To Fast or Not to Fast? That is the question.
We asked two of our knowledgeable health bloggers with strong opinions on intermittent fasting to share their views. Suncana from Body Connection Obsessed explains why she is for intermittent fasting, whilst Sarah from The Army Girl’s Guide argues her reasons for being against it. If you’re sat on the fence, maybe this will help you decide…
Suncana is for intermittent fasting:
I am a self-diagnosed diet addict. Now, before you jump to conclusions let me explain. I do not mean the unhealthy only-drink-cabbage or this magic elixir diet. I am talking real food diets. If it came out of the ground, from an animal and it wasn’t processed, I am all about it and I will try just about any variation. It sounds snobby when I say it (and my boyfriend makes fun of me when I do) but I know my body. When I try out a diet I know how it makes me feel. I know if I have more energy, if I crave more food, if I can run for longer or if I’m faster. If something is off and I don’t know exactly what, I have a tiny meltdown, and get to work tweaking all of the things I have changed until I figure it out. Knowing my body is something I take great pride in, and my goal is to help other people know their bodies too.
My approach to dieting
So to get to this state of knowing my body, I have tried every real food diet under the sun. (I am not kidding) Paleo? Tried it. Vegan? Tried it. High fat? Tried it. High Carb? Tried it. You get the point. If there’s been an up-and-comer in the health and real food industry I have given it a whirl. Generally I do at least seven strict days, even if it doesn’t seem to be beneficial, and I ad-lib accordingly after that. That gives my body enough time to purge the old food and get adjusted to the new concentration of substances that it is getting. I generally try for 2 -4 weeks if everything is going well as once you get past this crucial 7 day point you can start to see exactly what helps and what doesn’t.
From all of these diets that I have tried I usually pull one or two things that I noticed work very well for me and integrate them into my standard healthy diet. In this way, my diet has evolved over the years and has helped me to be at my best. I am still learning but I have come a long way from how I felt and what I knew before I started learning about my body.
One of these take aways for me has been fasting. I first tried fasting a long time ago and didn’t feel it worked for my body. Then I did David Asprey’s bulletproof diet. This diet really resonated with me and I still stick to a lot of its main principles. One of them being intermittent fasting.
This past weekend I had a conversation about fasting with a family member who is very into the Ketosis diet (low carb, high fat). He fasts for 48 hours every 2 months and does his best to keep his body in ketosis the rest of the time. While I am super happy that this works for him, this was the big deterrent for me the first time I tried fasting. I felt that anything over 18 hours my body just went into a stress and starvation mode. Then after the fast I could not shake the feeling for well over a week (remember my rule, if it doesn’t work after 7 days, it’s not for me). I would come off of the fast and eat everything in sight for 7+ days after. As a result I prefer to continue fuelling my body through detox and into ketosis. This is why the bulletproof diet really hit the nail on the head.
Every time I fast, I stop eating around 8pm the night before (so no 10 pm scoop of peanut butter!). In the morning I have a bulletproof coffee (coffee with MCT/coconut oil and grass fed butter): I feel amazing! This coffee is not considered breaking the fast because it has no protein or carbs. My thinking is sharper, my movements are more precise and I have more intention. Just all around goodness! Then I eat lunch at around 2pm. This way I have 18 hours where I do not consume carbs or protein, allowing my body to have a bit of break and clean itself out.
The only time I find it to be a bit challenging is when I want to do a long run in the early morning. I start out amazing but after 5km, my body starts to lose energy very quickly. When I get home from a run longer than 5km I am a serious carb monster. So when I know it is a long run day I try to make sure I give myself some quick fuel right before the run. Even just a teaspoon of raw honey or a quick home-made granola bar helps a lot.
So really, whatever works for your body is the best answer in the To Fast or Not to Fast question. Your body is super intelligent, it will tell you exactly what it needs if you just listen! You just have to help guide it in the right direction. For myself that right direction is intermittent fasting. For you it may be the 48 hour way.
Sarah Lawson explains why she is against intermittent fasting:
So here comes the bad gal… Now, before you all berate me for going against the latest diet of choice, hear me out. My argument comes from experience. I spent four years as an Officer in the British Army, and it was there that I built a healthy relationship with food, knowing that I was going to need it! As a member of the army you are constantly on the go, marching from one place to the next, exercising daily and getting very little time to rest. Food is fuel, pure and simple. If you don’t have it, you’re probably not going to get very far. Which is why, for someone who still leads an active lifestyle 2 years after having left the army, I’m not a fan of intermittent fasting.
When I talk about intermittent fasting, I am referring to such diets as the “5:2”, where calories are restricted to around 500 calories for two days of the week. Other forms of fasting, where you go for long periods of time without food, then consume your usual daily calorie content within a small window of time, are different. But why would anybody actively try to do that either? Anyone else not eat in their sleep? Yep, me neither… there’s a nice 8 hour fast to give my digestive system a rest!
A Personal Trainer’s perspective…
Firstly, why are people fasting intermittently? Is it to detox and cleanse? (read above reference to not eating when you’re sleeping!). Or are you doing it to restrict calories and lose weight?
When approaching the idea of weight loss from a Personal Trainer’s perspective, I take into account basal metabolic rate (BMR). That is, the rate at which your body burns calories at rest. And then I add the amount of active calories you’re burning daily to get the total amount of calories your body burns per day. If you want to lose weight, you must have a calorie deficit; consuming less than you are burning. You don’t need to fast in order to do this. In fact, if you are fasting and still trying to be active, it has been proven that your workout could be less effective. This means burning fewer calories, so the vicious cycle of continuing to eat even LESS to lose weight perpetuates.
From my personal fasting experience…
I’ve tried it, with bad results. Once I fasted the day after a heavy leg session and I’ve never taken so long to recover. Protein took up too much of my daily calorie allowance, therefore I skipped the chicken and loaded on veggies… hence the protein my body craved to recover was nowhere to be seen. Not good!
Another thing that was affected was my sleep. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll know what it is like to go to bed hungry. I can’t sleep! My growling stomach keeps me up, and my dreams are food focused. In the end, it’s most likely I’ll get up and eat something quick and easy, like a bowl of cereal. Day 1 fasting – ruined. I’d rather not compromise my sleep, eat well during the day, and know I’m going to be getting a solid 8 hours of kip.
Fasting leads to overindulgence
Speaking to a friend who follows the 5:2 in order to lose weight, I asked her why she thought she had plateaued. She said it’s probably on her ‘off’ days that she does the most damage. A day of fasting can lead to overindulging the next day, when you’re not restricted to borrower-sized portions. This rebound overeating may come from the fact that the previous day you have meticulously counted calories, spent the majority of the day thinking about food, and fantasised about all the tasty things you’ll enjoy on your non-restricted day.
Many of the claimed advantages of intermittent fasting can be achieved without fasting, so I have to ask myself, what’s the point? What’s the better alternative? In my mind, the 80:20 rule is ideal. Eat well 80% of the time, and indulge wisely for the other 20%. Give your body what it needs, depending on how active you’re being, your energy levels, and how you’re feeling.
And just a final note; I write this whilst eating a delicious Belgian chocolate brownie, guilt-free and without the worry of consuming my whole day’s calories in one snack and concluding I can eat nothing for the rest of the day!
Suncana Selimovic is a Yoga Tune Up® teacher turned health and fitness blogger who lives in Germany for 6-8 months of the year and Ontario, Canada the other 4-6. She is all about educating people on getting in touch with their bodies so they can perform better. Find her on her blog, Instagram or Twitter.
Sarah Lawson is a qualified personal trainer and ex Army girl with a tough but fair attitude towards training. Living in Bahrain and fitting fitness in to her busy schedule, you can find Sarah on her blog, Instagram or Twitter.