While a 24-hr or a 36-hr fast is great, a more sustainable fasting approach, called Intermittent Fasting (IF), has gained a lot of ground. In the approach, you adopt the 8:16 rule or a variation of it. That is, you are on a feeding mode for 8 hours and fasting mode for 16 hours. There is a reason for the 16 hour fast duration. The body starts to process fat only after 12 hours. Right after you eat, the body metabolism is used to actually digest the food and it goes on for about 5 hours depending on the size of the meal. Then the body uses the energy produced by the food for regular activities. Only after does it resort to burning fat. So, on a daily basis, with a 3 meal scenario, you are hardly giving the body to process any fat, with the most gap between meals being between dinner and breakfast, which can be about 12 hours or less.
The 8:16 method can be followed at a time convenient to you. I usually finish dinner around 9:30 PM. That means my first meal the next day should around 1:30 PM. This is a little off the normal lunch time. There are some things to note with the 8:16 method of IF
– Try to maintain consistency in the periods of fasting and eating. A 2 hour stretch either way is okay.
– you consume all the calories your body needs in the 8 hours. Thus it could be 2 or 3 or more eating sessions.
– During the fasting periods, you can consume water, coffee or tea as long as the calories don’t exceed 50 cals. A 8 oz cup of coffee, drunk the English/Indian way with milk and sugar, translates to 90 calories. So you will have to cut down the milk part and the sugar part in the coffee. A 8 oz cup of coffee by itself is about 1 cal!
– The idea that the breakfast is the best food of the day is actually a myth in the body building world. Eating increases your metabolism, but that metabolism is actual used to convert/process the food (called the Thermic cycle). A good breakfast also makes you less hungry down the day supposedly, but really does not contribute to anything to do with losing weight or burning fat.
– In the fasting mode, the body produces an increased amount of Human Growth hormones, which are key to sustaining health and building body muscle. It is known that after a good night’s sleep, the levels of HGHs are higher. It is also proven that after fasting and sleeping, HGHs levels are much higher. This is an added advantage with fasting.
I just finished my second 36-hour fast (no water or food) and with some stretching/yoga, I could feel my muscles leaner and tougher. Of course, I had lost 8 pounds in the process. But I knew a 36 or even a 24 hour fast is less sustainable unless one is very motivated. Thus I did some more reading and found IF could be more sustainable. In fact, this is so sustainable that one can follow in every day if not many days in a week. After all you are not depriving yourself of any of the calories necessary.
You could also combine IF with a day of partying. So you had this great food at a party and it is the right time to fast. Starting at 10 PM or 12 midnight, you have to ward off eating till 4 PM next day. Sounds tough, but once you try it, you will see like I did, that your body DOES NOT feel hungry at all! We are just trained to think we need to eat regularly though we don’t feel hungry.
One other thing I found after fasting and doing Yoga and meditation, is I certainly calmed down quite a bit. Obviously the metabolism would have gone down. I felt a greater sense of calm and could feel more focused. Again, this is because your body is not spending time in digesting the food, so the energy is available to you to do other things. Surprisingly, my last 36 hour fast (yesterday was Ekadashi, the Hindu fasting day) stretched to 40 hours with a cup of coffee after the 36th hour mark. I felt I could keep on fasting for another day or two easily. That’s how I realized that I really don’t need food just for the sake of eating – a lesson easily overlooked since childhood.