I’m a big fan of self-experimentation. It’s one thing to look at research or hear some author/blogger’s health discovery, but we are all so individual. Not to mention a lot of studies are poorly put together and people can put anything out there on the internet and call it a fact. But reading and discovering what’s working for others is a great way to get ideas about what you can try, too! Not to mention, we can’t forget how fun it is to see the expressions of your coworker, friends, or family’s faces when you explain what sort of biohack or self-experiment you’re conducting while trying not to sound like a crazy person…fun times. I enjoy it.
And speaking of fun times and self-experimentation, this post is going to focus on a little self-experiment I recently played with…
Yes, the act of not eating food. Something that is often looked upon in horror, because let’s face it… food is delicious. Why give it up? But I was intrigued by the notion of doing a fast, and I wanted to see how it would make me feel if I tried it. This article is going to be a 2-parter. The first post is going to talk about the health benefits of fasting. In part-2 of this article, I am going to dive a little deeper and get more real when I talk about my own experience fasting, what you should do to get the most out of your fast, and if anything you will get a little entertainment when you read about some of the idiotic things I did during the fast, which made my experiment more difficult than it probably had to be… but hey, this is for science, folks. So let’s get into it.
Is Extreme Calorie Restriction (Fasting) Healthy?
As much as we don’t want to accept it, we are designed to not be in constant eating mode. What I mean by this is back in the day when we lived in small tribes as hunters and gathers, we operated on a feast and famine lifestyle. We evolved as humans to survive without food for short periods of time. And interestingly enough, there are actually a bunch of health benefits when intermittent calorie restriction (fasting) occurs.
The main ones being:
- When you don’t eat food, you’re resting your digestive system. This allows your gut to push everything that might not need to be hanging out in your GI tract out… doing a deep cleaning for your digestive system.
- Through this process your liver, which is your primary detoxification organ, can process, cleanse, and detox your body on a more profound level.
- There’s some interesting psychological benefits when you fast. When you don’t eat, you become more connected to food. What I mean by this is you begin to notice your eating patterns. This is super interesting and major for anyone who tends to mindlessly eat and often overeat.
- You can notice an improvement in your energy level.
- If you do your fast right… and I’ll explain more on this in a bit… you can get a boost in mental clarity
- Mentally and physically you just feel more at peace with the world. I would guess this is a major reason a lot, if not most religions have a fasting component in their tradition.
So Many Different Ways To Slowly Starve Yourself
The word “Fasting” is kind of a broad term that can mean a lot of different ways of not eating for periods of time.
- Intermittent Fasting
- Single Day Fasting
- Multiple Day Fasting
- Juice Fasting
- Master Cleanse
- Water Fasting
- …the list goes on.
Most of these fasting techniques all tend to give most of the general benefits listed earlier. I do have an issue with one type of fasting method… and that’s juice fasting.
I know there are a lot of people out there who have professed juicing to have cured their cancer and helped them lose weight and the like… and I’m not saying that this isn’t true. Juicing can give the body a lot of nutrients that someone who wasn’t getting adequate nutrition may need. But me personally, I just really favor fasting in a more ketonic way… simply because this seems more akin to how our hunter and gathering ancestors used to fast.
Hang on, let me explain…
Simply put, when you do a juice fast, you are giving your body small amounts of sugar throughout the day. Because you’re giving yourself a slow drip of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream, you are not allowing your body to tap into a vital resource: ketones.
Ketones are made when the body does not have enough glucose to burn for energy. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into glucose. Glucose is a sugar that our body will primarily use for fuel to make energy. Ketones are produced as a fuel alternative when we aren’t eating enough carbohydrates. So instead of getting our fuel from carbs, we shift over and begin using body fat as our primary fuel. You can already see why this would be really useful for people trying to shed some body fat.
But when you’re in ketosis, there’s a lot of other really interesting benefits such as…
- Reduction in food cravings. By having your body switch to becoming a fat burner, your body doesn’t have to constantly rely on the food you eat at that moment for energy. Meaning, it doesn’t need a continuous drip of sugar. When you’re grouchy from not eating, it’s because your body is programmed for sugar as it’s primary energy source. This is also an indicator that you’re challenging your insulin sensitivity and putting yourself at risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
- Decreases blood sugar. This is kind of obvious from the last point. If your body is relying continuously on sugar for energy, you bet you’re going to have higher blood sugar than someone who is better optimized to burn fat.
- Increase HDL, decrease LDL, and triglycerides.
- Decrease cancer biomarkers such as mTOR, and IGF-1. Although these are great for anyone who wants to pack on some serious muscle, I think it’s a good idea to decrease these in periodic bouts to decrease any risk of developing cancer later on. The BBC put out a really great documentary on the subject called Eat, Fast and Live Longer.
- Also when calorie restricting your body is forced to repair existing cells in a process called cellular autophagy. This is a nifty anti-aging hack; the more the body repairs our existing cells, the less it has to multiply existing cells, which slow biological aging (1).
- Mental clarity. This was one of the big ones I wanted to test. When you run on ketones, you’re brain doesn’t have to rely on glucose. As a result, you experience less brain fog. Sugar/glucose has a glycation effect when it comes in contact with proteins. What this means is that they bind together and form nasty compounds called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs are waste products that force the body to produce inflammatory chemicals (2). Not only does glycation cause brain fog, but when chronic inflammation occurs, everything starts to break down.
After reading about all these benefits, I really wanted to give this a try and see if I could 1) Feel some of the benefits I was reading about; and 2) Survive not eating for multiple days.
I’ve done intermittent fasting in the past, but for this experiment I wanted to be bold. So I decided to try fasting for 5 days…
The next article is going to be all about my experience fasting for 5 days. You’ll also learn what I took to keep my strength up and you’ll get to hear about some of the dumb mistakes I made so hopefully you won’t do the same. 🙂
See ya soon.