If you’re one to be on top of the latest and greatest diet trends, you’ve probably noticed the topic of fasting to be making its way through the most recent cycle. As we dig deeper into the What’s, Why’s and How’s of fasting we’ll see that the concept is in fact not a new one. Although the practice of fasting has somewhat been forgotten, it is actually one of the most ancient healing traditions that’s stood the test of time, practiced by almost every culture and religion on earth!
Our bodies are designed to contract & relax, feast & fast. With a constant supply of food all around us these days, and modern ideas of eating every 2-3 hrs. (plus snacks!), it’s now feast all the time! This can be quite taxing for the body to be constantly working on digesting our food. Our bodies now never seem to get a break and haven’t adapted to this behaviour.
Before we dive in to the details, let’s get a better understanding of what happens when we eat, and digest.
Without getting too technical, it works like this.. we eat, which causes our blood sugar to rise. Insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas) transports glucose out of your bloodstream (lowering blood sugar) and stores it in your liver, your muscles and (you guessed it) your fat cells for future use. The more insulin in the bloodstream, the more fat is stored.
All foods cause insulin to rise, but some (glucose) more than others. The goal is to avoid large fluctuations in blood sugar so that insulin doesn’t transfer too much into the cells. We can manage this by choosing foods that don’t cause blood sugar to quickly spike but rather to keep it stable longer like fats and moderate amounts of protein over sugary & high carb foods. Our bodies have two main sources of fuel, glucose & fat. If glucose is not available our bodies will switch to burn fat stores as fuel. What’s another way to keep insulin levels low? Enter fasting.
What is fasting?
Fasting is the willing abstinence from food for a specific period of time. Intermittent fasting cycles between shorter periods of fasting, and specific periods of unrestricted eating. Fasting times can range anywhere from 12-16hrs. Longer Fasting periods can range from 24-48hrs or longer.
Along with giving our digestive systems a much needed break, and the main attraction of weight loss, fasting comes with a whole host of added benefits.
Benefits of fasting include:
- Lower insulin levels and stabilized blood sugar
- Detoxify and cleanse the body
- Give the digestive system/organs a break to free up energy so healing can begin
- Weight loss as you begin to burn stores of fat
- Reverse aging process
- Improved concentration & memory
- Decreased appetite on non fast days
- Alzheimer’s prevention
- More mental clarity – on fast days people usually note that they experience less brain fog and increased focus.
- Decreased Inflammation, increased energy, better sleep and the list goes on.
Hippocrates, considered to be the father of modern medicine often prescribed fasting stating “to eat when you are sick is to feed your illness”. Even Benjamin Franklin has been known to have said “one of the best medicines is resting & fasting”.
What do the studies show? Research is showing that fasting can reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, optimize energy metabolism and in rodents protect against diabetes, cancers and heart disease. In humans it’s shown to reduce obesity, hypertension, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. According to Dr. Jason Fung, author of The Obesity Code and world leading expert on intermittent fasting, “Once we understand that obesity is a hormonal imbalance, we can begin to treat it. The key to long lasting weight control is to control the main hormone responsible, which is insulin.”
The How to
Best thing about fasting is you can fit it into your life as you want…and it’s free! Here are some of the more common ways to fast.
- 12 hr. fasting – A shorter period of fasting but done every day. A 12 hour fasting period would have you eat 3 meals a day for example from 7 am to 7 pm and abstain from eating anything from 7 pm to 7 am. A simple fast that should be considered a normal daily practice to give digestive organs a break each night. If we were to eat unprocessed food and reduce excess sugars this simple fast would be enough to ward off obesity.
- 16 hr. fasting – A daily 16 hour period of fasting and an 8 hour eating window. For example, this would mean eating from 12 pm – 8 pm, and fasting from 8 pm to 12pm. This means skipping breakfast each day. Some people choose to eat 2 meals during that 8 hour window where others may eat 3 thus can be implemented daily or a few times per week.
- 24 hr. fasting – Fasting time is 24hrs from the time of your last meal to the next. For example, if dinner ended at 8:00pm, then your next meal wouldn’t be until 8:00pm the following day, meaning breakfast and lunch would be skipped the day of your fast. If your last meal was breakfast at 7:00am, then lunch and dinner would be skipped that same day and the next meal would be breakfast the following day 24hrs later. For optimal benefits this length of fasting can be practiced 1-2x per week as recommended by Brad Pilon who popularized intermittent fasting in his book ‘Eat, Stop, Eat’.
What’s allowed on fasting days
Water – still and sparkling – drink plenty to avoid dehydration (can add lemon or lime)
Tea – green, black, oolong, herbal are all allowed (cinnamon can be added)
Coffee – regular or decaf with small amount of milk or cream if needed (no sugar)
Bone Broth – home made (easy recipe below) or store bought (if store bought quality is key, canned broths are no match to a superior organic bone broth). Can be found at health food stores and some organic butcher shops in freezer section. Beef, chicken, pork or fish as well as vegetable broth (although veg won’t have the high mineral content compared to the bone).
What’s not allowed on fasting days
Food – unless taking medication required with food, can eat a small amount of leafy greens
Sugar – no sugar to be added to any drink consumed
Juice – basically liquid sugar – do not consume on fast days
Who should NOT fast? Pregnant women and children need adequate nutrients for growth. Type 2 Diabetics and people with high blood pressure should be monitored by their physician. Women have been shown to have better weight loss results with longer fasting periods.
Fasting Tips for success!
-When hunger signals arise, drink water. They will come and go but do subside.
-If you experience a headache you can add a pinch of sea salt to water to replenish electrolytes.
-If you experience cramping can take a Magnesium supplement or Epsom salt bath.
-Break your fast slowly, don’t binge. Eat a nutritious meal as normal or break your fast with a handful of nuts, some vegetables or warm soup.
– Give yourself an adjustment period, with each fast it gets easier.
The good news? We can have the birthday cake and the Thanksgiving dinner, but when we feast, we should fast.
Easy Bone Broth Recipe
2 med Onions
4 ribs of Celery
Organic animal Bones (Chicken backs, necks, legs, beef bones, or fish bones)
Handful of Parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste
4-12litres of water
Cut celery, carrots & onions in big chunks, add to large pot and sautee in olive oil for 3-5 min. Add bones and fill pot with water. Add parsley and spices and bring to boil. Turn down and simmer for 4-6 hrs (or longer). After cooled, strain and refrigerate. This step makes it easier to skim fat off top. Can be warmed throughout day and used to drink or put into freezer for future fasting days. This easy bone broth can also be made in a slow cooker and cooked for a longer time to extract more nutrients from the bones.