“So, this fasting thing…how long should I not eat? Like, a day?”
“If you’re feeling gung ho, sure, but I was thinking something a little shorter.”
“That sounds easier.”
“That’s the point. I want you to have success! This really shouldn’t be something that’s terribly stressful.”
“But I won’t be eating. That stresses me out!”
“Ideally, we want to get away from being stressed about food, for BOTH sides, when we’re eating, and when we’re not.”
“So not eating should make me less stressed about eating.”
“Yeah, that’s the idea.”
I’m psyched! How do I start?
Let me just take a second and make a point here. Changing nutrition, in any way, can be a cause for stress for people. We don’t just eat because we’re hungry. We eat for a list of other reasons, from being social, to being bored, or even as a coping mechanism, or as a reward.
That being said, we here at Paleo Plan don’t want you to be that one person who isn’t going out to eat all the time, and gets the reputation in the office for being a nutritional Nazi. You’re already turning down the Friday donuts, so if not eating is going to make you the annoying person at work, school, or home, consider other options. Really.
Having the mantra, “Oh, my god! I can’t eat until 2pm today! This is going to be so hard!” isn’t going to make this any fun for you.
So how do you start? With a great attitude, a big bottle of water, and a plan.
Alright, so what’s the actual protocol?
There are many different protocols suggested by different trainers, experts, and the like. Here at Paleo Plan, we’re going to ease you into things. Keep in mind that these are guidelines. I’m not a doctor, although I may be fitter than yours. ;)
Mark Sisson actually did a great breakdown on all the different protocols in his series on fasting, they can be found here. There are many, many options here. We’re going to take the most gentle approach possible, and make suggestions about how to move into more “advanced” territory if you’re feeling like it’s working for you.
For my clients I always recommend starting with a 12/12 split, meaning that you’re fasting for a 12 hour window, then eating for a 12 hour window: i.e. fasting from 7pm to 7am, and eating from 7am to 7pm. The empowering thing about this is that it shouldn’t take a lot of adjusting to your schedule. You may have to put off breakfast, or shift dinner a bit, but those should be the only adjustments necessary to make a 12/12 work. This will also make you aware of your eating schedule.
When I first started experimenting with fasting, I was surprised at how much I was snacking in the evenings. You may find something similar, that you either wake up and start throwing stuff down your gullet right after your morning pee, or maybe you make one more pass through the kitchen before heading to bed, and have a bite at a few of those paleo muffins you made this afternoon. Either way, you’re probably eating out of habit, as opposed to actually being hungry. Having a bit of a schedule, even just 12/12, will make you more aware of the timing of your meals and eating habits, and can give you good insights for when you want to delve deeper into the world of not-eating.
The 12/12 would be practiced everyday. It’s your new way of eating.
Yeah, it’s that simple.
I’ve got the 12/12 down, now what?
If you’re finding your groove well with the 12/12 after a few weeks. Great! You may want to move towards some of these other protocols. Once again, this won’t be for everyone, listen to your body, in a positive way, and forge on!
Basically, I encourage people to gently head towards a 16/8 (16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of eating). We do this a little at a time.
After the 12/12 has become a habit, start making breakfast a little smaller everyday, then week by week move it an hour later. Pretty soon, you’re doing 13 fasting/11 eating, then 14 fasting/10 eating, and over time, you may settle into something akin to a 16 fasting/8 eating, or even a 20/4. Where you “settle in” completely depends on your schedule and preference. You may have really busy Mondays, and do a 16/8 on that day, and do 14/10 the rest of the week. Many of my clients have settled into a 16/8 routine. Meaning, for this example, that their eating window is from 11am to 7pm, and they’re fasting for the 16 hours from 7pm to 11am. Some women, especially, find that they settle into a 14 fasting/10 eating a little more naturally, so stay tuned into your body and just nudge things. Don’t push it!
The key is to not be obsessive about these numbers! If one day you’re 16/8 and the next you’er 18/6, and the next 17.3/7.7, don’t stress! It’s fine! Just remember that the more consistent you are the more your body will learn to time its expectations of feeding. Meaning that your body will start learning when to be hungry. If you’re naturally not hungry, don’t force it!
There are ways to fast for a full 24 hours, and they’re honestly not all that different than what’s above. Our one caution with this type of fast is to only do it for one day a week, or at the very maximum 2 separate days, like Tuesday, & Friday. By doing this type of fast, you will be cutting calories dramatically. For someone who normally consumes 2,000 calories a day, fasting for two 24-hour periods could change your intake from 14,000cal/week to as low as 10,000cal/per week, or the equivalent of just shy of 1,500 cal/day! If you wanted to maintain weight and still fast two days a week, (why?) you’d need to try to get 2,800 cal/day in on the days you are actually eating. Get out your bib!
For more on this 24 hour type of fast Brad Pilon‘s eBook, Eat Stop Eat is invaluable. Though not Paleo, he is research obsessed and has done his homework. If you’re considering intermittent fasting, and would like a great easily searchable resource, it really is worth the investment of his book (apologies for the “sales page” link)
While it’s easy to get mired down with specifics, be honest with yourself and find what works best for you. We’re all a little different. What the research does show is that giving your body a break from the constant onslaught of calories can be quite beneficial.
How strict is the fast?
Ingesting the least amount of calories possible during your fast would, of course, be best. Your water bottle is going to be your best friend. But also, having a bit of tea, herbal or otherwise throughout the day can at least help you get a little flavor into your system without compromising on calories. The idea is to be as low calories as possible during your fasting times, and let your body naturally deal with the lack of calories in its own, evolutionary way.
What if I’m starving?
You’re not. You may be irritable, or “hangry”, but you’re not starving if you skip a meal or two. And if you’re starting with the 12/12, starting your day with two big glasses of water should naturally push off hunger for a while.
You could be craving though, and that means your sugar demons are coming out for battle.
What’s the difference between craving and real hunger?
If you’re willing to eat vegetables, you’re hungry. If not, you’re just craving.
May you find strength when facing your sugar demons!
Shouldn’t I listen to my body?
Yes. Yes, you should. The problem with this is that most of us are so out of tune with what our bodies really need. It’s not our bodies talking: it’s our demons.
A heroin addict could make the argument that he’s just “listening to his body” as he’s shooting up, and he’d be right. Know the difference between real hunger, and sugar cravings or even eating from boredom. If you’re not willing to eat vegetables, you’re not hungry – you’re just craving. Craving means addiction, and that’s not so good.
It’s really more like Scheduled Eating, huh?
Yup. Intermittent Fasting is going to work best for those of us who have a relatively consistent schedule. Your body does like to be on a schedule with sleeping, working, and eating during generally the same times every day. If you’re one of those that changes shifts from graveyard to swing to day shift within a week, it may be really tough to have a consistent time dedicated to not eating. Maybe the 24 hour protocol will work better for you or maybe fasting just won’t it into your life right now. Once again, don’t stress!
Those of us that are regular 9 to 5-ers may find that simply delaying breakfast every day brings us pretty close to a 16/8, allows us to have nice, relatively big meals to keep our calories up, and still lets us have dinner out a couple times a week with friends to keep our social lives intact.
You mean I can have a social life AND abs?!
Yeah, pretty sweet, huh?
What if my schedule gets knocked off?
One of the great side effects of going for a while without eating is that you learn that you’ll survive. If it turns out that your meeting went long at work, and you missed the food truck for lunch, just have a big glass of water, and tell yourself you’re not going to eat till dinner. You don’t have to stress about it! Your mother always told you that there are people all over the world without enough to eat, and it’s true. They make it, and so will you.
I mean, what if I eat too soon, will it wreck everything?
Don’t stress. If you happen to have a bite of something at work without realized you weren’t “supposed” to eat for another couple hours, its fine. Seriously. Just make a mental note, and do better tomorrow. This shouldn’t be stressful!
Try it on.
We’re NOT saying this is for everyone! (It may even be detrimental for some.) But if you’ve plateaued, and can’t seem to make any more progress, why not give it a shot? The first few days will be hard, yes, but you may find a new, sustainable practice that will reliably help you towards your goals!
As always, we LOVE comments!
This post was kindly written by Max Shippee, owner of CrossFit 1440 in suburban Los Angeles, and fitness guru extraordinaire. Learn more about Max here.