The previous newsletter discussed the usefulness of fasting to achieve individual health goals. Until then, I did not think much of fasting as it was not something I would ever consider doing. However, as I was involved in a Facebook group supporting people who follow a ketogenic diet, I became aware that many of them found fasting to be an essential tool in their struggle to lose weight to improve their health.
I decided to do an extended fast for a period to see how it could help me with my battle to lose weight. At the time I was on a ketogenic diet for 10 weeks already. The last three of those weeks I have tried intermittent fasting - fasting for 16 hours and eating for eight. In those ten weeks, I have lost 4.5 kg, and lots of courage due to the decreasing rate of weight loss. I still had at least six more kilograms to lose.
The results of fasting were amazing. I have lost 2.8kg in the first week and a total of seven in six weeks! I fasted for periods of 3 - 4 days at a time, then consume healthy food for a day before I started fasting again. It was not always easy, and I would say the first two or three days definitely were the hardest.
For anyone who considers fasting, I don't want you to wear my scars. Here are seven guidelines I think you should keep in mind to make it a positive experience:
1) Before you start your fast, do as much research as you can about the topic or speak to someone qualified to help you. There are a few things to predetermine before you start.
a. Your goal: It will either be for a health issue or a specific weight goal you wish to achieve.
b. The intensity of the fast (i.e. how strictly you are going to follow the rules) and,
c. The duration of the fast.
There are many books on the topic. The one I found to be easy to understand while addressing all the important issues was ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’ by Jason Fung.
2) Also, before you start, find support and motivation. It is obvious that most people around you will not be fasting and they will make it VERY clear to you that they do not intend to fast EVER. People will also warn you against the dire outcomes of fasting, mistaking it for being the same as starvation. It can be a lonely journey and support is crucial to your success. If you cannot find anyone close to you to join you in your fast, join a Facebook group or if you are lucky enough to find one, a fasting group near you. I found that the Facebook group, ‘Fasting for Weight loss’ is an excellent group to join but there are many others too. Apart from the support and motivation, there is also a wealth of information and practical guidelines.
3) The purpose of a fast is to reduce your calorie intake with the ultimate goal of lowering insulin levels so that your body goes into ‘autophagy’- mode. This allows your body to consume its unwanted parts such as stored fat and dysfunctional cell organelles. Autophagy has two side benefits:
a. Weight loss in the form of fat loss as it recycles stubborn fat for energy.
b. The repair of diseased tissue. For this step, you will need nutrient dense food.
Getting to this point where your body uses fat as the major source of energy is a difficult one. This is because toxins are stored in fat to protect the organs. When you start to use the fat stores for energy, the toxins start recycling in your body, making you feel unwell. Some people refer to this as keto flu as it has similar symptoms to the flu. This is a necessary time to ride out and will differ in intensity and length for each individual. Eventually, your liver will deal with it and you will feel better.
4) Supplements could be helpful during a fast. Like everything in life, this is a very personal matter and should be discussed with a healthcare professional. At the least, you should take a multivitamin and mineral supplement and all other supplements you take daily. It is also a good idea to take a supplement to support the liver, as it has to deal with the toxins now released. Milk thistle or L-Glutamine are good examples to help with detoxification. Adding lemon or apple cider vinegar to your water will also support this process. Take extra electrolytes when you suffer from muscle spasms and cramps, as this is a consequence of the water loss.
5) Initially, the weight could drop very quickly. This is due to water stored in fat cells, saved up for the day which the body needs it for fat metabolism. It is important to understand this water loss is essential to the process of fat loss. While it serves as great encouragement, it will not last forever. Don’t be discouraged when weight loss rate gets slower, at least you got off to a good start.
6) Remember that Cinderella had to go home…. and we all must start eating again to avoid starvation. The number on the scale which came off so quickly in the first few days will go back when you start eating again. The rate and weight will vary with the number of excess calories and carbs in your diet. Don’t be discouraged, but don’t let it get out of hand, because many people gain all the weight back if they don’t manage their diets after a fast. If you have lost your weight with fasting, you now have an extra and very effective tool in your diet toolbox to keep your weight down.
It is better to choose a weight range with a lowest and highest target. After successfully hitting your lowest target you can start eating again. Once you hit your highest target, restrict your calories again to go back to your lower weight target. Be disciplined, because you can and will gain all the weight back if you follow the lifestyle which lead you to have excess weight. I do believe that your ultimate goal should be to eat a healthy, balanced diet without too much weight change.
7) The most important rule to follow is to listen to your body and let it guide you when to eat. It will not do any good to start eating every time you feel hungry, because hunger pangs come and go regardless whether you eat or not. However, when you feel nauseous, weak or anxious, it is time for a healthy snack with enough calories and nutrients to prepare you for the next fasting period. When your hair starts falling out or your gums start bleeding, make sure you take in enough nutrients through supplementation. And always check with a healthcare professional when in doubt.