3 months ago, I stumbled across a fascinating article on something crazy called Intermittent Fasting (IF). I couldn’t believe what I read about this unusual practice. Consisting of regular 16+ hour fasts (no food, only non-caloric drinks), Intermittent Fasting has been shown scientifically to help achieve fast weight loss, better health, and increased fitness levels.
As a student of Optimal Living, I knew I had to dig in and learn more. And thus began an incredible journey down the path of intermittent fasting, towards my craziest challenge so far.
The Evolutionary Perspective
Before I begin this story, let’s take quick walk up our family tree, all the way back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to understand this whole Intermittent Fasting concept.
Now these guys, the hunter-gathered, they didn’t eat 3 meals at day at regular intervals like most do now. No, instead they went hunting & gathering, sometimes for days, before finding something good.
As leading neuroscience & ageing expert Mark P. Mattson tells us, “our ancestors consumed food much less frequently and often had to subsist on one large meal per day, and thus from an evolutionary perspective, human beings were adapted to intermittent feeding rather than to grazing.”
Hmm interesting. Could it be that modern society has put the human specie “zoo-like” environment, and our eating patterns have become progressively less optimal?
And more importantly, what happens if we start eating the way we’re evolutionary programmed to?
The answer, it turns out, is “amazing things”.
The Mind-Blowing Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Here are the scientifically proven benefits of doing regular fasts of 14+ hours for women, and 16+ hours for men:
- Increased Fatty Acid Oxidation (Body burns more fat as energy, leading to fast weight loss)
- Increased Cell Resistance (Slowed down ageing process, improved immunity)
- Increased Insulin Sensitivity (Less fluctuation in blood sugar levels, more constant energy & mood levels)
- Reduced Cortisol Production (Lower stress levels)
- Reduced Inflammation (Faster body healing, repair, and recovery)
- Reduced Cancer Cells Proliferation Rate (Reduced incidence of several types of cancer)
- Reduced Cognitive Decline for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Reduced Incidence of Heart Disease
Not bad eh! And you haven’t heard the craziest part yet: most people start experiencing these benefits within 2 weeks of starting to fast!
Oh, and if it weren’t enough, here’s a study that simply blows my mind: In the1930s scientists studied worms on an intermittent fasting cycle, and compared them with a control couple group of worms of similar genetic make up eating normally. On average, the worms on the IF cycle outlasted their counterparts on a regular diet by 19 generations (!) , while still maintaining their youthful physiological traits. The life-span extension of these worms was the equivalent of keeping a man alive for 600 to 700 years. I know these are only worms, but still… make you wonder what’s possible for humans… and superhumans!
For more information on the health benefits or the scientific evidence behind it, check out this research from the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Neurosciences, this joint study between Stanford, LSU, and UNO, this article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this article from the LA Times, or this blogpost from Michael R. Eades, MD.
My Thoughts As I Discovered This
This was all phenomenal stuff, no doubt about it. And as someone who loves experimenting, often with the goal of optimizing body, mind, and health, it was very alluring.
However, there was one major issue separating me from these incredible benefits. I had to FAST to obtain them! I had to abstain from my beloved food for 16 hours at a time! How the hell was I supposed to do that?
To put you in context, I’m like the anti-fasting guy. I usually eat every 2 hours, and I’ve always been a big believer in the 6-small-meals-a-day concept. I bring snacks everywhere I go. The Asian girls in my classes always giggle when they see me peel and eat hard boiled eggs in the middle of a lecture to get my protein fix.
The other problem is that when I go without food, I feel like crap. As soon as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) sets in, my energy drops and I get cranky.
“Yeah”, I thought, “You know what? Screw this fasting thing. I love food too much, and this is crazy anyways”.
Turning Point: The Universe Gets Involved
Later that night, something strange happened.
I grabbed the Men’s Health magazine issue next to my bed for a little pre-sleep reading. I opened the magazine randomly in the middle. The article that was in front of me? A piece on Intermittent Fasting titled “The World’s Most Effective Diet”.
I’m a big believer in the flow of the universe, and that signs are the universe’s way of hinting us the right direction. As I read the MH article, I was moved by the great insight the author provided as he related the day-to-day lifestyle of an “intermittent-faster”, and describe all eloquently all the ways it had improved his life.
I couldn’t help but think the universe was telling me something. This article was no coincidence, it was a sign.
I pondered on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wisdom that “all life is one big experiment. The more experiments you do, the better.” and right there and then, I made a decision: “Intermittent Fasting for 16 hours, starting right now. Let’s do it.”
I turned off the lights and closed my eyes, hoping to sleep for as long as possible. I didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning my craziest experiment so far…
The First Day of Fasting
I woke up around 10am feeling nice & fresh, excited about the challenge that lay ahead. I wasn’t allowed to “break fast” until 5:30pm, so I had solid 7.5 hours of no-food time ahead of me. All righttttt!
I thought about it, and couldn’t even recall the last time I’d gone more than an hour before having my morning smoothie. I remembered wondering what I had gotten myself into, but I had committed to this little project and there was no way I was backing out.
I did a little yoga, took my (cold) shower, and prepared my “copious” breakfast: a liter of green tea.
I headed over to my computer, knowing full well that the key to this whole operation was to keep myself busy all day. I started working on my upcoming eBook. I immersed myself in it, and before long I had an hour of good writing under my belt, and it was time to make more tea.
Over the next few hours, I had little waves of hunger come in and out, but overall I felt focused and achieved a great state of flow.
After 3 hours of solid creative work, I decided to step outside and enjoy the afternoon sunshine. I got on my bike, and went cruising around Perth, enjoying life. I had this “Zen energy” and actually felt really good. I couldn’t believe how well this experiment was going.
When I got back from my bike ride, I remembered I had to do something. It was Sunday 4pm, the weekend market was about to close, and I didn’t have my groceries for the week. That’s right, I had to go grocery shopping. I had to go buying large amounts of delicious food after 15 hours of fasting, without eating any of it. The stakes had just been raised.
I walked into the market, and my nostrils were immediately flooded with the wonderful aromas of fresh baked bread and croissants. I felt this sharp pain in my stomach, and thought about turning around. But no, this was a challenge, and pushing myself through this could only make me stronger.
I got everything I needed, paid for my stuff, and even managed to remain courteous to the cashier despite my advance state of hunger. As I walked out, I looked down at my watch. 5:00. 30 minutes to go. I just had to go home, put the groceries away, then I would cook one hell of a feast.
I felt a bit woozy driving home, my mind was a bit foggy as I unpacked my groceries, but before I knew it, my iPhone alarm went off. 5:30pm. A proud smile beamed over my face. I had just crushed this fasting day, put myself out of my comfort zone, and come out a bit stronger on the other side. Best feeling ever.
And then, it was time for some fooooood!!! :)
Milestone & Learnings
Last weekend, after 3 months of tinkering, I successfully completed my 10th day intermittent fasting (every Sunday, except for 2 times where I just totally forgot and smashed a smoothie before realizing is was “Fasting” Day).
While I’m still fairly new to all this, I’ve already learned from cool stuff from the experiment.
1. On fasting days, I appreciate my food SO MUCH more. That first bite of food after 16 hours without it is blissful, and the subsequent ones are amazing.
2. I experience a high level of mental clarity, as more of my energy is being using for cognitive activities instead of the digestion process.
3. I’m more productive and get more stuff done, because I spend less time preparing & eating food.
4. It’s making me mentally tougher, it’s increasing my self-control. While cold showers give me a “let’s do this”-type mental toughness, fasting helps me remain focused & persistent over a longer period of time. Both are equally important part of getting my mind where I want it to be.
Stepping Things Up: Training in a Fasted State
On the 10th Day of Fasting, I celebrated by pushing the envelope a bit. Stepping things up if you will.
I was chilling at the beach, and eventually got restless from too much reading & journaling, so decided to get up and go for a run along the water. This would be my first ever “fasted training session” and besides being fun, this run would serve 2 purposes:
1. Put my body under more “stress”, thus possibly “supercharging” the benefits of the fast.
2. Allow me to enjoy the sights provided by the return of Australian summer & bikini-season :)
The workout was amazing, I felt light and fast. I didn’t get tired, my mind felt clear, and I even received a few smiles from the ladies.
Overall, great success.
That night, happy with my first fasted training, I found myself thinking how I could take this Intermittent Fasting experiment to the next level…
The Universe Gets Involved- Round 2
The next morning, I decided to do a bit of research about intermittent fasting & training. The very first article I found, on Fasted Training, absolutely blew my mind.
This article by Intermittent Fasting expert Martin Berkhan looked at a groundbreaking study that looked at 2 groups of subjects, and put them on a cycling training program for 4 weeks. One group would do the training in fasted state, while to other group would have food before training. At the end of the 4 weeks, when comparing the results 2 main findings were discovered:
1. The fasted group increased VO2Max by 9.7% vs 2.5% for the fed group. This means that the fasted had a significantly greater fitness improvement.
2. The fasted group increased Glycogen Storage (how much energy is stored in the muscles) by a whopping +54.7% vs. 2.7% for the fed group. This is of particular interest for endurance athletes because it allows for greater energy reserves. Think of it as a bigger fuel tank on a racing car.
The article also taught me something very interesting: Kenyan runners, arguably the best endurance athletes on the planet, are known to do most of their training in a fasted state.
Wait, what? How did I not know this?
My head was spinning as I browsed over to another website, and made this equally shocking discovery:
“Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center in Utah reported that fasting—not eating or drinking anything but water—for 24 hours once a week may be linked to a lower risk of these diseases. Researchers then compared the subjects’ post-fasting blood samples to those taken after a day of normal eating. The results? The scientists observed that the male participants’ levels of human growth hormone (HGH) were 20 times higher on the days the men fasted than when they followed a regular day of eating.”
20 times more HGH? WHAT??
For those who don’t know what it is, HGH is pretty much the “superhuman” hormone. It’s a commonly used substance in illegal doping protocols by high-level athletes.
I sat there, pondering the facts that Intermittent Fasting could make me fitter, increase my energy reserves, and naturally enhance my HGH levels?
And then it hit me. The study described by Berkhan was based on a 28-day cycle, and the big event on my athletic calendar, the Anaconda Race, was exactly 28 days away. Another sign.
I don’t mess around when the universe gives me not one, but two signs about something. It was time for radical action.
The 28-Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge
From reading through all the literature, it was clear that the more frequent the fasts the better. So to create the optimal protocol, I would have to fast EVERYDAY. Hmmmm.
I saw there thinking and realized that because fasting is a challenging practice and require a certain amount of willpower, the only way I could do it is by using my tried & tested “Challenge Method”.
“99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze” -Jack Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul
Right there & then, I COMMITTED to the 28-Day Intermittent Fasting Challenge: a 16-hour fast, every single day, for the next 28 days. No excuses, no bullshit. Just a month of willpower, focus, and intent.
But I knew it wasn’t going to be easy: for next 28 days, I will wake up around 10am, and don’t eat anything until 7pm . Then I devour my biggest meal of the day, and have another medium meal at 10pm, another one around 1am, and a small one at 3am. Rinse & repeat.
Yup, I’m crazy like that. But it makes life more exciting. :)
Want to get involved?
If you’ve read this far, you must be thinking this all sounds pretty exciting. Why not give it a try? Just do one day of fasting. If you’re a woman, go for 14 hours. Men, go for 16 hours.
And if you’re still unsure… Honestly, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll be hungry for a few hours? Big deal. Think about the billion of people out there who do it everyday… because they don’t have a choice.
If it goes well, try doing it once a week for a month. As Mark P. Mattson tells, ”in normal health subjects, moderate fasting — maybe one day a week or cutting back on calories a couple of days a week — will have health benefits for most anybody.”
Whether you do it like me and fast from bedtime to night time, or any other way, doesn’t matter too much. Find what feels right for you.
And if you’re afraid this might impact your energy levels or concentration levels, consider this: I wrote this entire article in a fasted state. Came out all right didn’t it? :)
So… who’s up for a challenge?
If you’re up for it, commit right now, by posting in the comment section below. And let us know how it went after you’ve done it!
Trust me, you’ll be happy you went for it.
To challenging ourselves & having fun!