My first experiment with fasting (not for weight loss).
Why fasting you might ask? I first got interested into fasting by reading Yogananda, who recommends to fast 1 day per week and 3 days per month. He explains the benefits of fasting from a spiritual point of view. At that time for me even skipping a single meal out of my 3 daily meal plus snack routine was inconceivable. Then I have heard Osho talking about fasting and… well you know, Osho relentlessly bashed the traditional ascetic approach, which denies the body. Osho condemned as nihilism the path of renunciation and the division between material and spiritual, body and mind, where of course the body is the loser, causing an infinite array of problems. To me that made absolute sense and my fasting project went on the back burner.
However recently I started experimenting with my nutrition and for over a year now I only eat twice a day without snacks in between. This is technically known as intermittent fasting; or more precisely restricted feeding period. It is based on the idea that the human body is not designed to being constantly fed. In fact, our ancestors never had the luxury of constant food availability that we enjoy today. It seems that the body responds better to a feast/fast routine. This explains why we accumulate fat when ingesting food. Why would the body carry fat storage (energy), if it does not need to access it in case of food scarcity? Due to the extra availability of food today, it has become very difficult for people to access this energy storage. This may explain the epidemic of obesity and other metabolic diseases like diabetes type 2, heart conditions, high blood cholesterol and pressure. Paradoxically nowadays we have to self-discipline ourselves to experience food scarcity.
Framed in this new context, going through fasting periods is not a self-inflicted torture or denial of the body. Quite the opposite: it is the most natural and healthiest way to absorb nutrients and fuel the body. It is how the body is genetically programme to function. My health improved dramatically simply by eating less frequently. It is not just about what to eat – clearly this is crucial – but equally important is the feeding time, when to eat.
So after positively experimenting with intermittent fasting, I started to push it a bit further and eventually I set myself up for a 7-day fasting challenge. And? Well, unfortunately I had to break the fast after 75h because at the end of the third day I just did not feel good and by no means I wanted to suffer.
So why you may want to experiment with fasting? What are the benefits of fasting?
First of all, let’s dispel some fears and myths which prevent so many people to even consider fasting as an option:
1. Fear of starvation - during fasting the metabolism actually revs up and burns stored fat for energy. There is no risk whatsoever of starving or decreased metabolic rate. That is caused by chronic malnutrition or prolonged restricted caloric intake.
2. Fear of muscle loss – this only happens when body fat is lower than 4%. In fact, during fasting protein oxidation decreases. Muscles are not designed to store energy and the human growth hormone is released to keep lean body mass.
3. Fear of low blood sugar – contrary to the conventional wisdom, the body does not need to ingest glucose for our blood glucose to remain normal. When glucose is not available, the body burns fat and produces ketone bodies for energy. Also during fasting the body breaks down glycogen to provide glucose, it is a normal process which happens every night to maintain normal blood sugar level. And when this glucose is over, a process called gluconeogenesis kicks in: the body produces new glucose using proteins (when available) and glycerol (fat).
4. Fear of overeating – do not worry, you are not going to stuff yourself up to compensate for the lost food. Quite the opposite: your body hormones will re-set, including insulin and the hunger hormone ghrelin, which signals satiety and prevents overeating.
Personally, I am interested in fasting for its neurological and detox benefits.
During my fasting state, I have experienced increased mental clarity and a sense of hyper-alertness. I read a whole book in record time, retaining most of the information. I felt like I had a super-memory. From an evolutionary point of view, this makes sense: during food scarcity humans need to function at their best to get food. On the contrary, when satiated, humans experience relaxation or “food coma” – ah, those dreadful meetings at 2pm!
Fasting is also known for its anti-aging effect, in particular due to a process called “autophagy”, which simply means replacement of cellular components. It is basically a cellular cleansing, a sort of cellular debris removal, which at the same time ignites the cellular renewal process governed by the human growth hormone.
I must say that even though I have only fasted for 3 days out of my 7-day target, I am even more intrigued to experiment further. As a result of fasting, my meditation practice became easy, my mind was calm, relaxed, positive and I felt a general sense of peace and well-being. This is possibly due to the genetic, biological and physiological processes involved.
Fasting is the oldest dietary intervention in the world. It is not the latest and greatest, not something to do rather something not to do. It is simple, free (it saves you lots of money), convenient and easier than you might think. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.