Rule 10. Fasting


Nutritional moderation, such as fasting and periodic fasting, is a freewill conscious restriction on food intake during a limited period to achieve specific results. Fasting has a long history; it was used for spiritual and mental improvement and for the tempering of the will. Now fasting is used as a tool to improve metabolic health, primarily for weight loss. It affects the diet and inevitably leads to a decrease in calories. I do not recommend fasting for over 24–36 hours per week for most people. Use longer fasting only after consulting a specialist or under medical supervision.

Our body stores calories for a rainy day like a bear does for hibernation. The bear gains a lot of fat but then hibernates and loses it. People often eat endlessly but hibernation never comes! And thick and sleepy, we wander like a winter-walker bear! This accumulated fat starts working against us. So fasting is a little like winter, allowing us to throw off the ballast and feel better.

How did the problem arise?

Long ago, when our ancestors lived the life of hunters and gatherers, they constantly faced the problem of irregular access to food. Periods of successful hunting, when they had lots of food, were combined with periods of hunger like drought, unsuccessful hunting or gathering. The search for food required increased physical activity. This combination has led to regular hunger-feast cycles. These ancient adaptations led to the formation of greedy genes that regulate both our metabolism and physical activity.

The hormones, leptin, and insulin, deal with this cyclic availability of food. Leptin is the primary hormone that controls the energy balance. It allows you to save energy when food is unavailable, switching the deficiency mode on. A common problem for people today is the decreased sensitivity to leptin, which leads to several diseases, from chronic fatigue and depression to problems with the thyroid gland and fertility.

Good sensitivity to leptin allows you to maintain the body’s structure and avoid visceral (internal) fat deposits. The leptin cycle has a certain asymmetry: its level rises quickly with food intake and then slowly decreases during its absence. Periodical fasting helps restore leptin sensitivity. However, start gradually, because long-term fasting is unsuitable for people with low sensitivity to leptin.

Fasting was used for spiritual and mental improvement as well as for the tempering of the will. Now fasting is used to improve metabolic health and lose weight.

Nowadays, we can access high-calorie food at any time. This leads to our greedy genes endlessly storing calories as a deficiency reserve in case of hunger, but such times never come. This leads to the loss of sensitivity to leptin and insulin. The insulin resistance of muscles, liver, and adipose tissue leads to health problems that can manifest themselves not only in obesity but in other issues, from arterial hypertension to polycystic ovary syndrome.

Both the level of hormones and the cellular level have a cyclical nature. For instance, the mTOR cell signaling pathway operates optimally in intermittent mode. It is activated when we are eating and this helps the cells synthesize new substances and grow. But its constant activation leads to accumulated cellular trash, increased inflammation, premature aging and an increased risk of oncology and autoimmune diseases. Regular fasting, especially combined with physical activity, reduces mTOR activity. Its low activity opens the door to the mechanism of autophagy, the self-cleaning of cells and the reduction of inflammation. As you can see, the such cyclical pattern is natural for our bodies. Following it, is essential for maintaining good health.

How does it affect health?

Autophagy and mTOR. Fasting reduces mTOR activity and accelerates the process of autophagy. It is important because it slows down aging, improves cell recovery, prolongs life, and has other beneficial effects.

Hormones. Fasting increases levels of ghrelin and growth hormone, and positively affects many organs and systems. Fasting decreases insulin and leptin levels and increases sensitivity to them. The hormone IGF-1 also drops and many researchers attribute this to a reduced risk of cancer and prolonged life. Unfortunately, prolonged fasting can also have a negative effect, reducing the level of thyroid and sex hormones. However, these risks are only high with prolonged fasting of over 72 hours, especially if combined with increased physical activity. Stress increases the level of cortisol, which harms muscles during fasting.

Fasting and immunity. Short-term fasting modulates the activity of the immune system in several ways. It eases the symptoms of most autoimmune diseases (like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis) and reduces the severity of inflammation. Fasting and low-calorie nutrition reduce the risk of tumors, increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and stimulate the renewal of immune system cells even for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Longevity and fasting. Low-calorie nutrition (remember that regular fasting cuts the caloric intake) extends the life of most animals.

Brain and fasting. Nutritional moderation improves brain function, hearing and vision. It also increases the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and stimulates neuroplasticity. Almost all cognitive functions improve: and their age-related decline slows down. Fasting significantly reduces the level of oxidative stress in neurons and increases the level of the dopamine neurotransmitter. Fasting reduces the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including the most common Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The vital advantage of fasting over a low-calorie diet is an increase in the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF is reduced in low-calorie diets.

Unfortunately, prolonged fasting can also have a negative effect, reducing the level of thyroid and sex hormones. However, these risks are only high with prolonged fasting of over 72 hours, especially if combined with increased physical activity.

Fasting, heart and body structure. Compared to a regular low-calorie diet, fasting helps reduce the amount of subcutaneous fat almost without the loss of muscle bulk. In addition, regular fasting helps reduce the amount of visceral fat, blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular disease and the progression of atherosclerotic vascular lesions.

Basic principles

Random Meal Skipping (RMS). Everything is straightforward: if you don’t have a hard day and you have no appetite for dinner or supper, you can pretty much skip the meals. You can do it during a flight, if you don’t have an appetite or if you can’t have a normal meal. It’s good to skip dinner so you have an appetite for breakfast. To keep a dietary regimen, two or three episodes of random meal skipping per week are allowed, but no more.

24 and 36 hours fasting once a week (Eat Stop Eat). Such fasting does not need special preparation. It is best to do it on the least stressful day when you can be away from food temptations. The 24 hours model is as follows: you have breakfast and then eat nothing until breakfast the next day. The 36 hours model: you have supper, eat nothing throughout the next day and eat breakfast the day after. The 24-hour fasting is more convenient for workers since breakfast will give them energy for a full-time working day without a decrease in brain activity. I recommend you start with the 24-hour model and avoid trying two episodes of the 36-hour fasting per week, especially if you have to combine it with mental or sports activities.

5:2 system (The Fast Diet). This is a compromise option for limiting calories over two days in a week. Here you have two days of fasting with a calorie content of 500–600 kcal each. You can divide this amount into two meals, preferably as breakfast and dinner, or eat just meal. Two days of fasting can start on any day of the week depending on your schedule and must be back to back. This method is not much different from the 24 hours of fasting once a week.

Alternate day fasting (36/12, Every-Other-Day Diet (EODD), UpDayDownDay). This cyclic system means a 12 hours interval of eating without restrictions and 36 hours of fasting. For example, you have supper on Wednesday; you fast all of Thursday and start eating again on Friday morning. So you get 36 hours of fasting and 12 hours of eating. Light versions of this method combine a normal day and a day with a reduced calorie content of 20–25 percent, or with just one meal that day.

Weekly fasting system. You can also create your own weekly schemes of fasting that are ideal for your lifestyle and training system. Sometimes schemes of 2 + 1 type are effective, for example when you eat as usual for two days and on the third day you have just breakfast. The schemes of 1 + 1 + 1 type mean calorie-lowering on one day, then a day without supper and the third day with just breakfast. There are various traditional schemes. For example, some Christians fast on Wednesday and Friday.

Restricting a low-calorie diet is exhausting, as it requires constant calorie counting, which is difficult for most people in the long run. So count hours, but not calories!

Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD). This is a calorie-restriction diet and excludes certain food products for five days once a month. This diet is not widely recommended as it has yet to be fully investigated. Such fasting leads to a noticeable decrease in markers of aging, the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and an improvement in immune function. The idea of this method is to half the calories on the first day. For thenext four days you can have only a third of your usual food intake.

You must exclude animal proteins and have 10 percent of your daily calorie intake as vegetable protein, 56 percent as fats, 34 percent as greens, vegetables, berries, and mushrooms. It is recommended that this diet is used by healthy people once every 3–6 months. Only a specialist should recommend it, since five days of calorie restrictions can negatively affect health, mainly because of its hidden risks or possible unsafe usage.

Compared to a long-term low-calorie diet, fasting has many advantages. This gains time because the fewer the meals, the more time you have. There is less risk of overeating and more satisfaction since fewer meals give greater pleasure. The constant restrictions of a low-calorie diet are exhausting, as it requires continuous calorie counting, which is difficult for most in the long run. So, count hours and not calories!

How to follow the rule? Ideas and tips

Graduation and adaptation. Periodic fasting requires adaptation. The harsh methods like eating every other day are not suitable for everyone! For many people, the simplest technique is 24 hours, once a week. It will be very effective and enough to maintain weight and stay healthy.

Sports and muscles. According to studies, fasting up to 40 hours does not lead to loss of muscle bulk. Moreover, it helps burn fat and build muscle at the same time. You can train with moderate activity during fasting, but with reasonable restrictions for CrossFit and power sports. You can do the low-intensity workouts without limitations.

Overeating. Do not be afraid to overeat after fasting. You will eat at most 25 percent extra the next day, which is at most 100 percent of the skipped daily calorie intake.

Cognitive abilities. You can have decreased creativity and strategic thinking with a lack of calories. This is how stress manifests itself from fasting. However, you are still able to concentrate on detailed tasks.

Metabolism. Short-term fasting increases the basic level of metabolism, and its reduction does not occur for up to 60–72 hours after a complete absence of calories. So, 24 and 36 hours of fasting are absolutely safe.

Dehydration. It is essential to drink plenty of liquid and avoid dehydration. Sparkling water is not recommended. People with a healthy stomach can drink tea or coffee, but for better results, it’s best not to drink these.

Short-term fasting increases the basic level of metabolism, and its reduction does not occur for up to 60–72 hours after a complete absence of calories. So, 24 and 36 hours of fasting are absolutely safe.

Wait till the hunger waves are over. Sometimes the desire to eat occurs paroxysmally, reaching a maximum and then declines. Remember this and wait till the hunger waves are over.

Move. Any activity facilitates the process of fat burning and fasting tolerance. Take a walk, work in the garden, ride a bicycle, or get cleaning — any activity helps.

Headaches. Headaches are a frequent side effect of fasting. Act with calmly and drink more liquid. A pinch of table salt dissolved in a glass of water can diminish headaches.

Stay busy. Think about how you can structure your time to stay busy and avoid gaps of doing nothing, contributing to a greater sensitivity to hunger and unnecessary reflection.

Support. Enlist the support of friends. Do not appeal to those who are skeptical. Do not argue or persuade other people about fasting because it will do more harm than good.

A low-calorie diet (chronic caloric restriction) is also very effective, but regular fasting is more beneficial. Regular fasting has less risk of calorie restriction effects (the effects on the way you feel and your sex hormones), higher mental satisfaction and it is easier to control time versus calories. However, exceptions are possible.

Losing weight for healthy people. The studies show that a slight weight loss is perfect for healthy people with normal weight. With a slight weight loss, they improve sleep quality and libido, reduce visceral fat and increase muscle bulk.

Side effects of fasting. These are temporary and gradually go away while you are fasting. Sometimes it takes one or two months to reduce severe hunger during fasting. So, the disadvantages of fasting are, obsessing about food, however after fasting the food tastes better. There is a feeling of energy loss, although healthy people don’t experience a drop in their blood sugar level and mood swings, which improves the next day.

Risk groups. People with low weight or eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, or pregnant and breastfeeding women, must get specialist advice on the possibility of fasting. In addition, the risk groups include those who have had a severe illness, had recent surgery or received medical treatment.

Studies show that a slight weight loss is very good for healthy people with normal weight. With a slight weight loss, they improve the quality of sleep, libido, reduce visceral fat and increase muscle bulk.

Prolonged fasting. In addition to the methods of fasting described above, more prolonged fasting is possible but dangerous. Its disadvantages exceed its benefits. Prolonged fasting can be carried out only in specialized institutions under medical supervision. Fasting longer than 72 hours is a high-risk area.

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