Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 7/13/22
If the term “fasting” brings questions and concerns to mind about whether it will “hurt” or not, this post is for you! Humans have always lived in a way that promoted both feasting and fasting. Our human biology developed to support the fact that we wanted to stay alive but food was not always plentiful. Look around you now – things to eat are quite plentiful for many people! The question is – do they nourish you? Particularly when you can eat as much as you want anytime you want!
There is never one right way to eat because we are all unique beings, but feasting and fasting are quite valuable tools at your disposal to help you optimize your own health. Let’s be clear on what these terms mean, how fasting can improve your wellness, and how to use fasting as a tool to feel better not older!
Table of Contents
- What is Feasting?
- What is Fasting?
- What is Intermittent Fasting?
- 6 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- 5 Stages of Fasting
- Is Intermittent Fasting Hard to Do?
- 5 Gentle Ways to Fast for Improved Health
- The Value of Inconsistency in Fasting
- 3 Intense Ways to Fast for Experts
- Additional Reading
What is Feasting?
Feasting in the food sense refers to flooding the body with food to break down, nutrients to process, and fuel to store in your muscles, liver, and fat. During feasting, lots of work occurs through the body, a large amount of energy is used for your metabolic processes, and many waste products are made within your cells.
Feasting ideally is done with the goal of providing the greatest number of micronutrients possible to the body (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavenoids, polyphenols, etc.) in addition to macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates). Feasting should give the body and brain what they need to function incredibly well. Feasting should be a time of great enjoyment of our meals and appreciation for all that our food can do for us.
What is Fasting?
Fasting refers to your choice to “go without”. You can fast from people (solitude), alcohol (sobriety), sex (abstinence), thinking (meditation), food (intermittent fasting), and more. When you fast, you give your body and mind the time and space it needs to grow, heal, think, and shift into a healthier state. Fasting is a temporary release of something not an requirement to never do something again!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the practice of choosing when and how to limit your eating to less hours or less days for the purpose of improved overall wellness. When you choose not to eat for a long enough time, you allow your body to make use of what is already inside you. Fasting provides time and space for your cells to “clean house” so they remove all the local trash to the liver and kidneys. When you fast in a supportive way, your cells operate at a higher efficiency. Think about your fasting time window as a mini-vacation for your cells. During and afterwards they are happier and more likely to work. Fewer vacations means cranky cells leaving you feeling tired and predisposing you to disease.
6 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been part of spiritual and healthy aging practices for thousands of years. Now, scientific studies have proven what our ancient ancestors and grandmothers always knew – it is not healthy to eat all the time! Intermittent fasting is the term used when you choose to “go without” and apply it to food (rather than alcohol, work, sex, thinand choose when and how to limit your eating to less hours or less days for the purpose of improved overall wellness. Proven benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Improves insulin sensitivity because without new food coming in your pancreas can rest from the intense task of producing the hormone insulin. Insulin is the delivery truck that moves sugar from your blood into your cells. Your cells can also quiet down and rest when insulin stops pounding on the cell walls demanding to be let in with some sugar to deposit.
- Stimulates weight loss because you will need to switch over to using the stored energy in your fat when you are no longer always providing new food as an energy source.
- Triggers autophagy or cellular self-cleaning to get rid of the pieces and parts of cells that are no longer in good working order. As long as you are processing food, autophagy is much less likely. This is particularly true within the brain – yay fasting for brain health!
- Lowers inflammation in the body – did you know eating is an inflammatory act? Think of fasting as a temporary toxin reduction that frees up time to get rid of the inflammatory trash from past meals better. Lower inflammation is your key to reducing your risk of every chronic disease and slowing down your aging.
- Normalizes your hunger hormones including ghrelin (the hormone made in your gut that tells you to eat) and leptin (the hormone made in your fat cells that tell you to stop eating). Fasting also gives your brain cells opportunity to become more sensitive to leptin so that you actually stop eating!
- Boosts your confidence in yourself, in your food choices, and in your ability to feel in control of your own wellness! Yes, fasting will improve your psychological health in addition to helping your body.
5 Stages of Fasting
The benefits of fasting kick in after different amounts of time. Depending on your wellness goals, you will want to aim for one of the following stages more often than the others:
- Fed or Growth ~ 0-4 hours after eating ~ This stage is an intense time of food processing, blood sugar rise, sugar storage in your muscles and liver, and hormone shifting.
- Early ~ 4-16 hours after eating ~ In the beginning, insulin and blood sugar start to fall. The longer you wait to eat, the more energy needs are fulfilled by drawing stored sugar out of your muscles and liver. When those are exhausted, energy stored in your fat cells is used.
- Fat Burning ~ 16-36 hours after eating ~ This stage has you fully creating energy by your liver converting fats into ketones for your cells to use instead of sugar (glucose). You are transitioning in ketosis no matter what you ate. Your base metabolic rate slows to improve efficiency and you use up those low density triglycerides! Benefit – as ketones rise your hunger hormone ghrelin should decrease.
- Prolonged ~ 36-120 hours after eating ~ Some people call this starvation mode because you are using up your fats and proteins (muscles) in order to keep your body going. This stage of fasting also boosts your growth hormones to support healing and cell regeneration. Choosing to wait this long to eat again is an advanced level fast which is not right for everybody but has significant health benefits that happen fast! This is not a time to do anything challenging physically or mentally as this is a time of healing.
- Ultralong ~ 120+ hours after eating ~ Wow, that’s a long time to not eat! This extended fast time should be planned for, supervised, and supplemented with electrolytes and other minerals so you do not end up sicker than when you started. This type of fast will be incredibly detoxing and healing but it can also be quite dangerous – and not in a good way.
Is Intermittent Fasting Hard to Do?
Everything new is hard! When you learn about your options, tools that help, actions that hinder, and get adjusted then like everything else fasting gets easier. You should not be suffering when you fast but you might be uncomfortable in the beginning or when you are pushing yourself in a new way. Hopefully, as you learn and adapt fasting becomes pleasant and then joyous and then nothing worthy of mentioning because is now normal and natural.
If you are a beginner, take heart in acknowledging that you already have a fasting period while you sleep! We start there and expand! Successful fasting requires listening to your body to see what is working and what is not. If something is not working, then shifts are made – likely on a daily basis. It’s science! That’s why I am here to help you when you opt into the Fasting Program for Women.
5 Gentle Ways to Fast for Improved Health
12 hour fast: If you stop eating for 2-3 hours before bed and sleep 7-8 hours, you are already so close to a 12 hour fast! You just need to push that eating window a little farther from your sleep (both before and after) and you will be set! This is a great goal for those new to fasting. A 12 hour fast is one that most people can do daily for decades with great success. Just as your grandmother might have done without knowing the health benefits!
12+ hour fast: The longer your fasting time window, the shorter your eating time window. You could eat over a 10 hour window (14 hour fast), 8 hour time window (16 hour fast), or a 6 hour window (18 hour fast). Men can consistently fast for longer times then women because they are higher in testosterone. Women’s fasting times can be long too, but should vary in order to have happy hormones and a happy brain. Postmenopausal women have an easier time fasting than women of childbearing ages.
Bulletproof Intermittent Fast: In order to avoid feeling hungry, acting grumpy, and shrinking your thinking ability while learning to fast, you can play with your fat versus carbohydrate intake time windows. A Bulletproof Intermittent Fast limit your carbohydrate (complex sugars) to a smaller time window than fats in order to encourage your body to better use fats and to increase metabolic flexibility. You can take in healthy fats in the morning (like butter or MCT oil with your coffee!) to keep your brain going hours before you start eating and processing proteins and carbs.
Protein Fast: If your focus is on inflammation reduction and disease prevention, a protein fast one day a week might be an excellent tool for you to layer into your existing food choices. On your protein fasting day, you opt out of the main food sources of protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts) and just get a little bit (15 grams or less) from all the food you are eating. A protein fast kickstarts the process of autophagy or the breakdown of cells that are damaged or broken. You will be creating new you!
One Meal A Day (OMAD): The name is quite descriptive! Optimally, your meal is eaten around 1-2 pm during the brightest sunshine part of the day in order to work with your circadian rhythm and hormones. For women, this is typically done occasionally but not daily for extended periods of time. If you overdo OMAD, you will find yourself with poor sleep, low hormones, and losing hair – all not good! Incorporating OMAD beneficially should result in some pretty fabulous improvements in your health markers!
If you are curious about fasting but nervous and want some guidance so you are successful, let’s find time to talk about my Guided Fasting Program for Women!
The Value of Inconsistency in Fasting
A healthy body can do whatever you want whenever you want it done. It is resilient and adaptable to whatever life throws at you. This includes your metabolism in addition to your thoughts! There is no one way to eat or fast or live that works all the time. It is to your advantage to build in flexibility to your diet including when and how you eat. As you explore fasting as part of your wellness lifestyle, keep in mind that more fasting is not always better and that changes on a daily basis are good!
It is perfectly acceptable and perhaps even optimal to eat for 8 hours one day and 12 the next if you do not sleep well in between. It might be a terrific idea (once you build up to it) to do OMAD one day and eat for 10 hours the next. Play with it. Track your eating/fasting pattern (which is easier than tracking your entire diet!) using a cool app like Zero, Fastient, or Fast Habit (all free with optional paid upgrade). I’d love to help you make fasting one of your wellness habits for anti-aging and health!
3 Intense Ways to Fast for Experts
- Alternate Day Fasting: Not all days have to be same. Your body’s resilience increases when you change things up frequently. Some people choose to at over a larger time window one day (8 hours) and a shorter one the next day (1 hour). Others might choose to eat normally one day and drastically reduce their calories the next (down to 500-600 calories). Doing this by accident and feeling like crap is not the goal!
- 5:2 Fast : In this version of fasting, you eat as you normally do for 5 days a week and on the other 2 days you drastically reduce your caloric intake down to 500-600 calories. This is not much food at all. A 5:2 fast is better for weight loss than it is for stimulating improved cellular health. It does not work for me yet, but who knows what I might be up for in the future!
- Water Fast: Yep – the idea here is that you drink water and other clear liquids for a period of about 3 days to provide a beneficial shock to the body without creating undue stress. You absolutely work up to a water fast – it is not a starting point for a beginner. At the 3 day mark, you really activate your stem cells for regenerative healing but be gentle with your expectations!