Feeling the Fast

feeling the fast

Fasting is getting more and more attention as word gets out on all of the health benefits that can come from fasting. As people do start to look into fasting, they realize that the straight forward concept of fasting is much more than simply not eating. It doesn't take long to realize that there are many different kinds of fasts that can be used. While technically fasting is simply the abstinence of eating food, there are many ways to approach how and when to do this.

Fasting ranges from the traditional model of fasting in that people refrain from eating and at times from drinking to intermittent fasting, pseudo fasting, fat fasting, juice fasting, broth fasting, every other day fasting, or any combination of these, and probably some others that don’t come to mind.

In the truest definition, the term intermittent fasting technically means any fasting attempts that last less than 20 days. That’s right, 20 days! Long term fasting starts on the 21st day.

Intermittent fasting is popular in today’s pop fasting and health circles, but they usually are referring to eating in a specific eating window. For example, one’s eating window might be 8 hours where they eat from 12-8 pm then the refrain form eating the other 16 hours, from 8 pm to 12 the next day. In this sense they are extending the overnight “fast” and get a short 16 hour mini fast so to speak. If you like this model and get good at it then you can extend the fast by shortening the eating window to 6 hours or even 4. Most people choose to skip breakfast and have their eating window include lunch and dinner with some potential snacking in between. Metabolically speaking research suggests that shifting the eating window earlier, like form 8 am to 4 pm makes for a healthier metabolic change overall.

Pseudo fasting or a fasting mimicking diet as it has been called in the literature, is when a person sticks to a very low calorie diet eating only between 500 and 800 calories per day. IN medical obesity circles they now call this concept a Very Low Calorie Diet or VLCD, and are using it with meal replacements all over the country, but the long term results are terrible and frankly there is a better way. This eating style and form of fasting has been used over a prolonged period of time (8 weeks) with those with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes and was shown to reverse not only their diagnostic symptomatology criteria of high blood sugar and insulin resistance but also to actually reverse the fat deposits in their pancreas and potentially reverse some of the plaguing that can arise with prolonged insulin resistance.

Other studies looking at the over 90% success rate of bariatric surgery to “cure” or completely reverse type 2 diabetes realized through comparing surgery candidates who went through the surgery and those who did not but went on the same post surgery diet actually lost more weight and reversed or “cured” type 2 diabetes at the same rate as people who actually had the surgery showing that it was the 500-800 calorie restrictive post surgery pseudo fast that did all the work.

Many groups consider the significant drop in insulin exposure in the blood and to the body to be the heavy lifter in the overall benefit of fasting, especially in metabolically challenged people with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, weight and cardio metabolic issues. Fat is the only food that does not cause insulin secretion, therefore by only eating fat and refraining from the carbohydrates and protein that do cause insulin secretion one can manage to eat and still gain the benefits of the low insulin exposure and health changes seen in all out fasting. These 2 models, as far I have seen, have not been tested head to head to see just how much of a metabolic or health change occur in a full fast vs. a fat fast, but don’t be surprised if you see one very soon!

I would consider broth fasting a form of fat fasting since most home made broths do not have sugar or other insulin stimulating ingredients and really only contain fat and minerals. Broth fasting is done just how it sounds, you make a big batch of home made broth, be it bone broth, vegetable (potassium), chicken, or seafood broth, and you drink it throughout the day. People use the broth as a way to ease through a fast drinking it as they feel the need, as well as try and target healing, particularly in the gut, by drinking a certain amount of broth per day. I personally like to add fresh herbs to my broth a few minutes before drinking it, or maybe some dried seaweed to add flavor and have enjoyed a dab of hot sauce as well, just for flavor.

Juice fasting is a bit different since when you juice fruits and vegetables you are basically removing all the fiber and extracting the juice which is basically water, minerals, some vitamins, and sugar form the plant. This method offers a wider variety of flavor depending on what plant foods are added but can raise insulin and therefore may have benefits but they will be different than from the other forms of fasting. In my personal and clinical experience there is a possibility of getting too much sugar in juice and it often seems to promote a higher degree of crankiness than any of the other methods of fasting that I go into here.

Another benefit of all of the fasting techniques here besides possibly juice fasting is that if done long enough and with intermittent fasting combined with a higher fat and protein, low carb diet approach, can help people shift from being a sugar primary metabolic burner to a primarily fat burner. Over time, with enough exposure to this model and some metabolic flexibility one can even move into a state of nutritional ketosis where the process of burning fat for energy yields a higher level of ketones that then in turn are preferably used by the high energy organs in our body like the brain, heart, kidneys and just about all of the other cells of the body. This is not to be confused with ketoacidosis which is a state that is produced by uncontrolled type one diabetes. Diets have never been shown to produce ketoacidosis, they are two completely different things.

So whether you want to get into or try fasting for the health benefits, to lose weight, or to promote nutritional ketosis, there are a few points that are very important to keep in mind.

1. Fasting is the intentional utilization of, or shift into a specific metabolic pathway of primary fat burning vs. primarily burning sugar. Basically you are trying to shift from sugar burning to fat burning.

2. Shifting metabolic dominance from sugar burning to fat burning can take time and effort. The switch is not a simple on off switch like flipping on your lights but rather a slow dial that needs be turned from one side to the other on a dimmer.

3. Fasting symptoms and discomfort are often not a result of the fasting or the switching of the metabolic switch, but rather due to detoxification and breaking free of the carb addiction cycle in your brain and body.

4. Becoming an efficient faster and getting to a point where fasting is easier and can be prolonged is like building a muscle as you flex and move over time as you get into shape. It takes practice, and a plan.

5. Hunger for the most part in modern living is an aberrant sensation. There is no such thing as acute hunger that might come up by skipping a meal or snack. If you feel any “hunger” sensations in the short term process of fasting then it is really the ”urge” to eat that you feel.

When making your plan to start into any fasting protocol, and yes, it is a protocol, as in a planned progression that fits into a larger goal or health improvement picture. We often support the process with specific exercises, supplements and stress resilience concepts as well. So, as you try some of these fasting concepts out remember that they are not gimmicks or fad diets and should be thought through, prepared for, and monitored for optimal benefit and outcomes.

All that said, give it a try and let us know how it goes.

Dr. Don

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