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Fasting Tips

Summary:
I am in the middle of “My Annual Anti-Cancer Fast,” so my thoughts are turning toward things that make fasting a little easier. Before getting into fasting tips, let me say that I have copied out a set of cautions about fasting from earlier blog posts that you should read if you haven’t seen it already. I label it “Appendix.” From here on in this post I will assume you have read it. I am a big fan of Jason Fung in the area of fasting for health, as you can see from “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Five Books That Have Changed My Life.” Recently, my wife Gail obtained a fasting coach associated with Jason Fung and has

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Fasting Tips

I am in the middle of “My Annual Anti-Cancer Fast,” so my thoughts are turning toward things that make fasting a little easier. Before getting into fasting tips, let me say that I have copied out a set of cautions about fasting from earlier blog posts that you should read if you haven’t seen it already. I label it “Appendix.” From here on in this post I will assume you have read it.

I am a big fan of Jason Fung in the area of fasting for health, as you can see from “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Five Books That Have Changed My Life.” Recently, my wife Gail obtained a fasting coach associated with Jason Fung and has had a very good experience with that fasting coach. The picture and link thefastingmethod.com at the top of this post are for getting a fasting coach in that group. I’ll separate out the fasting tips by how I learned them.

Miles’s fasting tips:

  • One of the biggest aids to a multiple day fast is the rapidly rising number of flavors of sparkling water. (See “In Praise of Flavored Sparkling Water.”)

  • Stay busy while fasting. Distraction is your friend: it helps you forget the mild psychological hunger you shouldn’t be paying attention to. Many of us have no problem staying busy catching up on work. But if you have time, do something fun, like marathoning an especially fun TV series, going on a hike, or playing your favorite video game.

  • To avoid constipation while fasting and in the days right after I start eating again, during the fast I cut back on my regular vitamins and add two psyllium pills each day while fasting (psyllium husks are the active ingredient in Metamucil). I do take one medication and one vitamin that are idiosyncratic to me, and one pill that I recommend to anyone fasting: a “buffered electrolyte salts” pill. Right now, I am using this brand, but have no special allegiance to any particular brand.

  • During the fast, as long as you are eating very low on the insulin index (see “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid”) you will continue burning fat; the only thing you have to worry about is that the calories you eat will displace calories burned. (See “Maintaining Weight Loss” and “How Low Insulin Opens a Way to Escape Dieting Hell”)

  • Gail often eats a bit of almond or macadamia butter during her extended fasts if she feels uncomfortably hungry or worries that hunger might disrupt her sleep.

Tips from Gail’s fasting coach:

  • One thing I didn’t realize at all, but makes sense to me on hearing it is that while eating processed food (which includes almost all food in cans or boxes) may give you more salt than you need, when fasting, you might be getting too little sodium. One “buffered electrolyte salts” pill a day probably gives you enough magnesium and potassium, but not enough sodium if you are fasting. If you get too little sodium, it can make you feel weak or faint. Once you realize this, the solution is easy: early in the day put a teaspoon and a half of regular table salt in a small bowl; take pinches of the salt and put them under your tongue. Wash down with water. Repeat, until the teaspoon and a half is all consumed. Try to get this done before 2 PM each day that you are fasting. You will feel better.

  • I have emphasized how eating low on the insulin index makes fasting easy. If you are going into a long fast, you can make the transition into fasting even easier by going extra low on the insulin index. If you like eating meat, choose the fattiest cuts you can find. For beef, that’s ribeye steak. For pork, ribs also seem especially fatty, and bacon is usually quite fatty. For chicken, dark meat is fattier than light meat.

  • I knew Jason Fung recommended green tea as something that helps make your hunger go away during fasting, but Gail’s fasting coach also recommends vinegar. In particular, said it’s OK to eat sugar-free dill pickles during a fast and even recommends drinking the pickle juice.

  • Testing devices that tell you how deeply you are into fat burning (ketosis) can be motivating. Gail likes the Biosense Ketone Breath Analyzer because it is easy to use, doesn’t need blood, and has an almost zero marginal cost (though the initial purchase cost is substantial). Keto Mojo strips have a significant marginal cost and require pricking your finger to get a blood sample. But it is somewhat more accurate than the ketone breath analyzer and provides a blood sugar level as well as a ketone level. It’s not like you necessarily need all that innovation, but it might provide the crucial motivation to keep going.

Finally, one bottom line: fasting is easy if you are eating low on the insulin index. And if the food is low enough on the insulin index, you can even eat it during a fast and you will still get the health benefits of the fast; you will simply have somewhat slower weight loss. But if you try to fast or eat only a few calories a day while eating high-carb or otherwise high on the insulin index, you will be in the territory of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which was hellish for the experimental subjects. Eating low on the insulin index makes all the difference for how easy fasting is. As long as you still have body fat to burn, fasting isn’t starvation; it can be relatively easy.

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see:

Appendix: Cautions about Fasting.

Before I dive into the technical details, let me repeat some cautions about fasting. I am not going to get into any trouble for telling people to cut out added sugar from their diet, but there are some legitimate worries about fasting. Here are my cautions in “Don't Tar Fasting by those of Normal or High Weight with the Brush of Anorexia”:

  • If your body-mass-index is below 18.5, quit fasting! Here is a link to a BMI calculator.

  • Definitely people should not do fasting for more than 48 hours without first reading Jason Fung’s two books The Obesity Code (see “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Five Books That Have Changed My Life”) and The Complete Guide to Fasting.

  • Those under 20, pregnant or seriously ill should indeed consult a doctor before trying to do any big amount of fasting.

  • Those on medication need to consult their doctor before doing much fasting. My personal nightmare as someone recommending fasting is that a reader who is already under the care of a doctor who is prescribing medicine might fail to consult their doctor about adjusting the dosage of that medicine in view of the fasting they are doing. Please, please, please, if you want to try fasting and are on medication, you must tell your doctor. That may involve the burden of educating your doctor about fasting. But it could save your life from a medication overdose.

  • Those who find fasting extremely difficult should not do lengthy fasts.

  • But, quoting again from “4 Propositions on Weight Loss”: “For healthy, nonpregnant, nonanorexic adults who find it relatively easy, fasting for up to 48 hours is not dangerous—as long as the dosage of any medication they are taking is adjusted for the fact that they are fasting.”

Let me add to these cautions: If you read The Complete Guide to Fasting you will learn that fasting more than two weeks (which I have never done and never intend to do) can lead to discomfort in readjusting to eating food when the fast is over. Also, for extended fasts, you need to take in some minerals/electrolytes. If not, you might get some muscle cramps. These are not that dangerous but are very unpleasant. What I do is simply take one SaltStick capsule each day.

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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