Fasting may well be one of your most powerful weapons when it comes to fat loss and health. Even if you’ve never gone more than a few hours between meals, please consider this section with an open mind, remember that pre-transition and post-transition are completely different things. What you may think you could never do, you may be able to train yourself to do habitually and easily, and it could comletely transform your relationship with food, training and your body composition.
As I mention when taking a look at the bad info we've been fed as a society in this section, one of the main things I was taught when I first got into the fitness business, was that it's important to eat often to avoid entering 'starvation mode', that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we have to eat early and often to 'stoke the metabolic furness'.
Fortunately, relatively recently, we've leaned that all that is utter tosh-balls. In fact, now we know that closer to the opposite is the truth.
We learned that fasting may actually speed up our metabolic rate. As our hormones normalise and our insulin falls, we get better and better at accessing our fat stores, where most of us, erm, have quite a lot of energy available. When our bodies realise this, they can happily speed up our metabolic rate rather than slowing it, which is exactly what happens in a non-fed person who relies too much on a sugar burning metabolism.
First, we learned about intermittent fasting -- two main methods brought it all to our attention:
The first is Martin Berkhans Lean Gains method, (later stolen and popularised as the 16:8 method), where we eat all our food in an 8 hour window and then have a 16 hour fast daily.
The second, later stolen and made more mainstream as the 5:2 method, is the Eat. Stop. Eat. method by Brad Pilon, where you eat as normal five days per week, but eat nothing, or only a tiny meal 2 days per week.
This is like a wimpy way of introducing fasting to the masses.
Yet at the time, it felt like a radical change in thinking.
Then a little later we learned about longer fasts, starting with The Warrior Diet and then finally, people were brave enough to point out that, actually, longer fasts are OK too -- and not only do they not kill us, but they might actually be really-really-bloody good for us.
Now, gradually even longer term fasts are becoming more and more mainstream. Even taking it so far as the Snake Diet — a fasting focused lifestyle.
This is a fat loss method / lifestyle popularised by YouTube genius / nut-job Cole Robinson. He is funny, motivating and hardcore when it comes to fasting and fat loss. Only watch him if you don't mind being yelled at / sworn at mind.
He -- like Dr Jason Fung -- seems to be under the crazy impression that fastest way to lose fat is to not eat. Go looooong periods of time not eating and our hormonal profile improves and we get better and better at accessing our fat stores he will tell you (scream at you). We will lose weight fast and that weight will be mostly fat, and we will not damage our metabolism and slow it down as we would through long periods of time on restricted calories eating with a higher eating frequency.
Cole recommends that if you want to lose weight, that you fast "as long as you fucking can", and then to have a small mainly protein based 're-feed' and then to fast "as long as you fucking can, again", and repeat the process until you are "shredded to the bone". Cole will encourage you by pointing out that "body fat is food" and that "fat people don't need to eat".
Critics, of course, say that this is dangerous and too extreme. But with no real evidence to back that up, it's just that our society is scared of the fasted state, however natural it may have been for us to have to cope with this during evolution. As ever, the science is behind those willing to experiment and we really don't know what is best for us.
Of course, Cole and many fasting advocates would counter that there are very few risks of fasting a lot, but there are very real and definite risks of living with insulin resistance, over-fatness and the many diseases we are now learning are associated with these conditions.
The takeaway to me though, if you think that's a little crazy/hardcore for you, is that we are afraid of fasting for all the wrong reasons, and if you want to lose fat, the more you can fast, the better (probaby). I wouldn't necessarily go as extreme as The Snake Diets longer fasts, but incorporating 24 hour, 48 hour and sometime longer fasts into your fat loss system could well be ideal for you -- be it short term or long term.
This is a tremendous introductory series of articles by Dr jason Fung on the subject.
There are many reported benefits of fasting, from the physiological to the mental, to downright convenience of it:
—> Hormones reset
—> You don’t overeat to make up for it
—> You enter Ketosis and feel great
—> It saves you money
—> You burn a lot of body fat
—> You escape the Tupperware lifestyle
—> If there’s not good food available, you don’t have to eat the shit you can get hold of
—> It’s easier to travel -- becauase of the above
--> Something that sounds very exciting called autophagy happens
—> Once hunger passes, it’s effortless and you’ll be full of energy
—> You don’t have to eat breakfast where most people eat junk
That's quite a list, which surely makes it well worth experimenting with.
Again, there are sceptics to the supposedly ‘magical’ benefits of fasting. They say that calories in vs calories out is all that matters, that all the benefits demonstrated by fasting can simply be attributed to weight loss itself. But, they don't say it's harmful (unless done stupidly), and the science is certainly starting to stack up in favour of fasting.
So, my opinion is that at the very least, fasting is not harmful and may be another option to help people structure satisfying fat loss / weight maintenance diets, and in fact it’s likely to be hugely beneficial — It's probably the only way for many to re-set hormones and smash food addictions. In fact I think that nearly everybody should fast often if they are trying to optimise health or lose fat. Especially if they have any trouble with insulin resistance.
So if you’re reading this guide with view to overhauling your physique, I’d strongly suggest you consider incorporating at least intermittent fasting into your challenge and future routines. It’s effortless once you get used to it and probably your most powerful and practical weapon.
If you're primary goal is muscle growth, then fasting may not be optimal -- you can still make gains, but it may not be optimal. But if you're primary goal is health, healing or fat loss, then I think everyone should *probably* incorporate some sort of fast -- be that intermittent, alternate day or sporadic longer ones. The hormonal and pattern-breaking self-control you gain are unmatched, and as the snake diet guy says: What diet can get better results than not eating?
GETTING INTO FASTING
I’ve been fasting intermittently for years. Now I look back and laugh at what a big deal it was to me. I was petrified to leave the house without breakfast. I had to know where lunch was coming from or I'd be sure I'd have lost all of my hard-earned muscle by mid-afternoon. Now I wouldn't batter an eyelid. I went 5 years having breakfast less than twice per week. I ate one meal a day about 1/3 of the time. I got to my heaviest most impressive physique whilst eating only lunch and dinner -- two meals a day, no snacks. More recently I've began experimenting with longer fasts (up to 44 hours) and intend to make them a regular part of my life. I now know that fasting is muscle sparing (as well as £ sparing), and my digestion probably improves so much from the rest that any minute loss in short term muscle potential would theoretically be more than made up for by improvement in my digestion quality going forwards.
But starting out was hard. I had to get into it the wimps way, but then I was totally carb and sugar addicted and had frequent dizzy spells, so I trod carefully.
A few things to remember when getting into fasting:
Hunger comes and goes in waves -- When you're hungry, or when it's time you usually eat, you're ghrelin hormone will start to rise, signalling to your body that it's time to eat. You'll experience the usual physiological stomach growling cues. But, whether you eat or not, your grhelin will subside and those initial cues will pass. That's actually the worst bit, and after that your energy will be smooooth, you'll feel alert and the challenge will mostly be over.
Light-headedness is possible -- Especially if you've not gone more than a few waking hours without some sort of carbohydrate for years. Especailly if you exercise fasted and you aren't used to it. If this happens to you, I either suggest you stay home and do nothing until you adapt, or baby-step your way into it really carefully. Doctors supervision if you're on any kind of medication that could be effected would be wise.
Most of the challenge is psychological -- We are humans. Durable, adaptable, resolute, miracles of nature. Evolved to survive. Evolved to cope. Evolved to find a way. Physiologically, we can probably handle a few hours or a day without eating. Especially now we know it's good for us. So remember, most of the challenge is in your head. Find your key thoughts and stand your ground. Before long it will be easy-easy. Automatic. Freeing.
You're body is used to eating when you usually eat -- it's known as hormonal entrainment. The initial hunger pangs won't be there once you're used to your new way. Transition isn't the same as transitioned.
How to start — the wimps way:
I sort of baby-stepped my way into it. First I pushed breakfast back an hour, and then two. Then went to lunch without eating, but made sure I had some snacks on hand, 'just in case'. After a month or two, I got a bit more confident and could go until lunch most of the time, except for on a quiet day when the call for a nice relaxed fry-up was just too much. From here it's easy and you sort-of slide lunch back until you realise you can easily go until dinner if you want to. Eventually I worked up the courage to go to sleep without eating and alas, my fear of fasting was pretty much broken. You can probably map out a similar system that works for you.
How to start the snake diet way:
Get your snake juice (basically salt water: sea salt and potassium) and immediately take on a 48 hour fast. Tell a few people you're doing it and get stuck in. See it through, pretty much no matter what. Break your fear of fasting. Then re-feed and take on a 72 hour fast, before making it a lifestyle and routine based on your needs and goals.
I suggest you pick the style that suits your personality, readiness and goals best, and get stuck in as soon as possible. If you’re really wimpy / find it difficult, it may be because you are not fat adapted and heavily reliable on sugar coming into your system every few hours. You may well be able to power through, and I suggest you do if you can (except in cases of more than a little light-headedness). But if you're really struggling. or even if you don't find it easy after a bit of practicing, you might find it easier to get into fasting once you’re used to ketosis, once you’re fat adapted...