Fasting: a buzz word I know, but what is it? And what are the benefits?
Intermittent fasting is having an ‘eating window’ of 6-10 hours and letting your body fast the rest of the 24 hour day.
So here’s my fasting journey.
Skip to the bottom if you just want to read the benefits I’ve experienced!
My partner Christian sorta fell into fasting after skipping breakfast a couple days in a row, and found that he had much more energy than when he did eat breakfast. I picked up on his habit and kept asking him how in the world he could skip breakfast?! Because I know that when I’m hungry, I get grumpy and I can’t do anything productive. Perhaps maybe be a couch potato with a movie, but there’s no way I could keep working on Anato at my prime time of the day — the morning — when I get my most productive work done.
Anyone with me? If you’re answer is yes and you want to know (1) how I’m able to fast for 16-18 hours a day and (2) why the heck I’m doing it (hint – major health benefits): then keep reading.
But first some facts and some history
In modern cultures that are seemingly built upon concepts of overconsumption, excess, and over stimulation, intermittent fasting may seem intimidating.
Intermittent fasting, however, is not a new trend.
Since the dawn of human existence, our species has been hardwired to intermittently fast as a survival tool. The earliest humans, hunters and gatherers, could not simply open up a pantry at any given hour and have a sugar laden snack. They didn’t wake up to a bowl of sugar, processed grains, and pasteurized cows milk! They fasted on a regular, seasonal basis.
Fast forward tens of thousands of years, and you still see human culture opting for intermittent fasting. Nearly every religion has some type of fasting within their practice. Lent, Ramadan, and Yom Kippur, are just a few examples. Why has fasting been a common practice for so long?
Beyond survival and spiritual reasons, there are many evidence-based benefits to intermittent fasting.
During a fast, your body is able to take a break from its digestive function.
What does your body do with this spare time?
○ Important cellular repair processes take place
○ Insulin levels drop
○ Human growth hormone increases
○ Genes express themselves differently
These fasting-induced shifts perpetuate a long list of benefits:
⟡ Balanced metabolism = short term fasting can increase your metabolic rate by 3-14%.
⟡ Weight loss = as insulin levels drop, the body burns off fat.
⟡ Increased energy = when the body stops using insulin as energy, it kicks into ketosis, which uses a lot less energy for cell function
⟡ Growth of nerve cells = which could potentially protect us against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and Huntington
⟡ An increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (bdnf) = benefits for brain health
And a growing number of researchers suggest that intermittent fasting and day-long fasting offer longevity-boosting benefits of periodically stressing out your body. Hormetic stressors, which put the body into a state of perceived adversity and activate longevity pathways, can include things like intense exercise, exposure to cold temperatures, and—of course, the trendiest right now — fasting.
Back to my story.
A few weeks went by after Christian’s start to fasting and he started skipping 1pm lunch as well, because that’s when he took his surf break and he ended up eating at 3pm. Other days he’d help around the studio— insisting we finish shipping, or put together a document for Plastic Tides. I was absolutely flabbergasted at how he maintained his energy level and the desire to finish a task when he must be longing for food.
Him and his friend from college stared texting each other how long they went before having their first meal. I thought it was a ridiculous game they were playing and kept telling Christian he’d lose so much weight that he’d become a ‘twiglet’ (that’s the affective name I call him now). Cute I know, considering we build brands all about trees.
Then Coronavirus hit, and after 2 months of not being able to go to my dance or yoga classes and not being able to hop on the elliptical after a long day: I put on a couple extra kilos from my usual winter ‘bulk up’ that happens every year. We were getting into the Spring and I wanted to shed those kilos. I tried a sugar-free diet two years ago, and tried keto last year and they both worked well for me. But this year, I was too busy to make special keto food for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I wasn’t in the mindset to skip my weekly croissant. So to make my life a little easier, I was eating take-out a little more and keto options aren’t too easy to come around.
One week-end, we set off to Big Sur for a little getaway amidst the pandemic — a beautiful spot about 2 hours South from where I live, with jaw dropping cliffs and deep blue water that sparkles in the sun. A place with no phone service, which, for a business owner means you can really ‘plug off’. We were late leaving the house that morning and ended up skipping breakfast. The next morning we went on a little hike down to Jade Cove beach, a spot where you can hunt for jade stones and next thing I know— it was waaay past lunch time. We started heading back to Santa Cruz, but amidst Covid, all the restaurants and shops were closed. For my first meal of the day, I wasn’t going to have a sugar-packed Cliff bar that we have stashed all around the car because we’re sponsored by them. Nor was I going to stop for a bag of chips or a lousy sandwich at the gas station. So I waited to find a decent place to stop in Carmel Valley, a quaint and chique little beach town a bit further up North. And yes, that first meal of the day was exceptional !
The next day was Monday, and around 11am I started to get hungry, but I noticed that I wasn’t hungry for breakfast like I usually am around 10 am. I thought that 11 was a weird time to eat because it was nearly lunchtime anyways, so I waited until noon to have some food. And this is where my intermittent fasting journey began.
For those of you interested in the weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting:
I lost 3 kg in the first 3 weeks without ‘starving’ myself, or skipping dessert =).
My energy levels were high all morning
And there’s an amazing thing that happens …
Intermittent fasting makes it so that you don’t want to eat anything until you’re REALLY hungry. And you truly want a healthy, substantial meal — not a sugar packed bowl of cereal nor a way-too-common snack in this country: a PB & J sandwich.
So here are more details on the benefits and what to expect if you want to try it. Plus some tips from my own experience if you do wish to lose weight (optional!)
It’s not going to be easy at first.
Some days you are going to feel starving, and you’re going to want to ‘break your fast’. So listen up.
Depending on how much I have for dinner, and how late I eat, sometimes I get hungry at 10am, sometimes I’m not even hungry until 2pm. If I feel hungry, I push through with a change of activity. My usual routine is to get up at 6:30am or so, work for a few hours until 10:30am and then get ready to bike to the Anato studio. I prep my lunch, get dressed, clean up etc. and by the time I get to the studio it’s usually noon. I either arrive famished and ready to devour the lunch I made, or sometimes I get started preparing orders for the day which doesn’t require me to use my noodle too much!
If I’m working from home, when I start really having the urge to eat I get some exercise: either a surf, a bike ride or a run. Yes, you’d be amazed that if you actually get started exercising you do have the energy to do so. In fact, the hunger passes pretty fast, especially if you engage your abdominals. I’ve found that even just a 10 minute core exercise routine and some push ups will help you get over your hunger faster. I NEVER imagined that I could run for a whole hour when I felt hungry for my breakfast. Never in a million years. But now I understand how my partner fasts! I understand where that energy comes from.
A word of caution and an exception to the rule:
let’s say it’s the week-end and you’re exercising all morning — you are going to need to eat something or else you could collapse (especially if you didn’t have a carb-loaded dinner). This happened to me around week 3. I started mountain biking at 9am with some hard-core biker friends in Santa Cruz. We were literally going uphill for 2.5 hours and at 11:30am they wanted to do another big loop. I said “I’d love to join but I hadn’t planned on riding this long & hard and I really need a snack!”. My friend offered me an energy bar and just a few bites of it went right into my blood stream and gave me energy for another couple hours of mountain biking. So know your limits. You should not be passing out.
I think that the most interesting benefit that comes out of intermittent fasting, is the increased desire to accomplish tasks before you have your first meal of the day. Just like when you’ve hit a fasting threshold and you don’t want to eat a small snack to hold you over, but you’d rather wait – same goes for my work. I want to get my tasks ticked off the list before I sit down to eat. With the ever-distracting landscape of the internet, focus is perhaps one of the hardest things to do these days, but I promise you, that fasting helps you focus if you can just get over that urge to eat that usually lasts about 30-45 minutes, for me, usually around 10:30 am now. But not every day if I’ve had dinner with more carbs.
For those of you interested in the weight-loss aspect — a few tips.
I’ve been intermittent fasting since June now, and overall I’ve lost 4 kilos and staying there.
I was stoked to loose 3 kilos the first 3 weeks, but then I put on the weight again because I started doing the intermittent fasting wrong. As the days grew longer and I started stopping work to do my exercise around 7 pm, I ended up eating dinner way later than usual. Or, I’d stay at the Anato studio until 8:30/9pm which made me stay up much later than I usually do.
And subsequently, made me want a little extra something to eat around 10pm! Long story short, I was getting around 7 hours of sleep instead of my usual 8h to 8h1/2. And as you probably know, SLEEP plays a huge role in your metabolism.
And secondly, I wasn’t fasting as long as I should be for the benefits, since I was having either an extra serving of dinner or dessert late at night which is not good! So beware, if you want to lose weight and truly fast as oppose to just skip breakfast: make sure you get yourself to bed early enough so you don’t get hungry again for a midnight snack!
Note: you’re allowed up to 50 calories before you get into ‘breaking the fast’ so YES you’re allowed your morning COFFEE with cream !
And the other perk to this: no breakfast means gaining about 30 minutes of my day back. I like a savoury breakfast and now, I don’t have to prep that (chop veggies, heat up a pan etc.), nor do I have to do the dishes, nor sit down and eat it!
To sum it up, here are the benefits of fasting I’ve experienced after 4 months:
⟡ Increased energy levels throughout the day, and specifically a pulse of energy after you get over the short window where you’re hungry in the morning
⟡ No sluggishness after breakfast
⟡ Gain 30 minutes of your day back
⟡ A desire to accomplish tasks before eating (perhaps coming from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who had to work hard to get that meal!)
⟡ Lose weight more easily than other methods (I have found) if you wish to
⟡ Gives your teeth a break ! Longer time between meals means less food stuck in your teeth. And, since breakfast is usually sweet for a lot of people (jam, fruit, sugary granola, orange juice...), fasting for me has meant less likelihood to get cavities.
I’m not a Doctor, nor a nutritionist. This article is for informational purposes only. If you’re interested in this type of lifestyle segment, if you have questions, or if you want an accountability buddy — reach out over on Instagram.
Been talking about fasting with a friend? Send them this blog!
Have a great week-end everyone,
Founder of Anato, skincare from trees