Not So Fast!

Why I Said “No” To Food For 24 Hours

Of all the fitness “trends” this is the one I never thought I’d do.

Fasting.

Willingly choosing not to eat for an extended period of time.

I remember hearing about intermittent fasting about a year ago and I let it go in my mind. I’d never do it. Mostly, because I didn’t trust myself to do it. Anyone who knows me knows I have a tendency to graze and snack. I used to eat about eight times a day. I’ve reduced that now to 3-5, but that’s still plenty.

Also, it sounded unhealthy! Won’t my metabolism slow down? Is this just a fast track to disordered eating patterns? If calories in/calories out is really the only way to gauge if you’re losing or gaining weight, why does it matter what window of time you’re eating?

Well, after researching for over a year, the jury was still out for me. There’s a lot out there in the health sphere on whether or not it’s good for you. Especially for women. But it lingered in the back of my mind. I was curious about what would it do for me. Could I even resist food for 24 hours at all?

I decided the only way I would know for sure was to do it for myself.

So about a week ago, I bit the bullet. Well to be more literal: I didn’t bite anything. For about 24 hours.

The Why:

I already mentioned it was a self-experiment to see, number one, if if I could do it, and number two, what it would do to my body. But there are plenty of studies that show the health benefits. First and foremost, it’s actually good for gut health. Not eating might be a stress on your body at first, but it does give your gut a break on digestion. Inflammation is shown to be reduced, which is a sign of healthy systems in the body.

Also, although I feared it would harm my relationship with food, I was curious to see if it might actually improve it. I’m one to eat simply because I want the food, not necessarily because I’m hungry. I wanted to learn how to appreciate meal times and not just eat at noon every day out of habit (regardless of my hunger levels). I wanted to feel real hunger signals to know the difference between snacking out of boredom, and snacking out of hunger. This led to a huge practice in mindfulness. If I wasn’t eating at all, I couldn’t possibly mindlessly eat. I had to be fully mindful and aware of what I was doing to my body for 24 hours, to ensure I wasn’t over-exerting myself and to feel how my body was reacting to the fast.

Fasting is also shown to improve overall health. This includes immune system health, longevity, and your hormone balance. Fasting is both cultural and ancestral.  Other cultures do it all the time. You may have family who lives in different countries, or practice different religions, that practice fasting. It is normal and cultural. Also, our ancestors (think Paleo, ancestral health) did it because they had to, when they didn’t have readily accessible food.

In general, Americans today over-consume calories greatly. It might be good for us every once in a while to see how our bodies react to low-to-no calories for a little while. Our bodies are meant to go through periods of stress and adaptation – that is how we grow.

As far as hormones go, this is meant to give some of your systems a break while others take over. Insulin gets reset and HGH production increases. Your body goes from using glucose (sugar) to burn for fuel to your own fat stores. Your body starts to produce ketones for energy instead of relying on sugar.

This is hard for a lot of people because of the standard American diet – most people have trained their bodies to only run on sugar. They never let their fat stores activate when they’re in need of energy. This is why you might feel light headed if you don’t eat for a while – it’s not normal, or a good sign of a healthy hormonal balance for that to happen to you. Again, while this is an initial stress on your body, our bodies know what to do and how to handle it. We are meant to go into this fat-burning mode when needed.

NOT Reasons Why:

Weight loss, calorie restriction, or pure torture. I was not looking for any of these things when I chose to do this. That’s all there is to it.

So…What happened?

One day I ate lunch around 1PM…and then I decided I’d wait until lunchtime the next day to eat again. Most of the time in the evening I’m not that hungry any way, so I figured if I stayed busy, I wouldn’t even think of food until morning.
So I worked the rest of the day and I went to yoga class. When I got home around 7:30PM I wasn’t hungry at all. So far, so good! I stayed busy around the house and got a little hungry, but went to bed feeling okay around 9PM.
I did have crazy dreams, though. I dreamt I ate and I broke my fast and woke up feeling like I had failed my experiment. I also remember Jeff Goldblum dancing on a stage in my dreams. Like I said: CRAZY.
I woke up and felt hungry. But I had heard from plenty of sources that that would go away. I drank water and coffee and went for a walk with my dog. The hunger started to subside, but not fully.
I reflected on it on my way to work. Fasting started to remind me me of running my marathon, actually. It was starting to get hard, but not that hard. I was beginning to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was doable. I had the energy and mindset to see it through.
I kept thinking “I’ve been this hungry before after 2-3 hours of not eating, this is fine!” I rationalized that I was sitting all day at work and not expending many calories anyway. My body didn’t need the energy from food, it would take all it needed from my existing fat stores.
I also drank a lot of water and tea, just to keep me busy. I realized that consuming things was just a habit throughout the day, so I swapped snacks for tea. It worked well.
Then 10 AM rolled around and I wanted a snack so badly. Kind Bars, Epic Bars, and RX Bars were all sitting in my desk. I could have one if I wanted. Then I thought, “you’re so close, are you really that hungry that you can’t wait until lunch?”
I decided I could and would wait. My stomach growled in a meeting (very loudly), so I told my co-workers about the fast. I figured that would also help with accountability (it did!)
Finally, I went to lunch around 12:15 PM. I started with a kombucha (boy, did I feel that .05% alcohol on an empty stomach!) and I decided to choose a nutrient dense, fulfilling meal of peanut-free pad thai. It was delicious, but surprisingly heavy for being just vegetables and a cashew sauce.
Food never tasted so good and fulfilling as it did after a 24-hour fast.

What I Learned

For one, I learned to check the menu closely even when I’m hungry! The pad thai had red bell peppers, which tend to bother my stomach. I believe that was my reason for some digestive discomfort post-fast, but it could have also been the fast itself (I’d have to experiment again to see).
Secondly, I learned a lot of the positive claims are true. The rings I wear daily were basically falling off my fingers – a big sign for me of low inflammation. No bloat. I was clear headed. I was energized.
I also learned that some people won’t always understand why you do what you do for your body. But you have to remember it’s YOUR body, and if you do your research and want to experiment with something you’ve heard is a healthful practice, don’t let anyone’s opinions get in your way.
But most importantly, I realized I COULD do it. I could resist food when I’m not hungry. I CAN kick cravings to the curb. I can say “no” to the delicious snacks in my drawer throughout the day when I start to feel a slump, or when I’m in the mood for a hit of chocolate.
I think that my day without food helped me a lot, psychologically. Food does NOT control me. I will always have the choice to resist bad foods. It will always be MY choice to give in to less healthy options, or to eat out of convenience, boredom, or otherwise. You ALWAYS have the choice to put healthy, good foods in your body. You always have the choice to either eat when you’re hungry, or more or less often. But only are responsible for your own health outcomes.
You can’t blame the cookie. You can’t blame your officemate for bringing in pretzels after lunch. You can’t blame your bad day or your cravings or a celebratory event that comes up. It’s up to you. No excuses, no exceptions.

So, What Now?

I waited a few weeks to write this to see how it would affect me or make me feel, mentally and physically.

Now, I realize that one fast won’t do much physically. The most fat loss you can really have within 24 hours is about a half a pound, so my body didn’t change drastically. My inflammation was lower for a while, but the second I put sugar back in my diet, that reverted back to normal. Who knows how one fast affected my immunity or longevity – not that much I imagine. It’s meant to be practiced regularly to achieve benefits.

I’ve practiced a few 12-hour fasts since then, but those aren’t too difficult or make as large of changes for me. Soon, I’ll probably attempt an 18 hour fasting protocol (with an 8 hour feeding window) multiple times within a week to see how that goes. I might try that with bulletproof coffee to experiment with how it affects me. Or, I’ll try another 24 hour long fast again. We’ll see.

But the most important thing I have moving forward post-fast is the mental affects it had. I know now more than ever that this is my body and my choices are my own. I am empowered to do what’s right for me at all times. Only I can stand in my own way. And I refuse to let myself do that anymore.

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