Having just published my first book “The Boda Fast“, fasting is obviously a topic that I’m pretty passionate about.
I did my first fast about 13 years ago at a fasting retreat centre called Dharma Healing in Thailand. Ever since then I’ve incorporated fasting into my health maintenance. Up until more recently fasting was something I’d do just when I needed to detox but in the last 18 months I’ve been experimenting with fasting so that became something incorporated on a more permanent basis in my life.
I’ve now settled into a pattern where I’m intermittent fasting 80-90-% of the time and most months do a 5 Day Smoothie & Juice Fast (as a business we do monthly “Group Smoothie & Juice Fasting programs” which I lead and usually participate in) .
I hear some of you saying, why on earth would I do that to myself and perhaps thinking I must not really care much about food. The truth is I love food which is partly why I incorporate fasting into my everyday lifestyle because it allows me to fully enjoy food (even my not so occasional indulgences) whilst easily maintaining healthy balance).
By making Intermittent Fasting my way of eating, I’ve found that I naturally maintain a strong and fit physical appearance, keep my energy levels and mental clarity high and it enables me to manage my stress levels better.
In this post I thought then that I’d break down intermittent fasting, explain what it is, what some of its benefits are, whilst relating how I’ve made it work for me.
If you like this post and would like more ideas on healthy living then you can receive my free regular newsletter by clicking here . By becoming a member you’ll also receive a free chapter from my book “The Boda Fast“.
So what actually is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating, where you schedule your meals so that each day you benefit from putting your body into a “fasted state”. It is not a diet in the sense that it changes what you eat (although you tend to eat better because of it), rather it changes when you eat.
The “fasted state” begins as soon as your body has completely finished digesting your last meal. Depending on what you’ve eaten and the strength of your digestion this typically takes between 8-12 hours . In other words a meal heavy in animal protein and or saturated fats will take more like 12 hours, whilst an easier to digest, plant based meal takes more like 8 hours.
How does it work?
There are various applications of the principle of Intermittent Fasting (IF) but in its most basic and common form it basically means either skipping breaking or dinner and then eating within an 8 hour window. For instance if you skipped breakfast, you would have your first meal at say 12 or 1pm and then eat up until 7 or 8pm. Thereafter there is 16 hours before your next meal (breakfast or lunch the next day again at either 12 or 1pm). Even if that last meal you had took 12 hours to digest, there is 4 hours in the “fasted state” gained.
An alternate IF schedule is to skip dinner, which is what I do (and will explain how that works for me later in this post).
What is the main benefit of the Fasted State?
There are two main benefits to putting your body into a fasted state;
1. You get to burn stored fat
- After eating (the “fed state”) our insulin levels are typically high. Insulin regulates our blood sugar levels but more particularly it is our “fat storage hormone”. When insulin level is high in the blood (common in the typical modern diet due to our high GI food intake along with animal proteins) it results in excess calories being stored as fat.
- When eating every 2-4 hours insulin levels therefore remain constantly elevated making it more likely that we store fat (and insulin itself inhibits fat burning).
- Chronically high insulin levels leads to “insulin resistance” which in turn leads to obesity, diabetes and other “inflammatory health conditions”.
2. You get to lower cellular inflammation and allow the body to effectively detox and regenerate
- A by product of digesting food is that there is always a degree of “oxidative stress” on the body as nutrients (and toxins) are broken down and processed. (Animal foods, processed foods and cooked food in general create far more oxidative stress than raw plant food). With oxidation, free radicals are formed which damage collateral tissue, which brings with it an immune system (“inflammatory response”). In the inflamed state now, our cell’s activity is compromised with less going in and out of the cells.
- When the body reaches the “fasted state” this mini war going inside us finishes and the cells are unburdened and in this “rested” state get an opportunity to do some “house keeping”. Hormonal balance is restored, and in particular the cells get a chance to flush out stored toxins (which coincides with burning stored fat – see above). Also endogenous enzymes, freed from having to help out on digestion and dealing with inflammation, now get a chance to repair and rejuvenate bodily tissue.
Others benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Whilst the above two points provide good physiological reason for promoting the fasted state regularly in our bodies, there are several other good reasons.
1. Intermittent fasting makes your day simpler.
- By eating one less meal a day, it’s one less meal that needs to be planned, which makes life a bit simpler.
2. Intermittent fasting is easier than dieting
- Once you get over the idea that there is a period where you are not eating, intermittent fasting is remarkably easy to implement. Diets are easy in contemplation, difficult in execution. Intermittent fasting is the opposite – difficult in contemplation but easy in execution. Whereas a low carb diet may be difficult as you end up dreaming about comfort foods you’re missing like bread and sweets, but with IF once started there is no worries about what and where to eat for at least one meal of the three meals per day.
3. Metabolism is improved making snacking and unhealthy food less common
- In the fasted state, insulin sensitivity improves meaning that energy is generated more efficiently so that cravings for quick sources of energy (i.e starchy carbs, sweets etc) are reduced. In fact in the fasted state because you’re burning stored energy (fat), this is actually a steady, calm fuel so most of the time you have little urge to eat at all.
4. It helps you live longer
Calorie restriction or fasting is the one and only intervention which has been scientifically proven to consistently extend lifespan in longevity studies. This has been demonstrated over and over in studies with mice who’ve had fasting imposed upon them and also in a study demonstrating that fasting on alternate days lead to longer lifespans. This research is also validated by looking at the world’s longest living populations such as the Hunza’s from remote Pakistan who eat less than half the daily calories of a modern western diet and typically only 2 meals a day, with the first meal at noon.
5. Reduces the risk of cancer & cardiovascular disease
Studies such as this conclude that fasting appears to not only reduce the risk of cancer, but also cardiovascular disease. Following the above detailed anti-inflammatory effect of fasting, it makes perfect sense that fasting provides this protective effect.
How I personally integrate Intermittent Fasting in my life
For me, Monday to Friday (particularly Monday to Thursday) I often don’t get home until 8pm or sometimes later. It makes most sense then to not have dinner. If I do want something then I just have soup, so the rule I try and keep to is to not consume anything solid after 2pm. Of course there are Friday nights or evenings on the weekend where I will have dinner with family or friends, in which case I’ll then skip breakfast the next day. Actually, because I like breakfast foods, particularly my Superfood Smoothie, I’ll actually still have that smoothie the next day but I’ll have it at 12 or 1pm.
This schedule suits me, I’m more often than not, not very hungry when I get home anyway and the thing I like most about it is that it makes it easier for me to wake up early the following morning. I like to get up at 5am Mon-Sat and do an hour of yoga, followed by half an hour of meditation. I find that waking up in the “fasted state”, there is less inertia, I’ve typically slept better and I’m more flexible (less inflammation in the body).
Another advantage is that having eaten during the daytime and not the evening I can burn off those calories moving around,. By skipping dinner (or having just vegetable soup), when I wake up and exercise I’m exercising in a fasted state where I’m already burning fat and then my exercise further promotes the burning off of fat. Fat burning and detoxing go hand in hand, so I get a good degree of detoxing done everyday by following this eating pattern.
Whilst the above may sound very structured, I’m not fanatical about this, my goal overall is to establish habits that guide my behaviour 80-90% of the time, the rest of the time I do whatever I like. Experimenting with your diet provides another way to push your boundaries and grow. Although I’m far from perfect with my dietary practices, intermittent fasting has provided a very practical means for me to allow my body to reset itself on a daily basis. Like everything in life it is a work in progress and to achieve success it requires some discipline but I’m finding it worthwhile.
As is the case with anything to do with diet though, it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone. As unique individuals the challenge for all of us is to find out what is right for us. Hopefully though this insight into IF will give some of you some motivation to think about it further as a possible health promoting strategy.
If you’ve had experience yourself with IF or have views of your own on it, or have further questions, please post a reply by clicking here.
Aaron is author of “The Boda Fast” a 3 Step, “Supported Fasting” program designed to quickly lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality.