It is March and not only does that mean March Madness is around the corner(which is one of my favorite seasons of sports) but it also means it is the last month of the first quarter is coming to a close. How have your fitness goals and resolutions been going? Have you stayed on track or have you fallen back to your own ways? I am here to hopefully get you back on track to becoming the person you want to be and achieve your goals. Whether it be weight loss, body fat reduction, increase in muscles mass, avoid heart disease and keep diabetes at bay the key ingredient is food. Food has the power to control everything from your weight, your mood, your stress, your sleep, your anxiety and your performance. Food is fuel, it provides us with energy, nutrients and essential vitamins to keep us healthy, vibrant and alive but is can also be the enemy. If you are eating a lot of the wrong things like lots of sugar, processed foods or are just eating way too much at a time then it can be very damaging to your health. One of the best ways to make a change in your life, health and weight is to introduce fasting into your week.
Fasting is going long periods of time without eating any food; like anywhere between 8, 10, 16 and 24 hour fasts. Fasting is a great way to cleanse your system, reset your body and improve your blood insulin levels. It is a great tool to give your digestive system a break from working all the time and helps with weight loss. Why do you think it is called breakfast? It means breaking the fast after the 6-10 hours of sleep. My favorite way to fast is to eat dinner, go to bed, wake up, have my cup of coffee in the morning and continue with my day until I get hungry which is around 10 or 11. I generally can go 14-16 hours without eating and have been known to do this more than once a week. Fasting is great to add to your routine and you will see and feel the difference in no time. I have below a great article on 10 reasons why to fast from Steve Edwards at www.focused-on-fitness.com. A great article with fantastic reasons why fasting is important for all of us.
- To cleanse your system. Most of us eat more than we should, take in more toxins than we’d like, and are subjected to many other things, like pollutants, that we’d rather avoid. Furthermore, the majority of us carry around a lot of undigested food in our system that comes from eating more than we can process. A fast will, essentially, flush these things from your system. Yes, you’ll lose weight. But more importantly, your body will run better than it did before.
- To change bad habits. When you don’t eat, your body craves sustenance and becomes more sensitive to toxins. Most habits are based on cravings, but when you completely change how your system is running, those cravings change also. Coffee is the easiest example. During a fast, your body is too sensitive to tolerate highly acidic substances and caffeine very well. Things like coffee will often make you feel terrible, when it has the complete opposite effect normally.
- To change your health. Many chronic conditions have used fasting as an effective treatment, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. It is thought to be beneficial as a preventative measure to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease.
- To reset your body clock. Fasting gives you a clean slate. Without nutrients, you become more sensitive and sleep and other patterns change. It’s an easy time to revamp your schedule and get your body clock working in your favor.
- To bring your body into homeostasis. This is the balance point your body prefers to be at but is rarely achieved with our hectic lives. When the intake of food is temporarily stopped, many systems of the body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives the body the chance to heal and restore itself, plus burning stored calories gets rid of toxic substances stored in the body. Essentially, you force your body to work efficiently and, thus, bring everything into balance.
- For increased mental clarity. Most of us probably first heard of fasting as a religious exercise. There are examples of it in most spiritual texts. It’s a great tactic for mental and spiritual rejuvenation because it forces focus on important thoughts and frees the mind from everyday clutter. When you are deprived of nutrients, your body—in a survival mode—begins to focus on things of true importance.
- To make changing your diet easier. When you fast you become more sensitive to what you put into your body. It’s easier to understand how nutrients affect you and, hence, how bad foods make you feel worse. Exiting a fast is the easiest time to change your diet for the better. Your body will crave healthy foods. All you need to do is give it what it wants.
- To get a better feel for how exercise and diet make your body work. When you take away nutrients your body can’t function as well as it did from a performance standpoint. When you add nutrients back, you’ll feel your energy increase and how exercise affects you and utilizes nutrients. This understanding can be a great dietary aid. Most of us have a hard time understanding what fats, carbohydrates, and proteins do for us but coming off a fast you’ll more easily understand their functions, especially if you are exercising.
- To improve fat mobilization and physical efficiency. Many physiological changes occur in the body during fasting. Your body turns to stored fat for energy, and this process becomes more efficient under the stress of a fast. Furthermore, the brain, which has high fuel requirements, still needs glucose (sugars converted from glycogen) to perform well. To obtain glucose for the brain, the body finds two sources of fuel, ketosis and muscle, so the body begins to break down muscle tissue during a fast. But to fuel the brain, however, the body would need to burn around a pound of muscle a day. So we’ve developed another survival mechanism to create energy that saves important muscle mass, a process called ketosis. In ketosis, the liver converts stored fat into ketones, which can be used by the brain, muscles, and heart as energy. Those of you versed in the Atkins diet my have a negative association with this process but Atkins-ers somewhat abused it. It’s another survival mechanism the body has that can be developed and utilized. Where Atkins may have overdone it was promoting it as a way of life, not a phase towards improving the body’s functionality.
- To get a forced rest phase. Our bodies do better when we train periodizationally. This is in phases of intensity, one of which is rest. Since we tend to skip this phase because we feel like we’ll regress if we don’t exercise (either that or over-embrace it to the point of not exercising), fasts force a recovery phase because you can’t do hard exercise. The most exercise you should attempt is very—low intensity movements, like walking, hiking, or easy yoga or stretching. During this time, the body heals its cumulative microtrauma that has resulted from exercise. When you come off of a fast, your body will be slightly deconditioned. However, its capacity for conditioning will have increased. This means that once your catch up to the fitness level you were prior to fasting you will more easily exceed this level, instead of hitting a plateau.