Fasting: Hack to stay young?

Disclaimer: Always talk to your doctor or health professional before embarking on any diets or fasting. If you have diabetes or suffer from any eating disorders, fasting is not for you.

So maybe you’ve read and tried every diet out there, or you’re curious about the superpowers of fasting. Whether it’s weight loss, general health and wellbeing, fitness and training, mental willpower, or just curiosity that brought you here, I’ll be summarising my learning and real experiences about fasting, as it happens.

Just to be straight with you, I have a naturally lean body type but that doesn’t mean I don’t like eating, in fact, I love trying all different cuisines, I’m a terrible snackaholic and generally a big foodie. You could argue fasting should be even more difficult for me because my metabolism is naturally fast and I don’t inherently have a lot of fat stores to burn as energy when fasting, and as such, I’ll be taking a slow but incrementally steady approach to this challenge.

The key to eating nothing has been to fill my plate with as many tasks, chores, events, and activities as I can feasibly do within my fasting window.

I’ve dabbled with different diets and short fasting periods before, such as the 5:2 diet in various forms, ketogenic diets, high protein diets, 8-6 hour eating windows and more. I’m no fitness expert, and I’ll openly say I’m lean/ skinny mostly down to genetics, but… I have always loved sport, exercise, and healthy eating, so caveat or not I hope I can share some genuinely useful information, that you can use to make a more informed decision about fasting.

Fast #1: 38hrs. 30-May-22: My first fast of this journal series begins on Monday, after dinner, finishing about 8pm, after completing a workout at the gym. The following day is an on-site, at the office (a rarity) and this gives me a good opportunity to chat with colleagues, make phone calls, walk around the premise to and from physical meetings, and most importantly avoid habitual snacking. Admittedly I met an old former colleague for a coffee, which from a purist perspective isn’t allowed, but alas the caffeine kept my mind active for the rest of the day. The evening was the hardest, although I had spouts of hunger throughout the day, they would typically disappear after a while, but it was difficult to not think about all the different tasty foods I could cook, grab, buy or order, as well as my habitual break snacking. Once Wednesday came, I didn’t feel too bad, but by 10am decided to have a nutritional smoothie and break at 38hrs.

Power up your fasting by doing exercise before or during to speed up and increase the benefits. Fasting increases growth hormones (HGH) significantly over longer durations and preserves muscle mass 4x more effectively than low-calorie diets. This can be cardio or anaerobic.

Fast #2: 40hrs. 13-Jun-22: After a long weekend of indulging, and another one unavoidably impending, I’ve decided to hack another go at it, and add a few more hours to this attempt. It’s also in part thanks to my cousin inspiring me with a whopping 3.5 days fast, although I really do recommend building your body (& mind) up slowly, to allow your metabolism and insulin sensitivity to adjust accordingly. This time I’m planning for 42hrs, having finished dinner at 7pm. this will take me to tomorrow and the day after for lunch at 1pm.

14-Jun-22: Trying NOT to eat my words for dinner, but write them out instead. Yesterday evening I ran 5 miles (8km) to turbocharge me into ketosis quicker by burning through my available energy. Today I allowed myself coffee again but also did an afternoon 5 min sprint to balance it out. I do feel a little dizzy, which is probably a combination of caffeine and lack of hydration (note to self – follow your own advice, below!). After my run, I went for a mocha at my local spot with a good friend, who also highly rates Dr. Eric Berg (see sources), and told me that your body’s sensitivity to sugar increases so significantly during fasting that your body, heart, and brain can have an acute reaction to it, so it’s really worth taking care what to digest after a fast. We spent a lot of the evening chatting about hot food spots to get together at, so my next meal is clearly on my mind, but at least the first 36hrs is relatively doable because it’s not a case of following any special rules, you simply don’t eat anything, so my mind is accepting of that (even if my stomach is reluctant).

15-Jun-22: This morning I woke up in battery saver mode. It genuinely felt a bit scary, being what must be at a very low blood sugar level. I moved around the house slowly, and made myself a large glass of salted and iced lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar water with a splash of squash (cordial). This morning is going to be tough, but I’m determined to not break… I broke at 40hrs.

While fasting is avoidance of solid foods, calories, and nutrients – staying hydrated is still essential. Make sure to drink more water than you would normally because you won’t be getting any from food, plus it keeps your stomach distracted and falsely full.

As my mum would always say “don’t overdo it”. Remember your body isn’t used to surviving this long without food, and if you’re anything like me – someone that doesn’t naturally store a lot of fat I think you need to be extra careful to gradually get your body used to slowing down its energy use, and working on alternative energy sources internally. I’ve read that you should consider a month between long fasts, which interpret as you will, but the point is to give your body enough time to recharge between fasts.

If you really want to try something longer-term or more regular give a keto diet or intermittent fasting a go, as both of these will improve your body’s ability to work longer without carbohydrates. Dr. Eric Berg offers a lot of free information on these options.

Pill-popping animal?

Concerned your nutrients are dropping low?

Fasting is effective with supplements because your body remains in a state of ketosis without carbohydrates, keeping the benefits of fasting.

I add a sprinkle of salt to water if exercising or fasting longer than 24hrs to top up electrolytes and keep bodily functions working. Caveat below.

If the hydration snippet and supplement advice above wasn’t enough, then really consider additional reading the longer you plan to fast, to know what to expect and how you might counter that. More information on electrolytes and proper hydration can be found here.

Dr. Alan Goldhamer who is the founder of the most successful 40-day water fasting clinic, as a medical solution to severe conditions, is naturally an expert on long-term fasting. Listen to Rich Roll’s podcast with him, specifically skip to 1hr 5 minutes, where he explains the reason for limiting fasting times to 40 days because of nutritional deficiencies and complications at longer periods. Bare in mind that you shouldn’t try anything like this long without professional medical supervision and care. Furthermore, he emphasizes that their program does not use supplements generally, but monitors potassium as their baseline nutritional warning, so consider having some of that in your supplements for longer fasting periods.

Family fasting: 2-Jul-22: My cousin Henry tried fasting to lose weight, but he also enjoys pushing his body’s limits from time to time. I kind of have an all-or-nothing personality, so calorie deficit just doesn’t cut it. I need the hard change from eating to not eating.” In just 4 days he dropped a whopping 6kg down to 95kgs. Henry admits “there were nay-sayers decrying negative health implications” but was adamant to prove its’ health benefits with sensible breaks between long fasts. “Plus with my guru Luke, to turn to for support…”

To date, he had already completed three water fasts, and in his personal experience: “The first days are the hardest. Your energy picks up around day two onwards, and you feel great.” He found mornings harder than evenings, but he had a little psychology trick. “I tell myself little lies. Stuff like “I’m quitting tonight” or “all out on evening dinner”, but by the time dinner comes, my cravings are gone so I can push through to the next day.” – Henry

Fast #3: Target 48hrs. 13-Oct-22: After a massive dinner to really pack in the carbs, finishing around 10pm I’m ready to give it another go. A good friend has inspired me, who is planning even longer, with which I hope to share his experience with you also.

14-Oct-22: Friday morning starting work feels no different, if anything still full from the previous nights’ dinner. Later morning and at lunch I’m only thinking about food because of my habitual snacking nature, especially the almost ceremonial nature of snack breaks. I did a light workout and run for lunch, and did a full body home workout for dinner. Today I had two coffee, cacao & mushroom blends, with a dash of oat milk, so not entirely purist but no sugar. So far so good.

15-Oct-22: My mate Ben (who is doing the same fast) calls me in the morning, it’s good to check in and see how we’re both feeling and progressing, and despite feeling a little light-headed, we’re both doing good and feeling pretty focused on our relative tasks. I spend my day in the library working through some admin I have to do and don’t think about food much, although I’ve planned a Sunday roast and then do my shopping for a big breakfast. I don’t get the hunger pangs you do when it’s close to meal time, I simply think about all the tasty food I could be eating, and this is emphasized when I’m chopping up some veggies for tomorrow’s fry-up. I go to bed thinking about food…

16-Oct-22: After an intermittent night’s sleep, the morning finally arrives, although I’m not hungry in the traditional sense, just weak. I make sure to down plenty of water, as I’ve let myself get a little dehydrated again. 8am Breakfast time! Feast here we come!! 54hrs

One last tip: Plan your first meal to be both nutritious and delicious, that way you don’t get caught out eating rubbish when you’re absolutely famished.

Sources and go-to’s for more information:

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