Fasting simply means to intentionally abstain from calories for some set amount of time. Up until 5 years ago, the only people who were fasting were doing it for religious reasons. Recently, however, fasting has gained popularity in the health and fitness industry and is commonly put under the umbrella term Intermittent Fasting (IF). I have started experimenting with 24 hour fasting this year in an effort to help me reach my weight loss goal. Intentionally not eating sounds horrible but my overall experience has been positive.
Why I Started Fasting
This year I set a goal for myself to go from 193lbs down to 170lbs without tracking calories (currently at 176lbs). The without tracking calories is really the tricky part of the goal. Losing weight is rather easy when weighing, measuring and tracking every calorie. Just keep dropping the calories and the weight will keep dropping. I promise. That is how I went from 205lbs to 163lbs after finishing grad school. The issue is all that weighing and measuring is time-consuming.
In the past, I would hit my goal, start seeing some abs and decide I am lean enough and can stop dieting. The maintaining part was always the killer for me. This year I wanted to try something new. I started with the crucial goal setting first steps then decided I would experiment with fasting.
How I Fast
I originally started with 16/8 “Leangains Fasting”. This means that you fast for 16 hours and then eat during an 8-hour window. What this usually looked like for me was to stop eating at 8:00 pm, sleep, skip breakfast, eat at noon the next day, then stop at 8:00 pm and repeat. I stopped after a few weeks because this required a daily discipline to a dieting style and I can still eat a lot of food in 8 hours.
After that, I started experimenting with 24 hour fasting, 1 or 2 times per week. This “program” is commonly called Eat Stop Eat. This just means after dinner at 8:00 pm don’t eat again until 8:00 pm the next day. I typically fast on Friday as I tend to be busier on Friday so I don’t have as much time to think about food. If I have had a particular glutenous weekend I will fast again on Monday or Tuesday.
I also tend to fast when traveling and trying to stay in shape. This is a great way to save time and money in the airport and on the road.
Benefits of 24 Hour Fasting
1. Easier Weight Loss
Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit. Don’t believe anyone who tells you anything else. Quality of food is important but without a caloric deficit, you won’t lose weight. Just look at the “Twinkie Diet” where a man ate nothing but twinkies and lost 27 pounds.
I have found 24 Hour Fasting to be kind of the “ripping the band-aid off” approach to creating that deficit. It isn’t really fun not eating all day but it is only once or twice a week. With traditional dieting, you are always in a slight deficit and always just a little bit hungry. So you are either spreading you pain out over the whole week or just getting it over with in a day.
2. Better Sense Of What Hunger Is
The first time you perform a 24 hour fast you will notice something very strange about hunger. It comes in waves. If you normally eat breakfast at 7:00 am you are going to get “hungry” right around then. The amazing thing is if you don’t eat and just wait 30 minutes the feeling just goes away. It doesn’t keep getting worse and worse and worse throughout the day.
This is caused by your body releasing ghrelin. Ghrelin is referred to as the hunger hormone. This hormone is what triggers you that hey it is lunch time and we usually eat now. By fasting, you will learn the difference between a hormone signal and your stomach truly being empty.
3. Increased Appreciation For Food
Once my 24 hour fast is over I am so appreciative for whatever food I am about to eat. The flavor and smell just seem more intense and I am able to eat slowly and enjoy every bite. It is strange as I would have expected myself to just binge eat for hours. Instead, I get more enjoyment out of eating a normal amount of food.
This also has had a small carry over to my non-fasting days. I find myself taking a moment to just be thankful for two seconds before eating. Being a little more mindful helps you to enjoy your food and helps prevent overeating.
4. More Time
I was amazed at how much time I spent on food every day. It is crazy. You won’t realize it until you completely skip it all. The time it takes to prepare, pack and eat all of your meals is shocking. I estimate that I get an extra 2 hours on my fasting days. Instead of sitting around eating lunch with your coworkers for an hour talking about football you can spend that hour working on your goals.
5. Saves Money
My typical cost for food from the time I wake up until dinner is $4.45. That is 2 eggs, a protein shake, 8 oz chicken, 1.5 cups of rice, 2 cups of veggies, 1oz of olive oil, 1 banana, 1 apple, 1 tbsp peanut butter. If I skip all of that then my cost goes to $0.00. Not an earth-shattering amount of money but it adds up.
24 Hour Fasting, 5 times a month would save me $267 per year.
6. Tons of Cool Potential Health Benefits
So beyond all of the instant benefits you gain from 24 hour fasting there is also a pretty extensive list of health benefits. Not all of these are 100% proven in humans but there is very strong evidence supporting each. A lot of the health benefits are attributed to a process called Autophagy. This process involves the body eating itself. Sounds bad but it is actually doing clean up duty and destroying or repairing damaged cells in the body and brain. Fasting triggers Autophagy because it gives your body a break from digesting and processing food to do some house maintenance. Our bodies are so cool.
- Longevity – Who doesn’t want to live longer? Studies have been done on worms, rats, and monkeys which also show increased mortality and improved health markers.
- Improved Blood Work – Studies have been done on obese humans showing that alternate day 24 hour fasting improved LDL, HDL and triglycerides 25-32% in 12 weeks.
- Increased Growth Hormone – Growth hormone is the fountain of youth drug that celebrities are always bragging about injecting to help with skin, energy and muscle tone.
- Improved Fat Burning During Workouts – Without glycogen (carbs and sugar) to burn as fuel your body results to breaking down fat for fuel.
- Lower Blood Insulin – Studies in humans have shown you can actually reverse type 2 diabetes with fasting. Some fasting protocols in the study were pretty long though.
- The Cure for Cancer?? – This is a big ole maybe but there have been some really compelling studies done on mice and chemo patients which show promise.
24 hour fasting performed about once a week has been extremely helpful for me and could be for you. I have been doing it now for about 6 months and see no reason not to keep doing it indefinitely. There are a bunch of instant benefits you get in terms of helping you to shed some pounds but the potential health benefits are really compelling.
If you want all of the details and science on fasting Dr. Jason Fung is one of the experts and has written a complete guide to his recommendations on fasting.
Have you ever tried or considered trying any form of fasting? What protocol were you using and was it helpful or terrible?