Richards: Fasting can be a wonderful health reset, but it must be done right (column)
Make It Count
A few weeks ago I shared my experience with a six day water fast.
Simply, I ingested nothing but water for 152 hours.
As a longtime fitness columnist for the Vail Daily, I’ve never experienced as much positive feedback as I did regarding that column. Clearly, the fast impacted other lives in a meaningful way.
If you’re going to journey through this wonderful health reset, then here’s what you need to know.
NOT FOR EVERYONE
First of all, this strategy isn’t for everyone. Type 1 diabetics, pregnant women or those with eating disorders are not good candidates for extended fasting. Please consult your physician beforehand. Even if you’re healthy, then I recommend a blood panel beforehand to baseline against the results. I regret not doing this.
Second, define why you’re going to do this. I touched briefly on this in the last column, but it’s important to go deeper. The health benefits include but aren’t limited to weight loss, spiritual growth, cell regeneration and treatment for food and alcohol addiction. After two challenging years in my life, I didn’t like the man in the mirror. I was operating as a fitness professional with a loss of integrity. I was eating garbage and drinking too much alcohol to cope with life. My purpose was to completely cure my addiction to food, alcohol and other bad habits I harbored. It dawned on me — if the cure for any addiction begins by quitting the behavior, then why would food be any different? As odd as that may sound, I decided to give up food altogether, and it worked miraculously. Initially 18 pounds were lost, and the additional 4 lost since maintaining a healthier lifestyle has been a nice touch, too. I’m no longer a slave to the junk I was using to fuel my body.
Next, consider easing into an extended water fast by trying a few shorter sessions first.
Start with 24 hours, and monitor how you feel; particularly if you’re not fat adapted — a physical state that happens for those who already practice intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet or other dietary practices that promote the use of dietary, or body fat as a primary fuel source.
Before extended fasting, record measurements of your thighs, hips, waist, chest and upper arms. Take minimally clothed photos, too. Measurements and photos are critically important for those who are specifically attempting fat loss because of the objective feedback they provide. These data points will demonstrate the ratio of fat-to-muscle loss. My before-and-after photos were night and day.
Once you’re into the fast, it’s tempting to throw in the towel because of hunger. I carried around a sheet of paper in my pocket with a list of why’s to keep me going. In the grand scheme of things, a week without food isn’t a life hurdle. You can do this fairly easily.
Here’s the most important tactic of the entire process; be very careful breaking the fast. If you eat too much, or eat the wrong foods, you’ll gain all the weight back and have wasted an uncomfortable week for nothing. If you fast for a few days, it won’t really matter what you do. But for extended fasts lasting a week or longer, ease into eating raw fruits, vegetables, broth, kefir water or other fermented food for at least a few days. It’s an arbitrary figure, but I’d suggest keeping your calories in the 300-700 range for a couple days, as well. I stayed under 800 calories per day for a week after the fast to let my metabolism ease back into things.
Lastly, hit the ground running with new habits of eating real, whole foods combined with proper exercise. This process really turned my health around, and reestablished purpose in my life. Good luck with this, and have a great week.
Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at ryanrichards.com or 970-401-0720