I’ve spoke about the many benefits of Intermittent Fasting before, and ever since it’s become a regular part of my life. It helped me to lose weight and maintain it ever since, and has a slew of health benefits that include possibly being anti-aging and anti-cancer. For those of you who are unsure about how it all work, I’m sharing the stages of fasting (the times are approximate) to explain what is happening when you decide to skip a meal (or many meals), and to motivate you to keep going on your fast for longer periods.
Here’s a look at the five main stages of fasting, the specific benefits that come with each one, and a brief look at how to incorporate fasting into your life.
Fasting Stage 1
(first 8-12 Hours after last meal) Clearing out the sugar stores
In the first stage of fasting, blood sugar level decreases, causing hunger pangs. If you are sleeping, you likely won’t feel this, and the feeling of hunger starts to recede by 12 hours, so it’s a great idea to go through this stage after dinner (and sleep through most of it). During this stage, you may feel very hungry, to a point that it’s hard to concentrate, so the lack of ability to focus makes it ideal to experience overnight when your body needs sleep anyway. If you finish dinner by 6pm, and wake up at 6pm, chances are you don’t feel hungry. Breakfast is the meal that traditionally breaks the night fast (“Break-fast”), but most people just aren’t hungry in the morning and forcing yourself to eat breakfast because of the 1920s P.R. push to make us all think “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” usually just leads to sluggishness the rest of the morning (most breakfasts are comprised of sugar covered carbs) and weight gain with all those extra calories. Despite the promise that breakfast makes you feel less hungry the rest of the day, that is not the case for most of us, and more and more people are skipping breakfast, leading to a longer fast that isn’t broken until lunch (11am-1pm). So….
Fasting Stage 2
(starts approximately 12-18 Hours after last meal) Starting to burn fat
By the start of fasting stage 2, your body is burning fat (unless your last meal was very large and carb heavy or you have a medical condition that may delay this process). Many enter ketosis, which means the body is now starting to burn fat for energy, and you may find yourself thinking more clearly and feeling more energetic (a side affect of natural ketones coursing through your body- ketones are the by product of burning fat for fuel). I know many people ingest an exogenous source of ketones via drinks or whatever is being marketed and sold, but unless your body is burning the fat, you aren’t naturally producing them and taking them orally from somewhere else does not have the same benefits (so save some money too and skip that fad- as you get slimmer, your body will get fatter).
Most of us burn through our glycogen stores in the liver within 12-18 hours, but it may take longer for others if there are other health factors (24 hours). At that point, any hunger pangs we have start to diminish because our blood glucose levels have stabilized and we are burning fat instead of sugar. If you choose to have lunch, you have fasted for about 18 hours at this point and have enjoyed some of the benefits of fasting, such as reducing inflammation in the body, allowing the GI system to heal a bit, burning some body fat, and maybe even increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin produced internally. Future short term fasts will be easier and there is some compound benefits of doing a few in a row with small meals in between. Longer fasts have more benefits, however, so we will look at those next….
Fasting Stage 3
(starts about 24 hours after last meal) The magic of autophagy begins
By the time you reach 24 hours of fasting, you are usually burning fat for fuel, feeling better, thinking more clearly, and your appetite is likely very low (fasting decreases the production of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry). Your body may have started to product more growth hormone, which increases muscle growth, and autophagy begins. Autophagy is the miracle action of your body, where old and unhealthy cells are recycled to create younger, healthier, better functioning cells. If you have excess skin, this is the start of the stage that tends to shrink that up because it’s recycling the protein in the skin for energy. If you have pre-cancerous cells in your body, it’s believed that fasting targets and eliminates those. This is the start of the stage that many people also has anti-aging benefits- unhealthy, aging cells are replaced, inflammation is reduced a great deal, and you will find your skin looks tighter and any areas of inflammation and swelling (or injury!) are healing. In nature, when an animal is injured, it’s instinctive response is to stop eating and to rest and heal, so it’s very likely that eating while trying to heal is counterproductive. Cells in the body that survive the culling are more efficient, and those that weren’t functioning properly or were damaged or unhealthy have been used for parts to create these healthier, younger cells.
Some of the many benefits of autophagy and fasting also include possible reversal of Type II diabetes, prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, and some auto-immune diseases (there have been indications fasting can help with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, scleroderma, and even multiple sclerosis).
Fasting Stage 4
(starts 36-48 hours after last meal) Elevated growth hormone
Once you pass one and 1/2 days of fasting, your body feels different. It feels energized, the reduced inflammation is noticeable as you become slimmer and start to show some definition where there wasn’t any before, and there is a lot happening under the surface you can’t see. Your old cells are being replaced with healthier cells at a rapid rate of regeneration (and rejuvenation), and your growth hormone production has increased by several hundred percent (anywhere from 300%-400% and more). The increase in HGH (human growth hormone) leads to rapid repair, so you may notice your skin feeling tighter, cuts healing faster, and a minor cold or flu lasting a fraction of the time, and while exercising while fasting is not recommended without supervision (just rest), when you return to working out, and continue to cycle working out and fasting, your muscle growth is likely going to increase a great deal. This level of fasting can be hard for a first-timer, but intermittent fasting for up to 2 days once a season (or even once a month for the extra-motivated) can lead to looking younger, living longer (fasting and intermittent fasting are linked to longevity), being in much better shape and incredibly fit, and having a much stronger immune system.
Fasting Stage 5
(starts somewhere around 72 hours after last mean) Drastically improved immunity and stem cell production
At this point, you are the medicine. If you can fast for five days straight at least twice a year (with medical supervision! make sure you are cleared to be able to do this safely, and look for support while you fast), your immune function is incredibly high. Studies have shown that people who fast for long periods of time on a regular basis have a much longer life span, incredibly decreased risk of autoimmune diseases or cancer, are mentally sharper, and can even learn exponentially faster. Prisoners of war who have been starved have learned the language of their captors in a week (a depressing anecdote, but this has been documented and incredible to discover). Jesus fasted 40 days straight for strength, to be closer to God, and gain clarity on His mission. He was an example that fasting leads to many answers, and blue zones around the world confirm that eating less often (and intermittent fasting- Greek Orthodox Christians are noted in The Complete Guide To Fasting as likely having longevity because they fast so much, in addition to their healthy Mediterranean diet) can lead to more years on this planet, and healthier years. How wonderful would it be to live with more energy, less worry about aging, and less dependence on doctors or medicine?
Once you reach 72 hours of fasting, your immune system is being almost completely rejuvenated. This is a major phenomenon, an utterly amazing blessing for anyone struggling with chronic health problems. It’s a sort of reset, where stem cell production is triggered to produce new immune cells that go to work healing your body. Studies also show that fasting while undergoing chemotherapy increases the effectiveness of the treatment, and reduces the side effects.
Intermittent Fasting and Longer Fasting Tips
Fasting is a wonderful tool that almost everyone can use to overhaul their health and be their best self. It’s important to undertake fasting safely, and it’s a great idea to let your trusted healthcare provider know you are planning to fast. Many doctors are not fans of intermittent fasting, but many doctors are also not optimally healthy or in shape themselves, so have a doctor who values his or her own health as well, and is open to the idea of fasting (or even encourages you!) unless they have a real reason it would be contraindicated for you.
While fasting, please remember to drink water and electrolytes. The longest recorded faster in the world (he didn’t eat for over a year) took an occasional multivitamin, and was under the supervision of a doctor. “Dry fasting” (not drinking any water while fasting- made popular in pop culture by some celebrities) is an extreme form of fasting that I don’t recommend, and will not discuss in this post (if you have a medical condition that motivates you to try this extreme form of fasting, information is out there and there are people who can help you navigate this safely, which I’m not able to do). Some people drink tea and coffee without any additives on their fast, and some studies show they may increase autophagy and the other benefits of fasting. Feel free to research this yourself and decide.
I personally also lean toward a heavily ketogenic diet. I have cut out all junk food, white sugar, white flour, most sweets, hydrogenated oils, HFCS, etc years ago, and just don’t enjoy these anymore. My body had become healthier than it was in the previous decade or two as a result- I heal faster, have more energy and mental clarity- and I’m hoping to retain these benefits as long as possible. Combined with
The body’s ability to heal itself simply by taking a break from eating is a wonder. We tend to overeat- too much food, too many hours a day, too many times a day. Waking up and eating, snacking all day, and eating late into the night isn’t healthy. Our body barely gets a break from digesting, and it needs breaks to focus on healing. It’s not one or the other (the body doesn’t stop normal functions to digest food) but why not allow all the body’s energy focus on normal, non-GI related functions, including and especially healing, repairing, and rejuvenating. The benefits of fasting depend on how long the fasts last, and longer fasts offer more reward, but may also entail more risks, so it’s important to be under the supervision of a doctor if you attempt longer fasts or are taking any medications, particularly insulin or medication for diabetes, or have any underlying medical conditions.
*Please consult your doctor before starting any fasts*