24-hour fasting experiment

What is fasting?

In simple words, fasting = not eating. There are several of protocols used as therapeutic fasting or fasting-mimicking diets (e.g. intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, calorie/protein restriction).

Why fast?

There have been many experiments conducted in all sorts of critters (from yeast to humans) to study the impacts of fasting. Results from both non-human and human studies suggest that fasting could extend lifespan, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, prevent neurodegenerative disease, improve cognition, reduce cancer growth and enhance metabolic function, among other health benefits. The mechanisms behind those effects include the production of ketones and their role as an energy source for the brain, the reduction of blood glucose and insulin, and the stimulation of apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagy (cellular cleanup process).

The aim of this post is not to cover all aspects of fasting therapies, but to report on my n=1 experiment. If you’re interested in learning more about fasting/fasting-mimicking diets, here are some resources:

On to the experiment

I have been thinking about doing this experiment for a few years but life always got in the way. The opportunity presented itself when my husband had to travel for a job interview (I find it easier to experiment with my diet when he’s not around).

My last meal was Sunday lunch. I had had neck and shoulder pain for a few weeks, so I went for a massage, then came back home, watched a documentary and did some work. I drank several cups of warm water and didn’t feel hungry until 20:30ish. I did a short meditation, prepared my stuff for the next day and went to bed around 21:30. I was expecting having trouble falling asleep due to:

  • Not having done any physical activity
  • Being slightly hungry
  • Having trouble sleeping when my neck hurts
  • My personal heater (i.e. husband) being away

I was awake until 3:00. My alarm buzzed at 6:00, so I had a grand total of 3 hours of sleep. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so I decided to get up and go on with my day.

I got to work half hour earlier than usual. By then I could recognise the signs of full ketosis: a clear brain and low body temperature. Hunger came and went but didn’t last long. I contemplated having my morning coffee as per usual (after all, it has negligible energy and zero protein) but decided to stick to water.

The hardest part, surprisingly, was not flicking through Instagram food photos, but smelling my coworkers’ lunches around noon. I normally eat at noon but this time I had to wait until 13:00 to complete the 24 hours. I’d say the last hour was probably the hardest, also because I finished the work I was doing so had nothing pressing to keep me distracted. I ate my lunch plus a few handfuls of macadamias sprinkled with sea salt not because I was hungry, but to make sure I was making up for some of the calories that were not consumed during the experiment. I kept drinking water throughout the day.

That night I did a Krav Maga class as per usual, and surprisingly didn’t feel any shortage of energy nor strength, despite having slept only 3 hours and eaten just one meal within the previous ~30 hours. The lack of sleep didn’t hit me at all, but I’m not sure if I can attribute this to fasting.

Parting thoughts

From what I’ve read, I think there is compelling evidence to suggest fasting once in a while is beneficial. It makes sense that lack of energy intake would elicit a hormetic response and allow cellular cleaning processes to occur. It also makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that we should not have food in our bodies 24/7.

My plan is to implement fasting periods of varying durations whenever there is an opportunity (e.g. travel, periods off training such as dealing with injuries, etc.).

The oats + AltShift experiment

Several months ago, I blogged about the porridge experiment. I ate rice porridge with black sesame, walnuts and goji berries for a few weeks to make the Chinese doctor happy. I attributed my positive health results to the herbs and went back to eating my normal (irregular) breakfast. Well, turns out that my chi has been declining again and the Chinese doctor gave me another breakfast talk. This time she did specifically mention the word “oats” and “every morning”, in order to boost my spleen chi. She also said to have ginger and cinnamon daily, which I don’t mind because I love both, and, most importantly, a glass of red wine every night. Woo hoo!

I’ll be honest and say I freaked out a bit about having oats for breakfast every morning. First, I hadn’t had oats since 2011 and I wasn’t sure how they would affect my blood sugar, hunger and inflammatory reactions to gluten (no, oats are not gluten free). Second, I’ve been doing AltShift since January 2nd with great success and I wasn’t sure if it made sense to try to fit the porridge macros into the plan. But I’m a scientist and a curious person by nature so I decided it was an experiment worth doing.

I don’t have a sweet tooth anymore so I’ve been making my porridge savoury. I cook the oats with either water or broth, mix it with fresh microplaned ginger, sometimes cinnamon, sometimes turmeric and eat it as part of my breakfast. I asked the Chinese doctor if I could eat other things with the porridge (e.g. eggs) and she said I should eat EVERYTHING. Yay! The glutton foodie inside me rejoiced. Because I’m still doing AltShift to the best of my ability, I do 1/2 serve of porridge on 5S, plus eggs or sardines. Sometimes I add a couple teaspoons of chia seeds that I soak in water while the oats cook, and/or a piece of butter at the end. On 3S days I have a full serve of porridge plus egg whites (mixed in), or tuna in water (separate). I normally add kimchi or sauerkraut on both shifts.

Savoury porridge with butter, boiled eggs, ginger and kimchi

Savoury porridge with butter, boiled eggs, ginger and kimchi

Savoury porridge with egg whites, ginger and turmeric

Savoury porridge with egg whites, ginger and turmeric

Savoury porridge with egg whites and kimchi

Savoury porridge with egg whites and kimchi

Savoury porridge with eggs and kimchi

Savoury porridge with eggs and kimchi

Because I’ve been eating a fairly big breakfast I don’t feel hungrier than normal. I have noticed I’m a bit more sleepy in the morning, but that could be a number of things. The biggie has been my reaction to gluten. I was fine with 1/2 dose but my reflux came back with the full dose. To rule out if it was the gluten content in regular oats (I was using Macro organic quick cooking oats), I bought a bag of uncontaminated oats, which claim to have < 3 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. It might be placebo effect but I do feel better with the uncontaminated oats. Regardless, having a whack (or half a whack) of grains at breakfast has made my digestion a bit slower. My pulse has gotten better, but I don't know if it's the oats or the acupuncture treatment the Chinese doctor gave me concurrently, or both. Anyway, things seem to be moving in the right direction for the most part, so I'll keep doing what I'm doing for a while.

My experiment with the Bulletproof® protein fasting

A while ago I listened to a lecture by Dave Asprey in the Living La Vida Low Carb podcast. While I don’t agree with everything Asprey says, when he mentioned his protein fasting protocol I remembered hearing solid stuff related to this concept from Mat Lalonde. It made sense, so I decided to give it a go. According to the Bulletproof® Diet‘s infographic, the Bulletproof® protein fasting is “a biohack used occasionally to get a greater reduction in inflammation. About 1-2 times a week, limit your protein intake to 15-25g to help cleanse your inner-cells without muscle loss. To keep you full and energized, consume a cup of Bulletproof® Coffee in the morning and have high fats and moderate carbs throughout the day. For optimal results, follow the green portion of the diet [non starchy veggies] and limit carbohydrates to the afternoon and evening.”

That inner-cell cleansing process is call autophagy and is triggered when fasting and when consuming very little protein. Asprey says that when he started tinkering with this approach he was consuming about 25g of protein found that below 15g gave him better results. I didn’t measure my intake (mostly because I know there’s a lot of variability in the nutrient content of foods) but I tried to stay away from everything that has some protein in it, such as dairy (other than butter), eggs and nuts.

Image by Maria and Peter Hoey for The Scientist Magazine, February 2012

My experiment ran for 5 weeks and I felt it helped reset my body, particularly around the Xmas holidays. I’m travelling at the moment, but I see no reason to not resume this approach once I’m “back to normal”. Below is my food/activity log.

16/12/2013

  • Breakfast: Mountain coffee (Thr1ve)
  • Lunch: large salad with baby spinach, pumpkin, slivered almonds, walnuts, olives, carrots, double extra avocado, olive oil (Sumo Salad)
  • Snack: 50 g Spiral Foods coconut paste
  • Exercise: pilates
  • Dinner: 1 bowl gingered zucchini soup (Well Fed 2), ~6 plantain chips
  • Before bed: 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tbsp potato starch, 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tsp Natural Calm (magnesium powder)
  • Notes: felt clear and alert, especially in the a.m. Not hungrier than usual. A little bit cold. Woke up the next day starving but hunger went away during exercise (normal).

26/12/2013

  • Breakfast: Bulletproof coffee, Clipper detox tea
  • Early lunch: salad with baby spinach, radishes, cucumbers, avocado, olives, mug of gingered zucchini soup (Well Fed 2)
  • Snack: piece of cacao butter
  • Snack: 1/5 banana, square of 100% chocolate
  • Dinner: bowl of gingered zucchini soup (Well Fed 2), big coleslaw (savoy cabbage, carrots, olive oil mayo), 1/3 banana with coconut milk, teaspoon of coconut ice cream
  • Before bed: tablespoon of creamed coconut, 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tsp Natural Calm (magnesium powder) and 1 teaspoon of Melrose Organics Essential Greens
  • Exercise: none
  • Notes: a bit tired after a day of drinking and eating, but not too much. Not cold, a bit hungry. Normal thirst. Normal hunger the next day, normal strength and energy in workout (strength & met con).

02/01/2013

  • Breakfast: Bulletproof coffee, Clipper detox tea
  • Lunch: salad with mixed greens, grilled balsamic pumpkin (Well Fed 2), big avocado, big handful of olives, few gherkins, lemon juice
  • Exercise: walk to and from work (approx. 2:10 hours in total)
  • Dinner: raw carrot, bowl of gingered zucchini soup (Well Fed 2) with 1 tablespoon Pepe Saya butter
  • Snack: 2 stuffed green olives
  • Before bed: 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tsp Natural Calm (magnesium powder), 2 cod liver oil capsules
  • Notes: got cold and a bit hungry around noon and around 4 pm. Normal hunger and energy the next day (rode bike to Sydney Park, did hill sprints, rode bike back home and walked to work)

06/01/2014

  • Breakfast: Bulletproof coffee, Clipper detox tea
  • Lunch: mug of chicken broth, pizza vegetables (Well Fed 2, sans meat – note: it’s WAY better with meat), white tea
  • Snack: large avocado, salt
  • Exercise: pilates
  • Dinner: bowl of sweet potato & garlic soup, 2 tablespoons of creamed coconut
  • Before bed: 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tsp Natural Calm (magnesium powder)
  • Notes: felt a bit cold mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Normal hunger. Bad sleep and low motility due to stress. Woke up hungry the next day.

13/01/2014

  • Exercise: weights (push press, front squats, clean pulls, 3 sets of 1-arm standing row + box jumps, front + side planks)
  • Breakfast: 300 ml carrot and orange juice
  • Lunch: salad with baby spinach, avocado, olives, roasted eggplant, roasted capsicum, roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, lemon juice and olive oil, long black (Mero Mero), Clipper detox tea
  • Snack: ~2 Tbsp frozen Spiral Organics coconut paste
  • Dinner: salad with cucumber, grated carrot, steamed broccoli, olives, gherkins, olive oil, ~6 dry-roasted cashews
  • Snack: square of Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt, small square of 100% dark chocolate
  • Before bed: ~1 tablespoon Pepe Saya butter, 3/4 cup water with ~1 rounded tsp Natural Calm (magnesium powder)
  • Notes: felt a bit cold mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Normal hunger. Didn’t wake up hungry the next day. Normal energy and strength on the day and the next day.