A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend at a meditation group and he was telling me all about this programme he’d seen a couple of nights earlier.
The programme was about the benefits of fasting. He was buzzing and already on his fast. I didn’t really take a great deal of notice because the minute he mentioned fasting I thought that sounds like effort, real hunger, and going without things I like.
Anyway, I listened with a level of interest that was curious about how it had inspired my friend, but without any intention of doing anything with that information. My friend, by the way is young, fit, healthy, and a keen mountain biker to whom a 40 mile cycle ride is taking it easy.
The following morning I was going for a day out with my daughter and she started to tell me about this same programme and how she was going to start a 48 hour fast at the weekend. At this point I started to take notice. The Universe was trying to tell me something here.
So I got out my iPad that evening and watched the programme on the BBC’s iPlayer.
By the time it was finished, I was hooked too.
This was science, as opposed to New Age weird stuff, and Michael Mosley, the presenter, was talking to some of the world’s leading experts on body fat.
Each of these experts had come up with different fasting techniques, but each also agreed that much more research is needed.
Among the benefits discovered are the reduction of visceral fat, increased cardio-vascular health, longer life, and weight loss.
Michael Mosley went on a four day fast and managed to survive. In the programme he talked about alternate day fasting whereby you eat what you want one day, then the next day you restrict yourself to 600 Calories (men) or 500 Calories (women) and repeat this forever.
Apparently with this regime you can eat what you want on the eat anything day. This produces weight loss and increased health benefits.
There was so much more in the programme that I encourage you to watch it. I don’t want to make this just a review of something you can watch for yourself.
What I wanted to tell you about was why it is having such a powerful impact on the people who watch it.
Fasting fits in very well with a no-diet approach to weight loss and gives it a boost.
I’ll tell you why.
Other than the fasting period itself, there is no control over what you eat the rest of the time.
I wanted to experiment with this in a way that would be beneficial not only to myself but to others as well. So I had a think about this.
What could I cope with? Four days without eating would be difficult for me. Two days I could manage, but I probably wouldn’t want to repeat it too often. One day, yes I could do that. I don’t think I’ve gone a whole day without food in my life, but I figured I could manage that.
Now, there was nothing in this programme to suggest that one day of fasting would achieve anything at all, but I wanted to experiment and understand the thoughts and sensations that go along with not eating.
I also decided to not eat anything rather than the 600 calories that was suggested. I thought it would be easier to have nothing rather than be worrying about how filling I could make my allowance.
So I picked a Sunday when I had no plans, got home late after being out with some friends to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower and had a big slice of apple pie around 1:00 am. Then I ate nothing until breakfast on Monday morning around 8:00 am, so it was a little over 24 hours.
The most interesting thing was that I didn’t really feel anything I could call hunger until about 9:00 in the evening, at which point it was so close to bedtime that it was almost over.
All I consumed that day was green tea without milk or sugar. This is my normal beverage not something I chose especially for the experiment.
I wanted to drink something calorie-free that was a little tastier than water. Interestingly I wasn’t especially hungry when I woke up on Monday morning and could easily have gone another day without food.
When I weighed myself Monday morning I was 3lbs lighter, but a week later I was back to my normal weight.
Two weeks later I did the same again only this time my last food was around 6:00pm on Saturday.
A week later I repeated the experiment once more.
There has been no change in my weight, other than the 3lbs I lose the day I don’t eat, but I have noticed several things.
My days are focused around meal times. When I take food out of the equation there is a bit of a sense of the loss of a milestone, or an anchor in the day with which to measure progress.
I was finding that I had to find more interesting things to do than I normally do. But I stuck to having just a pot of tea instead of food at mealtimes.
While I was on the fast day I never really experienced anything other than transient feelings of hunger until late in the evening.
I did think about food, but only when my mind wasn’t occupied with something interesting. The decision to eat nothing for a day made it easy not to eat and to ignore food thoughts.
The week following the day of fasting leaves me feeling hungrier than I normally am, and fuller than I normally feel when I eat.
I’m finding that I’m still eating my normal quantities of food but feeling much fuller afterwards. It seems that the fast has put me back in touch with those feelings of hunger and fullness that we seem to lose contact with when we regularly eat more than we need.
Unfortunately I’m still stuck in the old habit and cooking what I used to cook, But I’m starting to reduce what I eat, getting back to throwing more away and being more sensitive to full feelings until I establish the new habit. What I’m realising is how little food I need to eat to stay fit and healthy.
But the strangest thing of all, and this has nothing to do with weight, is that I feel more alive, more alert and have more energy – more bounce.
This for me is the biggest benefit.
I don’t think a one off fast will achieve anything lasting at all. But I think if it is built into your routine, like me, maybe one day a week, or the day on, day off, with a restricted calorie intake on alternate days – then I see the potential for huge benefits and really easy weight loss.