Does that seem like a contradiction? How can you have power with no fuel you ask? The answer is stored energy. Your cells store energy while you are feasting in preparation for times of scarcity. Whoever designed this amazing machine we call the body really knew their stuff!! So adaptable. Absolutely marvelous. Cells first store glucose (a type of sugar). Once there is enough glucose in cells, then certain cells start combining glucose molecules to form glycogen. Once there is enough glycogen, cells do not want any more insulin to enter. Insulin has a job of shuttling sugar around the body, sort of a chaperone if you will. We can view it as the public transit hormone/protein for sugar. And since the insulin is now being shut out of entering cells, the body begins to take the extra sugar hanging around in the blood stream and makes triglycerides and begins storing them in fat cells. The body is saying, "This stuff is still useful so we are going to put it away for a rainy day."
The standard American diet (SAD) is really good at telling the body to store fat. The human body developed the ability to store excess carbohydrates many generations ago when our ancestors had to live through times of limited food supply such as Winter. They question we have today, is how do we tell the body we are ready to use the stored energy to fuel the body? Many of you can already guess the answer: reduce your intake of carbohydrates and sugars. Carbohydrates, remember, are just individual sugar molecules linked together in a chain. The body breaks the sugar molecules apart one by one to access the sugar to make energy. When we reduce carbohydrates and other simple sugars and rely more on fat to make energy, the need for insulin goes down. When insulin is low, the body will no longer receives the signal to store fat but will utilize stored fat as well as dietary fats that we eat to keep the body running. Low insulin levels in the body are the key to turning on nutritional ketosis.
Many of you are probably familiar with a Ketogenic or high fat diet. For those who would like additional information on this eating plan, see one of my previous blog posts entitled "Flush the Body of Inflammation: the solution to a post-holiday carb hangover" from December of 2022. Transitioning your body use fat instead of sugar to make energy can be challenging and requires repeated practice and determination to learn what works for you and what does not. In addition, it is important to identify what road blocks may be inhibiting your success. Enlisting the help of a healthcare professional or health coach can be an important key for navigating what may be happening in your body if you are struggling to see changes in your body when adopting a low carb diet.
Fasting can be a great tool to help you in your quest to lower systemic inflammation and reverse disease symptoms that can be painful and debilitating. I would like to outline some tips that will help to make your experience with fasting more positive so you will keep trying it to improve your health and the resilience of your body.
1. If your typical diet constitutes a higher amount of carbohydrates, meaning 35% or more of your daily caloric intake, start by reducing carbs to below 30% and increase fat to anywhere from 40 to 50% with the remainder coming from protein.
2. Then, reduce your eating window to 6 to 8 hours a day. This is the practice of intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating. Work up to an 18 to 20 hour window between dinner and your first meal the next day.
3. Drink a lot of fluids, primarily water, but also include electrolytes, mineral water, teas and even a small amount coffee (low carb versions), bone broth and other high nutrient low calorie liquids to replenish crucial vitamins and minerals. In this way, you will support body function during times of low caloric intake. During fasting, your fluid intake should be increased beyond the usual half your weight in pounds of ounces. You may increase it by 16 to 20 ounces depending upon what feels good to your body. I like to take a daily dose of Greens First (freeze dried fruits and vegetables) as part of my fluid intake. This product, or its equivalent for there are many on the market, provides 40 calories per serving. You can consume up to 200 to 300 calories per day while fasting and not spike insulin dramatically.
4. Modify your exercise program as needed. Some people still like to include their cardio routine while fasting or preparing to fast. I would encourage you to listen to your body. Until you start accessing stored energy from fat cells, your body may feel lethargic and complain and exercising will only makes you feel worse. Walking or mild strength training, yoga or other forms of activity may encourage you to feel invigorated while intermittent fasting or extended fasting. Follow the intuition your body is communicating instead of what works for others around you. This is not about fitting in with everyone else, it is about longevity and vitality.
5. Start with a shorter fast for 36 to 48 hours and see how you feel during that time. Your body can rely upon stored glycogen for up to 18 hours and may not begin to burn stored fat until after that time. When you feel hunger pains come on, drink something. Give the body some nutrients without many calories. You will most likely experience weight loss in the first few days of fasting. This is typically water weight and may partially return when the fast is over. If this occurs, do not be discouraged. You are training the body use fat for energy. It will increase your metabolic rate and and help you to burn stored fat on days you eat ketogenic-low inflammatory meals. You can repeat the extended fasting a couple times a month and increase to 3 to 5 days or even longer as you feel inclined. Checking in with your health care professional is also highly recommended as your plan out your next fast. You always need to ensure that these fasts are not straining the body but should be mildly stressful to promote healing and regeneration not anxiety and distress.
If you experience intense gastro-intestinal pain, or other signs of high stress, exhaustion, impaired sleep or other like symptoms, seek professional advice. Your body may not be ready for this next step. In order to burn fat effectively, the body requires a relatively relaxed state. High anxiety will complicate this process and needs to be addressed prior to pursing this practice. Emotional well being, along with proper digestive function, and bacterial gut balance are critical components for the body heal and regenerate.
In my next post, I will outline a few of the health benefits of extended fasting that go beyond just fat burning. The body's ability for repair is truly miraculous and informs me that we have an intelligent force in the universe that is interested in our health, happiness and wellbeing. If you have additional questions about this content or would like to enlist our help on achieving your health goals, contact us through the Nourishing Roots website today.
Yours in Health,
Biochemist and Certified Health Coach