The Nuts & Bolts
I've been experimenting over the last two weeks with 24-hours fasts to help me control my diet. The basic idea is that once or twice a week I don't eat from dinner one night until dinner the next night. I have a healthy relationship with food and eating, so I'm not too uptight about the process. Some days I'll be part way through a fast and interrupt it (usually due to unexpected social commitments) so I simply start a fast after dinner the next night that it is convenient. Some weeks I'll fast on Sunday and Wednesday, but that's not written in stone. The fasts don't have to start after dinner, but that is my preference because I find that I have plenty of energy in the morning and through mid-day without food. I don't plan my fasts around my workouts because I almost always workout in the early morning in a fasted state anyhow. Finally, when I resume eating (break the fast) I don't do anything special...no extra large meals or special treats that would counteract the calorie restriction that I just accomplished.
So, Why Fast?
I'm not a stranger to fasting. I've done it on occasions for religious functions or to be supportive to friends that were fasting for religious reasons, like Ramadan (to avoid tempting my high school buddy Kinan with french fries or pizza when he was sweating his way through the daylight hours until his next meal).
Every time I've committed to and completed a fast I've learned something profound about myself and my relationship to food. If you ever find yourself fasting while sitting in a room full of people eating very unhealthy food, I can guarantee you that your eyes will be opened. You will suddenly read the craving and strong desire for fulfillment and satisfaction on the faces of those around you and you'll simultaneously realize that no meal is so amazing that it will fill that void. I'm not trying to get to metaphysical on you here, I'm just saying that on a very simple level, fasting forces you to observe. You observe when you're hungry and why. You observe how that hunger passes and returns in waves of decreasing intensity. You observe the stillness, lightness and radiant energy that comes from a body that is not preoccupied with constantly digesting. (Maybe this is why the word "observe" is used in reference to most religious fasts..."observing" Ramadan..."observing" Lent, etc.)
"OK, OK," you say, "I'm not searching for enlightenment! I just want to be healthier (or look good in a swimsuit, whatever the case may be)!" Well, intermittent fasting provides a sustainable and low-stress way to reduce your weekly calorie intake without sacrificing your enjoyment of food on your non-fast days. I'm not saying you're going to lose weight if you fast twice a week and pig out on the other days. I am saying, though, that on your fast days your body automatically shifts from burning digestible food that you consume and will begin burning stored fat (and couldn't we all afford to torch a few fat cells?). I won't bore you with a bunch of biochemistry and nutrition, but if you really want to get into the nitty gritty try reading Eat, Stop, Eat by Brad Pilon. Brad has an educational background in nutrition and has worked in the sports supplement industry. More importantly, in my opinion, in Eat, Stop, Eat he has written a very well researched and heavily footnoted summary of all the prevailing science about fasting...and he's built an impressive physique by practicing what he preaches. I'm much more apt to take diet or workout advice from someone that looks like they've reached my goal physique than from some skinny science geek or unfit personal trainer at the gym (not that those folks might not know what they're talking about...I just don't trust anyone with a "do what I say not what I do" approach...which is why I will occasionally bore you with shirtless pics of my progress, to prove that I'm investing the sweat equity to gain your trust).
I immediately saw weight loss on the scale and in the way my clothes fit. You can see the reductions in my Week 3 Measurements. I attribute these changes almost entirely to fasting because I haven't really been doing tons of cardio to burn calories. I'm sure that some of the weight loss is due to water loss, but I tend to drink a TON of liquid during my fasts (water, herbal tea, black coffee, alkaline vegetable broth). So, any water loss should be offset in the long run by my efforts to remain well hydrated.
I have also found that I enjoy the extra time I gain from eliminating the need to forage. Plus, I've experienced a definite increase in energy and alertness on fast days and a deeper appreciation for the smells and tastes of my meals on non-fast days.
Any negatives? None that I have experienced so far. I do get hungry, but it's not debilitating and it passes quickly. I haven't seen any wasting away of muscle mass or evidence of lethargy or moodiness. Your mileage may vary when it comes to the emotional effects, but one thing's for certain you will burn fat if it's the only fuel in the tank.