Recent experience with intermittent fasting has proved conclusively to me that we all eat way too much food for our good health. Everywhere we are bombarded with the message that we must keep eating constantly and that a voracious appetite is associated somehow with great physical well- being.
‘Eat a big breakfast’, ‘eat little and often’ and the phrase ‘a healthy appetite’ are some examples of the accepted wisdom of this philosophy today. It’s only when you start putting this notion to the test that you realise that it’s really just marketing to get you to buy more food and has little to do with good health. In fact, I have come to precisely the opposite conclusion; i.e. that it is good for us to go for extended periods without food and that we can actually function a lot better, even during intense training, with little or no food in our bellies.
For a long time it has been known that there is a clear link between reduced food intake and longevity. It is also known that fasting can confer great mental clarity at times. All major religions use fasting as a tool to enhance spiritual well-being. However, the general view seems to be that calorie restriction in any form, including fasting, will result in declining physical performance. I no longer believe this to be true, provided that, when you do choose to eat, your diet is based around healthy fats and proteins with a very low intake of refined sugars and processed carbs. Once your body is adapted to this way of eating, i.e. using mostly fat for fuel, instead of sugars, you can actually perform much better on a completely empty stomach.
The reason why people are advised to eat little and often etc. and struggle if they don’t do this is because they are dependent on a regular sugar rush as they ride the insulin roller coaster. They run out of sugar and, because their bodies are accustomed to relying on this source of energy, they experience a real dip of physical and mental energy, only resolved by eating more sugar. They are unable to tap into the massive energy stores of their body fat for fuel. They feel faint or lacking in energy, muscles get tired quickly etc.
So I’m not advising anybody to do this unless they have already taken most of the processed carbs out of the diet – this is an essential first step to good health anyway and is a pre- requisite to healthy, problem free intermittent fasting. Once you have done this, you will find that it is quite easy to go for 24 hours or more without wanting food and you really feel the benefits of giving the digestive system a rest. There is almost no effort or willpower involved.
Start by just saying I’m not going to eat until I’m really genuinely hungry, then I will. When you get to that point, have a good drink, maybe a hot drink too and you may realise that you were thirsty not hungry. In this way, you begin to get the hormones responsible for appetite and feelings of fullness working properly again, as this advice of eating little and often etc. has effectively switched these off.
The health and fitness industry propagates many myths which, when you put them to the test simply do not stack up. Remember that a lot of this accepted wisdom is not for the benefit of the client but in order to make a sale and is often harmful. I would encourage you to try things out for yourself and note the results. The body has an innate wisdom based on ensuring its own survival, so if it’s telling you you’re not hungry it’s for a reason. Try to get in touch with your body and listen to what it is telling you and work with it, not against it.
Of course the usual disclaimers apply. Intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone, notably children, pregnant women, diabetics possibly and anyone with an eating disorder. Always consult an appropriately qualified practitioner if in any doubt.
Final point; fasting is not essentially about calorie restriction as many people believe. It is about getting insulin levels very low so that the body can switch to burning fat for energy instead of sugar, amongst other benefits. So calling it ‘fasting’ and still consuming 600 calories a day or whatever, including carbohydrates and protein ( which both raise insulin), will not get results because it’s simple calorie restriction which we know does not work for many in the long run.
Ask me a question about this or other health and fitness topics and I’ll give you the best answer I can from my own diverse experiences of life and training.
Phone or text; 07504439555.