The Fasting Experiment - what I learnt about food by not eating

The Fasting Experiment – what I learnt about food by not eating

So recently, I decided to forgo all food for a week of fasting: a fasting experiment.

Why did I decide to do this?

Because I’m crazy maybe? At least that’s what everyone around me was saying.

 

“You can’t NOT eat for a week, that can’t be good for you?!”

“Why would you want to give up food?! It’s amazing!”

“I could never do it, I would be ravenous and lose my sh*t!”

“You’re doing what? Are you crazy?”

“Why are you not eating? Are you trying to lose weight or something?”

“What about nutrition, you’ll get sick!”

“You’re going to have to stay home all week and just sleep, you’ll have no energy.”

“You’re just going to burn all of your muscle!”

 

To be honest, there weren’t many positive reactions.

And that is one reason that I wanted to do this fast, to see exactly what would happen and how I would feel so I could confirm or deny comments like these.

For those of you who know me, you know that I’ve been experimenting with diet and lifestyle for a while now and as a result, I called my website “The Fat Experiment.” This experiment is all about me eating a high (healthy) fat diet that is low in carbs and sugars. And yes, people thought I was (and am still) crazy for doing this…but I love it and it works, so the experiment became my reality and I now continue to try new things connected to enhancing ketosis (and a healthy body and mind) even further.

But in my experience, depending on your goals, a diet can only take you so far.

So, true to form, I decided to call my first fast my “Fasting Experiment.” Here’s a link to my youtube channel if you’re interested in seeing my progress throughout the week…

 

But back to the whys…

I have been intermittent fasting for a while now.

When doing a keto diet, it’s common to only be hungry a couple of times a day as the fat makes one feel so satiated. So, I would eat breakfast and then fast until dinner (these are my two favourite times of day to eat).

When I started traveling a lot for work,  I would find myself in situations where I didn’t want to order the lunch on offer because I wasn’t comfortable eating it (dodgy Chinese food) and other times, I was in a new location and didn’t know where to go. Then after work was the same, or I wanted to just go to the gym and work out and then by the time dinner rolled around, it was so late that I didn’t want to eat.

So I decided to extend my fasts and do some 24 hour fasts. I would eat the huge, delicious (and free) buffet breakfast at the hotel and then just not eat until the next morning. I did this a few days in a row and I was feeling great. I wondered if I was doing harm to my body because so many of the “experts” out there talk about how bad it is to skip a meal and how, in fact, you should be eating your three meals but also preparing healthy snacks for those in between times when you’re a little peckish (note the sarcasm).

Well imho, that’s just ott 😉

So I got out my trusty cronometer and I plugged in the data of my morning meal and was very surprised to find that I was hitting a lot of the nutrients in that one meal. I may have been a little short of all the recommended daily amounts but I was definitely consuming food that gave me a variety of vitamins, minerals, good fats, fibre and essential amino acids. If you’re wondering why I didn’t say essential carbs, it’s because they’re not essential. I get some carbs from the veggies that I eat but that’s my main source. I’m a no grains, gluten, or sugar girl.

Anyway, so I knew that my body was getting a good amount of nutrition and I was giving it a chance to have a break from all that eating work – cause it is work, you’re body requires a lot of energy to do all that digesting (but one of the reasons you get tired post prandial).

 

So my intermittent fasting naturally progressed into some longer 24 hour fasts throughout my work week. Not every day, just when it was convenient. And occasionally, instead of having a full meal when I’d get home from my journey later at night, I might eat a few macadamias and have a lot of water and away I would go…to bed that is.

I was sleeping well, waking with energy and my hunger was getting easier to manage. This is a result of ketogenesis, a state my body has been in a while now but the fasting has definitely kicked my ketones up a notch!

When fasting, eating was a lovely experience because it only occurred once a day sometimes. So when I did eat, I tried to savour the mouthfuls, not eat too quickly and turn off my phone or enjoy someone’s company. It made me realise how little I appreciated eating all this delicious food and how little I actually chewed my food.

So my curiosities led me to source out Jimmy Moore’s podcast “Fasting Talk.” I knew it existed but I had rejected the idea of fasting for so long because I’d read and heard all about how bad fasting was, particularly for women. That fasting would communicate to their bodies that they were starving and stop the production of sex hormones ceasing their ovulation and menstrual cycles, also known as hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA).

This is the same thing many “so-called experts” say regarding low carb diets. (Note: The experts always advise against low carb, they NEVER mention anything about high fat and I think this is the key point they are consistently missing).

An interesting self-observation: On the same day that I started LCHF, I also stopped taking the pill which I had been on for 16 YEARS!!! I didn’t get my period for 11 months, however, once it returned, it got more and more regular each month (I have been tracking daily since 2014), until now when it is often like clockwork.

I believe it was all the fat from my diet that helped me to regulate my hormones, get things back on track and made my cycle the best it has ever been and today, the only thing I can attribute to not having any PMS or heavy/painful periods anymore is my diet that is free from refined carbohydrates and unnecessary sugars, combined with my environment that is largely toxin free (I live in Shanghai so pollution can be an issue). I also no longer having the symptoms of estrogen dominance.

However, this wasn’t fasting. I was eating plenty of calories from fat on a regular basis.

Either way, I didn’t want to suffer from HA (but keep in mind that my long fast is a once off, not a regular occurrence).

Another reason I had rejected fasting was because I had heard your body would go into gluconeogenesis (production of “new glucose/sugar”). This is often described as a process where your body breaks down muscle (amino acids from protein) and uses it for fuel.

I really didn’t want that to happen either.

 

But back to the podcast…

The “Moore” I listened, the “Moore” I decided that it was time I give it a shot. Lol. I couldn’t help myself.

But seriously, the podcast discussed the ins and outs of fasting and it just seemed to make sense to me and seemed to be safe. So that lead me to the next step, I bought their book.

Fung and Moore wrote a book titled “The Complete Guide to Fasting.” It is a super easy and quick read and full of great info with an excellent guide (plus awesome recipes) to help you get started on your fasting journey – and no, I’m sadly getting no kickbacks for this promotion 😉

 

So why did I decide to fast, what were the main reasons that appealed to me from the podcast and the book?

(In no particular order…)

1. The challenge

I like a challenge and I have never gone without food – intentionally – for more than 24 hours, well I sort of did once as a kid when I participated in the 40 hour famine (a 40 hour fast to raise money for child poverty in Africa, if I remember correctly). We were, however, allowed to eat as many of these little sugar lollies (Barley sugars they were called) that I’ve no doubt wouldn’t have made the journey easier. We may have even been able to drink juice. I don’t know if we lasted the 40 hours but we sure did try and I remember feeling very hungry all the time.

 

2. The hunger/appetite awareness

I struggle to control myself when it comes to eating. I often overeat, don’t chew my food, in fact I sometimes eat like I’m never going to see food again. I eat everything on my plate, always (a family expectation that probably came about due to poverty and then, appreciation – I remember my grandmother/mother saying something about how the starving children in Africa aren’t lucky enough to have the food we had so we should be grateful and eat it all). In addition, I’m often doing something while I’m eating so there’s very little mindfulness when it comes to appreciating tastes and textures.

I wanted this to change. You take away food for a week and you can bet I’m going to love and appreciate eating once I start again!

 

3. The DEXA results

In March of 2017, I went home to Melbourne and I got myself a DEXA/DXA scan. I was very pleased to see that my visceral fat was very low but I was also very shocked to see that I was 28% body fat (it’s much more accurate than the BMI). I weigh around 60kg and am 170cm tall. I was assured that this number is normal for women and that most women today are much higher (true because more women are overweight/obese) but I am still curious to see if I can change my body fat to lean muscle ratios. Since moving to Shanghai, I feel like I’ve moved much less because I no longer have a gym membership and so rely on my own self motivation when it comes to working out. I’m not bad but I could be better. But I did say goodbye to my boxing classes (and my beautiful muscular shoulders that came with that) and I simply can’t afford to attend the gyms in Shanghai, they are double the price of those in Melbourne and I can’t justify it. So, I’m doing my own fitness things and want to see if I can change my body composition with the combination of fasting and keto. I plan to do another DEXA/DXA in December when I return to Melbourne. I will, of course, release the results when I get them, good, bad or indifferent.

 

4. The HbA1c results

I test regularly both my blood glucose and my ketones and these numbers always seem to be low (glucose between 3.8-4.5), however, my fasting glucose, my HbA1c  (glycated haemoglobin), is always in the 5s. When listening to Megan Ramos talk, the cohost of the Fasting Talk, she tells about how she managed to reduce hers into the 4s. And the lower the HbA1c, the lower the insulin resistance. Now sure, this is not a problem for me, but it’s what I’m working with and what I want to observe.

 

5. The heath benefits!!

Boy oh boy these are huge!! Fasting benefits include:

      • Cancer prevention (linked to apoptosis)
      • Alzheimer’s prevention (neurological benefits)
      • Anti-aging benefits
      • Blood lipid improvements
      • Blood pressure improvements
      • Weight loss
      • Reduction of fatty liver disease
      • Treats PCOS
      • And a bunch of other things…

 

Of course who doesn’t want to look younger?! Not me. Who doesn’t want to prevent life threatening disease?! Not me again. Who doesn’t want a healthy mind, body and heart?! Not Me Me Me!!!

How are these diseases prevented and aging prolonged?

Well firstly, it is all about increasing your sensitivity to insulin, or reducing your resistance. Insulin resistance is why people get these metabolic issues listed above. Also, the lower the insulin, the better the memory.

Then there is adrenaline. When fasting, this speeds up your metabolism because you are burning fat for fuel (lipolysis).

Then you have growth hormone which also goes up. This has been linked to the anti-aging benefits and the increase of lean muscle mass.

Also linking to these hormones are another two processes that are occurring to your cells when you fast. The first is apoptosis. This is when your cells commit suicide. Yep, they decide that it’s time to go, that they’ve been around long enough and it’s time for new cells to come replace them so that your brain and body can function optimally.

Then comes autophagy, which also only occurs when we fast/intermittent fast (also when we sleep). This is the renewal bit. So after the cells decide it’s time to go, we have a cleansing process whereby the junk is removed so that we can make new cells and tissues.

Awesome, aint it?! This human body of ours knows how to take out its own trash so we can have a super brain and body!

So what happens when we eat? Well, our body needs insulin to deal with the carbs and protein and so the pathway called mTOR gets switched on. Basically your body stops autophagy during this time because it senses the energy present, meaning it doesn’t need to get rid of the cells that have expired and no longer require energy.

Yep, in the presence of insulin autophagy can’t occur.

Which means the opposite occurs when we stop eating. The mTOR pathway is dormant and cellular renewal can occur. The longer you fast, the more renewal that occurs.

So autophagy cleanses our cells which means those cells that could potentially become cancer or those cells that accumulate in the brain causing Alzheimer’s could be treated by some simple fasting. Wow.

So those are the whys… and if I do say so myself, they are some pretty huge whys!

 

But I’ve already done my fast, so let’s talk about what I learned!

 

1. We eat too much, too frequently often due to emotional attachments.

The more I fast, both longer or intermittently, the more I think that we eat too much and that it is unnecessary to eat more than three meals a day – sometimes I wonder if we even need more than two!! Of course in the keto world, two meals are plenty, especially given that fat is so satiating and the food is nutrient dense; but in the high carb world, the carbs keep you coming back for more. The ups and downs of blood glucose have you needing more fuel (no wonder snacking became a thing – oh and then there’s the money-hungry – pardon the pun – big food companies), messing with your hormonal responses, switching off all the awesome benefits like autophagy and of course, gaining weight.

What I also noticed though were the emotional ties I personally have to food. These are not so much cravings but rather a lust for delicious food. Because I choose nutrient dense foods, these are what I’m lusting over now so I don’t feel too bad when I over-indulge. But whilst fasting, although I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to have that feeling of food in my mouth, that makes you feel happy. Anything from salmon to (nut) butter, to eggs or dark chocolate.

When you take away the hunger, you realise that the food is an attachment; it can have a great big hold of us at times.

 

2. We don’t drink enough water.

Seriously. Years ago someone said to me that if I had a craving to just drink water, give it 20 mins and if you still want whatever you were craving, then eat it.

Well, although I don’t really subscribe to that way of thinking now (some people’s cravings are mega these days) but water is a real game-changer.

Often we are not really hungry and we are, in fact, thirsty. It seems rather simple but it’s something I observed and since starting my fasts, I have now been consuming a good couple of liters of water a day. I’d like to consume more and I’m working on it.

 

3. We don’t take the time to savour our food 

I probably don’t have to tell you this but it’s true. When was the last time you truly sat just you and your food, ate calmly, chewed properly and really tasted what you were eating. Even when we do anything else like watch TV, play with our phones or even talk to others, we may not pay attention to our food. Pay attention once in a while and you will begin to appreciate it more and each morsel will taste even better than the last!

 

4. Fasting is super easy but easier if you’re already fat adapted.

I’ve already mentioned the benefits above but I did learn that fasting is incredibly easy. Like, super easy. Once you get over to day 3, your hunger dissipates and you have more time to get sh*t done. You don’t have to spend time meal prepping or cooking or shopping or washing dishes, you can just get about your life and you’re not sitting on the coach moaning about your hunger or feeling exhausted. Easy peasy. In all honesty, day 1 was the hardest for me. Most people say it is day 2 but I was super busy and active so it flew by.

The thing to note here is that I am fat adapted already. My body knows how to burn fat for fuel and it does it readily giving me loads of energy whenever I need it. I suspect this is why day 2 was such a breeze. If you are high carb and starting with a fast, you are going to struggle A LOT more. However, get to day 3 or 4 and you will be feeling better and you will have kickstarted your ketogenesis for sure… however if you go back to high carb post fast, you will be undoing your hard work so I think it’s a good idea to do it in the following steps:

 

      1. Quit sugar/refined carbs, up the fats – or go LCHF
      2. Drop down to keto (which is very low carb), still eating 3 meals at first if you need to get your body producing ketones and to help you transition from glucose to fat burner.
      3. Start intermittent fasting – eat two meals a day first, then try a 24 hour fast.
      4. Do a week fast.

 

One side note, if you are really heavy and have plenty to lose, skip the intermittent fasting bit. Go from keto straight to fasting. You’ll be fine.

 

5. Hunger – I learnt all about hunger.

What did I learn specifically:

  • It is easy to control, easier than we think. A drink of sparkling water and 15 minutes it is a thing of the past.
  • We don’t have to respond to hunger the way we do. Each time that hunger pang happens, do we really need to run to the fridge looking for something or are you feeling ok despite a tiny bit of hunger?
  • Hunger is both a hormonal and conditioned response
    • Hormonal: this is timed with our circadian rhythms; we naturally get hungry as our hormones peak 2-3 times a day.
    • Conditioned: we’re not hungry, then we see food, then we are. We have been conditioned to consume something every time we have a break.

“Have a break, have a Kit Kat” sound familiar?

Like dogs, it’s something we’ve been trained to do, eat upon command.

When you are at work, how “normal” is it for kids and adults to eat or drink when there is a break? When you’re at school, it is natural for kids to take a snack at recess and a snack at lunch. Now growing bodies need extra nutrition, so this is often ok for kids (assuming they’re eating nutritious food) but for adults, if we have eaten a good breakfast, we shouldn’t need anything in between.

 

6. Fasting is the perfect weight loss tool. Muscle loss is not an issue.

True story. It’s an excellent tool for weight loss – I went from 60kg to 57kg in that week. Of course, now that I’m eating again, I’ve put that back on so I’m curious to know if what I lost was fat only or excess water because my body still looks trimmer. But I will keep up the intermittent fasting and may do one more longer fast in a few months time if I feel like it. I’m so curious to know if it will change anything on my DEXA.

As for the muscle loss, Fung explains more about that here. But to simplify it, he (and many others say) that logically, muscle loss will not occur because your body needs muscle for its functions and we would not have survived had our bodies not evolved to do this. Therefore, when fasting, it is only those who are extremely low in body fat (he says 4%) that the body will then start using your muscles as fuel because it is quite literally, starving. However, what research there is shows that protein consumption in the body goes down with prolonged fasts and that our body actually conserves our muscle. This could be due to growth hormone increasing rather than decreasing. Yes, gluconeogenesis is occurring but his explanation is that the body is using the glycerol backbone (from the triglyceride molecule) to form the glucose molecule and that what protein is broken down is replaced when the person resumes eating. So the body is getting rid of proteins from the tissues etc that are no longer beneficial to the body and then when the person resumes eating, the proteins will be regenerated.

Anyway, I’ve no doubt that there will be people who disagree with that perspective but after fasting, I didn’t look like I had wasted at all. I looked slimmer around my waist, belly and arms and when I resumed eating, I put back on a couple of kilos but I still don’t look the same as before and people have commented on this too.

 

Well guys, that post wasn’t meant to be that long so if you’ve got this whole way through, THANK YOU FOR READING!!!

And if you haven’t given fasting a go before, maybe I’ve inspired you to give it a try…

And if you have given fasting a go before, feel free to comment below with your thoughts about the benefits or just share your experience.

 

With love (and healthy fats), Bianca x

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