Fasting RationaleRecognising that our ancestors did not have a consistent food supply and that our bodies function better when sometimes given a rest from the burden of digestion was a liberating moment. It freed me from the misguided shackles of the 5-meals-a-day mantra which is frequently chanted by shake peddlers, carb munchers, snack bar manufacturers and others whom it suits to keep us within 50 yards of a refrigerator at all times. I also find it a great way to achieve digestive stability.
My fasts are typically between one evening meal and the next. I am supposed to be emulating the random nature of ancestral living, but tend to pick Tuesdays and Saturdays because for a creature of routine like myself, being entirely random does not come easily; I figure my digestion doesn't understand what a week is, so as far my body is concerned, it's random.
Here are my four most common feasting and fasting scenarios:
Preemptive: I tend to eat more than usual the evening before a fast.
Post-fast: at the end of a fast, I tend to eat more than normal.
Preemptive: I often fast on days I know I will be having a large evening meal.
Post-feast: I often fast the day after after an unexpectedly large evening meal.
You may question whether preemptive feasting or fasting are in the spirit of ancestral living - one could argue neither would make much sense in a hunter gatherer context - but I won't digress here.
License for GluttonyOver Christmas and new year, I believe I used the principles of intermittent fasting as a license for gluttony. There were a number of meals arranged with friends or family where I knew there would be several courses. To prepare for the larger intake of food, I preemptively fasted. On each occasion, I then ate far more than intended. Far more. Likely causes of this shameless gluttony were: a) the food was tastier than usual (and, let's be honest, less strictly hunter gatherer), b) they were was social occasions, c) there was a massive surplus of food which it seemed only polite to help reduce and d) I was especially hungry because I had been fasting.
The following day, having gone to bed with a distended abdomen and a vague sense of self-loathing, I would arise with a determination to use a post-feast fast to achieve calorific parity and cleanse my system of the overload it had just suffered.
I blogged about one of these meals here last week. Skip to the Success and Gluttony section for the relevant part.
Eating DisordersBefore I go any further, I should explain that I do understand what eating disorders are. I am able to speak from a position of at least a little experience, having been close to two sufferers, one with anorexia and the other, bulimia. I am aware that the most significant drivers for eating disorders centre around control and self-esteem and that the condition has often arisen as a reaction to traumatic circumstances in sufferers' lives.
The point I want to make is that it's easy to cloak one's guilt about gaining weight and overeating in the hunter gatherer rationale. If I am totally honest, my primary concern during my own recent feasts and fasts was being able eat a large amount of food without gaining body fat. I felt guilty when I ate too much food and to compensate for this, starved myself the following day. Once I had a taste for excess, I did this several times.
Did my plan work? No. Next time I post my body composition graph, you'll see quite how badly it failed.
I don't have an eating disorder and unless something profound happens, I never will. I am lucky enough to have none of the personal circumstances typically required to precipitate one. Yes, I am fixated on maintaining a lean, muscular body and see unwanted body fat where others see nothing - but that makes me obsessive, not anorexic; but I can't help wondering whether there are a small number of people with less emotionally stable circumstances for whom intermittent fasting becomes a gateway to something less beneficial.
More InformationIn case you are interested in understanding eating disorders a little more, here is the website I used to refresh my memory about some of the issues. I stress that I have not researched the topic extensively, nor looked into the background of this site - so I offer this link without any assurances of probity or quality.
As for intermittent fasting, the IF Life is a good blog for understanding the benefits and techniques.