In my article 2 weeks ago where I wrote about why fasting is good for your health I mentioned that fasting had been shown to help with weight loss, reduction of blood sugar, increase in insulin sensitivity and the control of Type 2 diabetes.
Today I’m going share with you how to prepare for a fast and the various fasting protocols; in short, a step by step how to guide on fasting.
First, we need to define what fasting IS and ISN’T.
Fasting Is Normal!
Fasting is simply not eating. Yup, you read that right.
In its simplest and most well know from, when you stop eating after dinner at 7 pm and you don’t eat anything until breakfast the next morning at 7 am, you’ve just completed a 12 hour fast – this is what most people do, so fasting is already part of our lifestyles whether we acknowledge the fact or not.
I’m sure most folks have slept in during weekends, and some may not have gotten up until 10 am and then proceed to have brunch at 11 am. If you’ve done that, you’ve fasted for 16 hours without even knowing it.
If you’ve read my earlier article on fasting, you’ll remember that fasting is very different from starvation. Simply put, you can control when you want to end the fast; but in starvation, you don’t really don’t know when your next meal is coming so you don’t have any control. So with this, I want to reiterate that fasting IS NOT starvation.
Does Fasting Cause Peptic or Gastric Ulcers?
No, fasting will NOT cause peptic or gastric ulcers as is commonly believed. Naysayers who believe this old wives’ tale will tell you that the stomach starts excreting gastric acid during regular meal times, and if you don’t eat, this will start hurting you, and sooner or later it’ll lead to cause you to develop peptic or gastric ulcers.
This is NOT TRUE! According to the Mayo Clinic, peptic ulcers are caused by:
- A bacterium – The Helicobacter pylori bacteria to be exact.
- Regular use of pain relievers – Especially over-the-counter pain medications and nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs.
- Other medications – Such as steroids, anticoagulants, low-dose aspirin, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), alendronate (Fosamax) and risedronate (Actonel)
Also if you have any of the following risk factors, you increase your chances of getting peptic ulcers:
- Alcohol consumption
- Untreated Stress
- Regular consumption of spicy foods
Preparing to Fast
If you don’t do any preparatory work and get yourself fat adapted, you’ll feel terribly hungry, irritable, tired with foggy thinking and even faint headed especially when you plan on fasting for 24 hours or longer.
If this is your first time fasting, start with intermittent fasts i.e. the shorter fasts where you eat 2 meals a day. If you’re experiencing headaches at first, increase your salt intake by drinking broth.
To get your body to switch the fuel source from glucose (carbs) to ketones (fats), you MUST put your body in a situation where it can empty the glucose stores and slowly switch over to using fat as fuel. The only way to do that is to lower your intake of carbs dramatically and at the same time increase intake of fats to facilitate this process:
- 70% of your calories should come from fat
- 20% from protein
- 10% from carbs (about 20-50g a day for most people)
If you’re entering ketosis for the first time, the chances are that within a few days; you’ll experience the symptoms of the dreaded transitional phase aka the low carb or keto flu which I’ve described in detail in my post on how to start a low carb diet correctly.
As soon as your body has adapted to using ketones (fats) as its fuel source, you’ll feel your energy returning, and everything will be back to normal. This usually takes about a week, although some folks take slightly longer.
There’s also a small minority who don’t get these symptoms at all so if you’re in this group; you’re one of the rare folks who can get fat adapted without going through the keto or low carb flu.
For the rest of the folks, when your energy returns and you don’t have ravenous hunger pangs even when you miss a meal or two, that’s when you know your body is fat or keto adapted. Once you’ve been fat or keto adapted for 2 to 3 weeks, you’re ready to start fasting.
Who Shouldn’t Fast
You shouldn’t fast if you’re
- Skinny and underweight
- Have a history of anorexia
- A Type 1 diabetic
6 Types and Lengths of Fasts
Fasting is very flexible, and you can fast as often and as long as you like provided that you feel okay. That is having said, I’ll outline the more popular intermittent fasting regimes.
In all fasts, coffee and/or tea without milk or cream, water and bone and meat broths are allowed. Let’s look at the shortest fasts first.
1. Skipping a Meal or Two
This is the easiest and most convenient way to fast when you don’t feel hungry when a meal time comes, or you’re too busy to eat. You can miss any meal, so it doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner and doesn’t even need any planning.
Let’s say you had a huge and filling dinner and didn’t feel hungry at all the next morning. So the easiest thing to do is to miss breakfast and eat lunch and dinner. If you’re still not hungry when lunch time rolls by, just skip lunch as well and only eat dinner.
2. 12 Hour Fasts
This is basically a 2 meal a day eating plan where you typically have breakfast, then fast for 12 hours and have dinner. So if you have your breakfast at 7 am, you fast until 7 pm when you have dinner. After that, you fast again for 12 hours until breakfast the next morning.
This is one of the easiest ways to fast for beginners. I usually tell my clients to start with 12-hour fasts when they hit a plateau in blood sugar reduction and/or weight loss.
This involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window. In this regime, you miss either breakfast or dinner. Let me give you an example. If you eat your last meal at dinner time i.e. 7 pm then you don’t eat anything until 11 am the next day when you have brunch. You have dinner again at 7 pm and the cycle repeats.
If you decide to have breakfast at 7 am, then you have a late lunch at about 3 pm, after which you fast until 7 am the next morning when you have breakfast, and the cycle repeats itself.
Whichever meal you decide to miss doesn’t matter as long as you’re fast for 16 hours and eat in the window of 8 hours. I get some of my clients to move from a 12 hour fast to a 16 hour fast once they’re okay with the former.
This fasting regime is similar to 16:4 except that the eating window is shrunk to 4 hours. So assuming you decide to eat breakfast at 7 am, lunch would be at 11 am after which you fast until 7 am the next morning when you have breakfast again.
Likewise, if you decide to have a late lunch at 3 pm, you eat dinner again at 7 pm, after which you fast until 3 pm the next day when you have lunch again.
5. OMAD or 24 Hour Fast
OMAD is the acronym for one meal a day aka the 24 hours fast. In fitness circles, it’s also known as the Warrior Fast. This is a simple short fast regime: depending on your preference, you only eat breakfast, lunch or dinner as your only meal of the day. Once you’ve eaten and are full, you fast for 24 hours until the next day when your meal time comes, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Many folks I know who practice OMAD eat dinner as the only meal because that’s when everyone in the family sits together and have an unrushed meal.
Most working folks rush through breakfast to either drive or take the subway to work and lunch time is usually spent with co-workers or clients; dinner is the only time when everyone can unwind and have a relaxing meal with the family.
The usual fasting progression that I take my clients through is 12-hour fasts, then 16:8 and finally OMAD. This is very effective for both reduction of blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes and/or weight loss in addition to the LCHF or ketogenic diet especially when the client hits a plateau.
6. 5:2 or Fast Diet
This eating and fasting diet was popularized by British broadcaster and doctor, Michael Mosley.
In this eating plan, you have your normal 3 meals on your nonfasting days, and for the 2 fasting days, you restrict calories to 500 a day either in a single meal or spread over small meals or snacks. The 2 fasting days need not be consecutive i.e. you can designate any 2 days within the week as your fasting days e.g. Mondays & Thursdays.
Precautions You Need to Take
If you’re on blood glucose lowering medications for Type 2 diabetes, please work closely with your doctor to reduce the dosages if you plan to fast. Fasting especially extended fasts going beyond 24 hours will lower your blood glucose levels pretty quickly. If the dosages of your diabetic medications especially insulin aren’t lowered, you risk having low blood sugar or hypoglycemia which can be dangerous, even life-threatening if no medical attention is given in time.