FASTING - Get Through Your Fear
When it comes to making lifestyle changes, awareness of the source of my motivation helps make positive change sustainable even when it's not easy. In the moments when I am uncomfortable or exhausted, and want to lean on old comforts that may not ultimately be the best for me, I just have to remind myself of the bigger picture. The moment I am able to put things in perspective, making the right choice so much becomes easier.
With images of curated plates, supple bodies, and glowing skin swirling in front of and behind our eyes, living a wellness-oriented lifestyle may seem like it is driven by positivity. People are “glowing up” and reaching for awesome goals. How great! (Right?…)
Often these goals are governed by an individual's interpretation of biological indicators of health, as well as social and cultural conditioning. While reaching towards standards may not be inherently wrong, corralling wellness to popular standards of success and beauty is not inclusive and does not take into account what is often the true driver of lifestyle change: fear and avoidance.
I am not a therapist, nor a philosopher. That being said, I think we often make choices to avoid whatever form of failure we feel will make us less desirable, firstly to ourselves, and to other people. Failure has many faces, it can be doing poorly in school, preventable premature aging, failure of our immune systems to protect us from disease, failure to truly connect with a community, failure to love ourselves, failure to make it to the gym as much as we'd like. While avoiding any of these things is great, a journey driven by it is more likely to fall out of balance.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…”
- Nelson Mandela
Positive lifestyle changes driven by fear, are inherently unsustainable because wellness is about holistic balance, not the extreme highs and lows, nor the confining monotony that fear often drives us to. Though there is room for a conservative dose of these conditions, the product reflects the process. Someone looking to attain sustainable happiness and health, is much more likely to get there on a path that reflects those values.
I thought a lot about this balance of motivators when I started fasting. If I was going to be honest with myself, many of the choices I made surrounding wellness were less driven by wanting to uncover my greatness, and more so driven by fear of failure. We have the capacity for both great health, and deep illness, and I had been focusing on the latter. Rather than move towards an ideal, I was trying to sleep more, eat better, and exercise more to run away from the suffering I felt on my heels. Fasting was different though.
When I started fasting, I didn't know that it had been shown to lower inflammation, regulate hormones, support longevity and possibly reduce the risk of cancer, amongst other great benefits like changing your body mass composition etc. (1). I knew that a lot of people said it was a positive thing to do, I knew a lot of devoted spiritualists did it, and I knew that those whispers were muted by the roar of my own fear. Even if it was for a day, I was afraid to suffer. I was afraid of the pain of hunger and the weakness that comes with it. Weakness made much stronger in my imagination by the fear of feeling unable. In reality though, much like fear itself, hunger is in our mind MOST of the time. It is socially, emotionally and habitually ingrained in us that we must eat in just the right time increments, or collapse in on ourselves. It reality, we are much more resilient adaptable.
So, it was not to avoid weakness and failure that I fasted, it was to lean into the perception of it and prove that I could make it through, or at least that I wasn't too trapped by my own mind to try.
It turned out to be a heightened state awareness. The lack of food does cyclically heighten the stress hormone cortisol. There was also a calmness, a steady persistence. The morning passed. I was sharply hungry from 2 to 5. I accomplished a lot in the time I would have spent cooking, eating, and cleaning. The hunger waned, the sharpness of my mind softened, and it was time to sleep. By the time I woke, 34 hours since I had eaten I was no longer hungry. When I ate at 36 hours, it was not out of need, want, nor fear. More so, it was because I just didn't know what would happen if I kept going, and I had to guarantee I could show up fully for work.
Currently, I fast once a week. It's not clear for other benefits, but it has been shown that fasting for 24 hours, once a month, is the optimal length and frequency for improving longevity. I try to do a 36 hour fast at least twice a month, the others often end up being 21 to 24 hours long.
Here are a few guidelines that help me make the fast:
1 - LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
You will not push yourself too far if you are committed to listening to your body. If you are truly extremely hungry, light-headed, or constantly cold, these are signs that maybe today is not the day for your fast.
As with anything else, always ask your doctor before making big lifestyle changes. This is especially pertinent if you have diabetes, or any heart, circulatory, metabolic, or thyroid issues.
2 - BUILD UP TO IT WITH INTERMITTENT FASTING
You don't have to take the leap all at once. Play around with how your body feels if you only eat for a 12 hour window of the day. At your own pace, decrease the window to 10 hours, 8 hours, then 6 hours.
If you are intermittent fasting (IF) consistently, again, really pay attention to your body. How's your mood? Sleep patterns? Energy swings? Because of sex hormone differences and a higher amount of hunger hormone precursors, women are often more sensitive to fasting. Thus, more balanced IF windows (12-16 hours) can be more healthy and sustainable for people born female.
3 - EAT WELL LEADING UP TO IT
Your fast will be much less trying if you lead up to it with lots of healthy fats, proteins, and slow carbs. Avoid empty carbs like chips and white bread, and definitely stay away from excess sugar and too much alcohol.
4 - BUDDY UP
While preparing your body is important, preparing your mind is just as, if not more important for ensuring that you won't crumble under the weight of your own thoughts. My partner and I have set a day where we both fast and can be together during the windows that are hardest for us more often than not. For me, the hardest window of time is from 2 to 5. He tends to struggle more after 8 PM. Having someone there, helps remind me that I'll be ok and I can do it. Also, we can get silly together when the fast starts to make us feel a little whacky. ;)
5 - DRINK LOTS OF WATER
Make sure you're drinking a lot of water! This will help your body stay high-functioning and stretch your stomach's stretch-receptors so you feel slightly less hungry. I might also crack open a sparkling water or make a cup of coffee. Both of these should be done in moderation as you don't want too much carbonation to mess with your stomach, and too much caffeine to mess with your stress hormones.
NOTE: I rely on peer-reviewed research and well-cited articles for my information. Most of these links are not to the be-all and end-all sources, but describe what I've read elsewhere in a straightforward and understandable way. If you decide to dive in further, I hope these help!