What six years of intermittent fasting can do
Fasting for six years
I thought it was a good time for me to personally reflect on the last six years of intermittent fasting. Yes, for the last six years I have been following a relatively strict program of fasting for 16-20 hours of the day. Usually this means having my last meal of the day around 6pm and my first meal the following day at 11am.
I remember first hearing about the benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) at a medical conference organized by the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine back in 2016. After Dr. Denis Wilson M.D. spoke about all the clinically supported benefits of IF as well as his own personal journey with IF, I was sold!
Fasting and Climbing
That was around the same time I started to take rock climbing seriously. A was training 2-3 days per week and for around 2 hours each session. I decided it would be an interesting experiment to combine IF with my morning training. I was hitting the gym while in a fasted state (usually around 16 hours at that point) and would train as hard as I could.
When the body is in a post 14 hour fast it starts to convert fat into an energy source called ketones. This is because all the sugar stored in the body has been used up. Exercising while fasting speeds up this process. I was amazed to see how quickly this combination of fasting and exercise transformed my body and my health. Over the course of a year I lost 15lb and went up several grades in my climbing. My climbing partners couldn’t believe I was able to climb hard on an empty stomach, but I actually felt lighter and clearer. I would try to have my first meal of the day within an hour after workouts for optimal protein metabolism to build muscle. I would regularly get comments from familiar faces at the gym asking if I’m doing anything special outside of the gym. I simply told them that I’m fasting and climbing. Pretty simple but very effective.
Finding the right program
Over the following 5 years I had short 2-3 week periods where I would take a break from IF but would soon return as I felt my best, looked my best and climbed my best while on a pretty strict IF program. I have since recommended IF to dozens of patients, the majority of whom see results within a few months. One of my biggest supporters and now followers of IF is my dad. He saw such dramatic results that IF is now a regular lifestyle habit for him as well.
I dabbled a few times with doing pretty long fasts (20-23 hours) and eating only one meal per day but I found that this was a bit hard on my body. I was getting irritable and was not performing very well at the gym. I now have a pretty good understanding of how many hours my body likes to fast for and how many meals per day is best.
Everyone is going to find a sweet spot for themselves. I don’t recommend forcing the body into a particular program but to try fasting for different lengths of time and see what feels and works best. It does take a little getting used to at first but it is important to remember that this is a very natural state for the human body.
It’s only natural
Through most of human evolution humanity had to go for extended periods of time without food. In fact, an abundance of food at our beck and call is likely contributing to a lot of chronic disease in our modern way of living. Many religious traditions still practice fasting in order to clear the mind, body and spirit. Centuries of cultural practice as well as hundreds of recent studies are in support of fasting in one form or another. It is one of the cheapest, simplest and most effective medical programs I can recommend for a patient.
What lies ahead
Looking ahead to the next decade, I don’t see myself giving up IF anytime soon. There are a few other lifestyle changes I would like to implement but IF will continue to be the backbone of my personal health and wellness program. There are some individuals including in pregnancy where IF is not recommended. I encourage those of you curious about IF or trying it out, to at least have a consultation with a health professional like myself. The benefit of being supervised by a Naturopathic Doctor is the peace of mind that your are practicing something that is safe for your body, you have someone to answer questions as they arise and even to run blood tests if necessary. If I have inspired at least a few people to give IF a try then I have passed along a valuable lifestyle tool as it was passed to me six years ago. Happy fasting everyone!