I tried fasting once, years ago, and quickly held up my white flag in surrender. Fasting was not for me. So what happened? Fast forward to today and most days you’ll find me fasting for 16 hours at a time; with the occasional 36-hour fast thrown in for good measure.
The main difference is that this time, my primary fuel source is fat. I also broke my Pavlovian response to eating in accordance with the clock and my mindset is different. Although I knew there were benefits to fasting when I first gave it a try, I didn’t know then just how important fasting actually is to keeping our bodies healthy.
So, why exactly would you want to fast?
There are many benefits to fasting, but some of the more commonly reported ones are:
- Regulated hormone levels
- Improved metabolism
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Blood sugar control
- Weight loss and management
- Better sleep
- Boosted energy levels
- Rest for the digestive system
The truth is, everybody fasts. Most people just don’t do it long enough to reap the benefits. After you eat dinner and go to bed, you’re fasting until the next morning when you choose to have breakfast and break your fast. The problem in today’s world is that we live in abundance. We have access to food 24/7 and we aren’t forced to fast because there is no food. Therefore, if we want to obtain the health benefits of fasting, we have to consciously make the effort to fast for more than just a couple of hours.
Intermittent fasting is gaining popularity and, chances are, you’ve probably heard of it. There is no one right way to intermittent fast, but most people will restrict their time spent eating in a day to a short window between 6-8 hours (i.e. eat all your food for the day between 12pm and 8pm). Some people will simply eat one meal a day–eat dinner on Monday and then don’t eat again until dinner on Tuesday.
When I first tried fasting, I only thought of it as a way to help my gut heal. I thought if I could give my digestive system some rest, perhaps it would help my Crohn’s. Unfortunately, at that time, I was battling a mild flare and had let my low-carb diet turn into one that was filled with lots of low-carb treats and snacks made from nut flours, coconut flours, sweeteners, and other gut-damaging or hard-to-digest ingredients; I certainly wasn’t keto. So, when I tried to fast, my hunger was severe, my sweet tooth wasn’t controlled, I was moody, and I gave up. I was in a poor mental state that didn’t let me see the bigger picture and I didn’t realize the importance of making fasting a part of life.
Now that I’m successful at fasting, I do believe it benefits my overall Crohn’s management. It’s one more thing that is working synergistically with everything else to keep me healthy and feeling good. Giving my body a break from food gives it the opportunity to heal. Having learned more about fasting, I now also appreciate the benefits of autophagy that happen during a fast. Autophagy is the body’s way to recover and repair itself by clearing out the damaged cells; fasting stimulates this process.
I have also experienced the hormone-regulating effects of fasting, which have allowed me to gain control over my hunger signals, enjoy a calmer mood and lower stress levels, and control my blood sugar while increasing my ketone production. Fasting has also improved my relationship with food by freeing me from the obsessive behaviors I did for so long–constantly counting calories, counting macros, and fearing everything I put in my mouth (the two fitness competitions I did about 18 years ago had long-lasting effects on how I looked at food and scrutinized myself in the mirror). With fasting, I’m learning to enjoy my food and respecting the natural cycle of alternating feasting and fasting.
I’ve also noticed greater mental clarity and energy during my fasted periods. But these things didn’t happen overnight, it took practice. Yes, fasting takes practice. When I first tried fasting all those years ago, I just jumped right into a 24 hour fast…and failed. While some people can do it, I found this second time around to be much easier and actually enjoyable. Here’s what I did…
First, I transitioned to a ketogenic diet, focusing on high quality meats and natural animal fats. When you’re using fat as your primary fuel source, your body doesn’t care whether it gets its energy from the fat you eat or the fat on your body. Once you’re fat adapted, fasting will get easier because your body will be using your fat stores for energy. Next, I quit snacking and started to stretch out the time between my meals. If you do this, take your time in this phase, there is no rush. You’ll be breaking habits that you’ve spent years creating. You will also most likely notice that you feel hunger signals at certain times of the day (i.e. breakfast or lunch) or in certain social situations…even though you’re not actually hungry–you’ve just trained yourself to be hungry at those times (think Pavlov).
As I started going longer without food–going past the 24-hour mark–I began drinking bone broth to help me continue fasting. It’s satisfying (and delicious) and provides a number of different minerals and electrolytes for the body. An important thing to point out here is that anytime I didn’t feel well, I broke the fast and ate. If I felt lightheaded or dizzy, I took a little salt to help balance my electrolytes. But if that didn’t make me feel better, I went ahead and ate. Then, when I felt ready, I’d try fasting again a few days or a week later.
The last piece of my fasting puzzle is that I made the decision to keep my morning coffee with 1TB ghee blended in. If you want to be a zealot, then technically you shouldn’t drink coffee with ghee during a fast, but I’m not fasting just to fast. Since the pure fat of ghee doesn’t spike my insulin, I remain in a fat-burning state and can continue to enjoy many of the fasting benefits. Because I believe life needs balance and should be enjoyed, I keep my morning coffee even when fasting because I look forward to it each day. 🙂
I’ve now been Intermittent Fasting on a consistent basis for roughly the last six months. Over the last two or three months, I’ve been practicing longer 24-36 hour fasts. Both have gotten easier. It may seem strange, but I actually look forward to my longer fasting days. I know that I’ll feel good, I’ll be saving time by not cooking or meal prepping, and I’ll be giving my body a chance to heal and repair itself.
So, what do you say, are you ready to start fasting?
If you’re ready to dive in even deeper and learn more about the science behind fasting and why it works, here are some of my favorite resources on fasting:
- Learn more about the role of insulin, your metabolism, triggering fat burning, why calories aren’t the most important part of the equation, and where fasting fits into all of this:
Livin La Vida Low Carb Episode 1203: Dr. Jason Fung (podcast)
- Learn more about the benefits of fasting:
Fasting Talk Episode 2: Fasting Benefits (podcast)
My favorite books on fasting:
- The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore
- Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon
Want to learn more about autophagy: