Food & Fitness

New challenge: Fasting

I’ve tried a lot of different nutrition challenges, from eliminating added sugars to going vegan to going raw. And now, I’m going to try fasting.

Why I am trying out fasting

My reasons for this are, surprisingly, not to do with weight loss. I know that I’ve been talking about weight loss a lot lately, and I’m still working on it, but that’s not the end goal of fasting. The main reason I want to fast is to reconnect with food, rather than to disconnect from it.

That might sound contradictory, but it isn’t. We’re surrounded by food all day long in the physical form of actual food in front of us, to advertisements for food, to restaurants and grocery stores on every street. We’re bombarded with food. Social events revolve around food. I’m not saying that any of that is necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that we really take food and its effects on our bodies for granted.

We also live really high-stress lifestyles. This in turn leads to rushed eating, and often poor eating habits and poor dietary choices. Even when we try to be healthy, sometimes we can “fall off the wagon”.

Charlotte has discussed how she fasts every Sunday for religious reasons. I’ve tried doing (healthy versions of) “detoxes” in the past, mainly for weight loss reasons, and they generally ended up with me giving up very quickly. I think that I would give up because I wasn’t trying the cleanse for the right reasons.

The book that encouraged me and got me excited about fasting

A few week ago, it just so happened that I finished reading a book early in the morning at the vet clinic I work at (whenever there aren’t people at the clinic, I get to read a book in the back room :)). There was still a full afternoon and evening of being at the clinic, so I wandered into the vet’s office to take a look at her bookshelves. I discovered a massive book titled Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford. It’s a gold mine!

As I was flipping through the pages of this beautiful treasure, the book opened up onto the section called “Fasting and Purification”. I’m not sure why I was drawn to it. Maybe because things have been getting stressful lately between taking on an extra job (which I love – it’s so nice to be getting more freelancing work!) and The Bride’s upcoming wedding and the conference that I’ll be speaking at next week. But for whatever reason, I felt compelled to read the section and to try out Pitchford’s recommendations.

I loved this particular paragraph in the book:

Many people maintain the idea that the intake during a fast should consist of only water or, at most, juices. However, we have found fasting on vegetables, fruit, or grains to be very successful. It is an experiment in moderation that minimizes the possibility of a post-fast binge. Technically slower than more intense fasts, it is safer and less stressful for those coming from a very rich dietary background.

How perfect is that? He says it so well! Watching the film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (review of the film to come!) was also a motivator for me to try fasting, but I am not a juice person, so I am going with Pitchford’s recommendations, as outlined below.

Different types of fasting

He recommends five different kinds of fasting, depending on your disposition (if you’re warm, hot, deficient, excess, and so on – all of which can be determined through Traditional Chinese Medicine assessments). I have symptoms of “coolness” (ie. aversion to cold), so the best type of fasting for me is a steamed vegetable fast or a whole grain fast rather than a juice fast or a raw vegetable fast. I can’t wait to see what fasting will do for my mind and body. I’m opting to do just a couple of days of fasting each week, at least to start. And these versions of “fasting” are really more of a semi-fast, since mine will still include food rather than being completely devoid of food.

My main reasons for fasting

I am fasting in order to:

1) Reduce stress;

2) Understand and improve my relationship with food; and

3) Do some work on increasing awareness and mindfulness.

What I’ll be eating

I intend on incorporating my usual green shakes into my “fasting” days. Pitchford doesn’t have a meal plan laid out, so the type of plan that I’m thinking about doing for fasting days might look something like this:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with banana and cinnamon.

Snack: Green shake (“greens” powder with frozen fruit and possibly tofu).

Lunch: Steamed vegetables topped with black pepper and fruit.

Snack: Another green shake.

I have my day set out like that because I have found that I really love having whole grains every day, and I also really love eating earlier in the day rather than later. I may try changing it so that I only eat twice a day, but I’m not sure if my body is prepared for that yet – I think I’ll try that once I’ve gotten the hang of these “fasting” days. And, yes, eventually I hope to be able to get to the point where I can do a full day of a real fast (no food; only water), but I think that’ll take a while. Baby steps.

This coming Sunday, I am planning to go for my first day of fasting (or semi-fasting). Wish me luck!

Fasting is such a controversial topic. I can’t wait to see what all of you have to say in the comments – many people seem to have very strong opinions of whether it is good or bad for your health. What are your thoughts on fasting? Have you ever done it before? Do you do it regularly? Share your thoughts (and any tips you might have!) in the comments section below 🙂


  1. Andrea@WellnessNotes

    I’ve always been fascinated by fasting, and I know a few people who really love it and what it does for their bodies and minds. While I have always been fascinated, I have never tried it because I’m not sure it wouldn’t bring up food issues for me and in the end do more harm than good. I have a somewhat complicated history with food and am finally in a good place, and I don’t want to disturb that.

    The fast you describe sounds much more “doable” than not eating at all. I think it’s important to listen to your body and to make sure you check in with yourself often… I hope this will be a good experience for you. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  2. westwood

    Used to do it for Yom Kippur when I was younger, but that is fasting during the day than eating at night.

    I think the way you’re doing it is more of a food reduction than fasting, which is a good thing because a full shock to your body would not go well. Last year Canada’s equivalent of the surgeon general put out a statement during Ramadan advising against fasting for high-risk groups due to the prevalence of medical emergencies arising from it.

  3. Dr. J

    I’ve basically fasted 20 hours every day for 20 years, with eating warrior style 20/4! The result for me has been weight maintenance, >10% body fat, health better than almost all of my contemporaries, and an activity level above them. Will it work for you? That’s your problem 🙂

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  5. Mimi (Gingersnaps)

    Hey, you’ll get no hisses from me. I’ve actually been really happy with Intermittent Fasting, which is basically where you don’t eat for 14-16 hours. After dinner I go to bed, wake up, have my coffee, and have my first meal at lunch. I don’t do it everyday, but I’ll probably switch more fully into it…it’s largely letting go of old habits. Or, less admirably, the fact my morning might otherwise be a shade more boring. Sad, I know.

    Of course, the benefits of shortterm fasting are only applicable if you don’t turn it into a “punishment” or getting sick satisfaction from painful hunger.

    There’s a lot of interesting science about short-term fasts, like better insulin and hormonal regulation. And I think it can be very psychologically freeing, especially if you’ve been hardwired with the “5-6 small meals a day” mindset that will prevent TEH CATABOlISM (sorry, too much time on bodybuilding forums). Also, your metabolism does supposedly speed up some (this was studied in zero-calorie shortterm fasts). The theory is that our ancestors would benefit from the boost by becoming for adept at finding food–more alert, a teeny bit faster, etc. It’s only after quite a while that you go into any sort of “starvation mode.”

    If you’d like a partner (I admit, I’m a bit curious about this veggie fast) I’d totally try it out with you.

  6. Jody - Fit at 53

    I am not into fasting – I like to eat too much! 🙂 Actually, your day sounds like a regular food day for some people trying to lose weight. 😉 I don’t do those full fast days or all liquid things & some of that stuff out there… just not my thing. Not saying it will never happen but can’t envision it in the future. I understand some of the science out there but I just don’t see it for me.

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  8. Fasting Retreats

    I only do fasting when I’m sick or if I really need to lose weight fast. Unlike regular fasters, I only do 3-5 days tops, taking just water, juice or coconut water. From my experience I can shed off 10-12 lbs in just 3 days. Fasting works great, but you have to discipline yourself and persevere its challenge.

  9. charlotte

    Yay Sagan! I personally have found a lot of benefits, physically mentally and spiritually from fasting. I think there is a reason that so many cultures and religions include fasting. Studies have shows greater insulin resistance, high immune system and other benefits. Like you pointed out (thanks for the link love!) I do fast for religious reasons so I’d be doing it regardless of the other benefits but it is nice to have the other stuff:) When I fast, I go without any food or drink (no water even) for 24 hours. I’d encourage you to try it, even just once. It sounds scary but truly once you get in that mindset it’s not overwhelmingly hard. I find it “resets” my hunger by helping me recognize what true physical hunger really feels like not to mention frees up a lot of mental space to think about things other than food. Good luck with your modified fast!
    PS. I’m glad you’re not doing this for weight loss – personally I never lose weight with fasting. I think my metabolism adjusts or something…

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