Imagine for a moment that you look out of your window and what you see is a forest in the middle of winter. It’s cold and dry outside, there are bare branches of trees showing and the earth is coated with snow. You see only a few birds interrupting the stillness… Now imagine if you had to walk out the door, go into that climate and survive. You now have to live off of what you can scavenge and the fat on your body until the sun shines again, the plants send out green shoots, and the animals return. How do you feel?
Many animals have adapted to winter by flying away from it, hibernating through it, or growing getting thick coats and toughing it out. Primal humans, like many other mammals, tried to put on fat during the fall months when food was abundant, then burn through it as back up fuel when food was scarce. This has created a deep genetic fear of scarcity and starvation. As humans evolved culturally, seasons of scarcity became based upon states of war and monetary income more than natural surroundings, and consequently became longer, creating cultural “winters” that don’t last for mere months, but rather years or even lifetimes.
It is in part due to this genetic and cultural memory that we as societies tend to fear scarcity and have instead adopted this “never enough” mentality. This mentality leads us to continue to stuff overfull bellies, to reach for something sweet when feeling stressed, and push down difficult emotions with food. Our coding and subconscious beliefs tell us: “I feel uncertainty, and this could mean danger of starvation…better store some fat.” Unfortunately, many of us are already carrying enough fat for several winters, and in listening to this message, are actually doing harm to the body.
In WildFit we teach many lessons, and one of my favorites is to honor the season of Winter. That is to say, taking the time to eat as you would in winter, and giving the body time to rest. Imagine a factory which never shuts down for maintenance, or a computer that never runs its security software or upgrades. Our bodies often suffer this same fate. Fasting has many separate cultural origins for heightened spiritual awareness, religious observance, and physical healing and recovery. More recently it has also gained popularity as a way to detox and lose weight. Fasting is a loaded term, and it means many things (good and bad) to different people. Here we hope to give you a better idea of how to fast properly, and how to overcome that deep belief that fasting is dangerous.
What is Fasting?
In our view, fasting is when you intentionally give your body a break from digestion so that it can attend to other things. There are several ways to fast, and they range on a spectrum of intensity. In the diet world there are many different names for fasts, but we will keep it simple and say the best fast is the one which feels the best to you, and that it can be tailored to your personal needs.
At least intensity, there is a partial fast. A person may choose to eat simple, easy to digest, carbohydrate based meals like soups, smoothies or juices. This is physically less demanding on the digestive tract, but major hunger or blood sugar dips are not experienced. This is a great place to start fasting, as the body will benefit, but it is not as mentally or emotionally difficult. This can be sustained for a week healthily, however it is best to start with a few days.
Then there is water fasting. Water fasting ensures the body is hydrated, but body fat is burned for fuel. Prolonged fasts can be done for a month for experienced fasters, however it is best to start with just one day. The various forms of intermittent fasting involve closing the eating window for multiple hours each day beyond when you are sleeping, in an effort to gain some of the benefits without limiting productivity or exercise capabilities. There are also people who incorporate one day of fasting each week to achieve the same outcome. However, during intermittent fasting food is still in the digestive tract so a complete break isn’t experienced.
The most extreme option is dry fasting, when you don’t eat or drink anything, even water, for a number of hours or a couple days. It is largely done for spiritual and religious reasons, and not advisable without supervision or instruction as it can be dangerous, even lethal.
How to Fast correctly
The first day is most difficult, as after the first 6-8 hours of fasting all stored sugar is used and the body starts to switch into ketosis. You will find yourself feeling hungry and maybe even overwhelmed. It may trigger some emotions like anger, frustration, feeling down or sadness. It is important to deal with those emotions as they come and to remind yourself that there is a perfectly logical reason for your fasting. Use a breathing exercise like the WILDFIT 5-5-5 breath, your journaling exercises, or take a walk to move through these emotions, rather than ignore them. After this point is crossed, the body adjusts and things become easier. Be aware of your body as it goes through this process, and focus on the positive.
To do a fast correctly, lead into the fast with a day of increased hydration and simple vegetarian meals of functional foods. Go into your fast with a plan of how long you will fast and ensure that unless you are feeling quite unwell, complete the fasting period. Take time to rest during your fast, avoiding intense exercise, rigorous mental strain and busy activities. Instead, focus on deep breathing, meditation, journaling, yoga, walks and more creative projects. Finish your fast in the same way you started, moving out gently with a day of easily digestible foods and being kind to your body.
What are potential benefits if I do it correctly?
Weight loss is not a lasting benefit of short term fasting. The weight which you release will largely be water, plus potentially a couple pounds of fat. However, while you are fasting metabolism decreases, so if you complete your fast and then rush to reward yourself with food, you may actually end up finding those pounds again, plus a few more! The intention of fasting, rather than to release fat during the fasting period is to enable your body to adjust and upgrade so that fat release becomes easier following the Fast.
How is this possible? Well numerous studies have seen tremendous health benefits that may occur during or following fasting. Some of note are:
- Decrease in blood sugar levels and reduction of insulin resistance,
- Decrease of inflammation markers and therefore decrease in inflammatory conditions,
- Lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and therefore improved cardiovascular health
- Improve brain function, increase nerve cell synthesis and protect against neurodegenerative conditions,
- Delay aging and increase longevity,
- Increase levels of human growth hormone (HGH), an important protein hormone that plays a role in growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength.
So now the question is: if you knew these benefits were possible by foregoing a few meals and focusing on resting your body for the purpose of long term health and longevity, would you do it?
Why is mindset and intention crucial to success?
Fasting is neither starvation nor deprivation as long as you have a positive intention. If you are in your primal human brain, the one which remembers that not too long ago purposely foregoing eating was unthinkable, it may be very difficult to transition into fasting. You may feel panic that you need to overeat in anticipation of a fast, or reward yourself with a huge meal when you finish. We can tell you from experience that this will not bring you the results you crave. When you fast in an energy of lack or deprivation, it will only stress out your body and work against you.
It is when you enter into a fast in the energy of abundance- of time gained from not cooking or eating, of mental space cleared not thinking about meals, and physical space created to rest, reflect and create, that you can move into a fast from an empowered, calm state. Enter your fast with a purpose, with clear goals of what you can achieve while fasting and a focus on how you are restoring your body.
Fasting is not a punishment for us or our body, but a hard earned reward. Our bodies welcome healthy fasting, and understand biochemically what to do in this state, it is our thoughts, feelings and beliefs around health focused fasting that may need to be adjusted. Join our Living WildFit Community this month to learn more about fasting and how to use it properly to improve your health!