Fasting is not a fad diet, and it certainly isn’t new. In fact, the ritual dates back centuries — when the Greek physician Hippocrates was known to suggest that patients not eat or drink to alleviate some illnesses.
But while fasting, by which we mean abstaining from ingesting calories for some period of time, continued for religious and ethical reasons, it is also having a resurgence for health purposes lately as well. And it’s becoming an especially popular way to try to lose weight, since it seems easier to change when that what you eat.
While fasting is, at its core, a deprivation of calories, if you’re looking to fast for weight loss there are some things you should know about how and when to fast for maximum effectiveness. You may want to know tips for actually achieving a fast, how to best pair a fasting method to your preferred workout, and what food and nutritional items you should keep stocked in your pantry.
And of course we’ve got the lowdown on how to do all of this while still saving money so both your body and your bank account see the benefits!
Religious vs. Health Fasting
Historically, fasting is known to be done for religious or cultural reasons. But while religious fasts are performed for spiritual purposes, fasting can also be done to affect physical health.
When it comes to fasting for religion, the idea usually centers around sacrifice and self-discipline, and those concepts are useful when fasting for health and weight loss as well, so more people than ever are incorporating fasting, particularly intermittent fasting (IF), into their lives for health and weight loss purposes, not solely due to their religion.
Medical Benefits of Fasting
What we put into our bodies gives them the information and tools with which to function. It also has a strong effect on our energy level and ability to focus. So while a lot of nutritionists focus on healthy eating habits, including consuming high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water in our food, habits of when we eat may be equally as important.
Many who have tried fasting say that they feel increased energy and a sense of well-being both during and after their fast. Not only are there feelings of physical lightness, but fasting may retrain the body to convert energy from fats which boosts natural energy levels.
Among the health benefits that have been identified in various studies and trials, researchers have found that some health benefits of fasting could include decreased inflammation, lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and boosted brain function with the increased generation of nerve cells. Fasting may improve blood sugar control and reduce insulin resistance. And a pretty large body of research has found that fasting can have a dramatic effect on boosting metabolism and aiding in weight loss.
Tips for Fasting
Now, for better or worse, periods of deprivation of food can change a body’s immunological and metabolic responses. We’ve shared some of the health benefits of fasting, but you should know that fasting can change blood sugar levels, digestion, sleep patterns, and weight loss.
Fasting is not right for everyone. Speak to a doctor before attempting any form of fasting, but if you find that fasting may be right for you, follow these general tips to ensure that your fast is effective and efficient:
Drink plenty of water and calorie-free drinks. Since much of our bodies’ water intake actually comes from food, it won’t be receiving its usual amount of water. So take frequent sips throughout the day. As an added benefit, this also helps you to feel less hungry!
Try not to think about food.
Try to fast at times when you are very busy or plan distractions to keep you from obsessing about the food you are not eating. Watching a movie, listening to a podcast, reading a book, or even meditating might focus your mind on something else. And if that doesn’t work, switching your location has been known to help change your state of mind. Get out of the house and go for a walk!
A walk during a fasting is actually a perfect source of movement. In fact, exercise while fasting can be a great way to increase its effects for weight loss. Keep in mind, however, that gentle exercise is recommended. When your body doesn’t have stored energy from food isn’t the best time to go all out at exercise boot camp!
Make every calorie count. This means that when you do break your fast, select nutrient-dense foods with strong flavor that can help reduce feelings of hunger and will contribute to your overall health.
How Fasting Can Work with Exercise
To lose weight, the equation is simple: calories consumed must be less than calories burned every day. But it isn’t easy — or safe! — to deprive oneself of food and energy needed to perform life’s basic functions, so controlling the number of calories inputted in a day isn’t about starvation, but rather self-control.
Some turn to intermittent fasting, or timing meals and nutrient intake in cycles over periods of the day, with exercise on top of IF to increase its benefits.
Fasting and exercise can work together, and when done properly and safely, some believe this can lead to higher weight loss. This is because, when exercising during fasting, the body needs to find new stores of energy, so it turns to burning stored fat faster.
It works like this: The body converts carbohydrates from food into a type of sugar known as glucose. The body stores glucose as glycogen. This glycogen stored in the body from carbs is the body’s first choice to burn when it needs energy. But during fasting periods, the body’s glycogen stores are depleted or empty, so when exercising, instead of using glycogen, the body needs to start burning fat.
It is worth noting, however, that a 2014 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and featured in Medical News Today found that people who fasted overnight and exercised did not lose more weight than people who ate before exercise, and another study comparing IF with diets that simply include calorie intake restrictions did not find differences in the amount of weight each study group lost.
Best Times for Fasting
There are about as many ways of fasting as that are time periods of the day, and different styles work for different people. Some choose to simply skip meals, but others prefer a more regimented approach.
Here are a few of the most popular methods of fasting:
Just as it sounds, in 12-hour fasting, a person will choose a 12 hour window during which they will not consume any calories. Included in that 12 hour time frame can be the hours a person is sleeping. And because most of this time is during sleep, it can be easier to maintain and is the most popular type of fasting to start. Participants will tack on several hours of fasting during the evening before bed or in the morning after waking.
The 16:8 method also allows for sleep, but is a bit more restrictive, only leaving a window of eight hours in the day when eating can occur. When using this method, people usually finish their evening meal by 8 PM and then skip breakfast entirely, consuming their main meal of the day when they can break their fast about noon.
5:2 Fasting “Diets”
Instead of choosing some hours to fast, some people select a couple of days out of their week to consume less calories. The 5:2 fasting “diet” asks that participants eat standard amounts of healthy foods for five days out of the week but reduce calorie intake to 500 or 600 calories total on the other two days.
Alternate Day Fasting
The basic idea of alternate day fasting is simple: You fast on one day and then eat what you want the next. Sometimes known as the “Every Other Day Diet,” some participants find this more sustainable.
The effects of any of these fasting methods are variable, and fasters should consider their own goals and hunger tolerances when deciding to adopt any of them into their lifestyle. Also keep in mind that overeating or eating junk foods cancels out the benefits of fasting, so the concept of self-control is pervasive in all aspects.
Products for Fasting
Did you know that while fasting, you can consume some items that don’t contain calories?
During a fast you should absolutely drink water — plain or carbonated — which can keep you hydrated. Many fasters also sip coffee or tea, without any added cream, sugar, or milk, of course. Diluted apple cider vinegar is also a tool used during a fast that helps to prevent cravings.
There are also a wide variety of supplements that can help ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake.
And when you’re ready to break your fast, it’s best to ease out of it gently. Introduce food in small portions that won’t overwhelm your digestive system, like smoothies, dried fruits, bone broths and soups, vegetables, fermented foods, and healthy fats. Focus on foods that don’t have too much sugar, fat, or fiber and can be easily digested.
You may be searching for specific products to help you maintain a fast, but know that most are simply in the aisles of your local grocery or market. And when you fast… you should also Fetch!
Fetch can help you earn cash back on all of the items you use while fasting — or fasting and working out — to lose the most weight while saving the most money. To take advantage, just download the Fetch app to your smartphone and snap your receipts each time you make purchases like that essential water, those vitamins, or the healthful groceries you’re allowed to eat during non-fasting hours.
And while your mind shouldn’t be on food, it doesn’t need to be preoccupied with tracking down special savings offers either. So remember that in lieu of uploading receipts, you can set it and forget it by using Fetch’s Digital Receipt Program to automatically connect your email accounts or digital consumer accounts to your Fetch account.
Every single receipt earns you something, from anything you purchase to stay hydrated to the Blue Apron meal kit you order when you are obsessing over what you’ll be able to eat when the fasting period is over. And when your receipt includes Fetch partner brands like PepsiCo hydration products including LIFEWTR, propel, Aquafina, bubly, or H2OH!, you’ll even earn points to get you a gift card more quickly.
You can even nab extra on the Gatorade Zero (only 10 calories!) you’ll be sipping post work-out and the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream you sneak in on your cheat days! That’s right, specific products found on each receipt may earn you even more Fetch points — that all accumulate toward a free gift card at various of your favorite travel destinations, restaurants, and stores. Simply open the Fetch app and click “view all” on the homepage to see every brand and item that could be earning you free gift cards to stores that — like fasting — can make you look and feel your best, or any of dozens of others for fashion, travel, or even to spoil your pets!
We know that just because you’re fasting doesn’t mean you don’t want to indulge in other healthy pursuits. Treat yourself with the very best deals and earn even more points with Fetch’s Special Offers made just for your own shopping habits. Just tap on the “Discover” tab in your app to find new products — and likely some items that are great for your fasting experience — that can offer you a combination of Fetch points and bonus points to get the strongest deals and make the biggest impact.
Yes, you can save money by fasting and working out. Slim down with fasting as a method of proving your self-control, but don’t sacrifice on savings!
Kate Michael is a Writer, Emcee, On-Camera Host and Fashion/Commercial Model.