Fasting First

Hello there and welcome to my first blog post. 

I recently wrote a short article for a local magazine as a stand-in for my wife who’d run out of time that week. That reminded me that I like to write, and that as Thrive has been going for over 12 months it was about time I added a blog!

The question is, where to start? My (almost) daily vlog on Facebook with my first cup of coffee covers a few topics – I might talk about running too much – but doesn’t have time to get into any depth. Although at the time of writing I’ve been talking about habits for over a week.

Ideally, I’d like this blog to be informative and entertaining for you, I want to give you something actionable to take away each time and I don’t want to be too technical and lose you in the weeds.

I also like to experiment. Which leads me into this month’s blog.

A core element of osteopathy is naturopathy, this is too big a topic to cover here but the basic principle is that nature has the innate ability to heal. Patients are empowered to take responsibility for their own health, and naturopaths primarily use natural therapies including fasting, nutrition, water, exercise, and more.

Following a challenge from a lecturing Naturopath at my university during January this year I committed to intermittent fasting through February.  Fasting has been on my radar for a few years, both my father and brother have regularly fasted for weight loss and mental clarity but I’ve been reluctant to try – mostly because I like eating and worried that I’d be short of energy if I didn’t eat at least 3 times a day.  Then last summer I discovered I couldn’t do Joe Wicks daily PE if I’d eaten so I moved my breakfast to 10am instead of 6am without affecting my energy levels. This didn’t carry on past Lockdown 1 though. In fact, when lockdown 2 came round I’d injured a shoulder and strained my ankle but continued to eat as if I was exercising…followed by Christmas, I was soon back to almost the heaviest I’ve ever been.

So, from February 1 onwards I’ve been fasting every day, only eating between 1pm and 7pm. I love my regular breakfast (omelette with cheese and porridge with peanut butter and banana) so I moved that up to 1pm and instead skipped lunch. Finishing at 7pm meant I could eat dinner with the family but couldn’t snack in the evenings. 

10 things I learned

  1. I started at 88kg. Now at 82.1kg. The weight literally fell off in the first week then slowed but carried on reducing.
  2. Reducing calorie intake was a much more effective way of losing weight than increasing exercise (who knew!).
  3. I didn’t lose energy during the day – I carried on running, HIITing, and cycling as normal without any noticeable impact – if anything I got faster running as I was carrying less weight. I don’t know how I’ll find weightlifting when we’re finally allowed back in the gym though (hopefully not long now!).
  4. My daily average heart rate dropped. This seems to be due to improved sleep because my body was further through the digestive process when I went to bed.
  5. My stomach shrank with the reduced intake and I could consciously feel when I was full instead of my usual grazing throughout the day where I never felt full but was eating a lot more. I felt like this stopped me snacking between my two meals more than anything.
  6. Having a clear timescale worked really well for me, I did move the start and finish time a couple of days to fit around life but broadly stuck to the 18/6 split.
  7. I did notice a ‘growling’ stomach occasionally at what were the usual meal times but distracted myself and this dropped off pretty quickly.
  8. One day I went for a long run midway through the 6 hours and missed dinner, I’d planned to have it afterwards and accept the shorter fasting period but actually wasn’t hungry when I got back so skipped that meal entirely.  Didn’t affect my energy levels and took my fast to over 20 hours for that day.
  9. My mental state didn’t suffer while fasting – I wasn’t hangry at any point – I had hoped to be able to focus on tasks better but didn’t really notice this. I think that’s something I just need to work on separately. I did find that I developed a sense of ‘lightness’ though, both physically and mentally.
  10. Possibly the best thing from this month was that I really enjoyed my food. When I broke my fast at 1pm I made an effort to sit down and eat instead of standing at the counter and wolfing it down first thing in the morning.  Same thing with dinner. As above, although I did snack occasionally it wasn’t as regular as usual and was much more of a treat.  

Fasting facts

Fasting is defined as abstinence from food or drink for a period of time, and is usually done in three ways, intermittent fasting following a 16/8, 18/6 or 20/4 split, alternate day fasting where you eat every other day, or longer fasts once a week. 

Fasting has been used medically since at least the 5th century when Hippocrates recommended it for some illnesses. Religions have been fasting even longer either as a form of penitence, to reach transcendence, and/or experience visions.

The fasting record is held by a Scottish chap Angus Barbieri who went 382 days!

There’s a lot of research into fasting and for every paper supporting it there’s another one that doesn’t. In short, the benefits are supposed to include fat loss, metabolism switching from burning food energy to burning energy from fat stores, extending your lifespan, reducing the risk of cancer and so on.  However, it’s been practiced for a long time and we’re still here – one of the common observations about fasting is that early man would have been forced to fast in between hunting/gathering food – as a species we’ve not made significant leaps forward in evolution since then.

For a really easy introduction to fasting I’d recommend James Clears guide on his website.

Conclusion

I’ve been a loud supporter of breakfast being the most important meal of the day for a long time. I don’t think that fasting changes this for me – it just moves the timing.  We’re all different though so it’s just a matter of trying out different structures to find what works best for you – and remember this will change over time so you have to change with it.

Although I was aiming to lose weight and fasting clearly helped with that it was the lightness of mood, mindfulness of eating, and the cardiovascular benefits that I’m most happy about.  Longer term I want to increase my muscle mass so will test fasting on an increased calorie intake and report back later this year.

In the meantime, I’ll be carrying on with the daily 18/6 rhythm.  Perhaps you’d like to try it too* – feel free to contact me for more information on how to get started.

*usual health warnings apply. Consult a professional, etc, etc…

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