Fasting – the diet time forgot

Its been a while since I last posted here, partly because I decided to put all my efforts into keto sue chef food blog for the last year.  I have gained some followers via Instagram and various Facebook pages I am part of, its been a successful year, as far as I am concerned and I can report that I have lost 72 lbs or just over 5 stone in the last 2 years since I started this blog. This is more weight lost than I ever thought possible as all previous diets never netted me more than 1 stone. I have read a lot of articles (I need to understand the science behind these claims) about the ketogenic -low carb- diet.  For me,the way it works it is nothing short of miraculous. This was underpinned last week when I was listening to a pod cast, and the Dr said ‘I realise I am not hungry anymore’ That is true, I go long periods of time without even thinking about food, not obsessing about what / when my next meal will be. Being able to get petrol without buying something to eat. If not being constantly hungry was the only benefit of the ketogenic diet it would be worth it for me, and maybe that is the point, not obsessing about food allows you to relax about what you eat and that in turn brings with it a host of benefits, almost like a buy one get one free. Increased human growth hormone is one, (read more about this here) said to make us look younger for longer amongst other things. Who wouldn’t want that?

We have become so used to over eating, so not eating 3 (or more) meals a day comes as a bit of a shock to the system, you start to panic, will you starve? Will it mess up your metabolism? Will your energy levels drop and cause you not to be able to function? funny enough the opposite is true, far from starving I now move easier than in the last decade, I have so much more energy.

So is it safe to progress on to not eating anything at all? That seams to have happened quite by chance. Is it possible to lose weight by eating absolutely nothing, and is that safe?I am beginning to think so. As my weight loss journey has progressed and stalled I have fallen into intermittent fasting and have progressed to longer fasts without even trying. I am beginning to think that the oldest and simplest, not to mention cheapest method of weight loss is probably the best way forward. I should point out that fasting is not the same as starvation, I am free to break the fast and eat whenever I want to, some days I start a fast and my body has other ideas,so I eat,there is always tomorrow. The key thing here is to listen to what your body is asking.

Your body has no concept of weight loss, It doesn’t know what a calorie is, It only knows how to process the food you give and provide energy to keep you alive the  in the only way it knows how, it just does its thing ,processing the nutrients you provide and providing energy. In the first place in the form of glucose and when there is no glucose it defaults to its back up -fat and breaks that down in the liver to provide more fuel its priority is to create an environment where we can survive at all costs. All the time there is a fat supply it will use it or fuel in the absence of glucose.

How did we get fat?

Its important to understand that laying down fat for the lean times ahead is a natural thing for the body to do, the problem is, these days we are never truly hungry, we are out of touch with our hunger hormones, there are no lean times ahead for most of us, food is plentiful and we take full advantage of that fact, we eat breakfast, mid morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner and then maybe a snack in front of the telly, not forgetting a little something just before we go to bed. This has been encouraged, I have a NHS diet leaflet telling me to eat 6 serving of carbs a day perpetuating the myth, its important to keep our energy levels up or we might feel feint if we skip a meal. When its laid out like this I think we can all see that that is more than we really need.  Your tummy is rumbling so it needs to be fed, right? Kind of, yes your tummy may want some more food but  the more you eat the more you want. Its easy to override the signals. It goes back to the addictive nature of certain foods ,especially  sugary, simple carbs, these get digested and broken down quickly and find their way into our blood stream ready to to supply the energy we needand it then sends out a signal for more as your blood sugar and insulin try to balance each other.  If we are active busy people it gets used up , if its not needed  or your insulin doesn’t work as well as it should it goes off for storage as fat for later . So its easy to see that if we make more fuel than we need it gets stored and never gets to come out of storage because we always have a constant supply of fuel at the ready.  It is easy to assume its just a calorie issue but its actually about the hormones,they govern every action your body makes.  Any time the body put on weight, its a sign that insulin decided to  store fat for another day, because you are not using it up as you eat,  so what can we do about it?

If you look at all the diets that are available, they all have key factors the same. They reduce the amount of sugar,and processed foods you eat, they cut back on things like bread, and other simple carbohydrates, they tell you to eat things like brown rice/pasta or whole grains to fill you up for longer, and get you to fill up on more veg. They package them differently but essentially they are the same. This is because they know what works for your body, greens are good for you no one ever got fat eating green veg  so they are not prohibited.  But what about not eating at all? balancing out your energy consumption with a period of not eating anything? This is fasting and is very effective, and if you study naturally thin people you will find that they fast without even thinking about it. They might skip breakfast, or work through lunch because they ‘forgot ‘ to eat. They ‘don’t fancy’ any cakes or biscuits in the staff room and never eat in front of the telly, they can even decline to eat nibbles when they’re round at a friends house. They are also I suspect never hungry, by contrast overweight people, always feel hungry, never seam to feel satisfied with their food,and eat almost in a auto pilot mode, giving no thought to what they are eating. I don’t suppose you have ever thought about it but if you eat your dinner in the evening and then don’t eat until the next morning, why do you not die in your sleep? when you haven’t eaten for 12 hours, are you hungry when you wake up in the morning? Is your first action when you wake up to grab a chocolate bar because you can’t wait till you get to the kitchen? Do you think that you should eat because its been 12 hours since you last ate? or because you love Rice Crispies, or because you have a busy morning and you are not sure when you will get another chance to eat?

My point is that most of our eating has nothing to do with being hungry its more about doing what we are conditioned to do. Did your mum freak out if you left for school without breakfast? Did she insist on a snack when you came home from school? Were you told to finish all the food on your plate because there were starving children in the world? Or maybe you could only have a pudding if you ate your dinner and you ate everything because you wanted pudding even though you were full. When I grew up there were no snacks, because ‘it would spoil my dinner’ and it was good to be hungry, food was expensive and it was important that I ate it.

Your body is well tuned and knows what to do all the time, did you get up at 3am this morning because you were hungry and your body needed to re- fuel? During your sleep it rests and repairs, if it needs more fuel it knows it can get some from the fat stores you have. This is normal . So to lose weight you need to allow your body to  access the fat store more often, using up the on board supply ahead of filling the  glucose stores with the food you are about to eat.It can use glucose ,it can use fat but not both at the same time.

If we start to reduce the amount of insulin that is released, we can start to change the signals and behaviours in our bodies. All food has an insulin response to some degree, we know about sugar and carbs but protein also will trigger it but not as much,and convert unused energy into fat to be stored for lean times ahead. The lowest  insulin response is made by fat so it makes sense to eat more of it if you are trying to limit your insulin response, this then fills you up more and allows you to go further between meals, this is how I follow  a ketogenic diet. How do we start to fast? You can just jump right in, You probably already do it to some extent, like when you have dinner on Saturday and then have brunch on Sunday and without trying you have gone over 12 hours without eating,  you don’t need to follow a ketogenic diet, but it may help to curb the hunger pangs. Many regions around the world who fast do not follow a keto diet. Its like any skill, start slowly at first and build up when you are happy to progress to the next stage. Aim to eat 3 meals a day with no snacking in between. Then incorporate more fat into your evening meal, this will help you feel full for longer and then you can start to push back breakfast the next morning. Then aim for 2 nutritious meals a day-lunch and dinner in a 6 hour time period this is known as 18:6 lunch at 12 and dinner at 6pm . The next step is to close the eating gap to 4 hours maybe between 3 and 7pm known as 20:4 and finally to a 1 hour eating window 23:1 or one meal a day (OMAD). You can then progress to extended fasts of 24+ hours, this is when full on fat burning ramps up to the max. The real healing benefits start to kick in after 16 hours of fasting. For the first 12 or so hours the body is digesting your last meal, it has plenty of fuel in the form of glucose and is happy, as the glucose supply stored in the liver starts to decline it starts to access the fat supply, this is normal function of survival. The analogy I like  likened the modern way of eating and why we never access our fat store to  having food in your fridge and freezer, if you continue to buy fresh food to fill up the fridge,you never need to defrost the food in the freezer. So miss a meal or 3 and give your body a chance to access the fat store, it takes a bit of practice but It get easier the more you do it, but you need to keep trying.

Autophagy

After 24 hours  of fasting glucose is well and truly used up and fat is your primary fuel source. Most of your daily energy is used by your digestive system,  but during a fast the body is not having to use all its energy up on digestion so  it has time to do some inter-cellular housekeeping and that is a good thing. Your body starts autophagy,a process whereby it renews and replaces damaged cells, it can only do this when it is not digesting food. There are suggestions that this is the process that can remove rogue cells before they become cancerous. It is what we are designed to do, but we don’t give our bodies the chance anymore, its like the rubbish is building up and we don’t give it a chance to take out the bins. It’s this internal rubbish that leads to us feeling sick and lethargic.

If you have a plentiful fat supply you have plenty of fuel, you will not starve, (It might feel like it at times) if you have a fat reserve your body is not going to use your muscles for fuel, its cleverer than that . The longer the fast goes on for strange things start to happen, rather than feeling run down and lethargic people find that after a couple of day without no food, they have so much more energy, this is due to our ancestry, when we needed to hunt for food, we needed energy to continue the hunt, without our bodies ability to use our fuel reserves we would have never survived. The longest fast in recent times lasted over a year – yes a year without food- the man had no ill effects, lost all his excess weight (276lbs) and kept it off.  It may be a bit extreme and I don’t think this is a solution for everyone, but it is about acknowledging that we can’t eat all the time without consequences  and our body cannot be blamed for doing what it is programmed to do, just helping us to survive. Its not recommended to attempt fasting if your BMI is low, which makes sense, as you do not have fat reserves to spare but if you are trying to lose weight it may be an option for you to think about. You should not continue if you feel unwell in any circumstances, there is always another opportunity on another day, and like a muscle it get stronger the more times it is repeated. Just skipping breakfast is a start, pushing your first meal back to later in the day, reminding yourself what it feels like to be truly hungry again.

More reading, explaining the science on this including why fasting is preferable to justcutting calories,  can be found here   https://idmprogram.com/fasting-a-history-part-i/

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