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“Intermittent Fasting” is Not Fasting

Nowadays the term “intermittent fasting” is widespread. Behind the trend, however, there’s a big misconception about fasting.

Anything under 36 hours is not fasting.

We can talk about doing 24-hour fasts or following the intermittent fasting 18-6 program, where you restrict your eating period to 6 hours and fast for 18 hours a day — but those methods are not fasting methods.

What most people call “intermittent fasting” is spacing mealtimes further apart.

So a 24 hour fast means having one meal a day. You did not go a day without eating: you delayed your meal until the evening.

Skipping breakfast and calling it “fasting” is also misunderstanding the concept of fasting. It just means that you’re having two meals a day instead of three.

Fasting with juices or other foods is also not fasting: it’s merely a liquid or a calorie-reduced diet.

As the name implies, “water fasting” consists of only consuming water and no other drink or food for a period that can range from 36 hours to several weeks.

36 hours is for most people the minimum to experience true water fasting because that’s when many people start to cross the threshold of ketosis.

Ketosis means that your body will start to burn fat for energy instead of relying on stored glucose. Many physiological changes take place during true water fasting, but this can only occur once the body shifts to ketosis.

The leaner you are, the less time it will take to shift your body to ketosis and enter water fasting territory. For many people, that’s 36 hours. But it’s never less than that. Full ketosis is achieved after 2-3 days of fasting.

Note that some health conditions, like diabetes, advise against any fasting. But most people can safely fast a couple of days on their own, with some guidance.

Longer (4-21+ days) are therapeutic and should only be undertaken in a specialized facility. There are very few such places to recommend.

For more information on water fasting of all sorts, please check out The Greatest Cure on Earth. (On sale for a few more hours.)

The 36 Hours Fast

Today, I want to cover the 36-hour fast, because there seems to be very little reliable information on this subject on the Internet. The bodybuilding community has appropriated intermittent fasting, and they tend to follow it in a very unhealthy way.

When done correctly, the 36-hour fast pushes the limits of “intermittent fasting” and can help you attain some benefits that only come with true, ketogenic water fasting. At the same time, you can incorporate this practice into your lifestyle without too many sacrifices.

The most notable benefit of this fast is a stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, recovery, digestion, and the reparative processes that occur during sleep.

The opposite of that is, of course, the sympathetic nervous system, commonly responsible for “fight-or-flight” stress responses.

Fasting promotes rest and recovery because the body views it as an emergency situation. But, it’s not the same type of situation as seeing a predator and running away from it, to use a cliché. It’s more a state of deprivation that leads to conservation of energy.

Why is the body trying to conserve energy and what happens then?

When glucose reserves get depleted, the brain sets off a series of adaptive mechanisms that:

  • Improves cognitive abilities (we want to find creative solutions to the current problem at hand: lack of food.)
  • Promotes healing and recovery (we don’t know how long this situation is going to last, so we better take advantage of it!)
  • Improves immune function (we don’t want the body to be susceptible to foreign invaders in a state of weakness!)
  • Lowers metabolism: (let’s use as little energy as possible to survive this food shortage for an extended period!)

This is just the tip of the surface of what happens as you commence a fast.

The specific benefits include:

  • Reduced blood lipids (decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Lowering of inflammation
  • Reduced oxidative stress
  • Suppression of appetite
  • Increased insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin levels
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Improved memory and cognitive function

A fast resets the “button,” and the more practice you have at it, the easier it gets.
For example, yesterday, I barely thought about food all day. The only moment where I thought about breaking the fast was close to 8 p.m. I then wisely decided to continue, because I knew that sleeping through a fast is the easiest way to go through it!

Sound Advice for a 36-Hour Fast

Unfortunately, most of the people promoting regular short fasts are ignorant of the proper method of fasting. They recommend drinking coffee all day to suppress hunger and some even do big workouts on their fasting days.

If you want to get the most out of a short fast, you want to view it as a “spa” day where you have nothing planned and can rest all day.

For a 24-hour fast, you can go about your daily activities. But I suggest planning 36-hour fasts only on the days where you have nothing to do. Your goal will be to rest, take baths and naps, read and avoid all physical exertion!

As for caffeine, it’s best to keep it to the strictest minimum. Best would be to avoid it altogether. But if you’re a regular coffee drinker and will get horrible withdrawal headaches, you can then drink some green tea (not coffee) in the early afternoon. Don’t drink it sooner to extend the period where your body is fasting at night because consuming caffeine interrupts some of the processes mentioned earlier.

Drink water but not more than you feel like. Any purified water works. Avoid taking long sunbaths or other energy-depleting activities, like saunas.

You might already know that the toughest part of a fast is in the afternoon and that quickly this feeling of tiredness will go away and that you will experience a sense of renewed energy and even euphoria after 5-6 p.m.
Then, the next step is to go to bed on an empty stomach.

To me, that’s the most natural part of the fast! On the first day of fasting, I sleep much more profoundly than usual and time goes by quickly. For some folks, sleep is a bit lighter at first.

People with sleep problems will sleep better during a fast, while good sleepers will experience more disturbed sleep cycles.

Dreams tend to be different on the first night of a fast, as the body starts off this “para-sympathetic shift” to focus on healing and recovery. I don’t know how to describe it. They’re not the worst dreams, but they can be more vivid and colorful.

Then in the morning, you can decide to stretch the fast a little bit if you feel like it or break it immediately for breakfast. I suggest sticking with fruit.

Then eat as you would ordinarily for the rest of the day.

Keep in mind that you may not feel completely normal for a few hours after you break the fast, as your body has not yet replenished its reserves. That’s why it’s probably best to break the fast for breakfast and keep it at 36 hours if you have things to do the rest of the day.

After even just a short fast like this, you’ll find that you’ll appreciate healthy foods much more, and you can already reduce your dose of caffeine and make steps towards a healthier lifestyle right away.

Frederic

PS: For more information on fasting, check out The Greatest Cure on Earth. It’s on sale this week only: http://www.thegreatestcureonearth.com

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.