I have never been a fan of diets. Throughout my twenties and thirties I used to eat a lot of small meals - sometimes 6-8 meals a day while I was weight training up to 6 days a week, over-training 2-3 hours a day.
Looking back, I wish I had acquired some of the knowledge I have over these last 18 months or so, as I think it would have made a big difference to my results back then. Fasting back in those days would have been interesting.
Now for the record, I just didn't jump into the intermittent fasting (aka time restricted eating or feeding) 'fad' - it took me a bit of time to come around to the benefits of fasting.
Whilst I can be disciplined and committed, I usually distance myself from hard and fast fundamental approaches to anything - those approaches are limited in most instances, and fail to understand that truth continues to reveal itself.
It was a slow burn to get started, and then to finally experiment with intermittent fasting. But I was curious!
Initially I had to get out of the way of myself and my 50 years of eating patterns, beliefs, and habits. I thought this was going to be a big challenge for me - I surprised myself, as it was relatively easy to do. As I say with my coaching, once you get much clearer on what you really want, it becomes a lot easier to move towards it.
To put this in perspective, I rarely went 2-3 hours without food or a meal. My body rarely went longer than an hour without some caloric intake - usually a cup of tea every hour or so. Me give up my dozen or so cuppa's a day? Never!!!
In simple terms, my body wasn't getting too much of a rest from digesting food. I estimate that I probably only had 8-10 hours a day (when I slept basically) where my body actually got a rest from eating. I have always been a grazer.
At 49 I was diagnosed with a large bleeding polyp in my lower right bowel. This required surgery. 15cm of my bowel was removed. I often wonder if my constant eating contributed to that condition? Perhaps it did. I will never know.
You could say that after that experience, I had good reason to look to heal myself, or more to the point, explore new ways for my body to naturally heal itself.
I have never smoked, I very rarely drink, and I don't take medications or drugs. I stay fit and lean, and for 35 years I have hovered around a tight weight range of just a few kilograms.
Many would say I was already healthy enough, and do not need to experiment with fasting fads or diets. Of course, I would disagree with those assumptions - history has shown me that appearing to be healthy, and being healthy, are two very different things.
Being average has never been an aspiration of mine. I think the average sets the bar too low in most instances for most people.
As I have approached mid 50's (It's July 2020 and I have am 55) I have realised that the time to step up my health game is now - not later on. Like a lot of people, I have niggles - I always have. So as I age, its not like all of a sudden stuff is happening - I had more health problems, particularly sporting injuries, when I was at my peak in my 20's and 30's!
As I age, I grudgingly accept the fact that recovery does slow down. I simply want to be present (spoken like a true life coach!) in my own life. I know I can make my life and health better, so why wouldn't I take responsibility for doing that? Why wouldn't I want to increase recovery rates and be the best person I can be?
I want to improve conditions in my body for it to step up another gear or two, and to help me create new possibilities for my health and well being as I move into my mid 50's and beyond. I always want to redefine what my age is. I always look to those who are either my age, or older, for inspiration. There are plenty of people who are inspirational - people who are redefining what age is.
Okay, so what have I experienced with my own intermittent fasting practices?
For the record, I would have averaged above 16 hours a day fasting over the 6 month fasting period. For the last month (January 2020) I have kept a diary of the times I have fasted for, so I have some tangible results.
In January (2020) I fasted every day. 3 x 24 hour, 1 x 26 hour, and a mean average of 18.6 hours a day. A pretty solid month of fasting. I have eaten pretty well over this time. Hardly any bread, heavily reduced milk intake, hardly any sweets or biscuits. And not much chocolate either...
This month (July 2020) I also completed my first 3 day 72 hour water fast.
I have also dropped a few kilograms (over several months) - not ideal for someone who is already lightly built - down from 71kg to 67kg. Clearly not what I was seeking, but an indication of what may happen when we decide to narrow our eating window. The fact that I have been having cold showers for over 18 months may have also contributed to my weight loss.
I have noticed more even energy levels as my body has been trained to start accessing existing fat reserves for fuel. There have been times, particularly over the last couple of months, when I have literally felt like the Energizer bunny!
Where once I would have never trained without a pre-workout meal an hour or so before a workout, I now regularly workout 16 hours+ without any food at all. For me, that is clear evidence of a big shift in my life - both physically and mentally.
What fasting has also done for me is help me to learn more about the food I put into my body. The nutritional value of foods is now much higher on my agenda than it was. I used to assume I was eating healthy while rather lazily throwing in filler calories, and telling myself they had some nutritional value. Whilst they did, it was negligible and mostly irrelevant.
I have sourced most of my fasting information from a wide range of health professionals and experts in the field. People like Dr Rhonda Patrick, Dr Valter Longo, Dr Eric Berg, Dr Mindy Pelz, Sadhguru, Dr Sten Ekberg, Dr Edward Group, Thomas DeLauer, Ken D Berry MD, and Fledge Fitness, and a few other notables in the field. All are easily found online.
What I have noticed is that a lot of research has been conducted with, and on, rodents - so that in itself is very limited and hardly representative of what might constitute a human experience. The good news is that there are also increasing numbers of human tests and research, so results are getting clearer and more tangible.
Intermittent fasting for me is just one piece of the health puzzle, and one strategy or tool in an arsenal of many. I have seen and felt the benefits, and I have witnessed how I have been able to challenge my original mindset and the existing paradigms we all have around food. That value and recognition in itself cannot be underestimated.
The next challenge for me is to further experiment with longer fasts (NB: there is conflicting information on the value and the health risk of longer fasts - particularly in relation to toxicity issues) and alternative day fasts.
Intermittent fasting is a powerful way to make more connections in your life regarding your eating patterns, your natural health and healing, and your body. There are so many variations with fasting, and so many benefits that can result from it. As always, it is a do your own research theme here - you will find your own level in your own time if you choose to do that.
Some key areas said to be enhanced by fasting include;
- Weight loss.
- Fasting lowers insulin levels = tapping into our stored fat levels to use and burn for energy.
- Nutrient uptake.
- Skin, nails and hair improvement.
- Improved digestion.
- Reduced body inflammation.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Autophagy (cell renewal and recycling).
- Growth hormone increase.
- Stem cell production (longer fasts).
- Ketone bodies (just think fat burning).
- Detoxing and cleansing your body.
- Muscle growth.
- Mental benefits - brain goes into survival mode = hyper focused.
- Protects the brain (there are assumptions that fasting minimises the risk of Alzheimers).
At the end of the day, fasting is just another means to an end for me. If it works, if it gets good tangible results, then I will continue with it. If not? Time to move on and take the learning with me - much more to learn!
August 2020 update: I have been narrowing my fasts down to around 12-14 hours over the last few weeks, with a few longer days thrown in here and there. Very easy to maintain after doing the longer fasts earlier this year.
May 2022 Update: In recent months my fasting has generally been in the 12-15 hour range, with the occasional 24 hour fast along the way.
Craig Hedge is a professional life coach based in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Disclaimer: This article is NOT health advice. Please do your own research to determine if intermittent fasting or time restricted eating is for you. There are risks with fasting and diets. Consider seeking medical/professional advice and direction before proceeding with fasting or any diet program.