Disclaimer: I?m not a doctor. You should consult your physician before experimenting with fasting. Now for the juicy stuff?
I started 2018 with a 7-day fast and it was one of the most productive weeks I?ve ever had. I want to share what I learned because there are a lot of misconceptions about fasting and some real benefits that get very little attention.
Most importantly, you can do it without turning into a hangry monster. In fact, there are simple steps to avoid hunger and fatigue as well as maintain muscle. Though it might seem crazy, a 7-day fast is very doable. I?m going to explain how, step-by-step.
In my case, the objective was to get into a state of ?ketosis,? which has many health benefits. Ketosis inhibits precancerous activity in your cells, reduces inflammation, and a whole lot more. (1)
If you?ve ever skipped a couple meals then you know how easily you can get hungry and bent out of shape. This happens pretty easily on a conventional diet high in carbohydrates where your body is using glucose for fuel. The problem is that your body cannot store very much glucose. When it senses that you?re running low on glucose it sets off alarms. You feel a strong sense of hunger and all you can think about is food.
These symptoms are temporary. If you go long enough without eating, you will use up the glucose in your system and then enter ketosis. During ketosis, your body switches to an alternative fuel source, ketones, which your body makes from fat. If you?ve ever been to a decent holiday party you?ve noticed that putting on fat is pretty easy. Even a lean person can store hundreds of thousands of calories in the form of fat.
The body and brain actually love to use ketones for fuel. People generally report improved sleep and mental clarity during ketosis. This was my experience as well.
How to fast without going bonkers
The goal is to minimize or even eliminate the hunger stage by getting into ketosis as quickly as possible. You want to drink plenty of water and add electrolytes to avoid headaches. If you want to keep your body composition in check there are solutions to burning fat while preserving muscle. Here are the exact steps I recommend to make this as easy as possible:
Step 1: If you?re currently subsisting on cake and french fries your body is not going to enjoy a sudden shift to fasting. In the week before the fast it will help if you minimize your carb intake. The general rule is to reduce carbs and add more healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc. If you really want to dial it in, follow a ?ketogenic diet? leading up to the fast.
Step 2: Eat your last meal at sundown on a Friday evening.
Step 3: Sleep as long as possible into Saturday morning. Sleeping is an easy way to burn through glucose. Remember, once you use up the glucose in your system, your body switches to ketosis, which is the goal.
Step 4: When you wake up, make coffee or tea with two tablespoons of healthy fat:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted Kerrygold butter
- 1 tablespoon exogenous ketones or MCT oil. An inexpensive option to start with is the small, 3-ounce bottle of Brain Octane Oil.
- Blend it!
For the first 2?3 days, exogenous ketones or MCT oil are your friends. Consume them first thing in the morning and up to 2 more times throughout the day, adding up to about 300 calories. This will help your transition to ketosis and minimize muscle loss.
Step 5: On Saturday morning take a brisk walk for 1?2 hours without breaks to burn through glucose in your system. Make sure you?re on your way within 30 minutes of waking up. Bring a 1-liter bottle with water and add a few good pinches of salt. I recommend Himalayan pink salt because it?s rich in important minerals and electrolytes. Refill and add more salt halfway through the walk. Download some podcasts beforehand or call friends and family along the way.
Step 6: If you?re concerned about keeping hard-earned muscle you should use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Starting Sunday, take 1.5 grams of BCAAs every morning upon waking. Take 3 grams during your workouts. Yes, continue exercising. I recommend Bulk Supplements 2:1:1 BCAAs and I prefer them in capsule form.
Step 7: Continue to add salt to your water throughout the fast. This is critical for replenishing electrolytes to avoid fatigue and headaches.
Step 8: After seven days, on the following Friday, wait until sundown and treat yourself to a nice meal. At the end of a 7-day fast you don?t have to be careful how much you eat, but you likely won?t have a big appetite. I would recommend minimizing carbohydrates for the next couple days, especially if you?re prone to acne breakouts.
6.8 pounds less body fat. 20 hours more free time.
I lost 6.8 pounds of body fat according to my somewhat accurate body composition scale. It also said I didn?t lose any muscle, but I likely did. I lost some strength in the gym as the week went on.
Next, I found that fasting is very cost effective. I only spent $9.70 on food and supplements during those 7 days. That?s less than the price of a fancy burger.
One of the biggest results was extra time. I magically added 20+ hours to my week. Seven days without planning meals, buying food, and schmoozing over it for long periods of time. I love to do all those things, but that easily freed up 10 extra hours in my week. On top of that, my body didn?t need as much sleep. I went from my usual 8 hours to just 6 hours on average, so that?s an extra 10 hours (I slept for about 8 hours during the first two nights).
I used that extra 20 hours to plan the year ahead and set goals. After staring at an unopened cookbook for the last year I was inspired to learn how to really cook and start making tasty meals. This is most likely because cookbooks become pornography after a week without food.
No post about fasting would be complete without a rant on the meaning of life. Fasting for three or more days can reset your beliefs about food, hunger, and gratitude. There are so many misplaced anxieties with food. In modern society we think we need to be full at all times. We stay within a small zone of comfort, never realizing how tough and resilient our bodies are. But we can actually thrive for days or even weeks without eating. Experiencing that firsthand left me with a sense of inner calm and self-sufficiency.
If you?re considering fasting for the first time I recommend starting with a 1-day fast to get your feet wet. Then plan a 3-day fast, which will likely be long enough for you to realize that everything is going well and that you are capable of much more.
While I think fasting is valuable even if you do it once, I do it regularly for the health benefits. My plan is to alternate 3- and 7-day fasts every quarter and 1-day fasts every month.
Have you ever experimented with fasting or have questions about it? I?d love to hear your thoughts.
Thank you Anton Sepetov, Chris Von Wilpert, and Matthew Hartill for reviewing drafts of this post.