As temperatures begin to drop, many of us will be reaching for warming comfort foods and wondering whether fasting is really appropriate during times where our bodies may need more fuel for energy. With this in mind, M&F talked to Steve Hendricks, author of “The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting” to get his take on the relevance of fasting year round. We soon learned that the desire to break a fast could be rooted in operational issues rather than health driven reasons.
Are you even fasting in the first place?
Before considering whether or not to break a fast, you should ask yourself if you are really in one, in the first place. “Caffeinated drinks, even zero-calorie drinks, almost certainly disturb a fast, but scientists don’t yet know precisely in what ways or to what extent,” says Hendricks, who has studied the science and results of fasting on both an academic and personal level. His research even includes staying in various fasting clinics around the world to gain a deeper perspective. “What we do know is that even a modest amount of caffeine, particularly in the morning, resets our circadian clocks. The question is: Does morning caffeine also fire up our metabolism and pull us out of fasting? Many scientists, and I, agree that because caffeine has to be processed through our digestive system in order to reset those circadian clocks, the caffeine is almost certainly interrupting our fasting metabolism to some extent, but it’s unlikely to be as much of an interruption as, say, eating a meal.
The same principle probably holds true for vitamins. On the one hand, if your digestive system is processing a vitamin that’s changing important biomechanical processes, the vitamin is probably interrupting the fast. But, on the other hand, if the vitamin is noncaloric or minimally caloric, say fewer than five calories, the interruption likely isn’t drastic.
Are you working with the correct fasting window?
“Keep your daily eating window as close to six or eight hours as you can,” says Hendricks. “And, eat most of your calories earlier, not later, in the day. As for prolonged fasts of several days or weeks; people can certainly overdo those, which is why in most cases they should be supervised by a fasting doctor. It’s not uncommon for people doing prolonged fasts, especially people who are less healthy, to have nausea, headaches, rashes, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms may be part of what fasting doctors call a healing crisis: the fruit of the body trying to break down and expel the things that are making it sick. But at other times, such symptoms could be a sign that the body is in unusual distress and isn’t tolerating a fast well, in which case the fast should be modified or broken. I advise talking to an experienced doctor when making this call.
Are seasonal breaks from intermittent fasting required?
“There’s no need to take a break from daily fasting,” says Hendricks. “In fact, it’s healthiest to eat in a narrow, early window every single day, just as it’s healthiest to get enough sleep every single night. If you feel poorly on such a regimen, most researchers would probably say it’s unlikely your fasting is causing the suffering. They’d probably advise you to look at other parts of your life; like your diet for example. You may need a diet that consists of more plants and less processed foods. That said, it’s possible to take a daily fast to an unhealthy extreme, for example by practicing the somewhat popular trend of OMAD (One Meal A Day). Scientists and doctors have strong doubts about cramming all your food in your gut in such a narrow a window, and most would likely recommend that you spread your eating over at least four hours and, better still, six to eight. For Hendricks, the health benefits of intermittent fasting are too numerous and positive to consider a break. “We have more than a century of very credible reports from fasting specialist doctors,” he says.
Studies show positive outcomes with life longevity in both Intermittent and Prolonged Fasting subjects, thanks to increased stress resistance and a smaller likelihood of contracting a disease. When the body shifts from a state of using glucose for fuel and instead relies on ketone-based energy, levels of fat are also reduced. So, the take home message is that there is no pressing reason for most healthy individuals to take regular breaks from Intermittent Fasting, but you should definitely re-evaluate your regime to make sure that you are getting the most out of it in terms of the appropriate window, and how consistent you are being with fasting.
Get a copy of Steve Hendricks’s book “The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting” Here!