Fasting has always gone hand in hand with religion and mystics. Pythagoras, Plato, DaVinci, Gandhi and countless others practiced fasting for spiritual reasons.
In the strength and fitness world, the mainstream view was that even a short fast would lead to the body shutting down and try to hold on to fat as a survival mechanism. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, blah blah blah… Fasting only was for the religious types, eccentrics or health fanatics like Paul Bragg and was thought as counter productive for fat loss. Recently, more and more people are finding out the benefits of IF (Intermittent Fasting), putting on muscle mass and dropping fat off in the process.
My interest in fasting started after I read “Siddartha” by Hesse Herman. Food and hunger is something quite hard to control for most people. So I wanted to learn to do something about it, just to get mentally stronger.
This is an extract from chapter 6, where Siddartha has a conversation with a merchant. I highly recommend you read the book, there is much to learn in it.
“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
“I believe, that’s everything!”
“And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting– what is it good for?”
“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.”
So basically, I have been fasting on a regular basis since 2000. I just did it. Stop eating after my last evening meal, go a full day without food and start eating on the following day at breakfast, which works out to be a 36 hour fast. I’ve also done a 5 day water fast back in 2002.
Nothing was structured until I read “Eat stop eat” by Brad Pilon in 2007. After reading his book, I switched to a 24 hour fast instead of a 36 hour fast. Doing it once a week was easy and convenient to do.
I found out it was no problem to go without food a whole day, as long as didn’t eat anything upon standing up. If I had even just a piece of fruit in the morning, there was no way I could last a whole day. So remember that, because I have heard people trying to fast from 14:00 to 14:00 the next day and having a bad experience out of it.
I have tried 2 different approaches to fasting in the past, and found out so far, a 24 hour (Brad Pilon) fast once/ twice a week is easier for me to implement than the 16/8 protocol (Martin Berkhan) done on a daily basis or Warrior Diet (Ori Hofmekler).
As it turns out, about 20 hours into a fast is where the most beneficial effects have taken place and end. This is grossly over simplified of course, but I am not the fast expert. If you want to learn more about how it works, what happens and get all the references, read “Eat stop eat”.
Eat Stop Eat is a downloadable eBook on special offer right now, at 10$. Brad’s ebook has the most up to date research about fasting where he debunks myths on fasting, gives you all the benefits and explains exactly how to fast.
Anyway, this post is about sharing what I found out through past experiences or recent reading.
Keep in mind that I am writing about short fasting periods for fat loss, not weight loss. The difference is huge. Fat loss transforms and improves your body composition for the better and makes you look good/ better naked. Weight loss will reduce your weight on the scales, but will not make you look that good naked, as you will have lost lean muscle tissue along with the fat. Think of it a just a slightly smaller and lighter version of the same former self.
For effective fat loss you must follow a strength training program, not just fast!
In truth there are many ways to skin a cat, and great results have been achieved through many different methods. In my experience some people manage to get very lean by doing only cardio. Usually they are under 25. But being lean and looking like a bean pole is not exactly eye candy.
Lots of people rely on daily weight checks and body fat measurements. I’d rather rely on waist size instead, waist to hip ratio and shoulder ot waist ratios.
The waist circumference is the one place that should shrink while shoulders, arms and thighs should keep growing with muscular definition or stay the same. If this happens, I know I am losing fat. How much fat? I do not particularly care to know.
By using ratios between body part circumference, such as the WHR (Waist to Hip Ratio) , the focus about the elusive ideal weight doesn’t matter anymore. This can be liberating for some people, and also encourage people to do some strength training instead of hoping that dieting down and cardio alone will do the job.
WHR formula: waist circumference/ hip circumference
BMI (Body Mass Index) on the other hand, attempts at dictating an ideal weight based on the height of a person.
BMI formula: mass in kg / (height in meters x height in meters)
Harmonious body proportions are pleasing to look at, regardless of the weight of the person. The reverse is not true. You can have a good BMI according to the charts, and still look like you’ve never trained in your life (to put it nicely).
It is not only all about looking good naked. There is medical evidence that the hip to waist ratio is also a reliable indicator of health and has something to say about the risk of developing serious health conditions .
Women with waist-to-hip ratios of more than 0.8 are at increased health risk because of their fat distribution.
Men with waist-to-hip ratios of more than 1.0 are at increased health risk because of their fat distribution. (source: The National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)).
Do not go into panic if you’re a bit chubby though… “regardless of what fatness category you’re in, your risk of premature death is lessened if you’re fit” says Stephen Farell Ph.D (from the book “The first 20 minutes”)
Back to fasting…
- First of all, it is OK to go 24 hours without eating. I never felt weak or dizzy. I enjoy the increased alertness and productivity on fasting days. But it is not for everybody. You might fail a few times on this journey, be patient.
- Having a planned day for fasting is good in theory, but I rather check on how I feel when I wake up and decide if today is a good idea or not.
- As long as you do some strength training you’re not going to waste your muscle mass. Lift weights!
- 24 hour without eating will only induce a caloric restriction only as long as you do not pig out after the fast.
- You can combine the fasting with any eating approach you choose, but eat clean regardless! Fasting is not a free pass to eat junk.
- You do not have to stress about portion control and ingesting perfect ratios of macro and micro nutrient per 24 hour slice. Things average over a week or possibly even longer periods. We probably wouldn’t have made it this far as a species if it didn’t work that way…
According to studies
- Exercise alone is actually pretty poor at helping you loose fat.
- Exercise is great for maintaining low(er) body fat levels, as long as all other parameters in your life are also accounted for. (such as sedentary or active lifestyles, eating clean or junk and a few others…)
- It makes no difference in muscle gain or body fat loss that you eat all your calories in 1 sitting or distributed over several meals. So technically, fasting is not a magical solution. It’s just that for some people, it may be more practical. Looking good naked can also be achieved by other eating patterns than fasting!
I started fasting again only recently after an 8 month break. I’m going to make a little experiment over the next year and see how it goes. I say the next year, because I am planning to attend 2 kettlebell competitions in about 3 months time, so my training will not be optimally focused on body composition for a while. Never the less, it is a start, and it will give some indication about how effectively fasting can help me loose fat and size around my waist or not.
I even took pictures and readings of my body measurements (neck, shoulder, chest, arm, wait, hip and legs). I have readings from 2000 but no pictures. If you’re planning to transform your body, keep records. The perception lies, numbers and pictures don’t.
Read Bernarr Macfadden’s short book about fasting. Macfadden has been credited with beginning the culture of health and fitness in the United States in the early 1900s.
Amazing how everything we believe is new is in fact already so old!
One last thing, looking good naked is a very individual thing and is not something we can quantify for other people. Indeed beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I am trying to say is that being leanER is not necessarily better. Happier is better.