How to #Hack Fasting: A Complete Guide

Check out one of my favorite "done for you" fasting options: the Prolon system

In this article you will learn:

  • The different kinds of fasts and how to implement them

  • What the research says about IF and PF (intermittent and periodic fasting)

  • Some simple, but powerful tips to incorporate fasting into your life

Lazy Reader's Section:

Fasting is a powerful tool in your arsenal for good gut health and insulin balance, as well as spiritual and mental clarity, but it must be done with planning and consideration - as well as a clear intent. If you are new to fasting, a "done for you" 5 day program that works is the Prolon system by longevity author Dr. Valter Longo.

Lazy Author Alert:

Some research is cited at the end of this article for further reading, but if you want the full gory details then grab yourself a copy of my book, Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success.

The Details:

Fasting is a timeless practice that has been around since as long as we could write. We also evolved in constant scarcity, with intermittent periods of fasting being the norm that our bodies had to get used to. In fact, this is one simple reason why obesity is so prevalent in adults, kids and even pets - our bodies aren't used to the sheer amount of surplus constantly available.

Today this ancient practice has become super sexy thanks to many health entrepreneurs and celebrities, and while there are many benefits to fasting regularly - my goal with this article is to help you push the hype aside and really be true to yourself. Fasting is powerful, but it's not something you should do just because it's the latest thing since sliced bread. To understand a bit more about fasting in general, let's break down a few things:

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a broad term for fasting done intermittently or periodically. This is either in the form of a dedicated eating window every day or occasional fasts periodically throughout the week, month or year. You have probably seen terms like “16:8” or “5:2” – these are just references to the type of intermittent fasting being done. 16:8 means 16 hours of fasting with an 8 hour eating window, while 5:2 refers to a week where you fast 2 days and eat 5.

The Different Types of Fasts

Fasting is a beautiful practice because it is very broad. You can fast from spending, from technology, from sex or from people. It’s not just about food, and even in that category there’s many ways to incorporate fasting into your daily routine:

Weekly/Periodic Fasts – This is where you choose to fast (just water) for a given amount of time. This can be a day, two days or more. Some people choose to fast on one or two days of the week, or do periodic fasts every 3-6 months of 1, 2 or more days. Be mindful that anything more than 2 days in a row requires medical supervision, training and careful planning.

Daily Window Fasting – This is the more popular understanding of “intermittent fasting,” but can also vary greatly because the eating window is up to you. Some people eat all of their food in a 6 hour window, like from 12pm to 6pm, or a 10 hour window, like from 10am to 8pm. The window is up to you and your particular lifestyle – the key is making it sustainable.

Reduced Calorie/Fasting Mimicking – Calorie restriction (CR) is a similar practice to fasting, although different in some ways. The work of Dr. Valter Longo in his book “The Longevity Diet” details the impact of short-term calorie restriction as a means to mimic the benefits of fasting. In this book he also details the impact of 2-3 days of water fasting as a protective mechanism against chemotherapy and its benefits in non-clinical settings. I highly recommend the book, and the research Dr. Longo discusses was also used to create the popular "done for you" 5 day fasting-mimicking program, Prolon. Give it a try because it works.

Protein/Carb Fasts – Similar to the above, a protein/carb fast is where you drastically reduce protein or carbs for a day for gaining some of the benefits of fasting (see below) like insulin resistance improvement.

Why Fasting?

Probably more important than understanding the different types of fasts is why you are fasting in the first place. Too many people jump into this ancient practice (now a fad oddly enough) without the proper “why” guiding them and their decisions, which can lead to more harm than good. Below are some of the main reasons why you would take fasting on as a practice, each with different outcomes in terms of your actions and how much fasting you end up doing:

1. Regulate circadian rhythm. With eating-window type intermittent fasting (i.e. choosing when you eat and don’t eat every day), one is able to promote a regular circadian rhythm. What you put into your body and when you put it in programs how you feel throughout the day, and choosing when to eat and not to eat allows for a regular circadian rhythm which is central to a balanced nervous system, stress levels and long-term health.

2. Regulate blood sugar. Another powerful benefit of fasting in all of its forms, although especially the daily intermittent eating window fasting, is the ability to regular blood sugar. Regular periods of fasting for at least 1 day (24 hours) have a positive effect on insulin resistance and intermittent fasting can help your body by giving the pancreas a break from working constantly. This, of course, also assumes you aren’t eating garbage during your eating window as well.

3. Manage weight. Similar to the above, regular periods of fasting or intermittent fasting help to promote weight loss, burn fat through ketosis and overall manage your intake of food. Remember that what you eat as well as when you eat it can make a big difference in your waist line – so restricting your eating window and promoting a healthy circadian rhythm (sorry, no more ice cream late at night) can promote and maintain a healthy weight.

4. Heal the digestive tract. Your colon(s) take a beating from all the stuff that goes through them all day. Not to mention most people have some form of “leak gut” these days and chronic inflammation from the foods they eat, an imbalance of intestinal flora and parasites, fungi, etc. causing havoc. Fasting, especially if for at least 24-48 hours, can allow the colon to heal and flora to rebalance. It is a great way to reset yourself and allow the body to regenerate.

5. Promote longevity. Fasting as a “longevity hack” has become very popular today but why exactly it is useful is less understood by the masses. Fasting creates discipline, manages your blood sugar and weight and gives the body time to reset using processes like autophagy (recycling old or damaged cells). Each of these benefits are important, but they are achieved at different thresholds so this is why it is important to know why you are fasting in the first place. In general, taking a break from eating all the time through an eating window will promote your longevity for a variety of reasons because over time your body just isn't in a constant effort to digest food. But if you really want to reap the rewards of autophagy and insulin resistance, then periodic fasts of 24-72 hours every 3-6 months are going to add to your clock because the magic starts to happen after a full day of not eating. No free lunch in life, right?

6. Develop spiritually. This final reason is, in my opinion, the most important. Fasting has been one of the most time honored practices for developing discipline, focus, appreciation and spirituality. In this realm, fasts can be as long as a week or more (remember, anything over 2 days requires supervision and training) and can reveal many things about ourselves. Fasting is also a powerful tool to get present and discipline the mind, detach from dependence on substances (food is a substance) and develop mindfulness, sensitivity and awareness where life has left us desensitized. Fasting uses the power of absence and space to create a unique experience of learning and discovery available nowhere else, and this is a perfect complement to our achievement driven modern lives.

How to Practice Intermittent Fasting

Below is a basic guide to begin practicing intermittent fasting in your routine. Remember to do your own research, start slow and always opt for what’s sustainable over what’s popular.

1. Pick an eating window that’s reasonable for your schedule. You can start with 12 hours and then work your way up to 8, 9 or 10 with 1 hour less each week. I personally try to float around 9-10 hours most days, but as long as you are giving your body a break from food for at least 12 hours, you’re going to reap some rewards.

2. Adjust your carb intake. One popular diet that incorporates intermittent fasting is the “keto” diet. Again, do your own research, but a good principle to shoot for is less carbs and more good quality fats (olive oil, grass fed butter or ghee, etc.). High carb meals spike your insulin, which causes it to crash later (you get hungry suddenly and stay less satiated) while also contributing to stress on your pancreas and leading to insulin resistance down the road. Instead, fats keep you satiated and hunger doesn’t creep in suddenly anymore. Changing your ratio of carbs to fats will help with intermittent fasting because you won’t suffer crashes outside your eating window that will force you to cheat.

3. Eat better in general. Along with the above advice, drop the sugar and fried food from your diet and replace it with good quality fats, lean organic/grass fed proteins and less but still high quality carbs (rice, squash, etc.) with a base of organic vegetables. Remember that it’s all about sustainability and evening out your blood sugar response with intermittent fasting, so cleaning up your diet is a necessary part of your practice. For all the wonderful details and principles around creating a healthful diet (not dieting), grab yourself a copy of my book, Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success and remember: an eating window is pointless if you are eating Cheetos and McDonald’s for 8 hours of the day.

4. Extend your fast in the morning with a buttery drink. The popular “Bulletproof Coffee” or “keto coffee” drink of coffee, grass fed butter and MCT oil has caught on as a morning “hack” to extend one’s intermittent fast. This is done because fat makes you feel full, but doesn’t spike your insulin like sugar (carbs) or protein. In essence, your body is fooled into being full, but is still in a fasting state from a blood sugar perspective.

This is a useful tool in your arsenal, although there’s a few considerations:

  • If you metabolize caffeine slowly (check your genes like COMT), suffer from adrenal fatigue or are sensitive to coffee then this may need to be replaced with something else. I recommend golden milk (turmeric) or non-caffeinated tea like Rooibos tea. Remember that coffee, no matter how touted it is for its benefits, still induces a stress response in your body. Notice how you feel, always get a reputable source and listen to your body.

  • If you are dairy (casein) intolerant, you may try Ghee or coconut oil. Do not use olive oil or any other fats besides saturated fats because they will denature in the heat (plus it won’t taste good either).