You know when you haven’t thought of something in ages. Or perhaps there’s something that you haven’t heard of before. And all of a sudden you’re hearing about it everywhere…
Well that’s been happening to me a lot lately. And the topic ‘du jour’ is fasting. My obstetrician, my Irishman’s boss, even one of my favourite fashion bloggers have all mentioned they’ve been dabbling with different forms of fasting.
So when I saw this request come in on my Stonesoup by request survey, I decided it was time for a blog post about ‘not eating’ for a change.
I would be interested in your opinion on intermittent fasting.
I know it seems like a “new” craze/fad diet/whatever, but it is something I have practiced on and off for a while after reading Brad Pilon’s Eat, Stop, Eat, and more frequently since watching the BBC’s Horizon documentary last August.
Your recipes fit very well in my non-fasting days, as they’re not “too” Paleo and they’re tasty, healthy and filling. Would you consider commenting on this way of eating?
My experience with fasting
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to practice fasting. When we decided it was time to start a family, I stopped fasting because I was worried it might not be conducive to fertility. Then once I was pregnant I was too hungry to even think about it.
But back to my experience of actually fasting…
I first heard about the concept, from Leo over at Zen Habits back in about 2009 when he mentioned the concept of intermittent fasting and recommended an ebook called ‘Eat Stop Eat‘.
After reading the ebook, I decided to give this fasting thing a go. The idea is to take 1-2 days per week when you don’t eat anything in a 24 hour period.
The first few times I tried it I was amazed that it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as you’d think. I’d have breakfast in the morning and then skip lunch and dinner and have breakfast a little later the next day. This way I’d get in my 24 hours but I wouldn’t actually have to go a day without eating something.
And I really liked the way I felt.
My head felt clearer and sharper. My body felt lighter. And man did I enjoy my breakfast when the fast ended.
The other thing I liked was the extra time that suddenly became available on fasting days when I didn’t have to plan, prepare, cook and clean up. A nice little side benefit.
But then I did a fast when I was travelling for work. It didn’t go so well. I found myself getting super irritable. So after that I gave the fasting a rest.
A few years later my Irishman and I decided to try fasting again. This time we just did a mini fast and skipped dinner and sometimes breakfast the next day. We found we got the good fast feelings of clarity and lightness, without me becoming a cranky-pants.
I don’t remember either of us seeing any amazing results to our actual weight. But we both enjoyed feeling lighter and clearer enough that we’re planning on getting back into fasting soon.
Benefits of fasting
According to Brad Pilon in Eat Stop Eat, the scientifically proven benefits of intermittent fasting include:
– Decreased body weight (and body fat)
– Increased insulin sensitivity
– Increased growth hormone levels
– Decreased food related stress
– And 6 more benefits.
As I mentioned before, I loved feeling cleaner, clearer and leaner. I also really noticed how much extra time I had on fasting days when I wasn’t preparing, eating and cleaning up after dinner.
The downside to fasting
As I discovered, there’s the potential to become irritable.
Pilon admits that some people experience headaches, similar to caffeine withdrawal headaches. But he also mentions that most people get over these after their first few fasts.
To see any benefits from a weight loss perspective, it’s important to keep eating normally on your non-fasting days. And it can be tough not to have a few little ‘rewards’. I also suspect that you need to be fasting twice a week for weight loss, not the once a week ‘mini’ fast we were doing.
But that being said, I’m keen to get back into experimenting with fasting when Little F no longer needs my milk-making services.
So is this fasting thing a fad?
Its a good question. In one sense it probably is. I’m sure there are lots of people will try it out now that its topical and then move onto the next shiny new diet craze that comes along.
But the thing is, fasting or going without food for long periods of time, would have been a part of life for our paleo ancestors. And as Pillon mentions in his ebook, fasting has been an integral part of many religions for centuries.
One thing I found interesting was that according to Pillon the original research study that found the Mediterranean diet to be beneficial for heart disease was conducted on people living in Crete. What the study didn’t mention was that these people use a combination of dietary restrictions and fasting for religious purposes for 180 to 200 days a year.
So if you’re a Greek Orthodox Christian person or follow one of the other religions that recommends it, fasting is probably not anything new or faddish at all.
Like to learn more?
If you think fasting might be something you’d benefit from, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the ebook Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon.
Brad Pilon has a degree in nutrition and worked in the sports supplement industry. He’s also a body builder and is super passionate about discovering what works for weight loss. He loves reading scientific journals for fun. So he’s done all the research ‘heavy lifting’ for you.
If you do decide to buy Eat Stop Eat using the Stonesoup affiliate links on this page, you’ll be supporting the Stonesoup business too. THANK YOU!
The ‘BLAT’ Salad
There’s a cafe my Irishman and I have been going to quite a bit recently that has a ‘BLAT’ sandwich on the breakfast menu. While it doesn’t sound as appealing as a BLT, the addition of avocado far outweighs the dodgy sounding name.
The other day I was inspired to turn said sandwich into a lunch time salad. To be honest I prefer this lighter ‘paleo’ salad to the sandwich version. I love when that happens.
Enough for 2
4-6 slices bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
3-4 handfuls lettuce leaves
large handful semi dried tomatoes
1. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook bacon on a medium high heat until crispy.
2. Combine vinegar with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Season.
3. Toss leaves in the dressing. Sprinkle over chunks of avocado, tomatoes and the hot crunchy bacon.
vegan – replace bacon with sliced grilled or roast mushrooms.
vegetarian – skip the bacon and serve with a poached egg on top.
more substantial – toss in a drained can of white beans such as cannellini or butter beans in to warm up in the bacon fat and add to the salad.
don’t have semi dried tomatoes? – replace with halved fresh cherry tomatoes instead.
What about you?
Have you experimented with fasting? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…
ps. The links to ‘Eat Stop Eat‘ are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy you’ll be supporting Stonesoup!
Great post Jules!
As someone who (literally) gets to eat and drink for a living I’ve found fasting to be a great addition to my life. It’s not easy for me to be “moderate” all of the time with the events I go to so having a couple of scheduled days each week where I fast really helps me to balance out my overall weekly calorie intake and gives me a break mentally from thinking about food.
I’ve been fasting for the last three months, strictly sticking to two days per week. If I need to have a meeting on a fast day I’ll do it over coffee rather than a meal. And if I get invited to an amazing event on a planned fast day then I will either swap the fast for another day in the week or I’ll decline the invitation. Being strict with the days has also meant that there’s two days a week where I’m operating on lower-energy which means I tend to take things easier, get an earlier night and then sleep really well! It’s been great for my mental health and the dark circles under my eyes aren’t so dark anymore!
On a fast day I typically have 400-500 calories. I start the day with a small green juice or vital greens and will then have a coffee mid morning with a little milk. I won’t “eat” until around 2pm when I may have a piece of fruit or a high protein yoghurt. If I’m struggling in the afternoon I’ll have a miso soup and dinner is usually one egg and a handful of green veggies and maybe a couple of mushrooms.
Over three months I lost 3 kilos but more importantly felt good and had greater mental clarity in the days after a fast. I love the way it “re-sets” me and even when I was recently on holiday for three weeks I still found a day each week to fast.
Thanks for sharing your experience Tresna!
And I’m very impressed that you found time to fast on your holiday. Wow
I decided to sign up to your blog yesterday because I have so often referred to your No Knead Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe. Today I received your notice about fasting AND coincidently, today is also the very first day of my 5:2 diet. I am following Dr Michael Mosley’s book “The Fast Diet” but thought his recipes a bit boring, so came on here and found your Pirri Pirri Chicken which I am going to have for dinner with Carrot and Parsley Tabbouleh. I have been trying to lose weight ever since the dreaded menopause (about 14 years ago) and have succeeded at Weight Watchers twice, but it gets boring thinking about food and counting calories all the time, so I am jumping on the bandwagon to do the Fast Diet. I would love to share my progress with you all.
Please do share your progress!
I don’t know how good fasting is but I usually only eat one meal a day. I haven’t lost weight. I do this because I’m not hungry. I did lose weight a few months ago. That was due to hospital food!
I hear you about hospital food. When I had my baby recently I couldn’t believe how bad it was. Luckily my Irishman kept the supply of good food coming.
This post disturbs me, I can’t believe that fasting like this is a fad! As someone who lives in a country where most people don’t have enough to eat, and many die because of it, fasting like this seems an obscene attempt at a twisted concept of “health” and pretty awful really. I am all for eating healthily but this seems to me like controlled anorexia. I know this probably seems like an extreme reaction but perhaps a little perspective needs to be put in place for people who are fasting for weight loss or “health” reasons. Surely a healthy diet and frequent exercise can achieve goals without going to such an extreme as not eating one day a week?
Thanks for sharing your opinion.
It’s interesting to hear from someone living where most people don’t have enough to eat.
I intermittently fast 2 days a week and agree
With your comments about leaner, lighter
And sharper. Some days are tougher than others
But on the whole it makes me feel great. Cholesterol
Is significantly lower and weight stable.
Is there an e-book version of Eat Stop Eat??
Yes it’s only available as an ebook Tara
My husband and I have been doing the fasting thing a couple days a week since April after watching a special from BBC. In fact, yesterday was one of our limited calorie days and we were commenting that while we might not be doing this for life (cause really, there are very few things we do forever) we will continue doing indefinitely. I have some gal pals that have tried it and they found it too difficult or they didn’t lose the weight. I don’t think one should set out on this way of eating with weight loss as the ultimate goal, I feel that it is the happy residual of the eating plan. So I think everyone should give it a try, a good 5 or 6 weeks should be the term and if the word fast scares you, just call it a reduced or limited calorie day. Cheers-a
I started doing the ‘Fast Diet’ al la Dr Michael Moseley and Mimi ?? about 3 months ago. I have lost 6.5kg (2.2lb to each 1kg ish). I find it is more of a ‘lifestyle’ change than a diet as such. It is easy to fit around my life. I swap and change which 2 days I am fasting dependent on what I am doing each week and this week I am on antibiotics so am not fasting as it makes me feel ill if I don’t eat after taking the dratted pills. I have approx 500cals on each ‘fast day’ and eat a small breakfast to take my usual medications with and then nothing but low or no cal liquids til dinner time when I eat the balance of my 500cals. I struggle with weight loss and gain as I have a myriad of medical problems which have led to considerable disability so this form of weight loss suits me very well. I love finding low cal delicious meals to feed myself and my partner although he doesn’t follow the fast day lifestyle himself. I find it very easy and have taken a week off while on hols with best friend and her young daughter. I sometimes eat sensibly on the ‘feast’ days and once in a while, eat very badly. I’ve still lost the weight though. I think it is a sensible way of controlling your weight. It isn’t for those trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding or diabetics amongst others but it works for me. I can apparently reduce risk of diabetes and reduces fat, ldl colesterol and generally make you feel more alert. It has also reduced my appetite. Read a book about it if you are interested and get some decent info on it. It is great.
I havent read Moseley’s book Suzanne
Thanks for the suggestion!
I have tried fasting, some years ago, for religious reasons. As one who has always been a compulsive overeater (now under good control), my experience was that after fasting I always wanted to eat too much, just as I do now if I go too long between meals/snacks. The other issue I have with fasting, specifically with regard to weight loss, is that if you stop eating, your metabolism goes into starvation mode, which means it will start storing everything you don’t need immediately. That basically means going into fat-storing mode which is exactly what you don’t want to be doing if you are trying to lose weight. The weight you want to lose is the excess fat you are carrying. I understand feeling better with short fasts (it’s really nice to feel lighter), but it’s something I would not do because I don’t think it’s good for my health. That’s my personal decision, and if people like fasting and it works for them, I would not discourage it.
Thanks for sharing your experience Susan.
Pilon adresses the theory that fasting causes decreases in your metabolism in the book. I can’t remember the details off the top of my head but his research of the scientific literature found that fasting for short periods did NOT reduce metabolism as you suggest.
I was surprised about this as well but he makes a convincing argument in the book.
I read somewhere that sometimes fasting is more like a spiritual practice because it makes you feel empathy for people who don’t have plenty to eat, thus making you more compassionate and appreciate more your food, instaed of eating mindlessly.
But I really don’t believe the fact that the author of the book states, that it decreases stress… It doesn’t make sense to me because actually all that good feelings of clear head and all that are a consequence of stress hormones, like cathecolamines.
Maybe one or two days it is OK, but later on, the adrenal glands become exhausted and –trust me– you don’t want to have adrenal fatigue, because it’s really hard to overcome and cure without gaining a lot of weight and feeling sluggish, among other things.
Also, losing weight while fasting is one of the worst ways to lose weight. Actually, any intentional weight-loss attemps may cause damage to the metabolism and the thyroid glands. It’s really not that inocuous.
Just something to keep in mind.
I’ve been following a programme of intermittent fasting this year — every third day restricting calories to 400 spread over 2 meals. It works well for me, for the reasons you’ve listed above — I would agree with all of them. I am a migraine sufferer, and I was worried that missing meals would trigger migraines. This doesn’t generally seem to be the case, although I have had the occasional fast day headache. The causes seem to be complex and so far pinpointing the actual trigger has proved elusive.
It makes you very aware of how calorific some foods are on your non-fast days too. I find it suits me to calorie count a couple of times a week and eat whatever I feel like the rest. I appreciate the extra time gained on the fast days as food preparation is so much less. I have no trouble getting through a normal day of gardening, housework, other physical activities on a fast day.
However, I am fully expecting to see in the media in about 6 months time, a flurry of sad tales of people who have started off intermittent fasting and developed eating disorders. I can see it wouldn’t be a very great step for someone who enjoyed and looked forward to their fast days (and many people do) to becoming anorexic or bulemic.
Interesting that you’re not seeing a link with fasting and migraines Susan.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
And I hadn’t thought about any links to eating disorders. And Pillon doesn’t mention it in his book either. You raise an interesting point.
If the media does that kind of story at all, it will be most likely fabricated. Eating disorders are far more complicated than simply becoming hooked on fasting. Would I recommend fasting to someone with a diagnosed eating disorder–even someone who’s ‘recovered’? A most resounding NO.
But I also *really* do not think that just the act of fasting moderately could lead to eating disorders. Just as it is not (simply) society’s obsession with weight & diets that cause eating disorders.
Ok, now I’ve read the Eat Stop Eat sales page, and it seems the author knows what he’s talking about and that he does care for the adrenals, but I still have something to say: most people ALREADY have a low metabolism and they should eat more to try to overcome it, not less.
All the best.
Thanks for raising the adrenal thing Fab!
The fasting/semi-fasting is fascinating, and I suspect goes back millenia to the days before stores and refrigeration. My own experience over the past year has been with a modified fast over the 24 hours. I eat my first meal (generally a pretty nutritious smoothie: egg, banana, yogurt, kale, mixed berries, honey, cinnamon/vanilla, milk, chia or flax seed) around 11 am each day (am up around 6 0r 7), and then we have dinner between 5 and 6 pm. No snacks afterwards or between. Water/coffee/tea as desired. So there is a large chunk of time when no food is ingested. Or desired. I found myself over a few months actually eating less for dinner (there were no dietary restrictions — we ate whatever we wanted), not being hungry, and over a year lost 20#s and feel great.
Great Sue that you’ve found a modified version that works for you!
I just started following Michael Mosley’s book last week. I have struggled with my weight for so many years and have tried many plans including a medical fast in the 90’s. Most plans are unsustainable and end up with weight gain despite best intentions. I like the appraoch this way of eating provides and could become a way of life not too far outside the norm…still eat normally with occasional treats but just 500 calories on 2 fast days a week..I have found it very easy to do and have seen the scale go down for the first time in months! It has been a short time but I hope to see increased energy as well. Thanks for your post and insight. Larae
My (diploma qualified) view is that to lose weight we first need to be really nourished. Any attempt to decrease the volume of calories without increasing the nutritional quality of the food is doomed to failure in the short, medium or long term.
Many people today are slightly or very malnurished in a range on nutrients – macro as well as micro and our bodies are quite keen to let us know. Apart from other signals, we get really hungry (sometimes really, really hungry!) – hence the reason why it is so hard to keep to any calorie reducing diet over time.
I’ve nothing against the 2:5 diet. My husband decided to do it since he saw the Horizon programme last Summer, but he is finding it harder and harder to keep to: he is getting hungry!
First get nourished. I really, really recommend Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet (never met them, so sadly no commision) and perhaps a little investment in Jules’ 2 Minute Meal plan to keep you going (I bought it a few months ago and it’s ace).
Once topped up on all the right nutrients, the appetite will drop naturally and then it is time to consider intermittent fasting. Paul Jaminet has some great recommendations on that too.
Or you could just jump right in and do it anyway. Like my husband. It’s like playing a gig in your home town: nobody listens…!
Here’s the link you need: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/the-diet/
And now I’ve told you about them, I should pop over there and tell them about you!
So glad you found my 2-Minute Meal Plan ebook helpful.
And thanks for sharing your perspective on the effects of being malnourished to begin with… You raise an interesting point. And I’m wondering if that was the cause of my fasting not going so well. At the time I was working in product development for a biscuit company so was eating way more chocolate biscuits (cookies) than I should have been. (All in the name of work of course!)
I haven’t come across the Perfect Health Diet… will have to check them out. Thanks for the link!
I have dabbled with fasting in past years as part of my many decades of yo-yo dieting.
I have lost 5kg over the last couple of months by using the Eat Stop Eat method you describe above and also skipping breakfast sometimes. I find that it is easier to not eat at all than eat only a little. Eating makes me hungry.
I use your way of preparing food a lot and am trying to cut out sugar and bread, mostly. So I think I eat pretty well which is important. I have found that with fasting I tend to eat a little less than I used to.
Benefits: weight loss, MUCH better sleep (worth it for this alone), energy, increased focus and concentration, calm contented feeling, simplicity, saving money. Also prevention of many possible future illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, although obviously I can’t verify this myself.
Disadvantages: explaining to people (I try to avoid this by being vague!), feelings of hunger although this is getting a lot easier. I now know that hunger comes in waves and you can wait it out (5 – 15 minutes).
I have done a lot of research on the internet and in books and now do what suits me, it may not be exactly according to someone else’s rules. In other words I experiment on myself if you like.
Thanks for an interesting post.
Wow thanks fit sharing Janetta!
Glad to hear that fasting is working for you :)
Very timely post Jules! I have begun doing a 2 day fast every week for the last 2 months after watching a very compelling program on our public television station on the benefits of calorie reduction to your overall health. As someone who comes from a family of diabetics, I was intrigued about the effects of fasting on increasing the bodies insulin response. It was not a very difficult thing when I began fasting- sadly it felt like I was back in my restaurant life where you work long hours with very little if any food. I like how I feel and I am amazed at how I have kept my weight off, even as I go off Paleo to break my fast. Now I need to get the husband to try it too! Thanks again for this post.
You – I love the salad – thanks for inspiration for Saturday mornings breakkie! We’ll be having a poached egg on top and no bacon, tomato baked in the oven instead of semi dried :-)
I want Friday to be over just to have Saturday now :-)
Fasting – I would get narky and irritable just as you describe, but skipping a meal now or then has helped feeling lighter and more energised in the past if I have been eating way to much in the days before and helped me instill a sense of portion/frequency control the days after (kind of like a reboot).
$37 for ebook? Maybe 10-15$ i would give but 37% its too many.
the blat salad looks amazing, altho at first i was a lil worried about the name! lol!
re: the salad- any suggestions for someone who is not a big fan of ANY form of vinegar?
What is a semi-dried tomato?
It’s like a sun dried tomato that hasn’t been completely dried. They’re usually stored in oil.