This plan has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. In fact it is probably the way our evolutionary ancestors were obliged to eat and perhaps our DNA is molded toward it. More recently it has received some mainstream publicity on TV and in the press under different guises: it is Intermittent Fasting.
Our prehistoric forebears would hunt for protein in the form of animals. It might take days for the group to make a kill and upon returning it would be devoured promptly due to the lack of refrigerators. Meat had to be stripped from the carcass, prepared and eaten before it became bad. It might then take several more days (at least) to make another kill, so the diet between kills was collected from nature in the form of berries, roots, leaves, stems, flowers and so on. There were energy dense days (after a kill) interspersed with energy lean days (vegetarian).
Intermittent fasting is similar – days of full on eating and days of very light eating. Like all eating plans it has its fans and its detractors, currently I am a big fan and let me tell you why before I tell you how.
Firstly, forget all the guff about fasting being a ‘detox’ for the body. The body does a very good job of detoxing every day, there are complex systems to prevent toxins getting in, for neutralizing them once they are identified and for eliminating them as quickly as possible. Ever had a dose of food poisoning? See how effective your body is at detox?
The benefits of Intermittent Fasting include:
- Learning to manage hunger – most of us are unlikely to starve to death or even sustain any damage from not eating for a day. Learning to ride the hunger waves and become comfortable rather than immediately seek food (usually high in sugar and/or fat) is mastery of your body and mind.
- You can eat what you want, but not on fasting days. After a day of denial, you have one or more days of no restrictions at all so this program is sustainable and low maintenance – no daily counting of kilojoules or calories, no portion control, no denial of what you enjoy.
- It is a flexible program, you choose which days are fasting to fit your social or activity calendar. It doesn’t even have to be a full day without food, you can fast from 4pm to 4pm the next day, for example, meaning no day is totally without eating.
There are a range of fasting plans but the one I have found most compatible with my lifestyle (I love food) and my goals (losing the 5, maybe 7, OK 8 kilograms I have gained in the last 10 years) is the 5:2 Fasting Plan.
This involves five days of normal eating per week and two days of fasting or near fasting per week. I like the option of near fasting in the early weeks of starting the plan, but moving on to the full fasting is even more powerful. The partial fasting recommendations are – five days unrestricted and two days of limiting intake to 2500 kilojoules (around 600 calories) or less for a man and 2100 kJ (around 500 calories) for a woman.
Warning: complying with this limit puts you in the zone of ‘very low energy diet’ and should not be undertaken by pregnant women, diabetics or others with metabolic disorders. Check with your doctor beforehand.
For blokes, 2500kj will be consumed with:
- Small bowl of fruit salad
- 1 slice of multigrain toast (no butter)
- 1 teaspoon of yeast spread (who needs a full tsp?)
- Undressed salad – cup of lettuce, slice of tomato, 1/4 of a capsicum, 1/2 cup grated carrot, 4 olives, slice of ham, small can of tuna in water
- 1 grilled fish fillet
- 1/3 cup of beans
- 3 florets of broccoli
- 1 small mashed potato (no butter or milk)
Snacks through the day
- 1 banana
- 1 green apple
- 10 glasses of water (alcohol free on fasting days)
Tomorrow – Anything you want! Just wait until tomorrow. So you can see you are most unlikely to starve. Yet you will start to see weight and girth loss within the first three weeks, but only if you stick to the plan.
How does this plan work? As usual, lots of theories but I think the critical ones are:
- Breaking the habit of ‘I am hungry, I will eat’
- Resetting your metabolism twice per week from growing to repairing (there is some evidence for this one). Repair mode includes resolving inflammation in the body, which is perhaps the single highest health risk for all of us.
And if you still remain to be convinced, imagine the impact on your weekly food shopping bill if you (and everyone else in the house) fasted for two days per week! A reduction of around 25% is possible. What a bonus.
As always, be careful when making changes and be prepared to trial it for at least a month to see if it is right for you and those who live with you.
- My starting weight – 98.5 kg.
- Weight four weeks later – 93.2 kg (5.4% of my body weight).
- This was on the 5:2 fasting plan with limited intake on the two fasting days of around 2000kj (500cal).
- The initial hunger pangs of weeks one and two are now much less intense.
- Sweet food (eg. breakfast cereal or jam) is starting to taste too sweet for my palate and leaves a furry mouth feel afterwards.
- Energy levels are good, still able to do everything I need – yard work, writing, cycling, weight training.
- Sleep is good – going to bed hungry is no effort if you know you can eat what you want tomorrow.
- Mood – no complaints from my wife.
- Productivity – excellent – I have lots more time on the fasting days to get stuff done with no food prep or eating time eating into it (sorry).
- Savings – probably around 15% on weekly grocery expenses.
‘All Day’ fasting actually results in far more than a 24 hour fast. There is the additional 8 hours from 10pm the previous night (more if you don’t snack after dinner) making a fast time of 32 hours twice per week for a total of 64 hours not eating. Out of a possible 168 hours in a week! This is 38% of the week in a fasting state. No wonder my body is resetting it’s metabolic priorities and energy metabolism.
This is only one story. Keep an open mind.