April 20, 2019
April 3, 2019 by Dr. Varner in Intermittent Fasting
On my own volition, I just completed a nearly month-long fast in Thailand…
I thought if I post so much about the benefits of fasting, I should put my money where my mouth is and test this in a more radical way.
After all, what’s there to fear if it’s as good as I make it out to be?
And I’m happy to report it exceeded my expectations!
I’m so different to how I was last time I visited Thailand.
It was during my medical residency. I bought a number of Polo shirts from a store there.
I thought size XL would cut it, but I couldn’t even fit into them…I remember being weighed before I did a Muay Thai course. I came in at 230 pounds…
Given how much has changed since then, I decided to buy some more Polos to compare that with my new self. It turns out, now size M is a little big on me!
I’ve learned a lot over the past three weeks, and I’d love to share it with you…
1. Prolonged fasting works
The first (and admittedly expected) lesson is that I’ve lost weight. I came into this weighing around 194 pounds, and I’m down to 174 pounds! (That’s a total of 20 pounds in just three weeks!)
I started to lose weight very quickly, which would have been things like water weight, but I’ve noticed a significant change in my body weight and its composition.
I woke up feeling good most days. Of course there were days where I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, was dehydrated, and I had a headache. Thankfully I had plans to deal with those.
And when you think about it, that’s no different to the average person on an average day. Having a plan in place is key.
2. Planning is the best way to complete a fast
You’re not going to be successful in the long term if you just kick the door down, you’re going to be successful if you’re smart.
I definitely found this to be true during my fast. Three weeks is a long time for anyone to go without food, and while there may be people out there who can just fight that urge, for most people it’s a major struggle.
Cravings can and will make or break your fast.
There were more than a few challenges during the fast. I found when I worked, I started to become stressed out.
I remember I went to a co-working space, because when I work and keep busy it distracts me from hunger. But they had laid out all these snacks for us…
As if that wasn’t enough of a temptation, the internet was faulty and I had a hard time getting connected.
This was a critical moment. One of my own triggers is I tend to eat when I’m stressed, and medicine is a high-stress environment.
I decided to simply leave. In these situations, you have to control your environment. It’s useless to simply battle with yourself, it makes things unnecessarily difficult, and you’ll be too hard on yourself if you slip up.
Yes, I should (and will!) work on severing the emotional link between stress and food, but in the short term, this is a strategy you should employ.
3. Eating something during a fast is OK
People think that a fast means you don’t eat anything at all. That simply isn’t true!
Eating something that keeps your vitamin and mineral levels up is completely necessary to stay healthy.
The key is to have foods that are zero-to-few calories. I regularly had bone broth and salted water to stay hydrated (just drinking water doesn’t hydrate you properly) and keep my electrolyte levels up.
Moreover, bone broth encourages your body to be in ketosis. It’s why you should also drink it before a fast to get your body used to it.
It also tied into my planning. Whenever I felt a craving, I’d just wait 15 minutes. Often times, it goes away. If that didn’t work, I’d drink bone broth and coffee, or eat some pickles. If that didn’t work I’d have a small plate of broccoli.
Pickles, broccoli and bone broth are so low-calorie they’re not going to break your fast. It can keep cravings at bay and stop you from eating foods that will break your fast.
It all comes down to having mental plans in your head for what to do when you feel like cheating!
4. Progress fluctuates
A big reason why people fail when they try to lose weight is they don’t see immediate progress. I get it, when you put so much effort into something, it can be disheartening when it doesn’t happen immediately.
But I noticed my weight fluctuate a LOT during my fast. This is perfectly natural and ok. Your body naturally fluctuates all the time. We’re taller in the morning and shorter in the evening. The same goes for weight. It’s usually just different fluid levels, and is nothing to worry about!
5. My metabolism didn’t drop
This is one of those myths that simply won’t go away, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that it isn’t true.
People think that if your body goes into ‘starvation mode’ from fewer calories, you’ll actually gain weight. This is because your body wants to conserve energy so it won’t burn it.
This can happen, but it doesn’t happen in a fast. The key is in your insulin levels.
When our ancestors didn’t have food, they didn’t hibernate and become obese. If anything, their bodies ‘woke up’ more and they went out to go and hunt.
Their bodies had to find an alternate source of fuel, and they went into ketosis.
Contrast that with the traditional low-calorie, high-carb diets that people go on to lose weight.
You still have calories, but because they’re carb-based, your body still secretes insulin.
Insulin doesn’t allow your body to utilize fat, so it’s faced with an impossible choice: it wants more energy as there’s a shortage of food, but it can’t use fat reserves for it.
So then it goes into starvation mode, where your metabolism goes down and you become sluggish and put on weight. This can actually cause major damage to your metabolism, and you should avoid it as much as possible.
This fast has taught me a lot of things.
It made me realize that willpower truly is a myth.
I got through my most challenging moments through the mental plans I had made beforehand.
It also reminded me that this stuff works.
Both keto and fasting have shown demonstrable results for me, and they can for you too. If you’d like some easy plans to stick to when you fast, I’ve made a planning checklist and some motivational pictures for you to try.