I will often ask people… “if there was something you could do that every great sage and spiritual leader throughout history has done, was no-cost, and would have a significant impact on your overall health and vitality… would you do it?”
Fasting has been practiced by all of our ancestors unintentionally due to a lack of available food at times. It has also been practiced consciously by many of the most intelligent and spiritually advanced people around the world. This healing strategy costs no money and has an incredibly rejuvenating effect on the immune system and cellular mechanics.
The only challenge is that we have to break free from the societal programming that tells us we need to have three meals a day plus snacks in between. We have to liberate ourselves from the idea that we are going to starve if we skip a meal.
Historical Mentions of Fasting
In Biblical times, fasting was a normal part of a spiritual life. Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning his ministry. Many of the prophets discussed fasting, and Jesus, when talking to his disciples and followers said, “When you fast…” This reference shows that fasting was a normal way of life for the Hebrew people.
The Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC) believed the Egyptians to be much healthier than the Greeks due to their regular fasting practices. He was quoted as saying,
The Egyptians are the healthiest of men, since each month for 3 days they conduct purification by vomiting and enemas, believing that a person receives all illness through food.”
Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, once said,
The addition of food should be much rarer, since it is often useful to completely take it away while the patient can withstand it, until the force of the disease reaches its maturity. The man carries within him a doctor; you just have to help him do his work. If the body is not cleared, then the more you feed it, the more it will be harmed. When a patient is fed too richly, the disease is fed as well. Remember – any excess is against nature.
Fasting for Metabolic Flexibility and Energy Efficiency
As you begin to understand how fasting benefits your body, you need to know some basic terminology. The key terms are metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency.
- Metabolic flexibility is the ability to change your metabolism to meet the demands of your environment.
- Energy efficiency is the ability to use your energy in the most efficient matter possible to meet all the energy needs of the body.
As humans, we had to adapt to a number of different challenging environments in the past. We have been forced to run, climb, fight, lift, starve, and even kill in order to survive.
Our ancestors did not always have ready access to food and would regularly experience times of food shortage and famine. These challenges primed our physiology and gave us a stronger survival advantage by developing our ability to change our metabolism to meet the unique demands we face.
In our modern 21st century society, we don’t have to do many of these things any more. We can basically sit back and stay stationary all day while continuously feeding ourselves. This causes a loss of metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency – making us weaker as a species and more susceptible to infections and chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even some types of cancer.
How to Improve Your Metabolic Flexibility and Energy Efficiency
Someone with a high level of metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency will be able to immediately produce a high level of strength and speed to accomplish a particular task. They are also able to think sharply and clearly and be productive and creative in their endeavors. Finally, they are also able to comfortably go at least 16 to 18 hours without food.
There are a number of different ways to improve your overall metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency. Here are 5 key ways:
- Intermittent Fasting or Prolonged Water Fasting Periods
- Ketogenic Diet or Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
- Interval and Resistance Training Exercises
- Improving Digestive Health
- Nutritional Supplementation
All of these strategies work to help the body to run more efficiently. In this article we will do a deep dive into fasting and touch on the ketogenic diet which plays a role with fasting.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet or Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet works by restricting glucose and supporting the body’s ability to produce an alternative energy source called ketones. Ketones are the breakdown product of fatty acids that the body uses to produce cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
In order for your body to produce and utilize ketones, you must restrict your consumption of foods that get converted into glucose in the body. This includes both sugar and starch as well as high levels of protein.
Ketone metabolism produces an abundant amount of cellular energy (36 ATP) as compared to glucose metabolism (2 ATP). In addition, glucose metabolism produces a tremendous amount of metabolic waste and inflammation, compared to ketone metabolism. This makes ketones a much cleaner energy source than glucose. As a result, a ketone- or fat-adapted individual will have lower levels of metabolic waste production as well as lower levels of inflammation in their body.
When the body is trained to use ketones for energy, it becomes much more metabolically flexible and energy efficient. The individual is then able to go longer periods without food and is able to preserve muscle mass even in times of famine.
Any individual who is fasting will burn fat stores and produce ketones. These ketones provide the energy source needed to continue to move and do all the things necessary for living. Using ketones as a primary energy source also helps the body to cleanse and detoxify more effectively during a fast.
Fasting Allows Energy Conservation and Reduces Digestive Inflammation
In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant, and it is said to be conserved over time. The body – even though it is not exactly an isolated system – has a certain amount of energy it can produce at any given time. The key to great health is in how efficient we are at using that energy.
You need energy for the digestive system, the immune system, tissue regeneration, physical movement (kinetics), to maintain mental focus, and to carry out many other activities. We all have a certain amount of energy that remains constant in order to do all of these things.
Digestion is a very energy demanding process, meaning that it takes a lot of energy to break down and digest the food you consume and absorb the nutrients into your body. Fasting allows you to utilize stored nutrients without the energy demand of digestion. It also challenges your body to be more efficient with the resources it has.
When you eat food, you also increase inflammation in the body. This happens even when you consume so-called “anti-inflammatory” foods. This is because the actual process of digestion stimulates inflammation.
A healthy diet will produce significantly less inflammation than an unhealthy diet, but both will increase inflammation in the body. The harder the meal is to digest, the more inflammatory activity it will provoke.
In order to heal from an illness, you need as much energy as possible devoted towards the immune system and tissue regeneration. This is why when people are ill they naturally lose their appetite. This is an innate mechanism of the body to influence us to fast so we can produce the proper environment for optimal healing.
Fasting Improves Immune Regulation
The practice of fasting allows the body to put more energy and focus into the process of effective immune regulation. Fasting while drinking water and other cleansing beverages flushes out the digestive system and reduces the number of natural microorganisms in the gut. The microorganism count is typically regulated by the immune system, allowing it to divert energy to other more important areas.
Intermittent fasting is a terrific regulator of the immune system as it controls the levels of inflammatory cytokines that are released in the body. In particular, two major cytokines – Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF-alpha) promote very potent inflammatory responses in the body.
Studies have shown that fasting reduces the release of these inflammatory mediators. The immune system modulation that intermittent fasting provides may also be helpful if you have moderate to severe allergies.
Fasting Stimulates Cellular Autophagy
Fasting also stimulates the process of autophagy – a process where the body breaks down old damaged cells and abnormally developing cells to recycle their contents for energy. The process of autophagy is part of the innate immune system and utilizes pattern recognition receptors to identify viral cell invaders.
Intermittent fasting stimulates autophagy processes, which restrict viral infections and the replication of intracellular parasites. This catabolic process helps the body rid itself of intracellular pathogens as well as stop abnormal cancer cell development. It is also important in protecting the brain and tissue cells from abnormal growths, toxicity, and chronic inflammation.
Fasting Improves Genetic Repair Mechanisms
Research has shown that cells have a greater lifespan during times of food scarcity and famine. Intermittent fasting enhances cellular rejuvenation by acting on certain genetic repair mechanisms. We use less energy to repair a cell than to divide and create new cells.
When food consumption is low, the body slows down cellular division to conserve energy. This is a very important finding as cancer cells are driven by very fast and out of control cellular division. In this way, the act of fasting will reduce the very mechanism that cancer cells use to take control.
The main hormone that governs this cellular repair process is human growth hormone (HGH). HGH creates changes in our metabolism that favor fat burning and muscle tissue sparing. It signals an increased focus on tissue repair where the body uses amino acids and enzymes to repair tissue collagen, which improves the overall functionality of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that men who had fasted for 24 hours had a 2,000% increase in circulating HGH. Women who were tested had a 1,300% increase in HGH. The researchers found that the fasting individuals had significantly reduced their triglycerides, boosted their HDL cholesterol, and stabilized their blood sugar.
Fasting Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Thousands of years of food scarcity has led our bodies to develop a protective mechanism to adapt to alternating phases of food abundance and scarcity. During times of food scarcity, our cell membranes become more sensitive to insulin. This is especially important when food is scarce, because it ensures that every bit of food is efficiently used or stored.
During times of food abundance, the body desensitizes the cells to insulin in an effort to avoid the stress of a heavy calorific intake. This results in elevated insulin levels, increased fat storage, and increased oxidative stress and inflammatory conditions in the body.
Today, we have a massive abundance of food sources. We can virtually eat anytime we would like. In fact, many health coaches recommend eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day. However, this process sends the body the signal of surplus that inhibits key tissue repair hormones that have powerful anti-aging effects.
HGH and insulin are endocrine opposites. This means that they trigger your physiology in an opposite manner to each other. HGH is designed to help improve tissue repair, while signaling efficient fuel usage and anti-inflammatory immune activity.
Insulin works to stimulate energy storage and increases both cellular division and inflammation in the body. Insulin is the dominant player in this chess match. When the bodily conditions demand an insulin release – such as when food is consumed (especially sugar and starch) – then HGH is inhibited.
Fasting has been shown to reduce insulin secretion and improve cellular insulin sensitivity. This results in the body using insulin better, so that less insulin is needed when eating. By reducing the overall demand for insulin, you reduce inflammation in the body and improve HGH levels.
Intermittent Fasting and Chronic Diseases
Many individuals with autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, and Crohn’s disease have seen a tremendous improvement in symptoms with the incorporation of intermittent fasting. This process reduces the hyperinflammatory processes these individuals undergo and allows for more normalized immune function.
Cancer cells are known to have anywhere from 10 to 70 times more insulin receptors than normal cells and depend upon anaerobic metabolism of sugar for fuel. Intermittent fasting starves cancer cells and leaves them vulnerable to free radical damage and ultimate destruction.
Tips for How to Intermittent Fast
There are many fasting strategies you can try, including intermittent fasting, where you go anywhere from 12 to 36 hours without food. You could also do a 3 to 5 day water fast, or a longer one such as a 7 to 10 day water fast.
For the purpose of this article, we will stick with intermittent fasting strategies that can be applied on a daily or weekly basis.
With fasting, we have what we call our building window and our cleansing window. These are defined as follows:
- Building Window – This is the time between your first meal of the day and your last meal. This can also be called the “eating window.”
- Cleansing Window – This is the time between your last meal of one day and the first meal of the next day. This can also be called the “fasting window.”
For example, if you ate between noon and 8:00 pm and then fasted until noon the next day, then you would have an 8-hour building window and a 16-hour cleansing window.
To begin fasting in a non-intimidating way, I have divided the fasting strategy into 6 variations. Pick one that you feel good with and stick with it, or change it up and challenge yourself with a deeper fast from time to time. Having some sort of a consistent pattern with intermittent fasting is the best way to develop the metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency that will strengthen your body’s internal resistance.
If you have never done an intermittent fast before, begin with the simple fast and stick with it for a while until you feel that it is simple. Be sure to drink 8 to 16 ounces of water at a minimum when you first wake up to help reduce morning hunger, prolong the fast, and improve the cleansing process.
Intermittent Fasting Variations:
- Simple Fast: Basic fast with water only for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast which gives the liver a chance to complete its cycle. Example: Finish dinner at 7:00 pm and don’t eat again until 7:00 am.
This is really the best way to start. Everyone – other than pregnant women and infants – should be able to do a simple fast. This is the first goal to get into a regular pattern of simple fasting.
- Brunch Fast: This is where you do a 14-hour fast between dinner and breakfast. It is called the brunch fast because you are going to eat your breakfast a bit later than most people do. Example: Finish dinner at 7:00 pm and don’t eat again until 9:00 am.
- Cycle Fast: Three times each week you fast for 16 hours by skipping either breakfast or dinner. Example: Finish dinner at 7:00 pm and eat again around 11:00 am to noon the next day. Do this on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week.
- Strong Fast: Consume all food in a 6 to 8 hour eating window each day. You would eat 2 meals per day and fast through either breakfast or dinner.
Example: This would mean fasting in the morning and eating between noon to 7:00 pm each day or 8:00 am to 3:00 pm each day, or whichever 6- to 8-hour period you like best.
- Warrior Fast: Ancient warriors would often march all day and would feast at night. Consume all food in a 3 to 5 hour eating window each day.
Example: Consume 2 meals in a 3 to 5 hour eating window such as 2:00 to 6:00 pm or 3:00 to 7:00 pm.
- 1-Day Food Fast: For 24 hours each week only consume water, greens powders, and herbal tea. Some people may also consume a diluted organic broth during this fast.
You could also do green juices as long as they don’t have any fruit in them other than lemons or limes, which contain very little carbohydrate. As an example, making a green juice with lemon, celery, cucumber, kale, parsley, and ginger root would be acceptable to get nutrients into the body while also maintaining the benefits of the fast.
Overcoming Challenges with Intermittent Fasting
Most people will do quite well by reducing starches and sugars and consuming more good fats such as coconut oil, olives, and avocados and incorporating a simple fast each day. The good fats help with blood sugar stability, so the fast will be easier.
When you begin your fast it is important to make sure your blood sugar is stable and you want to focus on hydration during your cleansing window. As mentioned above, I recommend drinking at least 8 to 16 ounces of water in the first 15 minutes after waking.
Over time you will have a natural craving for more water in the mornings and will easily drink 32 to 48 ounces (at a minimum) of water in the first few hours of waking. I drink one full gallon of clean water (as herbal tea, organic broth, with added lemon or apple cider vinegar, etc.) before noon every day. It gives me incredible energy, takes away hunger, and helps me to move my bowels a few times to fully get rid of the waste from the day before.
While intermittent fasting has numerous benefits, here are a few conditions to be aware of that may make it difficult to sustain longer fasting periods.
- Adrenal Fatigue: When an individual is not able to produce enough stress hormone, they can feel fatigued as they fast.
- Constipation: If the bowels are not moving, it will create a toxic buildup that will drive an increased stress response in the body.
4 Ways to Deal With Adrenal Fatigue and Constipation
Super Hydration: Drink as much clean (filtered) water, herbal teas, etc. as possible. The hydration will help reduce levels of stress hormones and stimulate bowel motility. Drinking 1 to 2 cups of water immediately upon arising and then continuously hydrating your body throughout your cleansing phase will reduce hunger, stabilize the adrenal glands, and keep your bowels moving appropriately.
- Minerals: We need minerals to produce electrochemical energy and adrenal hormones. When fasting or on a low-carb diet, we excrete sodium, so it is VITAL to replace this mineral in the body. I recommend adding some Himalayan sea salt to your water, using greens powders, or organic broth or bone broths during the cleansing phase in order to ensure adequate mineral intake.
- Magnesium supplementation: The body uses magnesium much like a car uses oil. We need magnesium for over 300 vital functions in the body. Magnesium is also key for calming the adrenals and improving bowel motility. Using a good magnesium citrate, glycinate, malate, or threonate supplement can help you function much better during a fast. You can find a report ranking magnesium supplements here.
- Probiotics: Probiotic supplementation can help to improve bowel tone and reduce gut-induced inflammation that would trigger the adrenals.
Is Fasting Safe for Everyone?
The only population groups that should NOT consider fasting are pregnant women, in particular during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, as their babies are rapidly growing during this stage. During the first trimester, the pregnant mother can do a simple fast so long as she feels good doing it.
Newborn babies up until 6 to 8 months will most likely not do a simple fast as they are rapidly growing and their bodies need more calories than their small stomachs can handle during a 12-hour feeding period. After about 8 to 9 months, a child will typically sleep for roughly 12 hours overnight and will essentially do a simple fast.
Most children and teenagers can do a simple fast, although heavy volume athletics may compromise this. If a child is working out intensely for over an hour each day (such as playing basketball or football), then a simple fast may be very challenging.
Each of these scenarios should be dealt with on a case by case basis, but the same rule of drinking 16 to 32 ounces of water upon arising can help to dramatically reduce morning hunger and extend the fast and cleansing period for the body.
Incorporating periods of intermittent fasting and using the strategies shared in this article can help your body become stronger and more resilient and help it to fight against the development of chronic diseases.
Fasting is one of the few health modalities that actually saves you money. It has been spoken about by wise men and spiritual leaders throughout the centuries and has the potential to greatly improve the health of your mind, body, and spirit. I hope you are inspired to begin practicing intermittent fasting from here on out!
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of TTAC’s Insiders member newsletter. It has been updated and republished in October 2019.
We have to break free from the idea that we need to have three meals a day.
Egyptians were believed to be healthier than Greeks due to their regular fasting practices.
There are a number of different ways to improve your overall metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency.
In order for your body to produce and utilize ketones, you must restrict your consumption of foods that are converted into glucose.
The process of digestion stimulates inflammation.
Fasting improves immune regulation.
Intermittent fasting starves cancer cells and leaves them vulnerable to destruction.