Recently I have been experimenting a lot with intermittent fasting with great results and really no downside at all. I thought I’d share my experiences with you.
Since time immemorial people have fasted; every major religion refers to fasting as beneficial and indeed we all fast every night when we sleep until we have ‘break fast’ (the clue’s in the name). As cave people we would often go for days without food in between hunts so we are primed to be able to do this – it’s part of our natural make-up.
These days there is a whole industry out there trying to get us to eat more and more. Eat little and often is always the official advice and make sure you always eat a good breakfast. And the truth is that, if you’re locked into a traditional high carb diet like our government and others recommend, you will need to replenish your sugars every few hours as you ride the insulin roller coaster. This is great for the food industry but bad for your health and contributes to obesity.
On the other hand, if you are already adapted to fat burning rather than sugar burning for energy as I believe I probably am now, then it becomes totally unnecessary to eat so often, even when training hard every day, as I tend to do. The way I tend to do it is to just go by hunger, so, I don’t eat until really hungry, whatever time that happens to be, and try to eat earlier in the day rather than later. Following this system, I have realised that I am practically never really genuinely hungry and that most eating happens for emotional reasons, boredom, stress, habit or sugar addiction. In today’s society real hunger simply does not exist.
Why would you do that, people often ask? Well, I would reply with the question ‘why would you eat if you’re not hungry? And honestly, there is absolutely no hardship involved in this at all, perhaps surprisingly – no deprivation. That’s what amazed me the most – when I really thought about it I wasn’t really ever that hungry. Now if I really feel that I’m getting fairly hungry or feeling weak then I eat, so it’s not an issue of willpower or deprivation like most diets. This is not indeed a diet at all – it’s anti- diet. Nor is it about calorie control or restriction, although eating less will tend to keep you slimmer of course. The other great thing about fasting is that it is not only cheap, but free. My food bills have dropped dramatically.
Surely you must feel weak and hungry? Absolutely not. On the contrary, I feel much lighter but stronger also. My sleep has been transformed without food hanging heavy on my stomach and my body fat has started to drop noticeably. A few days ago I decided to fast from lunchtime until the following breakfast, but also to throw in a hard 90 minute run early in the morning as well, before breaking my fast. I felt lighter, stronger and faster and full of energy. This goes against all the traditional advice of carbohydrates fuelling hard training, carb loading etc. I already knew that you could do long slow efforts while fat burning, but it seems that higher intensity efforts are also not only possible, but perhaps improved, in the absence of sugars.
Other benefits? My relationship with food has changed completely. When I do eat, it is nearly always better quality more nutritious food that I choose, rather than just something to ‘keep me going’. I know that I can live off my fat stores for very long periods if I choose to, therefore eating every few hours is simply unnecessary. I can easily get by on just two regular meals a day, which is what I normally do now if not fasting for longer. I am never bloated, nor constantly digesting food, which is great when training, often twice a day. Suddenly I have masses of extra time because I don’t need to shop so often, plan meals so much, prepare or clear away, wash up etc. Although, I’ve not yet experienced this, there are many reports of people undergoing prolonged fasts achieving incredible mental clarity too.
I think it’s important to vary your meals when intermittently fasting so as to get an adequate range of nutrients, but still keep your diet based around real foods, healthy fats and proteins. I would also advise against fasting if you are a child, are pregnant or are a diabetic on medication or have an eating disorder. If in any doubt whatsoever then consult with an appropriately qualified practitioner. However I do believe this can be a massive weapon in our arsenal in the fight against obesity and can safely be experimented with by the vast majority. I repeat, there is no downside at all, so why would you not try it?