We all get stuck in life and a fast is no different. So here, I’ve created this article to help you trouble-shoot your fast so you know what to expect and when to bail, if you need to…
(If I miss something important, please comment below and I will update the page. Thanks.)
TROUBLE-SHOOTING YOUR FAST
Problem #1 – How long and how often should I fast for?
Beginners should start with intermittent fasting. A good start is the 16:8 window. This means eating in an 8 hour window and fasting for 16 hours. Most people structure their 16:8 window like this: Eat between 12pm and 8pm (time enough for two meals) and fast from 8pm until 12pm.
Beginners who want to extend their fast can then move into a 24 hour fast. However even more experienced fasters will often use the 24 hour fasts, eating one meal a day (OMAD) which is said to be great for our health and once adapted, becomes very easy to do.
Upwards from 24 hour fasts, the most common or popular fasts are 36, 48, 60 and 72 hours. There are so many benefits to doing fasts of any length but when you extend the fast, the benefits accumulate, which is why people choose to do longer ones.
Refer to this article about the Stages of fasting.
In terms of how often someone should fast, it depends on the type of fast. Someone who eats a Low carb/Keto/Carnivore diet can very easily eat OMAD every day of the week, consuming enough calories and good quality protein and fats – but I personally prefer to space it out, eating two meals and do OMAD when I’m sick or when I’m busy.
As for longer fasts, some doctors who recommend fasting (many don’t), say to do a good fast of 7 days 1-2 times per year. I personally prefer to shorten the fast and like to do 3 days fasts, once a month. As I eat two meals a day, I am going long periods of time without food in between meals, also a form of intermittent fasting and something many people do on a daily basis.
Problem #2 – What is the best time of day to start a fast?
If you’ve done a group fast with me, you’ve probably noticed that I usually announce a final evening meal and then the fast begins.
Eating dinner around 5pm and then beginning a fast is a great way to kick it off. You’ve eaten early so you’ll have well-digested your food before you go to bed making sleep restful and focused on the good stuff (rest and repair), but it means that by the time you wake up, you’ll already be through a big chunk of your fast. Skip breakfast and lunch and you’re done!
However, starting between 12-3, post lunch, is also a fairly easy time to start too. I never wake up in the morning and begin a fast. I prefer to have a big meal in my belly and then start.
Problem #3 – What should I eat before fasting?
The best foods to eat before a fast are nutrient dense and full of healthy fats and protein. I would choose a meal such as a steak and your preferred sides such as some greens or avocado or salad with a good drizzle of olive oil.
Choosing a meal that is high carb meal like a big bowl of pasta is nutrient poor and will leave you feeling hungry more quickly the next day, so best to choose something that is lower in carbs but higher in protein.
Problem #4 – Dealing with hunger
This is a completely normal and expected part of fasting, so know that if you’re feeling hungry, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just your body doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
You will have heard of circadian rhythms? Well, hunger follows a similar pattern too. These patterns, connected with the timed release of certain hormones, see us hungry at certain times of the day: hunger is often lower in the morning, rises towards lunch time and then occurs again in the evening.
We also have our own eating patterns that trigger our own hunger signals (ghrelin). There are some people who live for breakfast and some who are all about dinner. Culturally the evening meal is the meal many families gather together for despite some studies showing that we should be eating smaller meals in the evening…
So during a fast, it is expected that these hormones will continue to be secreted and you will continue to feel hunger throughout the day. However, if you fast beyond 24 hours, you will see a reduction in hunger. Around day 2 is when ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is said to start reducing in its production. And I know from personal experience (I’ve been fasting for years) that hunger is almost non-existent from day 3 onwards.
So now what to do when you’re hungry?
- Keep busy. If you’re at work, just carry on doing your thing. If you’re at home, do something you love that will keep your focus.
- Don’t hang out with people who are eating (unless you’re a pro or on day 3). If you’re someone who prepares other people’s meals and are doing your first fast, try to prepare the meals ahead of time so you’re not having to spend too much time around food.
- Drink sparkling water. I don’t know if there’s science behind it but the bubbles seem to make us feel full.
- Drink some black coffee or tea. I prefer to do water fasts only but if you do consume caffeinated drinks, you’ll find that they seem to suppress appetite somewhat. Just try not to overdo it.
- Drink warm/hot water. Add some salt for electrolytes you may be missing but it also gives the water a salty flavour.
- Wait it out. Seriously. Hunger is simply a hormone and the feeling will subside if you ignore it. For me, it has usually passed after 20 mins.
Problem #5 – I feel sick, should I stop fasting?
First of all let me just say that if you have any health conditions, you should be fasting with the consent and/or guidance of a medical professional.
If you’re a newbie to fasting, this is something that you may feel. Hunger, as mentioned above, is normal when fasting. I see fasting like a muscle that needs to be worked. The more you do it, the stronger it gets. So naturally, on your first few fasts, you’ll likely feel intense hunger and may be even a bit concerned about whether your feelings are normal or not and if you should break your fast.
Intense hunger can make you feel nauseous and it’s not an enjoyable feeling. However, should you stop fasting if you feel nauseous? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends.
Many people get headaches when fasting due to dehydration. This is often due to an imbalance of electrolytes so by adding some salt to water, the body becomes hydrated and the headache will often pass.
However, when should you actually break your fast?
- If you feel faint, like you are going to pass out.
- If you feel shaky or dizzy or out of control.
- If you vomit or are super nauseous.
- If you feel strange, like you’re not in your body.
- If your heart is beating out of your chest.
- If it is difficult to breathe.
Basically, if you feel anything beyond extreme hunger, that is strange to you, you should stop your fast. It is better to be safe than sorry.
So why do some people experience these feelings?
- It can be due to an imbalance in electrolytes.
- It can be due to inexperience (a weak fasting “muscle”).
- It can be due to excessive stress on the body.
- It can be due to pushing the body too long on a fast (beyond 7 days).
- It can be because someone is a glucose burner only and has not experienced the benefits that a low carb/ketogenic/zero carb diet provides.
- It can be due to an underlying health condition (known or unknown)
My personal experience with fasting myself, coaching others through their fasts and talking with clients and other people who fast, the above symptoms are rare.
Fasting is, historically, something we have always done. The body is very good at fasting, especially when it does it regularly.
So if you freak out and need to break your fast, it’s ok. But you’ll see that the more often you do it, the easier it will become and the more confident you will be about how you’re feeling. You will learn to read the signs of your body and adjust your behaviour accordingly or break your fast when your body tells you it’s time.
Problem #6 – Can I still exercise while I fast or should I stop all activity?
This is entirely up to you and requires you to listen to your body and what it wants. Like any other time of the month really!
So for me, it’s not really about if I’m fasting or not. It’s more about what time of my cycle I’m at as to what type of exercise I will do (if I’m in the first two days of my cycle, my exercise will usually be slower activities like yoga and walking and the rest of the time I’m usually doing weights).
So I personally will exercise during my fasts, without any hesitation but I will listen to my body for sure, how energetic it is feeling that particular day. I usually find that I can carry on with my gym routine just fine and pushing my normal weights is not a problem. I also like it because it fills my dinner time or after work time and I don’t have to think about food.
Why can we still carry on with activities like workouts? Because even though when we fast our bodies are not consuming calories, we still have more than enough sitting in our cells to give us what we need. Our bodies use this energy to make both the glucose and the ketones we need.
So do what you normally do. If you’re a normally active person, continue this and if not, no worries. If you want to bring it down a notch, then just stick to something more gentle like walking or yoga.
Problem #7 – I got my period during my fast. Should I stop?
This is a personal decision of course. If you feel that you need nourishment during this period, then you’re welcome to stop.
But as we know ladies, life continues while we all menstruate. We work, we exercise, we swim, we go on dates, we have sex, we dance, we have a glass of wine all while we menstruate. So yes, you can absolutely fast, or continue fasting while you have your period.
In fact, I regularly fast during or just before my period and I find it energises me. I have less cramping and feel better overall.
Some fasts we will find that our energy goes up and this may depend on where we are in our cycles. And during other fasts, we may find that our energy is lower. So there’s no need to stop fasting while we menstruate unless you are feeling the symptoms from the previous question.
Problem #8 – My friends have asked me out to dinner, what should I do?
When planning a fast, I will look ahead in my calendar to double-check that I have nothing significant on that will disrupt my fast. I usually pick a week when not much is on, during the week (not weekend) and often when I have a full work schedule.
This way, I can be focused, get loads of work done, go to bed early and continue life as normal without distractions.
However, if at the last minute, someone asks me out to dinner, I will politely decline or I will tell them that I am fasting and am happy to go out for a drink instead (sparkling water of course!). I have even been on dates while fasting!
And if your friends are truly your friends, they will not make you feel guilty or pressured. They will accept your response and reschedule or have a (sparkling water) drink with you.
Problem #9 – I’m a mum and I have to prepare everyone else’s dinner. Will this be too tempting during a fast?
Maybe at first, but you’ve got this mama!!
I regularly seem to be around food while I’m fasting. When I was new to fasting, I would avoid all situations that involved food, but now I’m fine with it so with practice you will be too.
It’s all about working that fasting “muscle.”
So sometimes when I fast, I have to go out and that’s ok. Sometimes I choose to be around others who are eating and that’s ok. I don’t feel more hungry or tempted or sick. I usually feel quite normal.
But at the beginning, plan your family’s meals in advance so that all you have to do is heat them up, or if you have older kids, get them in the kitchen and teach them what to do. And if you have a supportive partner, I’m sure they’ll be there for you too.
Any other problems you want me to troubleshoot for you?
Please leave questions in the comments below.
To your fasting-fueled health
Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner