Fasting is not about starving yourself; it is about exercising strict control over your eating habits for brief periods, and preferably with a health-care provider’s guidance. We’re not talking about a religious-oriented fast, either, but one in which you are in total control of what and when you eat, which can sometimes mean being ‘on’ some days and ‘off’ on others.
This is what is known as ‘intermittent fasting,’ per medicalnewstoday.com, and it’s not just about losing weight. It’s a preferred form of fasting followed by proponents who want to simplify their life and enhance their overall health and well-being, with weight loss being the icing on the cake (the kind of icing without substance or calories, of course).
Should You Even Be Fasting?
Fasting, regardless the goal, is not for everyone. A consultation with your physician is in order before you dive into the deep pool of any sort of food deprivation. Among those people who should be especially vigilant about fasting are pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with diabetes, and those with either low blood pressure or eating disorders. Once more, check with your physician if you’re not sure.
Not only that, but an aggressive fast that lasts, say, a week or longer might produce a weight loss of a few pounds, but without direction, when you come out of it you stand a chance of gaining all the weight back quickly – or even going above and beyond your start weight.
10 Things to Think about for Healthy Fasting
In no particular order, here are 10 thoughts or suggestions to keep in mind when starting or sustaining a fasting plan:
1. When you’re fasting – or even between meals, provided you are not snacking – your insulin level drops, and that’s when your body starts tapping into stored sugar in order to burn it off as energy, per health.harvard.edu. That’s how you shed fat and start losing weight.
2. Not all fasts are created equal, as webmd.com points out. Before starting a fast, you need a specific plan that accounts for factors such as timing (when to eat and when not to eat), choices of foods and fluids to consume, and how best to mesh your physical activity, such as exercise, with your program. This is so that you maintain sufficient energy and accomplish your goals without losing muscle.
3. Among the better-known intermittent-fasting plans, per healthline.com, are the 16/8 method (skip breakfast each day and eat only during an eight-hour window, e.g. between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.); eat-stop-eat (do one or two 24-hour fasts each week); and the 5:2 diet (limiting your daily consumption to 500-600 calories for two days each week, then eat normally the other five days).
4. Also per healthline.com, growth hormone levels can quickly ramp up during a fast, and that’s good – because this is a hormone than can induce loss of fat and gain of muscle, a win-win.
5. Speaking of muscle, many diets will tend to burn muscle as well as fat, while intermittent fasting (IF) might help you hold on to some of that muscle otherwise lost – while at the same time still shedding that unwanted fat.
6. Don’t hop from one type of fasting program to another. Find one that you believe will work with you, and give it at least a month before opting to switch to another (if switching is deemed preferable).
7. When picking a fasting plan, do your research and picture yourself actually abiding by its “rules.” If you have a gut feeling a certain plan doesn’t feel like one you would be able to stick with, look for another. It’s a bit like buying a car – if you find the “perfect” car for you, except you’re not crazy about the color, keep looking.
8. Counting calories is part of the deal. Regardless which IF route you take, you need to make sure during the week you are still consuming enough calories to support your daily activity and exercise. Keeling over should not be a part of any such plan. Also, as medicalnewstoday.com puts it, make your calories count. Focus on consuming nutrient-dense food (foods that have a high dose of nutrients per calorie). Not all calories are the same.
9. Avoid sugars and refined grains, per health.harvard.edu. Nothing shocking there. Fruits and vegetables should be at the top of your meal plan list, followed closely by beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A plant-based Mediterranean type of eating plan might be the ticket.
10. Ditch eating at nighttime, especially right before bed. One common rule of thumb is not to eat anything after 8 p.m. – and that includes snacks . . . of any sort. Got to stay disciplined. Give your digestive system a rest, too.