Look around you next time your out in public. The vast majority of the people around you will be in consumption mode in one way or another. We are a society encouraged to consume and consume regularly. For some, the overly easy accessibility of things to consume, in this case food, makes it hard to avoid chowing down not only on food that isn’t remotely nutritious but chowing down when hunger isn’t remotely present. A constant caloric surplus, meaning someone’s energy expenditure is less than their intake of calories, leads to weight gain, inflammation and a constant stress on the bodies organs. Enter the muffin top...
If people could realise the extensive health and wellness factors they could reap the benefits of from actually experiencing genuine hunger without the blurred emotional and environmental relationship with food and eating, the amount of double chins, rolls on rolls, and front bums getting around putting a strain on the healthcare system and taking up two seats on the bus, would be sliced in half no doubt! One of my first blog posts was relating to my own experiences with fasting. It can be a self enlightening, healing, growth promoting and positively challenging experience if approached in the right way.
If you’re not familiar with what it means to ‘fast’, here it is. Fasting simply means to reduce or eliminate the intake of any food for a chosen length of time. All the usual comments come flooding in. “That’s just a form of self starvation”, “…Promoting an eating disorder”, “…Causes starvation response in the body”, blah, blah, blah. With so much information at our fingertips, all it takes is a bit of research and self experimentation to uncover the plethora of benefits that mindful fasting can offer in the fitness, health and mental arenas IF it is done right and for the right reasons. Reasons being……
REASON ONE – CLEANSE THE SYSTEM
By way of autophagy, fasting enables the body to effectively rid itself of built up toxins and waste products that would usually lay dormant in an over fed system, also encouraging repair within the system responsible for this waste removal. Essentially, autophagy allows healthy cell functioning and is the bodies own ‘recycle’ mechanism. It allows the body to maintain muscle mass and minimise the muscle atrophy. There are only a few pathways to autophagy – fasting, exercise and coffee are part of the select few. I can safely say my autophagy response is consistently engaged if not purely from coffee consumption.
REASON TWO – MENTAL CLARITY
Much the same, a type of brain autophagy is the most profound relation to fasting which I experienced and is also a medically linked benefit. These neurological benefits can be noticed almost instantly. Say goodbye to brain fog, anxiety, depression and hello to a clear mind, improved cognitive function, better memory and concentration, more positive thought patterns and a heightened sense of emotional control. The experiences of mental clarity are perhaps the most important aspect that need to be experienced first hand to be properly understood however the short and narrow of it is that everything becomes much clearer, there is a heightened sense of awareness and the tolerance and acceptance for pain (during exercise) increases noticeably.
REASON THREE – WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
For so long we’ve been fed ideas that consuming several small meals a day, never to exercise on an empty stomach and to always eat a big breakfast to start the day right. Sounds legit, right? Not so much. Studies actually show the opposite. Caloric restriction, as opposed to the ‘frequent, small meal’ myth is the most effective way to shrink the waistline. Not only does it seem far from logical to tell people concerned with weight loss to eat more frequently, particularly the obese, but evidence suggests that there is no positive effect on metabolism and in fact negative effects on increasing inflammation and relates illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Throwing in the occasional fasting period, however, is the way to go for cutting the fat. Fasting will allow the body to over time become more efficient at burning fat for the primary source of energy as opposed to carbohydrates or glucose. Im sure you will find that 95% of competitive body builders use a form of fasting to get to a ‘stage ready’ low body fat percentage physique. This is obviously the extreme end of the spectrum but the fat loss concept is still the same. Regular (not extended) fasting has the ability to turn your body into a fat burning furnace.
REASON FOUR – GROWTH
Fasting not only facilitates weight loss but encourages muscle growth! What more could the fitness junkie ask for? At present you probably live by the ideology of never exercising on an empty stomach, always consume a large breakfast or risk compromising performance and always eat within 45 minutes of training to avoid muscle wastage. It’s hard to comprehend things that you’ve been doing and believed in for so long are either wrong, or just not right for you. So explore both options. At the moment, I maintain a fasted state before every morning workout often continuing the fast until lunch time post exercise. Reasons being that there is a lot of research which leans towards the knowledge that working out in a fasted state actually increases protein synthesis, metabolic adaptations and the anabolic (muscle building) response for post workout eating. This all boils down to better muscle building and repair capabilities, greater fat burning ability and more efficient use of the proteins. You will become a lean, mean training machine. Short term fasting also increases the production or secretion of the growth hormone. After certain exercise, like sprints, HIIT and resistance training, the body naturally produces the growth hormone. Fasting has been shown to dramatically increase the levels of Human Growth Hormone, whereas consuming a meal straight after a workout, particularly one high in fructose (sugar) will cut off these positive hormonal secretions a prevent their uptake.
REASON FIVE – SELF ENLIGHTENMENT
Aside from the noted effects that fasting can have on hormonal balance including controlling the ‘hunger’ hormone (Ghrelin), increasing Human Growth Hormone and muscle growth, cleansing the body and removing waste through autophagy, improving weight control through increasing insulin sensitivity and metabolic adaptations and clearing the mind, the most profound and important reason to fast is for a level of self-enlightenment. Everything else just provides the foundations for increased spiritual awareness and discipline. No scientist can quantify or measure results for this enlightenment. It is all personal. The level of discipline and self control that is often involved with fasting and in general sticking to a healthy diet on a day-to-day basis is quite significant. With so much temptation and ease of access to food, this can be the biggest challenge- mental strength. But is it when all of this temptation, internal questioning, emotional battles, and outside environmental pressure is overcome that the biggest achievement is felt and the most important benefit of fasting is accessed – enlightenment.
HOW TO FAST?
Just as there is no exact science with food consumption, there is no perfect amount of time to abstain from food or no perfect fasting method. Living the Train Holistic way is about finding out what is right for you for reasons unique to your own environment and personal life. It is about a path of self-enlightenment. In this respect, there are a number of effective ways to implement fasting into your life, each method having its own unique benefits. Here’s three suggestions to try for yourself:
16 Hour Fast to 8 Hour Eating Window – This one works best for me personally and is the method that I would suggest be tried as an introduction to fasting. With this type of intermittent fast the idea, evident in the name, is to abstain from eating for 16 hours (most of which you will be asleep anyway) and consume your normal caloric intake between the hours of 12pm to 8pm. This method appears to be the least disruptive in terms of most peoples daily schedules, allowing for significant food intake each day and all of the aforementioned health, wellness and fitness rewards for fasting still well and truly exist.
24 Hour Fast – The method behind the madness in this form of fast is to, you guessed it, go a whole day without eating. An example would be to go from 1pm on a Thursday and fast until 1pm Friday upon which time you would continue your normal intake of food for the ensuing 24 hour period (essentially alternating your fasting days). Studies link this type of fasting with the highest benefits relating to heart disease and cancer prevention.
5:2 Fasting – This refers to the semi-fasting but more caloric restriction method of completing 5 days of normal (healthy) eating followed by 2 days of restricting caloric intake to around 500-600 calories per day. This method is quite popular as it is the closest method to the current way of eating that most people follow already with only 2 days of any significant change in the week. Keep in mind, the full potential of fasting is not achieved with this regime however health and wellness benefits will be experienced nonetheless and it can be used as an appropriate stepping stone to more committed fasting efforts.
Important things to remember for all methods of fasting is to minimise or eliminate snacking, especially of the unhealthy kind. Snacking between meals even in the eating windows will negate some of the positive indications for metabolic efficiency that are trying to be achieved by undertaking a fast. Also, people tend to become ravenous when the time for food intake comes around and can have a tendency to see the eating window or breaking the fast as a free for all to eat whatever the mind desires, slamming down pastries, crounuts, sweets and treats. Fasting does not magically mean your body becomes more tolerable or effective at processing unnatural, processed foods. It is really important to stay clean and lean with food intake to achieve maximum results. Another considerations is fasting for females. A lot of research related to females and the effects of fasting for them is either inconclusive or points towards there being a number of negative associations between entering an extended fasted state or fasting too regularly and reduced fertility. If at all, females should try the least invasive form of fasting (16 hour fast/8 hour eating window) and be sure not to fast for too long or too regularly. Lastly, and perhaps the most important consideration of all, is to decipher in your own mind your intentions for undertaking a fast. Are you fasting for weight loss, lean muscle gain, mental clarity, cleansing, or all of the above? Are you fasting purely for aesthetics or to feel that holistic cleanliness? Most importantly, are you fasting for yourself or for someone else? Find out for yourself…
Train Holistic – Design your own life