Make time to digest and rest: How and when is as important as what you eat
There is a wealth of information on diet and nutrition. What you eat is important to maintaining a healthy body and mind. But there is more to healthy eating than just the choice of what to eat. You need to understand why you eat.
What is the purpose of food? To answer this question you have to go back in time. Before cities and villages, when humans lived in small groups who moved from place to place following the seasons and migration patterns, food meant survival. Our ancient ancestors ate when they had food, and fasted when they didn’t have food. They ate what was available, fresh, and in season. They didn’t have a choice.
If you follow or are at all familiar with the Paleo diet, you know the basic premise is to eat the way these same ancient ancestors did. The selling point of the Paleo diet is to eat the same as people ate before modern illnesses and diseases. By eating fresh unprocessed foods we should have a better chance of avoiding devastating illness and long-term treatments.
But there is more to the Paleo diet than that. Part of the reason our ancestors were so healthy was that they didn’t eat with the same frequency as in our modern society. They spent most of their time finding, hunting, or preparing food. And it wasn’t every day that they had fresh meat and veggies. They may go days or weeks without meat or fish. They also alternated between high-fat foods in the winter and fruit and vegetables in the summer.
Today we think of intermittent fasting, or a 36 hour fast as difficult and uncomfortable. It’s socially inconvenient. In Paleo times it was a regular part of life. Part of their healthy lifestyle was because they gave their bodies time to digest. They allowed their systems to naturally cleanse and heal. To them, it was the act of gathering, hunting, and preparing food that built strong social connections. They depended on each other.
Dave Asprey, the author of The Bulletproof Diet, wrote another best-seller on fasting, Fast This Way. It is worth reading if you want to learn how fasting can support weight loss, health recovery, and long-term maintenance. In it, he describes each type of fast when it is best used, and how to prepare so you don’t overdo it.
Fasting is essential. There are basically three forms of fasting, with a multitude of variations you can modify to make fasting work for you. Or as Dave Asprey puts it, Fast Your Way.
Intermittent Fasting: This is basically daily short-term fasting. The purpose is to allow your body sufficient time to digest and then rest between eating. The most common form is known as 16:8. This stands for 16 hours empty, 8 hours eating. You won’t eat for 8 hours straight but you will condense your eating window to an 8 hour period. For example, if you eat your last meal at 6 pm, you would not eat your next meal until 16 hours later, or 10 am the next day.
Beginners of intermittent fasting may want to start with a less aggressive schedule, like 14:10 or 12:12. The priority, in the beginning, is to set a schedule and stick to it. Understanding the purpose of this form of fasting will help you become more aware of how your transition to fasting feels in your body and brain. If you are combining fasting with a healthy diet, limiting sugar and processed foods, you should notice a difference in your energy and mental clarity right away.
OMAD: This burly-sounding acronym stands for One Meal A Day. It is just as the name suggests. With this form of fasting, you will eat just one meal a day. It is basically an extreme version of intermittent fasting. It is not meant to be a regular daily practice. Instead, use it intuitively. I often find myself not needing more than one meal. On such days I apply the OMAD fast and just eat one meal. But the key is to be intuitive. If you don’t feel hungry, don’t eat. It’s that simple. Since I regularly use the 16:8 5-6 days a week, eating only 2 meals a day, if I’m not hungry by dinner time I just don’t eat.
Fasting is not meant to be a die-hard sport with rigid scheduling and harsh self-loathing on the days you fall short. Be flexible. In fact, you will get more benefits from fasting if you vary the practice. Always keep your body guessing. That way it won’t react in survival mode when you simply skip a meal. In time your body will gain confidence that you are not going to let it starve. In time you will fall into a rhythm both you and your body will love.
Long Term Fasting: You may hear of people fasting for days at a time. This can be very beneficial to your overall health. However, this is not something you want to overdue. You also should not attempt a long-term fast until you have completely adjusted to shorter forms of fasting. Fasting is a stressor on your body. That is the purpose of long-term fasting, to challenge your body, which makes it more resilient. But as I state above, you need to fully adjust to fasting first or your body will respond poorly.
When you are ready, start small with a 36 hour fast. This is the easiest as it takes advantage of your sleeping hours. Start your fast after your last meal of the day at 8 pm. By 8 pm the next day you have already banked 24 hours. All you need to do is get through the dinner hour and go to sleep. The next day you can break your fast at 8 am on the third day. Doing it this way, the difficult hunger period is limited to a few hours at the end of the second day.
As you develop your fasting practice you can extend your long-term fasting periods. Keep in mind, these should only be done infrequently, like quarterly or annually. These should be used to reboot your digestion and metabolism, cleansing your cells and organs. Moderation is key.
Pro Tip #1: Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed; Fasting has a lot of benefits, including improving energy. You can get the same benefits without fasting if you eat your last meal at least 2 hours before going to bed. This allows time for your body to fully digest your last meal so that while you sleep your body can use the rest time cleansing and healing the body.
Pro Tip #2: Take a break from fasting; Intermittent fasting can become a daily routine, which is good. But once in a while, just to keep your body guessing and flexible, break your fast and eat a hearty breakfast in the morning. I like to combine this with my Keto break, where I eat a stack of delicious gluten-free waffles and blue agave syrup. Yup, it’s okay to eat a heavy carbohydrate meal once you have established a solid low-carb practice. This again helps keep your body flexible and tolerant of changes that might otherwise throw it into high stress.
Conclusion: It is difficult to break with social traditions. So much of what we do when with others is related to food. I get it. That is why salads were invented. Seriously, if you want a simple way to stick with your health routine but don’t want to miss out on the social scene, just order a salad. You eat, you talk, it’s all good. Scheduling your fasts around social events should be easy if you are building in flexibility as you should. It may take time and practice to get it down. Be patient with yourself. You can do this!
The Compass Fat Loss Program constantly combs current research to deliver the latest in cutting-edge processes to optimize health and weight loss. Many of the above points have been refined at CFL even further to provide the very best in progress and maintenance – please absorb the above points as a learning experience, with the understanding that the guidance you receive at Compass takes this all to the next level, and may deviate from the conventional wisdom…to achieve even better results!
Author and Optimize Coach
David is a writer and coach specialing in awakening human potential. David likes to think of himself as a conscious creator, student of life, Super Dad, chef, Spartan Athlete, and Optimize Performance Coach. Writing for Dr. Kusher and the CFL community is just one of his many joys.