Tools for fasting success: What you need

Losing weight and becoming healthier isn’t about buying expensive plans or special food.

It’s not about fancy gym memberships costing tens of thousands of dollars a year either.

I know this. I’ve tried these methods, and none of them worked.

To lose weight, you need to fast regularly. This will burn off the sugar in your system, then lower your overall calorie intake over the long term.

The good thing is, you don’t need many tools to fast successfully.

Tools for fasting successfully

Scales: You need a reliable scale – or a pair of tight-fitting jeans to measure your loss by. I prefer the “jeans method” myself!

Water bottle: You also need a decent sized water bottle to keep at your workplace and carry around with you. Drinking plenty of water is the key to successful fasting – it helps physically as well as emotionally, because you feel like you’re having something, even though you’re not.

Teas: I find a selection of lovely, high quality teas helps me work through difficult periods of a fast, especially for the times of the day when the rest of the family is eating and I’m not. I curl up in a ball on the sofa, and sip my tea, and I feel like I’m enjoying a treat and some solitude, rather than depriving myself.

Keeping busy: Keeping yourself busy is critical to a successful fast. I usually start my fasts on a Sunday night, so I’m fasting on work days, and am busy. The hardest times are weekends or times when I don’t have a lot to do, and food starts taking over my brain.

A notebook: You may find a little notebook useful. I write down how I’m feeling, how I’m coping, and even a ridiculous list of “all the food I want to eat right now” when times are tough on a fast. Weirdly enough, when I actually write down the foods I’m craving, the cravings go away. Maybe it’s because I usually crave junk food, but when you actually think about junk food deeply, you realise it doesn’t actually taste that good!

Waterfasting forum: The waterfasting forum s a great support network for people who are fasting. Keeping in touch with like-minded individuals who are going through the same things you are going through can really help a lot. There’s a link on this page. It’s free, and very worthwhile.

Metamucil: While technically a “cheat”, it you feel like you desperately need something in your stomach, a teaspoon of metamucil in some water can really help you feel full. It can also help if you find yourself constipated, which can happen to some people when they fast.

Diary: Everyone fasts differently. I tend to fast from most Sunday nights, continuing through the week until I stop, usually lasting anywhere between 3 and 5 days. That works for me. Others find alternate day fasting works better. Do what works for you. But keeping a diary of when you fast and for how long is invaluable in tracking your progress, what works and what doesn’t and why. Add comments on how you felt, what made you stop if you stopped earlier than expected, and how you’re feeling at various points during the fast.

Happy fasting!

Goal weight: What’s yours?

Are goal weights just fantasy? Do they even make sense from a health perspective?

Everyone who has ever struggled with being overweight has a perfect weight they’d like to be.

For me, being a tall woman with a large frame, my goal weight is around 65 kgs /145 pounds.

Despite the fact that, as an adult I’ve never been that weight, I still have the idea firmly stuck in my head that if only I can reach that weight, everything will be roses, I’ll be perfect, my life will be incredible.

All thanks to a number on a scale.

It doesn’t make sense when you think about it logically. Thinking about it logically, what really makes sense is a) not allowing yourself to get obese in the first place and b) if you are obese, eating well, including fasting in your lifestyle, and heading in the right direction for health.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter how slowly you lose weight. It also doesn’t really matter whether you reach a “goal” or not. What matters is that, this time next year, you’d doing better and feeling better than you are right now.

Having an unattainable goal weight stuck in your head might just be making you miserable. That’s not the key to long life or happiness at all. Time and again, when we interview centenarians, they say “being content” was key to their long life. They all seem to be genuinely happy, thankful people.

So stop fixating on your “goal weight” that may or may not happen. Instead, think of some ways that you can make your life better in a genuine way, that may not have anything at all to do with weight. Go for daily walks with a friend or loved one, volunteer at a charity, write and share something useful and positive, fast for a few days and focus on your own wellbeing and spirituality while you do so.

It doesn’t matter how you make your own life better. Everyone’s version of happiness is different. Just like everyone’s goal weight. Which might or might not ever happen.

So smile. Be content. Be happy. Enjoy the sun when it shines.

Life is too short for numbers on a scale anyway!

Fasting is a high-level sport

Have you ever pursued a sport to a high level? I have. I was a long-distance runner for a while in my youth, then a competitive rower, and far more recently I did bodybuilding and weightlifting.

Sportspeople suffer all the time. It’s part of the deal. Any weightlifter or bodybuilder can tell you how much it hurts to get up a set of stairs after a good, hard leg day! It can be agony (ever wondered why weightlifters don’t like houses with stairs?) Yet in some weird way, you look forward to the pain, and even enjoy it, because you know that it is a part of achieving your goal.

Likewise, runners and rowers and all kinds of competitive sportspeople go through pain too in pursuit of their goals. Even a good long walk can leave you aching the next day. We know this is good for us, we enjoy it, it’s part of the whole package, we accept that, and we feel great as a result. Discomfort is part of the deal, but the rewards are overwhelming.

Fasting is similar. It can be a challenge and at times it can be uncomfortable. The most difficult part is the work that goes on between your ears – getting your brain on right, planning how you’ll deal with challenges, seeing the road ahead of you and knowing you have the resolve to get the job done.

START SMALL

Just like a long race, or a heavy set of squats, I believe fasting is easier when you work up to it. I started with part-day fasts – skipping breakfast, then delaying lunch more and more until I could skip it altogether. Then I missed one day of food, then two, and so on. If we started our new running hobby by attempting a marathon, we’d probably fail. By starting with smaller goals, we achieve success and that encourages us to strive for more and achieve larger goals if we choose to.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE

Yet, just like a marathon or lifting weights, this is not a competition against anyone else except yourself. Fasting is about self-mastery, not competition against someone else’s body or weight or age or ability. Your goal should always be to find your own personal best, not to topple or discredit someone else’s achievement.

So think of yourself as an athlete, in the fast lane. Fasting is a powerful tool – perhaps the most powerful health tool we have available. It would be a shame to refuse it, simply because we’re afraid to try.

Do you need to be religious to fast?

No, although a lot of religious people do fast.

I’m not religious, nor do I come from a religious family. I attended Sunday school when I was a child, then went on to sing in a Cathedral choir for a number of years. My children attend a Catholic school.

So while I say I’m “not religious” on the one hand, I’d say that I’m also quite comfortable and familiar with religion. A lot of people around the world are probably quite similar to me – in that grey area that lists ourselves as “not religious”, yet skirting the sides of the religious community in so many ways.

Fasting is something we see across the world in a lot of the major religions. It’s part of Lent for the Christian world, Buddhists are known to fast regularly, and Jewish people have their days of fasting and feasting. Its been said that fasting is the one thing that most of the major world religions agree on!

However, just because a practice is common in certain religions doesn’t mean you have to be religious to benefit from that practice. If it works, use it! If you want to reconnect with your religious roots, fine, but don’t feel like you have to.

As for me, I didn’t think at first that my fasting had anything to do with my religion, or lack of it. But as I delve more into fasting, and become more proficient at it, I find my mind becoming calmer, and I become happier and more content. I can’t say that I’m feeling the need to go back to church just yet, but I am feeling more at peace with myself. Perhaps you might call it more spiritual (but without the hippie overtones!).

Do what works for you. But don’t think that fasting has to be anything other than a dietary practice for health benefits. What you choose to make of it is entirely up to you. There are no rules. Just be happy, learn more about yourself, and enjoy the journey.

Enjoy the journey…

Shorter fasts are HARDER than longer fasts. Here’s why.

Let’s be honest: Fasting can be HARD. Especially the shorter fasts.

HUH? Did I just say the shorter fasts are more difficult?

Shorter fasts – and fasts where you get to eat, say, 500 calories on alternate days – are much, much harder than longer fasts where you eat nothing at all for a few days.

Let me explain why, because this absolutely makes sense when you think about it.

WE’RE HUNTER-GATHERERS. WE’RE BUILT FOR FASTING

Our bodies are adapted beautifully for fasting. We evolved as hunter-gatherers, our main source of calories was animal foods through hunting, and we’d often goes days or sometimes weeks without much to eat.

Also, our food was seasonal. As anyone who has ever grown a fruit tree would know, nature often provides food in gluts. You either have no peaches or enough peaches for the entire neighbourhood! You either had enough wild buffalo meat to stuff yourself and your tribe, or the buffalo were nowhere in sight. That’s how nature works.

Before modern farming (10,000 year old farming techniques are “modern” to our hunter-gatherer bodies, remember!), our bodies were beautifully adapted to all this by putting on fat when we ate to the point of stuffing ourselves, then living off our fat in lean times in between successful hunting.

Women were – and are – able to store fat even more efficiently than men, because we needed to be able to carry children, give birth and feed them. It all makes sense.

Except now we don’t fast any more, because food is so ridiculously plentiful now that obesity is more common than underweight in the world.

I’m not saying this is bad or good, but it’s the way things are now. If we want to lose weight, it makes sense to return to old patterns of eating and to tap into the eat-fast cycles that our bodies are well adapted to.

WHY ARE SHORTER FASTS MORE DIFFICULT?

Shorter fasts are more difficult because they’re not true fasts. Our bodies keep expecting food, our insulin and ghrelin levels never truly level out, and our bodies never fully move into a fasted state. They’re kept in a limbo – not quite fasted, not quite fed – with the result that hunger is more difficult to manage and the benefits of true fasting never emerge.

WHAT ABOUT ALTERNATE DAY FASTS – WITH 500 CALORIES?

Several “alternate day fasting” programs allow up to 500 calories of food on the “fasting” days, as evidence seems to suggest that those 500 calories do not interfere with weight loss.

Maybe, but I speak from experience that when I tried one of these programs, on the 500 calorie days all I could think about was food. I was hungry all the time. I spent the whole day fantasising about what I might eat, and obsessing about those 500 calories. It wasn’t pleasant.

Eventually – a couple of weeks into the program – I slid off it. With no weight loss to speak of.

Now there seems to be evidence coming out that suggests that people on these programs end up much hungrier than if they ate zero calories on their fasting days. I’d agree with that. I think you’re better off fasting properly, and eating nothing on fast days. It’s much easier.

HOW HARD ARE LONGER FASTS?

Not as hard as you’d think. I’ve found on 3-4 day fasts that the hardest day is day 1, about mid-afternoon. My body hasn’t yet realised I’m fasting, and I’m starting to get hungry because I’ve missed lunch.

At this point, I drink a fair amount of water – at least a litre (four cups) – over an hour or so, and sometimes more. It gives me something to do, and fills me up. It also seems to trick my body into thinking I’ve eaten.

In the end, the only way to figure out what you find hard is to try different lengths of fasts, and see what works for you.

FASTED: Why does fasting make sense?

If you’ve ever gone on a diet – and I have! – you’ll know that the minute you stop the diet, the weight comes back.

I think I can say I tried everything in diets. I’ve done Weight Watchers (twice!), Jenny Craig (expensive!), Joel Fuhrman’s Eat To Live (very expensive!) and dozens more. I lost weight on all of them, to varying extents, only to regain the weight the moment I stopped. They were all paths to failure.

Continuous calorie restriction, which is what all diets are based on, slows your metabolism right down. I’m probably not telling you anything new here. That’s why diets don’t work.

We all knew what would happen to the contestants on The Biggest Loser. We all know why there are no reunion shows five years on!

FASTING IS DIFFERENT

Fasting is different. Because it is on again, off again, your metabolism doesn’t slow down significantly. So the weight stays off.

Your body never “thinks” it is starving and never slows down your metabolism to compensate, because just when it starts to “think” that – hey presto! – you stop fasting. Only to start again a few days later.

In this way, you keep your metabolism on its toes the whole time, never knowing what to expect, and never slowing down.

HOW LONG SHOULD I FAST?

You can fast as much or as little as you like. It’s really common for people to fast 16/8. This means they’re fasting for 16 hours of every 24 hour period, with an 8 hour eating “window” every day.

This seems to be the most common and convenient way for people to fast, and you can do this if you like.

16/8 it is a great way to start, when training yourself for longer fasts which are more useful and effective. But longer fasts are definitely a better way to go.

You see, evidence seems to suggest that ideal fasting length is at least 48 hours (two days), and possibly longer.

This is because it takes at least 12 hours for a lot of people to fully enter ketosis, the point at which they have switched over to burning fat for fuel instead of sugar.

It takes about 18 hours for autophagy to kick in, and 24 hours for inflammation to drop and for cardiac and brain function to improve.

Furthermore, it is at about 48 hours into a fast that stem cell stimulation really kicks in, and your body undergoes all the healing and repair it needs in a huge way.

Watch this video by Dr Berg for more information on fasting.

FIT, FED AND FASTED

Fit, Fed and Fasted teaches you how to work up from fasting just a couple of hours a day through to managing regular longer fasts, unlocking all the benefits they have to offer.

IS FASTING DIFFICULT?

Yes, in the same way that riding a bike is difficult if you’ve never done it before.

That’s why you learn, a step at a time. Learning step by step makes fasting accessible for just about everyone.

Is being hungry really all that awful?

I haven’t eaten in four days. It’s Thursday afternoon now. My last meal was Monday night.

I’m hungry. Right now, a great steak would sliiiiide down real well. Maybe with some chips, or some stir fried veggies – I love my greens! Some chocolate afterwards, sitting on the sofa, watching TV? Hell yes.

Instead, I’ll have nothing tonight. Not until tomorrow evening, when I break my fast.

I decided to do a four-day fast for a whole range of reasons, but one of the main reasons that I keep coming back to was I wanted to know: Is being hungry really all that awful?

Now I know the answer.

It’s one of those questions you never can know the answer to, not unless you try a longer fast yourself. Like riding a bike, you have to get on and do it.

I can’t remember what I had for dinner on Monday night, the last time I ate. You’d think I would be able to, but I can’t. I have the vague suspicion it was lamb roast, but don’t count on it. It might have been chicken.

Whatever it was, I know it filled me up, because I didn’t start to feel hungry until about midday Tuesday.

When, for the first time, I decided not to eat.

That decision was really interesting. I stopped at that point, thought about my hunger for a bit – the point at which I would normally had gone to the kitchen to fix myself some eggs, or some noodles, or maybe a sandwich – and decided not to eat.

I realised, with a shock, that I wasn’t ready to eat because I was actually truly hungry. I was ready to eat because my habits told me to eat.

My hands – not my stomach – needed something to do. My hands needed to put food in my mouth, even if my body didn’t need the food there.

Half an hour later, I wasn’t thinking about food any more. I carried on with my work. The day went on.

STARTING TO FEEL HUNGRY

Not surprisingly, I started to feel hungry again around dinnertime. My partner and I went for a drive to give the car a run, and within a few minutes again, distracted, I wasn’t hungry any more.

I was beginning to learn that my brain seemed to get much hungrier than my stomach!

We got home again, and I sat on the sofa and played a game on my phone while the family ate.

That night – Tuesday night – I slept better than I have in months.

A SECOND DAY OF FASTING

Wednesday morning, and I felt good. I was well rested, and not hungry at all. I’d expected to wake up ravenous, but that did not happen.

It’s true what they say about hunger coming in waves. It’s also true what they say about hunger passing after a while. And it’s true that being distracted helps a lot with hunger.

Wednesday wasn’t too bad at all. There were points when I was hungry, but not really any more hungry than I’ve experienced before in my lifetime. It’s not like it gets worse as you go on.

There are points in between the hunger waves – most of the time, in fact – when you just feel like you usually would. You don’t need to eat, and you don’t feel like you need to eat. You’re just getting on with your day, doing whatever you do (in my case, working from home), and everything is like ordinary.

DAY 3

So here I am on day 3. I know the answer about hunger. Hunger is really not that awful. It’s just another sensation that we in the well-fed West are not used to.

However, I’m in a luxurious position in time and space to be able to say that. While hunger isn’t a bad thing here and now, I have a choice in the matter. I know there is food in the house in plenty.

Any time I choose I can end my fast, go into the kitchen, and get something to eat. There is so much food available to me that I could stuff myself senseless. My hunger is a choice. Others through history have not had that choice. I’m fortunate to be able to choose to fast.

I know I will complete my fast. My first meal will be Friday evening as planned. I’ve learned a lot – about myself, my body, my mind, my habits. All of this would make a fast worthwhile, even without the physical benefits that fasting brings.

I am glad I’ve chosen to fast. I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to try it and is healthy. This is an experience that has been valuable to me, and that I paid nothing for.

I think it is making me a better person. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow through this.

23 April: Day 3

It’s Day 3 of my four day fast.

I’m doing alright, but I’ve actually felt quite hungry today. I woke up this morning, and had a little bit of the shakes when I was first up, but they cleared and I was back to normal within a few minutes. I don’t know what that meant – it didn’t happen right away, it was a few minutes after I got up. Who knows?

It could just be that I was cold, but I figured I’d report them anyway.

Apart from that, my weight is down again. I’ve lost just over 4 kgs (8.8 pounds) so far on this fast, which is incredible. I never thought it was possible to drop so much weight in a week! Of course, a lot of that is water weight, and it’ll come back on, but I think a bit of it will stay off. Certainly it’s enough to make me think that fasting might be a seriously powerful tool for weight loss.

I’m managing to deal with being around food quite well. One thing I didn’t think about before starting on this path was how my children would react to seeing me not eating. My daughter (age 13) in particular is a bit worried about me, and I haven’t really explained what I am doing with her. I think I need to. I just said “I don’t want to eat right now” and haven’t explained it further. I’ll have to do that.

Part of me wants to go longer with this fast now than my intended plan of finishing up tomorrow evening, but I will stick with the plan, and have dinner tomorrow night. Then I will eat normally for at least two days. Then I’ll figure out what I intend to do next.

TWO DAY ALTERNATE FASTING – OR ONE, OR FOUR?

I haven’t really decided whether to go with two days on and off, or one day on and off (traditional alternate day fasting), or four days on and off at a time.

I’m actually thinking I’ll do two days at a time, mainly because it will make food preparation and management easier. By doing two days at a time, I can take advantage of buying multi-packs of meat, larger portions of vegetables and so on, and know that nothing will get wasted. I can also prepare a few meals at a time, and not have to worry so much about freezing food, which I would have to do with the more traditional day on, day off approach.

Apart from that, evidence seems to suggest that with a two day rotation, I’ll get deeper into ketosis, which I have had difficulty getting into in the past. I don’t think I’m insulin resistant – yet – but I certainly have had more problems getting into ketosis than my partner has.

I might see how I go with two days on and off, and see if that works for me. If I find that too difficult, then I’ll switch down to regular alternate day fasting.

PHOTO: Taken at our local park.

I’m thinking that four days at a time won’t work for me on a regular basis. Today (Day 3) I have noticed I’m not as mentally alert as I should be, and I did get the shakes a bit, which might not be a good thing. I want to challenge my body, but not too much.

Why start fasting with a four day fast?

Most people fast just to lose weight, but I’m fasting for other reasons as well, and a longer fast as a starting point is a good way to begin.

A longer fast is kind of like diving in at the deep end – and I’ve always been a diving in at the deep end kind of person! A longer fast will give me stronger results and get things kick started a whole lot better than just fasting for a few hours.

I mean, how hard can it be to go without food for four days?

I guess I want to find out!

I figured I’d start with the goal of four days. If I really couldn’t do it, then I’d stop. But I think I can probably do it. At the moment, halfway through, I feel like I can do it.

WHY FAST AT ALL?

ALLERGIES: Fasting is reputed to really help with skin and allergic disorders, which I’ve dealt with for a lot of my life. My skin is allergic to pretty much everything, and I get hayfever and other allergies as well. I figure a break without eating can’t hurt me too badly. It might even help.

TYPE 2 DIABETES: Fasting is supposed to prevent and even cure Type 2 diabetes. I don’t have diabetes – yet – but I know I am a sitting duck for it, as a close relative has the disease and was diagnosed with it at roughly my age. I don’t want to go down that path.

IMMUNE ISSUES: Fasting is also meant to help with immune issues, and with the coronavirus (wuhan virus / covid 19) going around at the moment, I want to make sure my immune system is as healthy as possible. We’re currently in lockdown here in New Zealand, but we’ll shortly be ending that, and I do not want to fall sick with the virus if I can help it. Fasting should help me improve my immune system and strengthen up against any nasties coming my way.

LOSE WEIGHT: Of course, I also want to lose a bit of weight. It would be really great to get back down to the weight I was when I was a bit younger. Fasting enables people to lose weight without slowing their metabolism. I’ve done the yoyo dieting thing, and found out just how fast my metabolism can slow! I don’t want to lose weight, only to regain it, which has been my experience up until now.