Intermittent fasting

If a one-day water fast feels too frightening, beyond reach, that’s totally okay.  Today in the modern world many people feel the same.  Rather than pushing yourself into something you’re not ready for, intermittent fasting is a less extreme, more easily achievable goal – and it still offers significant health benefits over the long term.

Intermittent fasting consists of simply extending the natural fast you undertake each and every day: the one between dinner and break-fast.  By lengthening the time without food from around 12 hours each night to 16 hours, you allow your entire digestive system to rest more fully.  This is time during which it can regenerate, time in which your whole body can begin to heal – especially given that you’ll be asleep and in ‘healing mode’ anyway during much of this time.

Intermittent fasting is something which works best when done everyday: something which is built into your daily schedule.  In order to reach a daily fast of 16 hours (that is, restricting your eating within an eight-hour timeframe), most people find that the easiest solution is to skip breakfast.  As much as the food industry has relentlessly hammered home the message that breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’, this is entirely untrue.  The morning hours are a period of natural detox; by eating, you disrupt this process, bringing it to a premature end.  Historically, only modern society has emphasised breakfast.  The Romans, for instance, never ate before the afternoon.

At first, though, leaving out breakfast will probably leave you hungry, perhaps even low on energy.  Consequently, you may soon find a certain resistance building up inside you against intermittent fasting.  This is all to be expected until you break out of your old biorhythm of more frequent eating.  But it’s just a matter of time.  A few days.  In the worst case, a week or two.

I always hear the excuse: “I can’t skip breakfast.  I work.  How am I going to survive until lunch.”  Don’t worry, if the Romans were able to conquer most of Europe on an empty morning stomach, so can you!  It’s just a question of allowing your biorhythm to adapt.  In the meantime, one solution to quell your suffering 😉 is to drink a low-calorie morning coffee (eg. with low-fat milk or soya milk).  The caffeine will provide energy while naturally suppressing your appetite, and an intake of less than 100 calories will impact only minimally on morning detox.  This isn’t the best solution for the long term, but it won’t hurt while you adjust.

On a totally non-scientific basis, I feel in my own body the benefits of daily intermittent fasting to be approximately equal to that of ‘regular’ eating plus a weekly 24-hour fast.  Interestingly, if you add up over the course of a week the extra four hours of fasting incurred through daily intermittent fasting (7 x 4hrs = 28hrs), you end up with a duration similar to a one-day fast.  Perhaps this is one reason why, after you’ve grown comfortable with the routine of intermittent fasting, it will be much easier to contemplate moving on to trying a 24- or 36-hour water fast – which itself can provide a springboard to longer, more healing fasts in the longer term.

7 thoughts on “Intermittent fasting”

  1. I have always been told that you must eat or drink some kind of protein and such after a workout to build muscles and to help with recovery. But if I do IF, and workout at night after my dinner, am I going to suffer results? If So, with IF, is it best to workout between your meals? I say between because if I workout on an empty stomach, I get very light headed and risk passing out.
    Also, I am on a 1600 calorie diet, I have read with IF that you need to eat your 1600 calories still everyday, but now it needs to be within that eating period. This seems really hard to do for me because I am just not hungry yet for that next meal. But I also workout alot and need 1600 calories. This may seem very confusing. If so please let me know.

    1. Hi Bailey,
      Thanks for writing. What you’re asking for is a personal training/fasting plan, which isn’t really appropriate here in the general comments section. If you need a personal consultation, I’m happy to help. All I can say right now is that you don’t “need” to eat protein after workouts. For thousands of years, humans have been “working out” (whether it was working in the fields or hunting) without a protein reward immediately afterwards! Also, the fact that you get light-headed on an empty stomach says something about a weakness in your metabolism. Don’t worry, it’s nothing personal, and a lot of people today suffer from this.

      Ideally, though, you should be able to work out on both an empty stomach and after having eaten something. I often run 20km trails on a totally empty stomach and feel fine. It boils down to a question of teaching your body to burn fat when there isn’t a fresh reserve of carbohydrates in your intestines.
      All the best,
      Tallis

  2. I have been doing intermittent fasting for about six months now with a 36 or 48 hour water fast every week. I also managed to squeeze in a 7-day water fast in this period.

    The results of all this has been fairly satisfactory but I think there has been something amiss with my IF. I skip breakfast as I find this easiest to do. I am a night owl and go to bed around 3 or 4 in the morning or later and wake up around noon. I finish the first meal of the day around 2 pm and the second around 8 pm though sometimes it extends to 9 pm.

    I have come to realize from my readings that there is a third factor involved in eating. In addition to a) how much one eats, and b) what one eats there is also c) what time does one eat. It seems factor c) is hugely important. It seems food one eats at night, even if healthy and nutrient dense has harmful effects on the body. I have heard that health practitioners like Jason Fung concur with this view.

    If this is true I have a huge reason for worry as I have to change my entire sleep/wake rhythm and bring myself into line with the circadian cycle, that is go to bed early and wake up early. This would throw me out of my comfort zone and force me to have breakfast and lunch and skip dinner instead of having only lunch and dinner as I am doing now. I can force myself into doing this but is it really necessary? Does what time one eats have any bearing on health?

    Thanks.

    1. Yes, we all have circadian rhythms. The simple fact, though, is that most people don’t live in harmony with the rising and setting of the sun. So how can you expect the biorhythm of when you want to eat to follow a circadian rhythm when your whole lifestyle is out of synch?

      The other simple fact, though, is that there are natural night owls and natural early risers. What are the health risks of forcing yourself into a biorhythm – that of the early risers – which isn’t your own? I bet no-one’s ever done a study on that!

      Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, the most important thing – both hormonally and in terms of your digestive system – is to eat your heaviest meal somewhere in the middle of YOUR day (ie not the immovable circadian day). It should be halfway-ish between waking up and going to sleep. If you look at traditional cultures who are/were more in tune with their bodies than the average modern Joe, this is/was usually the norm.

      It’s also especially true if you’re on IF. You don’t want to go to sleep on a full, undigested stomach. Nor do you want to force food inside yourself soon after waking in the morning.

  3. Tallis, thank you so much for your reply which I found very reassuring and helpful. With all diet/exercise regimes there is no substitute for finding one’s own way which does indeed evolve over time. I first heard about fasting from a Christian friend over 20 years ago who always said that 24 hrs without food does you no harm at all. I thought she was crazy and yet, years later, it just seemed to make sense to give it a go. I have fat to lose but what I particularly like about fasting is the time/convenience benefit – the rest from having to prepare/think about/eat food.
    I have done some 24-hour fasts and have decided to do a 36-hr one through today and tomorrow as it fits with the work commitments I have tomorrow (that’s how I found your site).
    I would like to work up to a much longer fast one day – I read Upton Sinclair’s book and he says that eventually the bad breath, coated tongue etc leave you and the body is fully detoxed. I would like to do that one day. In the meantime, I will begin working my way towards a 3 day fast as well as cleaning up and refining my general diet. Good health to you also, and to one and all reading this site.

  4. Thank you for this website which I have just discovered and find very useful. I am very much a morning person – I get up at 5 and have my first meal around 8.30am, then lunch between 12.30 – 1, then just water/herbal tea until the next day. Is this OK? Eating in the evening really just doesn’t work for me – when I get in from work around 5pm I just want to rest, play piano etc and then go to bed early with a good book. But a lot of IF protocols seem to say that we should be eating at night so I worry I’m not doing it ‘right’.

    1. Hi Clare,

      Glad you’ve found the website useful :-).
      Of course, you’re absolutely right, a lot of IF protocols do stress the fasting element in the morning as opposed to the evening. There’s a reason for this, in that the morning is a natural period of detox for your body following each night’s mini ‘fast’ between dinner and breakfast.

      However, I’m a firm believer in the idea that we’re all individuals and everyone is different – from which it follows that no one solution is going to work for everyone. In terms of our natural, individual biorhythms, it’s a fact that there are both night owls and early birds, not to mention a whole flock of other species in between! It makes sense, therefore, that there’s no single ‘correct’ version of intermittent fasting!

      As much as there are advantages to skipping breakfast in order to practise IF, there are also certainly advantages to the way your own natural version of IF has evolved. First of all, you’re an early riser, so, relatively, you’re not even really eating that early in the day! More importantly, though, is the space you’ve given yourself between your last meal of the day and bedtime. From what you wrote, this must be at least 8 hours or so, right? With such a long gap between lunch and bedtime, it means that your digestion and hormonal system don’t have to be working overtime while you sleep – which means you’re getting a better quality of rest. It means your stomach doesn’t have to produce acid. It means your blood sugars have had time to stabilise, so there’s no need for your pancreas to be producing mass quantities of insulin while you’re sleeping, which, among other things, can lead to obesity.

      In my experience, the ability to be able to go to sleep on an empty stomach is also an indicator for how easily you’ll be able to experiment with longer fasts in the future 🙂

      So all in all, just go with your own natural flow!
      It sounds like it works for you, so don’t let other people’s theories overwrite your own actual direct experience 🙂
      Good health to you,
      Tallis

Leave a Reply