Once again I present an article by Steve Tattershall. This time he shares his own experiences in intermittent fasting in his Fasting for Health post. I can myself highly recommend the use of this method, which indeed revitalizes your body and mind.
Actually, intermittent fasting can have a powerful positive impact on your life well beyond fasting for health. Some find that it boosts their metabolism, improves mental acuity and leads to a better quality of life. Intermittent fasting is surprisingly easy for some who try it, but very difficult for others. For me, it is quick, painless and fun. If you have a few minutes I’ll show you how it works, and just how to give it a spin.
I don’t believe in diets, but I AM an advocate for taking control of one’s lifestyle and health. One thing to consider when planning to live a healthy life is what was your body designed to do. Did thousands of past generations eat three square meals per day, of sugary, rich, salty foods full of preservatives? Did those ancient ancestors spend hours each day sitting on a comfy chair? Did they consume a lot of caffeine or antibiotic-loaded meat? I suspect they did not.
Eating like your ancient ancestors
While I’m not quite ready to fully abandon twenty-first-century civilization and feed myself with raw meat caught by hand, I am willing to make some changes to better utilize my body. One of those changes is intermittent fasting, so the digestive system gets a small break from constant loading we tend to get in civilized life. I find that for me, a couple of fast days each week help me stay healthier and trimmer while boosting my metabolism. This feels good, is easy for me to sustain, and it doesn’t seem to cause any difficult side effects, so I’m happy to keep doing it.
The experts are not all in agreement about intermittent fasting, but there are few if any that find it to be unhealthy. Advocates make all sorts of claims of improved immune system function, weight reduction, metabolism increase, lower LDL cholesterol, improved insulin tolerance and more. Some small studies and many isolated cases confirm some of these claims but few are totally proven by well-controlled trials. Still, the evidence seemed compelling enough for me and thousands of others to give it a try, and many of us liked the results. This is a big deal as lifestyle changes go, but it is a big change that has a significant and growing following.
So what exactly is intermittent fasting? There are several approaches to use, but they all have the following in common:
1 FAST- Drastically reduce or eliminate food calorie consumption for a planned period – usually 14 to 36 hours
2 FEAST– Eat normally, with no restrictions when not fasting, satisfying hunger and cravings as you wish for some planned period, usually 1 to 30 days, but sometimes as short as 9 hours.
3 Hydrate- Whether Fasting or Feasting, drink lots of water and clear liquids like green tea, herbal tea or broth, to stay thoroughly hydrated. This is particularly important while fasting and exercising.
4 Repeat the cycle indefinitely – this isn’t a fad, it is a life choice, so it is worth doing as long as it works.
While there are also juice fasts and other approaches, the intermittent fasting lifestyle described here is unrelated to those. This approach is about periodic fasts that involve plenty of water, but far fewer calories than the body consume during the fast. This has a powerful impact on many bodily systems, as the body senses the potential for starvation and takes aggressive (survival) action to consume fat while energizing the muscles and central nervous system to seek food. It also affects the microbiota of the gut.
These colon microbes get a different mix of nutrients, liquids, and energy during and after Feast and Fast periods, possibly favoring flora that adapts well to that change. These creatures may have much in common with the bugs that occupied intestines of our ancient ancestors, as they dealt with much more variation in feeding than modern people do. While experts agree that many changes happen, there is less agreement on the details and the results – that makes it a bit more interesting to find out for yourself. Fortunately, I’ve yet to hear of any unpleasant surprises from people who take the plunge.
Such fasting approaches are a great fit for people who favor a Paleo type diet, as the philosophy is the same; eating is healthier if we do it like our pre-civilized ancestors. Even so, many who enjoy following an intermittent fasting lifestyle are not Paleo eaters at all. There are vegans, low-carb dieters, comfort food eaters and “normal” folk who all find value in this regimen.
How to get started
You can choose any intermittent fasting approach you like, but I’ll provide a roadmap based on the 5 2 Fast, the one followed by millions in the UK, the US and worldwide, including me. Since the 5 2 fast approach uses a weekly pattern and does not disrupt most days eating schedule, I find it easy to integrate into my normal routine. Here is how it works:
Each week will include two long fast days during which you can consume up to 500 calories (women) or 600 calories (men) during a 36-hour fast period. Typically, the fast starts after dinner, say at 8 PM on a Sunday night and ends the morning after next, say 8 AM on Tuesday. These Fast days can be any two days of the week, so long as there is at least one Feast day between them. I generally Fast on Monday and Thursday, but I’ll occasionally move a Fast day to deal with a dinner party, holiday or other special occasions that goes better with a Feast.
A wide range of people of different ages, weight and health conditions follow this lifestyle without problems, but if you have any special conditions, like pregnancy, hypertension or other concerns, consulting your doctor is a good idea before starting this or any other lifestyle change. If you don’t have a physician already, check out our article on medical alternatives so you can be informed before you move on.
Planning: it is a good idea to plan out your week in advance and buy food and drink to support healthy light eating on your fast days. Low calorie, typically low-fat foods will be more satisfying than fatty, sugary or starchy food, as you can eat much more of them within your 500 or 600 calorie limit. Healthy foods like avocados, walnuts, whole grain bread or raw honey are great for feast days, but they use up your calorie quota too quickly on fast days. Better choices for fast days are egg whites, chicken broth, cinnamon tea, celery, and broccoli or similar foods. Choose foods that you like, but count calories for fast days and plan meals that you can enjoy, but stay within your calorie budget. I typically have a 200 to 300 calorie breakfast and a 260 to 360 calorie dinner, with up to 40 calories left over for a snack. I skip lunch.
Decide what days will be Fast days, and what sort of meals you will eat. Plan out your meals to the calorie on your first two fast days, so you can buy the right groceries for those meals. After your first couple of Fast days you will begin to understand your preferences for this kind of light eating, so you can be more adventurous in grocery shopping and food choices next time. Be prepared with a calorie counting book or phone app so you can check the meals on your fast days to stay in quota.
There is no need for calorie counting or special foods for feast days, but be prepared; you will be extra hungry when you break your fast, and protein loading is very appropriate. If you don’t feast with lots of protein on Feast days, your muscles may suffer, so get ready to eat hardy! On Feast days healthy treats are on the menu, and nobody is keeping score.
Living the 5 2 plan: Before your first fast day, it is important to prepare psychologically for this change; it is no small thing to completely change the way you eat. List out the important goals you have that you expect to assist or achieve with the help of this change. Do you want to lose weight? Are you concerned about arthritis, pre-diabetes, or other health challenges? Are you committed to improving your physical stamina, mental acuity or energy level? Whatever your goals, write them down and write out your thoughts about why they are important. Envision life after you achieve these goals, and discuss the goals and the vision with someone close to you. When you are committed to taking action and have a clear vision of it, write out your vision in clear, large letters, and place the sign where you can see it easily each morning.
The night of your last feast-day dinner, enjoy a satisfying hearty meal with lots of protein and healthy fiber. After your meal is done, you are on your first fast day. Pat yourself on the back and appreciate the fact that you are making a personal choice for your health – expect to sleep better tonight and feel better tomorrow.
Now you must stick with water, tea or other non-calorie liquids, or count any calories that you consume, and deduct them from your 500 or 600 cal quota. It is a good idea to have lots of water before bed, and think about your plans for Fast day breakfast, or lunch the next day before you go to sleep.
If you have generally snacked regularly, it’s a good idea to replace that habit with one of drinking water, tea, or hot water with lemon. If that isn’t enough for you, cut some small celery sticks or broccoli to chew on – no need to count those calories, as you consume as much energy digesting that high-fiber veggie as the calories it contains. Drinking tea and grazing on low-calorie veggies are not a requirement, but a useful strategy that is there if you need it.
Sleep well; this should be easier without so much of a load in your digestive system.
It’s now your Fast-day, and the world is new. You should have gotten a great sleep, and your metabolism is starting a new journey to health. Fast day breakfast is a different experience to savor. You will eat differently than before, so take the opportunity to savor your food and appreciate it from a new perspective. Less can be more, so enjoy this new way to appreciate a small meal.
Some of the highlights of my Fast day breakfast are a very small bowl of whole grain puffed brown rice cereal with a few fresh berries, stevia, and a little almond milk. I generally have two hard-boiled egg whites and a chicken or turkey sausage link or patty. Some days I enjoy a small green smoothie, crafted for a fast-day with some frozen melon, a few frozen berries, collards or bok choi ginger, carrot, kiwi and lime, stevia and healthy spices. When I make a Fast day smoothie, I generally make enough to share with my wife and to save some to drink with dinner. It is important to measure everything and count calories, so you have room in your quota for dinner. Choose healthy foods that YOU like, and don’t forget the need for protein and fiber. I never use up more than 250 calories on breakfast, and usually, it’s less, but you can decide how to spend your calorie quota and how to spread them out in 2 or 3 meals, in snacks or all in one meal.
There are no real restrictions on a Fast-day other than the calorie limit and drinking lots of water. Exercise or sports are fine – I often play tennis or racquetball on a Fast day, and my performance doesn’t suffer; neither does my body. If you want or need a nap and have time for one, that’s OK too. You will spend less time eating and less energy digesting today, so there are more time and energy for other things. How you use these extras is all up to you. I suggest you use them for activities you love or that move you toward your goals.
More importantly, remind yourself regularly that YOU are in control of your body and are using that control to improve yourself and improve your life. Remember, tomorrow you can eat as much as you like, guilt-free while becoming a healthier version of you. If you find yourself thinking of food or hunger, take that as a reminder to have tea, water or some other non-calorie drink or food, and give yourself another pat on the back for persistence.
Your dinner options are MANY. It is amazing just how many ways chicken or fish can be complemented with broccoli, carrots, soup or a little pasta and make a meal under 250 calories. Sometimes I’m too busy to cook, so I choose a frozen healthy meal of 180 to 220 calories, generally from Healthy Choice, or Smart Ones and combine it with a half cup of broth or soup. Even Walmart has begun to offer house-brand microwave meals under 200 calories, and they aren’t bad, in my opinion. Since I try to avoid overly processed foods, I cook if possible, but one of these low-calorie microwave meals a couple times a week does not cause me problems.
If you are to eat a restaurant meal, it is still possible to stay in your Fast day quota. This is easiest if you avoid fast food restaurants and order from a business that can accommodate your special requests. It is likely that you will pay for bread and starch (fried or mashed potatoes or pasta) that you won’t eat, but by using your calorie counter and making good choices eating out can work. Remember, though, everything counts; true salad is fine, but croutons, nuts, dried fruit, bacon bits and most salad dressings are VERY HIGH-CALORIE foods. Many fast food salads are higher in calories than a jumbo cheeseburger, so they won’t work on a fast day. It is easy to cheat if you ignore something, so subject everything that goes in your mouth to the calorie count. Remember to savor and enjoy every bite, because less can be more if you choose to make that happen. Do this, and dinner will work.
Dinner is over and you are now on your second night of Fast day one; feel good about this, as the Feast day is not so far away. Repeat the drinking and mental exercises you did last night, then enjoy your first night of sleep with a truly unloaded intestinal system. Savor and enjoy the experience, and get ready for a GREAT Feast day breakfast tomorrow.
Be sure to time that breakfast 36 hours after dinner was over before the Fast began, so if that was 6:45 PM, start breakfast at or after 6:45 AM. Enjoy it, and plan out when and how you will start your next Fast-day, at least a day from now. You have now proven that you can do this. It isn’t rocket science, and you have joined the millions that have benefited from following the 5 2 fast. Now you must decide if you will continue to try it, refine it and enjoy the health and weight control benefits this brings.
Adjusting your intake
If you enjoy Feast days but try to eat healthy foods without totally binging, you’ll lose weight and your health is likely to improve. If you do as I do, and use green smoothies or salads to get plenty of healthy green veggies and fiber into your diet, you may lose weight quickly, and lose a lot. It is important to decide what your ideal healthy weight should be because now you can control it. Sticking to the Fast-day timing and calorie quota while adding higher calorie foods into your Feast day empowers you to stop the weight loss at a stable target weight.
I add fish, free-range chicken and turkey as well as avocado, olive oil and coconut oil to my diet to maintain my weight, but any mix of healthy fats and proteins should work; as long as you enjoy them. I advise against adding highly processed foods, high sugar or hydrogenated oil, however, as that is likely to undo much of the positive health impact of intermittent fasting.
The high proportion of trans fats, sugar, and sodium in the modern western diet has been linked to the rise of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health problems. While intermittent fasting can reduce some of these problems, it will do so much more effective if you can put healthier foods into your body when you are eating the most, on your feast days.
Media and government leaders expend tremendous effort to defend us from terrorism and other violent threats, but it is up to us to defend our families from threats far more likely to kill us, in the foods we eat every day. Thanks for taking the time to stand up to the greatest threats to your health, the way you feed your body.
About the author
Steve Tattershall is an authority on medical isolation equipment and Chief Technical Officer of Banthrax Corporation, a US-based manufacturer of medical and laboratory equipment used worldwide. A public speaker and published author, he has written, studied and consulted on technology and healthcare extensively for the last two decades. Heavily involved in research on arthritis, inflammation and related topics for his personal and family health, he also deals with these subjects in equipment application. He blogs on isolation related matters including healthy living in isolation and under crisis conditions. Steve lives with his wife, Bonnie and 2 cats (Chip and Alberta) in Southwestern Ohio, USA.
Follow his blog at Fail–Safe Isolation
Healthy Habits, Healthier Life
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