If you can’t believe an Italian went Keto, you will really have trouble believing he began incorporating intermittent and extended fasting in to his life. But here I am to explain how I went from pasta eater to water faster, and detail exactly how water fasting improves weight loss.
The biggest change I made – (after switching to a ketogenic diet ) to reach my weight-loss goals has been implementation of fasting in my daily routine. I know what you’re thinking – fasting? Not eating? This guy’s crazy. /Closes tab, shuts down browser, and tosses monitor / mobile device out the window – BUT WAIT! Keep an open mind for a minute and read on.
If I had read a post about fasting a few years back, I would never have guessed the author could be me. But let’s get real for a minute: A few years back, I was failing at health and gaining weight. To succeed where I was failing, I had to turn everything I had been taught about nutrition upside-down. I began to question everything I thought was true, and learn about how my body actually uses food energy.
I discovered that – as with nutrition – I had been mislead on eating frequency & its effect on metabolism. So, I did my research, found information from others who succeeded doing what I aspired to do. Then, just dove right in and bit the bullet. Today, I advocate the power of fasting to all my clients, friends, and family.
Fasting Can’t possibly Be Healthy
“What do you mean, ‘you’re not eating anything’? Are you sick? Is something wrong? Tell me what’s wrong with you, oh my God!”-Nonna’s reaction to me not eating when visiting… some nuance lost in translation.
Before we get in to the nitty gritty of how I found fasting and why I love it, a quick note of appreciation for my low carb / keto forebears: I’ve succeeded thanks to those who dared to blaze a new trail – away from modern nutritional dogma. These doctors, engineers and “N of 1 Experimenters (I like to group myself here these days!)” stuck their necks out so others – like you and I – might trust the science and start to make changes to their health.
The most notable case of Professor Tim Noakes an esteemed physician caught up in a legal battle to defend the science of low carb, and with his (and many others, ie Gary Fettke, Shawn Baker) victory, the tides are slowly but surely turning.
I know Carb-Fu.
Check out my post on paradigm-shifting reads for boook recommendations. Particularly relevant to this post is “The Complete guide to fasting”. If sitting down and reading an awesome book isn’t your cup of zero-calorie tea, I highly recommend listening to Dr. Jason Fung discuss fasting and it’s benefits. Warning, once you start listening to Dr. Fung you can’t stop! You will disappear down that rabbit hole and return to reality knowing low-carb Kung-Fu. Go on ahead, I’ll wait.
And with that note of thankfulness out of the way, let’s get in to the details!
How Water Fasting Improves Weight Loss & Changed my Life
We’ve all heard people say if you don’t eat 6 meals a day ‘stoking your metabolism’ you will go in to ‘starvation mode’ and burn muscle / wither away and die. This is total crap. I am here as living proof that it’s crap. There are thousands of anecdotes like mine saying the same thing. So don’t be scared to do something different than what you’ve been ‘told’. Look around, most people are not succeeding following the ‘standard advice‘ on diet and eating frequency. So… If following the ‘standard advice’ hasn’t been working for you,I’m here to say “yeah, I hear you… now come check out what other options you’ve got”.
My results ought to put some “weight” behind my recommendations, and my goal with this chapter is to share with you why fasting is worth considering, and provide the strategy I took to build fasting in to my daily life. I now incorporate both intermittent fasting (also known as time-restricted eating), and occasional extended fasts (any duration > 24 hours). We’ll get in to both methods in this post, and I encourage you to keep an open mind, because if an Italian raised on pasta can fast and touts its benefits... maybe it’s worth looking in to, wouldn’t you say?
Mealtime to Snacktime to Anytime
The first tentative step I took in to the vast ocean of fasting was looking critically at how frequently I had been eating. When I reflect back, my meal timing as an adolescent through to my early thirties was not as I remembered as a boy. The “three squares” of breakfast, lunch and dinner had expanded to include brunch, 10am snack, afternoon snack and pre-bedtime snack. Plus you had pre-workouts calories, post-workout calories… All these eating opportunities encroached upon the rest of my previously meal-free time! Mealtime slowly became anytime. This is weird… I thought : are we supposed to be eating all throughout the day? Would our ancestors have had access to food 24/7? No they wouldn’t have.
If you Grew up in the 80’s / 90’s… You might still remember “Meal Times”
Growing up, I remember days when I got home and asked “Mom!? Is there any food?” The answer was 95% of the time “no, and you’d better not spoil your dinner”. The other 5% of the time was “here, want an apple?” and of course I didn’t want an apple, come on mom ;)! As a family, we would eat at meal times… no snacks in between. And really, if a meal wasn’t prepared, there weren’t many things you could just “grab and eat”. We had ingredients in the fridge and pantry, not ready-to-eat processed foods. A snack wasn’t a transient, thoughtless thing we always had available, it was probably some leftovers and would look like ‘real food‘.
I remember it being a very special treat to sit down as a family, have some buttery (now that I write this I realize it was probably margarine, right mom? sigh…) air-popped popcorn, and watch a movie together (yes, a rented VHS tape from Blockbuster Video!). Snacking wasn’t commonplace at all. Food generally had to be prepared first, then eaten. As I grew older, two independent factors started to change:
Factor 1: More Available Resources
As with all young men before me, I grew older, and the household rules held less sway. I gained more independence and responsibility. With a part time job, I earned some disposable income. Finally, with the added resource of time that only youth bestows, I could afford to go out with friends and buy a bite to eat outside the standard meals offered at home.
Frequently, my group of friends would get together after dinner & head out to a coffee shop or pub to socialize and of course, enjoy a calorie-laden latte (with obligatory muffin) or share pitchers of beer and baskets of fries.
Factor 2: Greater Food Availability
At the same time, more and more “snack” and “convenience” type foods exploded on the scene, either on grocery shelves or available for quick drive-thru purchase. The social acceptance of eating at all times of the day allowed these foods to permeate deep in to our consumer culture:
- “Heart-healthy” (low fat)
candygranola bars & convenience foods
- Social acceptability of “eating on the go” – outside standard meal times
- 24/7 Availability of foods for immediate consumption (drive-thru)
Having honest discussions about these factors, what changed, and recognizing what was vs what is now lead me to reflect back on the balance that fasting once kept in place for our society despite the already heavy prevalence of processed flour and sugar in our diets. Maybe if we weren’t eating all the time, what we ate might not cause as much damage as we see it causing today. Fasting could win half of the obesity battle right off the bat.
No matter what diet you follow, or what environment you are in, remember what you control: what & how frequently you eat. Don’t let society tell you, it has no interest in your health and just wants to keep you consuming as frequently and as much as possible. Instead, I let my own body decide… the trick is unlearning what you have been led to believe, and re-learn how to listen to your own signals.
Abstinence vs Moderation
Once I went low carb / keto, a major skill I acquired that I leveraged to “fast-track” (eh? eh?:)) my implementation of fasting. I had removed and abstained from highly-processed, carb-rich foods. Once I discovered that water fasting improves weight loss, there was no turning back.
I noticed as time went on, carbs lost their allure. Additionally, I found it much easier to simply abstain from high-carb foods than attempt to eat them ‘in moderation‘. One bite of pasta was a tease. For me, it was easier to abstain completely (something Gary Taubes and I have in common!). I applied this self-learning to my adoption of fasting.Enjoy
When it is time to eat, I dive in, roll up my sleeves and eat! When I am not eating (ie: between meals, or if not hungry and decided to skip one ) I simply don’t eat. It is powerful to make this on/off distinction – complete abstinence rather than moderation. In addition to the physiological impact of keeping insulin levels low (more on that below), the psychological benefit of not needing to expend willpower to “say no” to a handful of nuts as soon as you walk in the door at home, because you know you are not eating until your planned dinner meal at 7:00pm. This became a habit through repetition, positive reinforcement and yes – results! I found I did not need to ‘decide’ to avoid that office cheese platter, or worse – the Timbits (donut holes, for our American readers).
Insulin – The Key to How Water Fasting Improves Weight Loss
The power of fasting is that it keeps your body’s hormone insulin low. Why is this important? Well, when your insulin is low, your body begins a process called lipolysis (the breakdown of fats and other lipids by hydrolysis to release fatty acids) – this is what we all refer to as ‘ fat burning’. Your body accesses your stored body fat for energy when insulin is low, and fasting drops your insulin way down + keeps it there!
Now, when you consume a meal – particularly one with some carbs or protein – your insulin levels increase. This slams the brakes on lipolysis. It’s not a big deal, we all have to eat, I’m just saying that I boosted my weight-loss progress just by enjoying a cup of coffee, not eating if I wasn’t hungry, and saving my bacon & eggs for lunch… or dinner, whenever I felt it was the right time! And while I was not eating, my body was fueling my brain, muscles and organs with stored energy via my bountiful body fat. It’s beautiful when things start working as they are meant to.
So keeping insulin low is key. It’s why eating a low carb / keto diet is so awesome for losing weight. It is also why fasting is awesome. Now that you understand why water fasting improves weight loss, read on for some practical tips on implementing it!
How Italian-Canadian Families Eat
For me, a big contributing factor to why fasting has helped me succeed is it helps me plan around ‘big food’ events. Do we have a big wedding coming up? I’ll fast in preparation. Big Sunday lunch / family get-together? I’ll set up my day to have no breakfast, and skip dinner… hey maybe extend my fast further the next day depending just how out of hand things may get Let me elaborate on just how out of hand things can get, for context:
OK I can’t speak for all Italian-Canadian families, and I understand that Italians who have not emigrated from Italy retain a very different dining culture than Italians who have come to North America. I’m going to take a liberty here and say from my own pool of experience (+ includes friends’ / extended families) Italians can eat. And when I say they can eat, it’s not eating for nourishment or to a point of contented satiety. Routinely – and particularly at large gatherings – we eat to the point of moderate pain.
How to Solve this Dilemma of Constant Feasting?
Now what’s funny – I actually don’t believe this ability to overeat is unhealthy… what causes an issue is my periods of feasting were not balanced with periods of fasting. Our bodies evolved to feast, store fat, and live off that body fat for some time – there was a high chance we wouldn’t be eating again for a while. Prior to the advent of supermarkets and cold storage, we had to hunt for our meat! Our bodies have simply not had the time to adapt to our drastic change in food environment. This contributes to why we see a worldwide obesity epidemic. Our problem in modern society is we have retained the instinct and traditions around feasting, but lost the need to perform any fasting. I was overweight, and so asked myself why not try self-imposing some fasting – see how it goes? I saw immediate benefits to how
water fasting improved weight loss and to this day keep it as part of my routine.
It is likely you have experienced feasts like this – Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings … any large family gathering usually revolves around food. It’s a huge part of our culture (definitely not just Italians, we all love food), and we bond together around a table. I’m all for this, and love the traditions around sharing meals together. So now, I always plan to balance feasting with fasting.
Welcome! Have a Seat at our Table!
Let me make this real for you. Immerse yourself in my world for a moment: You have sat down next to me at our family Sunday lunch. Welcome, paisan! You have already been fed fresh baked bread, homemade prosciutto, and as many bocconcini you can eat plus about a dozen olives for good measure. You thought you were too stuffed to eat a main course, but….
Nonna’s lasagna. It looks and smells like heaven. After a bite, you lose all previous senses of satiety and just plough through your plate. You are clearly starved, and making excellent progress on the slice – so Nonna doesn’t miss a beat – BAM! once > 50% of your plate is visible, you are ambushed with a fresh heaping spatula-full of carbs. You polish off that slice too, and have managed to thwart a third slice hitting your plate, convincing your Nonni that you couldn’t possibly consume another bite.
No problem, it’s time for the meat course. And then dessert fruit and espresso. OK, you can depart now… but don’t forget to take 3 containers full of leftovers home because clearly you are not eating enough!! You are wasting away! / end scene.
Reality Check – This is not How our Ancestors Ate
Can you see now how perhaps, just maybe, researching on how water fasting improves weight loss could be beneficial?
It’s like a reverse workout, 3 sets x 3 reps of refilling your plate. Repeat workout 3 x a week. This is the secret recipe for stereotypical Italian pot-bellies. There is no ‘rest’ in between these workout routines. Just like with exercise, we need the time to recover – to use some of that body fat we’ve spent so much time, effort and yes -pain storing.
A food-focused culture lead me to overeat. Repeated overeating built poor habits around food. Food became a form of entertainment, and less about nutrition. Also, what I thought I knew about nutrition was wrong. Total, utter disaster. So how can you fix this? Start with small steps,
Some Practical Tips
Starting Out: How Water Fasting Improves Weight Loss
Fasting is a taboo topic in our modern society where eating 7 times a day is commonplace, and the fear of hunger is one of American’s top concerns. There’s a slow ramp-up I took, and if you are interested in some guidance I hope the next section helps you out, and feel free to contact meshould you have specific questions.
“…to start ‘fasting’… you just don’t eat.”– Dr. Jason Fung paraphrased. Check out www.idm.com for Dr. Fung’s blog
Ok there’s more to it than that… let’s lay out how I progressed.
1. Stop Snacking in-between Meals
I was eating sufficiently at my breakfast, lunch, and dinner to keep myself satiated until my next meal. That’s how it begins. Just eat a good (low carb, moderate protein, high fat) meal and swear off snacks. I eliminated my habitual 10am snack of nuts at my office desk… in fact, I cleared my environment of snacking opportunities so I didn’t have that gnawing feeling at the back of my head telling me ‘just open the drawer, have some jerky!‘. Instead, I used what I’ve heard Dr. Cywes call a “bridge”, ie a zero calorie beverage like tea, water, or coffee to get myself through to my next planned meal. Make it a point of sitting down to a meal with a knife and fork, and be present in the act of enjoying your meal. An excellent podcast with Dr. Cywes here.
Get Re-Acquainted with Your “True Hunger”
Once I had my ‘true hunger’ dialed in and realized I wasn’t going to starve without eating a snack every 2 hours, I saw that I had been consuming food a ridiculous number of times during the day.
Mostly, it was not for real hunger, but for entertainment / boredom (a hit of dopamine!). Instead, I tried getting up and taking a brisk walk or having a non-caloric beverage. Replacing the caloric distraction with anything else that releases some dopamine! This pulled back the curtain on my unhealthy relationship with food. I awakened my “long lost appetite” and started to understand the difference between a ‘craving‘ and ‘hunger‘ – because these are actually two different things. I learned to listen to my body’s satiety signals as well, as eating whole foods got me to feel satiated with less food.
Making this connection is one of the primary ways that water fasting improves weight loss
2. Go 24 hours without Food and see how much water fasting improves weight loss
I can guarantee you’ve done a 24h fast at some point in life… maybe it was for a medical procedure, maybe you were sick and couldn’t keep anything down. Maybe it was a rough hangover and you could only stomach water. Many people fast for religious reasons (Lent, Ramadan, Yom Kippur). When fasting, people report connecting more deeply with their mind, feeling ‘cleansed’ and reconnecting with their body’s natural signals. I definitely have!
At some point in life you probably went without a meal for a whole 24 hours… and yeah, you probably felt a little hungry! I had done 30 hour fasts for religious holidays when I was younger, so knowing I had not died I tried it out just to see how it would feel.
First I tried going from dinner to dinner… so I at least went to bed ‘full’, and ‘ate food’ at least once on that day. There were times I wasn’t hungry come dinnertime, so I just skipped it. I would extend my fast overnight (and really wake up in full blown ketosis burning fat like crazy) through to breakfast the next day… or just keep going to lunch, etc. If you’ve got plenty to eat on your gut, all you need is to let your body do what it’s designed to and access that stored body fat!
Breakfast Really Doesn’t Need to be Eaten at 7am
Have you ever wondered why there are frequently those days you wake up and simply aren’t hungry? The mere thought of food may even cause some nausea? Why do we then force ourselves to eat?
When I was growing up there was no question, I had to eat whether I was hungry or not. So what can you eat? If I’m not hungry for eggs… I could definitely have a bowl of
candy cereal. Who couldn’t – right now – finish an entire bowl of Frosted Flakes? Or… even a nice bowl of cheerios? Even if you’d just finished a full meal, you could likely eat a bowl of cereal at any time.
This is because carbs do not satiate you. They in fact do the reverse… they cause you to want to eat more – the term for this is hyperphagia – an abnormally increased appetite for food. I learned to recognize this, and eventually stopped eating at breakfast because I found I could naturally go until lunch without even feeling hunger at all. I “ate my breakfast” at lunch. That’s when I decided I would routinely break my natural overnight fast. But wait, that’s already our next step!
3. Fasting Longer, Trust your Body
On less frequent occassions (maybe 1-2 times per month) I try to extend my duration of fasting to tap in to a deeper level of ketosis – fat burning – and autophagy – cellular ‘cleanup’ of dead / inefficienct cells (I’ll post in future on this topic). To reiterate, I had (and still have, though much less now) body fat to lose. If I found I wasn’t hungry come dinnertime, I didn’t eat. I extended my fast through to breakfast the next day… or just keep going to lunch! Really, I trusted my true hunger, and find really no issues going 24-36 even 48 hours drinking just water, feasting on my body fat! Give it a try, it’s another lever you can pull to reach your weight loss goals.
Still skeptical or want details on longer fasting? Check out this awesome post on the 72-Hour Water Fast over at ForeverAlphaBlog.
Bonus: Your Body Needs Electrolytes:
One thing I want to get back to from the earlier image – some of that ‘cloudy water’. It’s salt water. Yes, you can drink salt water!
The human body needs electrolytes, and on an extended fast I’ve found that my body agrees with the common advice given to “fasters” – I need to keep my levels up to stay energized and not feel fatigued. To make the concoction, I’ll take about 1L of water and dissolve 1 tsp of quality salt with 1 tsp of potassium chloride (ie: “No Salt” available in most grocery stores as a table salt alternative) mixed in. I sip on this through my day, and if I feel like I want more, I have some more, and if I feel ok… Don’t feel pressure to finish the whole bottle. Learn to trust your body’s natural want for the salt in the water. This keeps you energized, and helps keep hunger low through a fast.
Also, supplementing magnesium has helped me at times. I like to soak in a warm bath with some Epsom Salts dissolved in the water. For more details on electrolytes, check out the section titled “Get Your Salts” in my post on Tips for Going Keto.
Additional Benefits of Fasting
Before wrapping up this post, I wanted to share a few interesting things in addition to weight loss I have found came implementing fasting in my routine. It’s not only about how water fasting improves weight loss, as there are plenty of other added benefits:
You get Time Back
After weight loss, the most significant benefit I found with fasting is all the time I got back. No more mental energy spent on what to whip up for breakfast, bring for lunch, or put out to thaw for dinner. Fasting gave me literally hours in a day back (prep, consume, cleanup dishes).
So these days I find myself taking mental breaks at lunch – I walk, listen to podcasts, and reconnect a little with nature. I get lost in my own thoughts. Then, I’ll return to what I was doing refreshed and energized. Frankly, it’s amazing to my colleagues I didn’t eat while they were “starving” and “had to eat”. I believe it’s all mental.
I used to feel the same way… now I say try embracing a fast, and take some “me-time”. If at home, take a bath (epsom salts are great addition to any fast for magnesium restoration), pursue that hobby you’ve been meaning to start up, maybe even throw a workout in! Once that initial bit of routine ‘phantom’ hunger passes, you don’t even remember you were hungry a scant ten minutes ago. Your options are limitless – and in a society starved for time, fasting is the answer to giving yourself some back.
Resetting your relationship with food.
When my hunger signals returned to normal, I realized so much of my drive to eat was boredom, or the ‘want’ to enjoy a delicious meal. Not hunger. But… a hit of food pleasure. So when I found other ways to find dopamine hits (exercise, completing a task on my ‘to do’ list, etc) I realized that I absolutely had to make it a priority to get food back in its rightful place as a supplier of fuel and nutrition for my body, and not something I relied on for pleasure / entertainment.
The bonus here is that when I eat… well, the French have a phrase that does the concept most justice – hunger is the best sauce! Reconnecting my appetite to true hunger, I found that ‘normal, boring’ foods taste absolutely amazing. The sweetness in low carb vegetables really strike me in ways they never did before… red peppers, roasted brussels sprouts, or stir-friend broccoli. Eggs, meats, fish and cheese are delicious with the simplest of seasonings (salt and pepper, cook! seldom anything else). My palate seems to appreciate the nutrition instead of being dulled by the hyper-palatable nutrient-void dopamine hits provided by modern “FrankenFoods”.
The sensation of completing my first planned 48 hour fast is indescribable. It was actually so easy, it made me wonder why everyone else was so tied up with eating all the time (depsite having gone `32 YEARS being the exact same way). Fasting built up my personal sense of awesomeness – now I confidently know I could last literally days without needing to consume food if there is no nutritious option available. I have gained such a sense of control over my body and what goes in to it, I feel superhuman, invincible, and totally in control! Once more – Awesome.
So I hope some of you take a bit of inspiration and give fasting a try. Consult your physician if concerns about medication or pre-existing medical conditions are an issue for you. Most healthy individuals who have extra body fat to lose will be able to fast with no problems. Put it in an ancestral context – it’s how we evolved. We are metabolically equipped to do this, it’s just we haven’t had to use the gear all our lives thanks to our environment. If you’d like a bit of guidance or more details on anything you’ve read, reach out to me for a free consultation.
Until next time, happy fasting 🙂