I have mentioned fasting in a few of my previous posts so I am going to expand a little on what it means and how to go about it.
There are many cultural and religious reasons that people fast, the length of time and reasons vary but all come down to a period of time when you do not take in any food and in some cultures even water. The word breakfast literally means to break the fast, everyone fasts to some extent when they sleep and the fast is broken at the first meal called breakfast.
Ancestral man would have gone through long periods of fasting although not voluntarily, if the hunt didn't go well or the plant food was scarce they would have had no choice but to fast and this means we are quite well adapted to fasting. One of these adaptations is that we can store energy for times when there is none coming from food, we store it in small quantities as glycogen but our main fuel reserve is fat.
One benefit of fasting is that it can help with weight loss and maintenance, it works similarly to a reduced carbohydrate diet by reducing insulin, this in turn stops fat storage signals and allows the fat stores to be used a fuel.
Other positive health benefits of fasting include reduced blood pressure, reduced inflammatory markers and oxidative stress. Improved hunger control, cardiovascular function and cellular repair. As well as increased fatty acid oxidation and growth hormone production.
Fasting allows the digestive system to have a break from the continual onslaught of food we eat. It is estimated that around 65% of energy is directed to the digestive system after a main meal, is it surprising you want a nap after sunday lunch? A fast frees up this energy for cellular repair and expelling toxins.
All sounds great but how do we do it?
There are many methods of fasting but a common approach is known as an intermittent fast. (I.F).
The first you may of heard of is a 5:2, this means you eat normally for 5 days and fast for 2 days when you eat up to a maximum of 500 calories a day.
Another popular method is the 16:8, this is when you restrict your eating time to an 8 hour window and fast for the other 16 hours. An example would be to have your last meal at 8:00pm and don't eat anything until 12:00pm the next day. This method can help as you are asleep for a large part of the fast.
You don't have to jump straight into the full 16 hours, perhaps just push breakfast back an hour at first, then another hour until you can comfortably get through the 16 hour fast.
I wouldn't recommend doing your first fast if you have an important meeting or interview coming up, although clarity of mind can be one of the benefits it may not work for you and probably not on your first attempt. The first fast can have some side effects like hunger pangs, feeling lightheaded, shaky hands and lack of focus.
Children, pregnant or trying to get pregnant women, elderly, severely ill or suffering from eating disorders should not fast. Fasting signals a lack of food not the best input for growing a child in the womb or out.
It is important to remember that just because you have fasted doesn't mean you can then gorge on any food you want and still get results, you should still base your food intake on real food choices. Personally I feel it's a good strategy to get your diet going well before you consider fasting, Adopting a primal eating regime helps you access your stored fat more readily so will most likely be a kick start to trying fasting for the first time.
I intermittently fast 2 or 3 times a week for 12- 16 hours. It works for me when I have an 6:30 start at work. I remember getting up before I found this way of eating and needing breakfast, it was the first thing on my mind, eating primally allows me to easily forget breakfast and go through until lunch time. Many people still eat a mainstream diet and do well with fasting, but I always ask, your doing o.k but is it optimal?
So that's is a basic look at fasting there are some recommended readings listed at the end if you want to delve deeper. If you give it a go let me know how you get on
Keep it Primal
The lean fast diet - Stephen Reed
The Paleo Manifesto - John Durant