Fasting - the art of not eating

You can have many excuses to starve yourself - be it for religious reasons, to cleanse your body, or just to lose weight.

I'll focus on the last one (with a hint of the cleansing as well, although that one is a bit bogus). You can go about it in several ways - you can try the real deal, or just intermittent fasting.

The Real Fasting

If you mean business, you'll stop eating almost completely for several days, if not weeks. I've done it twice, and it's actually quite cool. But I was in my early 20s at that point, which made it a lot easier. I should warn you up front that many nutritionists consider it unhealthy. But let's look at it.

First off, you need to get your body into it. You can't just stop eating immediately, your body will demand food and you'll give up. You need to spend two days slowly getting off the monkey. A good way is to just eat fruit during that period.

And then it begins. For the duration of the fast, you cannot take any sugar, dairy, alcohol, or anything that is not liquid. My approach was to drink a lot of water (like, A LOT), and have soup once a day. Not the good kind, though. You basically put water with celery, carrots or potatoes into a pan and put it on the stove for an hour. Then you run the whole thing through a sieve and drink it. It's actually not bad.

There's a fun part to this whole game people often don't mention - since your metabolism is taking a vacation, your intestines won't get any traffic. In order to prevent stale-ass build-up, you'll need to clean your pipes, and I'll leave it up to your imagination on how to do that.

My first fast was 10 days of actual fast. It was good though - I felt great, I was working out, and I didn't feel hungry most of the time. Hunger really isn't the problem. You will however begin to realize how much of a role food plays in your social life.

You won't be able to go for a drink with your buddies, at least not unless you don't mind drinking water. It'll be weird when you're invited to dinner somewhere, or go to a party. It's important that you plan your fast ahead of time.

You will develop a new appreciation for food. You'll realize how much food advertisement there is all around you. Commercials on TV, billboards on the streets, food is everywhere. You'll begin making a list of foods you're going to eat, just like I normally make a list of people I'd like to kill.

You'll see that you don't have to eat all the time. Frequent snacking is just a habit, not a means to satisfy your hunger.

When you end your fast, it's very important to slowly fire up your metabolism again. I remember a friend trying to fast by just stopping to eat from one day to the next. Sure enough, he got very hungry after a few days and proceeded to make a pizza. His body was completely unable to process this now-unexpected item and he ended up violently throwing up.

So, first day - one apple. Then one more day with two apples (or three if you feel decadent). That should do.

My first fast was a tremendous success. People often disregard these kinds of quick fasts because you normally regain your weight immediately. Not so in my case. I lost 20 pounds in those two weeks, and I held that weight for months to come, simply because I reset the way I eat. I appreciated food a lot more, I understood that I don't need to eat nearly as frequently as I used to, and I went through my list of stuff to eat and enjoyed it a lot.

Of course, you will eventually fall back into your old habits if you don't pay attention. You can try again, or you can try to remind yourself that you don't have to eat as much as you do.

In any case, it's a great experience. One that I don't think I'll be able to do these days, now that I have a family and more social obligations. And again, I have to point out that many experts consider this way of fasting hazardous to your health. 

Intermittent Fasting

Want to have the joy of starving without the full benefits? Try intermittent fasting! It's a great alternative because it simplifies things a lot. At the same time, it is a very, very watered-down version of fasting, to a point where I'm reluctant to allow them both on the same blog post. It also poses a much higher risk of having adverse results if you don't do it right.

For intermittent fasting, you simply don't eat for a period of 16 hours. You can do that one day per week, or every day, or anything inbetween. You could stop eating at 8pm at night and then simply stay off the food until noon - you're essentially just skipping breakfast and whatever snacks you would normally have in the morning. You can shift this window around as you see fit - you could try a massive breakfast to last you through the day if you think that works for you.

This option gives your body a chance to burn more fat, which is the main purpose of it. But that's also mostly the extent of it. It's very different compared to fasting in that you don't slowly wind your body down and then go into an extended foodless mode. As such, you'll experience more of the starving symptoms - you'll be hangry, possibly a bit light-headed. You'll also feel colder, so bring a jacket if you work in one of those offices where your work area is basically a refrigerator to protect the precious electronic equipment.

You also risk stuffing yourself once the 16-hour period is over, so you compensate the 16 hours of terror by eating more than you should, negating the whole point of the fast.

Ramadan is a form of that, with the purpose of letting you focus more on your spiritual obligations. However, Ramadan is also a perfect example of why intermittent fasting by itself isn't enough to lose weight. In fact, Muslims often gain weight during this period because it involves all the pitfalls of fasting - breaking fast in the evening is usually done with a) high-calorie/high-fat foods, and b) a lot of it. That's cool because the point of Ramadan isn't to slim down, but if that's your goal, you have to be very careful during those hours when you do eat.

So what should you do?

A proper fast is an interesting experience, and you could try it once just to reset your eating habits and learn more about how well your body can handle extended periods without proper food. And again, I will once more point out that it's considered bad for you.

Some people swear on intermittent fasting. I found that it can be worse than real fasting because the first day of a fast is the worst. And intermittent fasting is basically the first day every day, and I found myself being less effective on days when I fast. I felt more tired and not as focused.

If it's really about losing weight - I ultimately resorted to a different way of doing it, but I'm going to take a whole new post to talk about that. Yes, I'm ending with a cliffhanger, because no bar is too low for me. Adios!

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