better when you have to get all the calories and nutrients you need in smaller windows of time. Because you have to EAT. You need to get in fat, and fibre, and protein, and everything else. There is no room for chicken breasts on a bed of lettuce with a couple of almonds and a vinaigrette on the side, there simply isn’t enough nutrition nor enough calories in that meal (and shouldn’t this say something about the typical diet foods we are all conditioned to believe are the ‘healthy’ options?). You have to eat meals with more calories. Fattier cuts of meat, full fat dairy, butter, nuts, potatoes and sweet potatoes, legumes, rice, breads, and a host of other foods that are typically avoided because people think they are unhealthy.
Trust me, eating high quality food that actually is full of calories and nutrition is awesome. Getting over our cultural fucking fixation on how low we can get the calories in something like it is some kind of coveted gold standard (have you seen a yogurt commercial?) is something we all need to strive towards!
You don’t have the room in your diet to fit in the garbage that Costco calls food. Additionally, you will be full and satiated and after a while won’t crave the mindless packaged shit we all love to stuff our mouths with.
There we have it. A decent summation of the benefits of fasting to your life. Again, please, go out and discredit anything I have written with solid empirical resources. Be a good learner and put in that work. Don’t take what I say verbatim unless you already know my writing and content and have a high level of trust with me.
I want to add two additional points here.
First, it is extremely vital that when you begin to add fasting to your life it is imperative that you focus on quality food and that you get adequate nutrition. The idea here is not to starve yourself or to dramatically decrease the number of calories you eat. This is not a diet or a diet program. The goal is to get the number of calories you need for optimal health in smaller windows of time. I firmly believe that one or two meals a day is ideal, however, as I will list later, many other protocols work and are successful.
How do you know you are eating enough calories without weighing and measuring everything (check our episode 45 of my podcast for a detailed discussion on why calculating your macros is stupid)? Pay attention to your body. After a couple of weeks with fasting protocols in your life you should not feel hungry, you should feel alert, and you should have lots of energy. If you don’t then you need to eat more. If your clothes start to get tight then you need to eat less.
Second, I want to address a conspiracy theory. And while I am not a crazy conspiracy theory extremist, I do believe that there is something that warrants serious thought.
Why is their so much push-back and resistance to the idea of fasting, from the medical community, from the pharmaceutical community, and from many large institutions, companies, and organizations? It begins with a complete lack of understanding of human nutrition to be sure, however, I believe there is more insidious reasoning at work.
What if everyone did this? What if everyone ate one or two meals a day and only of non-processed and packaged food? What if people were healthier and the obesity epidemic disappeared? What organizations, companies, and industries would be devastated? Would disappear?
I have always believed in questioning everything and coming to intelligent conclusions based on continually asking questions vs. merely following the status quo. So take those questions I just posed and dig a little deeper. Do some research and analysis on the history of food, the history of food systems, and the modern industrialized food systems, and then ask yourself those questions again. I have done this and it shocked me even though I have always thought myself to be well versed on the topic.
I will leave it at that.
To conclude I want to present a brief overview of the best way to begin fasting and how to begin incorporating it into your life by looking at my experience and the experiences of the people whom I have coached through this process.
I began fasting after the evidence of its efficacy became overwhelming. Like most people, my first question was, ‘how do I start?’ I went through all of the same thoughts and feelings you are probably having right now.
I will be hungry. I can’t not eat breakfast. My blood sugar will crash. Etc., etc., etc..
My solution was to simply pick a protocol and dive right in.
I began with one 24 hour fast every week. I would have dinner on Thursday night, and then fast until dinner on Friday night. Typically Friday is a busy day for me so I figured I wouldn’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about food and that the day usually goes by pretty quickly so that would help make it easier.
The first couple of weeks were challenging but definitely not as challenging as I had anticipated. A few headaches were had and some mild hunger pangs happened during the first two or three Fridays. Interestingly, the hunger pangs were always at typical meal times, breakfast and early afternoon. I now believe that was far more psychological than physiological.
After those first few weeks it was easy. Honestly, it was literally easy. Then it started to become something I looked forward to every week. Getting over the feelings that I ‘should’ be eating was the biggest challenge. Thursday night it felt – weird – not eating dinner. Like anything, however, you adapt quickly.
I believe I did this for about a year and as I delved deeper into the learning I wanted to incorporate more fasting. Sometimes it is like tattoo’s, once you start you want more and more. I loved the feeling of being fasted so I wanted to incorporate more fasting to have that feeling more frequently.
I opted to try an experiment with what is commonly referred to as Warrior Fasting. This means eating all of your calories in a four-hour window everyday. You fast for 20 hours and eat within that smaller window. For me this meant eating dinner and then a smaller snack or meal in the evening. Dinner is usually around 630/7pm and then the rest of the food around 10/11pm.
The challenges here was my love of breakfast and getting over the long instilled idea that eating at night, or even worse, before bed, was one of the worst things you could do. The idea was to experiment with this style for two weeks and see how I felt.
That was over 9 months ago now and the result? I would NEVER go back to any other system of eating. Ever. You couldn’t pay me to. I don’t miss breakfast at all. I thought I would but I really don’t. Every once in a while we have breakfast as I don’t believe you should follow a set schedule all the time (more on that later) and everytime I do this I comment the entire day that I don’t feel as good as I normally do.
I feel sharper, more alert, have more energy, and get more shit done, than I ever have. I feel ficking awesome. I love it. I love food, I love cooking, I love spending an evening meal with my wife everyday. I love everything about it.
3 months ago I embarked on a year long Health Odyssey which saw me overhaul much of my diet and many habits as well as add in many new habits (Read about the Odyssey on my Facebook Page and in my Facebook Group). The first six months of this style of fasting I was eating a nutritious and delicious dinner meal but my next group of calories was terrible. Chocolate, chips, cinnamon buns, and a host of other terrible shit non-food that I so dearly love and used to fill the sadness I have not yet kicked at the sudden loss of my mother 6 years ago. That is a story for another day.
Before I overhauled the types of foods I was eating, while I definitely was feeling a lot different, I was buying larger clothes as the shit calories were bulking my gut to balloon-like proportions. Sadness effects us all differently.
Since the beginning of this Odyssey and some dietary changes I am developing a serious problem. I was complaining about this to my wife just the other day. I told her I might have to go back to my old habits and scrap the Odyssey.
Why? My pants are starting to fall off and so many awesome shirts that I have purchased in the last couple of years are beginning to look like drapes on me. My body fat is dropping. My goal is not aesthetic at all but the accumulation of visceral fat was leading me to a road of horrific health consequences that I know enough should be avoided.
Additionally, the food changes have increased my energy, alertness, thinking, industriousness even further. Something I didn’t really expect. This is a perfect example of how important it is to still focus on healthy food even with fasting.
It is an alarming trend within the fitness industry that I see regularly. The idea that you can eat whatever you want, fast, and lose weight. This is NOT THE POINT of fasting. Fuck. If you are interested in ‘eating whatever you want and losing weight’ then I am sorry you have read this far. You have wasted your time. It is imperative that you focus on healthy, whole foods. Period.
What do I eat? Read the book I listed above. That is my food guide. I have coupled this with two years of culinary learning and can say that my wife and I rarely eat out because there are no restaurants in our town that make better food than me. Check my personal instagram if you want to see the meals I eat (taylorsimon_renaissanceman). That is my dinners or main meal.
Here are some examples…..
I have always loved eating at night. My grandmother would have snacks and read until very late hours and my entire life night time snacks have been a highlight and a bonding experience with my family. It is something I really love. I have changed what I eat.
Instead of chips, chocolate, snack food, ice crème, cinnamon buns, and whatever other junk I used to gorge on, I now eat far more nutritious food that I truly love. Most common (not exclusively) I create a small charcuterie board. A couple of different cheeses, dried fruit, fresh fruit, two or three different nuts, seeds, crackers (made myself), and olives or pickles. Yes, all of that. Other times I will toast slices of a sour dough baguette with butter and put smoked salmon on them. A couple of times a month I will make popcorn in oil on the stove and drizzle with melted butter and salt. Every night with a big glass of kombucha an more recently with milk kefir that pretty much tastes like a milkshake.
Looks like this…
Sounds pretty terrible right? It is all real food. Reputably sourced. Hand prepared. And my clothes are starting to drop off. And I eat this sometimes at 10:30pm then go to bed right after. And I sleep like a baby waking up refreshed and happy.
Healthy food is great food, not just for you, but for your enjoyment and taste as well
I would never go back to my old style of eating. I feel awesome. I am far healthier. And life just feels amazing.
These same results are exactly what the people I coach every single day report as well. Some people have a little bit harder time with the initial adaptation phase, however, if they eat better quality food and stick it out, the result is always the same.
And over the long term we are all setting ourselves up as best as we possibly can to maximize our potential for positive long term health.
This is important because these habits aren’t a 100% guarantee you won’t get cancer, or alzheimers, or some other issue, as there is nothing that can give you that guarantee. But these habits are part of the arsenal you can employ to give yourself the best chance possible to avoid so many deleterious health outcomes.
Finally, here are the most common protocols that people follow and where I think most people should start.
PLEASE note: there is something that I love about the term intermittent fasting. It is the word ‘intermittent’ itself. You have to pay attention to this word as it is key.
For all biological organisms there are times of food scarcity and there are times of food plenty. It is never consistent. I do not believe fasting should be consistent. It should have undulations just as our food sources would have had throughout our evolution and before modern food industrialization. We would have had periods of feasting and periods of close to starvation. When you add fasting it is ok to have week with no fasting and periods with 24, 36, 48, or even longer fasting periods. In fact I think it is imperative that is fluctuates like this.
Don’t get stuck on one pattern and adhere to it with religious fervor. Allow for this idea of changing things sporadically.
That being said, here are the most common systems and the ones I like:
The first really researched protocol on humans was this style. 5 days regular eating with 2 days only eating 500 calories. While the results were present I have found this style to leave people very hungry on those low calorie days as the body never really adapts to the fasting. I have seen very low adherence to this long term and think it should be avoided.
This is where I began by incorporating one 24 hour fast every week. I think this is the second best place to begin for most people, however, I actually like it best as a starting place. I think there needs to be an element of challenge, discomfort, and difficulty to give you something to overcome. This leads to the best change of habit outcome.
By far the most common method. Fast for a 16 hour period and consume all of your calories in an 8 hour period. How easy is this? Eat dinner at 6pm, then skip breakfast and eat lunch around noon the following day. Most of the fast you are sleeping! It does not have to be those times it is merely important that you get a full 16 hour fasting period.
Beyond these protocols it is up to you. As long as you have a minimum of 16 hours fasted you will be ensuring that all of the benefits previously discussed will become a part of your life. Experiment with it as time goes on to see what works the best for you!!!
Remember that there is no ‘right’ way or ‘only’ way. There is no mandatory system you must adhere to forever. Our food resources have never had that kind of regularity before the early 1900’s. Find YOUR way.
I have taken the time to write this because I truly believe this is one of the most important things you can do for your physical health and for so many other aspects of your life in general. Will there ever be widespread adoption of fasting? I am unsure but I am very doubtful. Our modern western cultures are too focused on obtaining pleasure and avoiding discomfort to explore anything that might be perceived as difficult. While the long term effects of fasting are more pleasurable than the immediate gratification of stuffing our faces with sugar and treats it is s tough sell in this modern age.
If I have inspired even one person to make fasting a part of their lives then I will feel myself accomplished. Everything I do is for the love of my fellow humans. To cut through the marketing bullshit that s our lives and help steer them on a course to the best possible health. I will never quit in this endeavor and will always bring the best of my learning to those who are interested.
Much love to you all,