How to Shift to a Fasting Lifestyle: Week One

By Jay Richards Published on March 1, 2018

This is the seventh piece in a series on how to develop a fasting lifestyle. Read the entire series here.

Many of you reading this series are ready for me to get down to business. I know because you’ve posted comments on Facebook and sent me texts saying, in effect, “Enough already with the throat clearing. Tell me what to do!”

I hear you. So, in this piece, I’ll explain what to do for the first week to help you shift to a fasting lifestyle. Taking a cue from Lent, this startup phase is part of a 4-5 week plan. You could draw it out over 2-3 months if you prefer. Or, you could compress it and do the whole thing in a week, but that’s not a great idea.

Disclaimers

(1) Are you a child, severely underweight, pregnant or nursing? Then you probably shouldn’t fast. Do you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, take hormones or have metabolic problems? If so, check with your doctor about fasting. You should find a doctor who knows about fasting and ketogenic diets, beyond what he or she picked up in the lounge in medical school. (Here’s a list of such doctors.) Myths and prejudices are as common among physicians and nutritionists as they are in the general public.

(2) If you have severely high blood pressure, talk to your doctor.

(3) I’m not a physician, so you should not take what follows as medical advice.

(4) I’m not saying that this is only way to fast or to eat.

(5) I think this method is the best one for most people most of the time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t commend it. But humans are complicated, so your mileage may vary.

(6) I don’t propose a vegan or vegetarian diet, but I know there’s more than one path to the fasting lifestyle (which is our goal). When I was thirty, I ate a very low fat, high protein, high complex carb diet. I was as fit as I’ve ever been. (I was also hungry all the time and found fasting very hard.) The Okinawans are famously healthy, even though for decades they’ve eaten a high carb, low fat (and low sugar) diet based on white rice.

(7) I can’t give all the reasons and background evidence for the steps, without turning this series into a book. So, check out the links for background information and evidence.

Week One: Hello Fat, Goodbye Carbs

For your first week, eat as often as you normally do. Don’t overeat but don’t try to cut back. If you’re hungry, eat food. If you’re thirsty, drink water. Even when you aren’t thirsty, drink water.

Hide the scale. You’ll be busy changing the macronutrients in your diet: that is, the fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

The basic rule for this week is simple: Natural fat is your friend. Sugar, simple carbs and starches are your enemies. For the next few weeks, you will abstain from them.

Get most of your calories from fat (at least 75%). Get as much protein as you need, but no more than 20% of total calories should be protein. Get only a tiny amount from carbs (about 5% of total calories). You should keep your total carbs under 50 grams a day. If you’re insulin resistant, you may need to keep it below 30 grams. 

That means, for carbs, you should stick with green vegetables that grow above ground.

No grains.

No starchy plants or beans.

No sweet fruit (for now).

No sugar. No sugary drinks. No sugary syrups. Zilch. Nada.

You’ll even reduce your use of artificial sweeteners. If you need something to taste sweet, use a little liquid stevia. I’ll explain why later.

Fat Straight Up

As the foundation of your diet, eat natural fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, butter, heavy cream, full fat sour cream, and ghee (clarified butter). Whatever you prefer. Scoop it into your coffee and your tea. I don’t mean milk or half and half. I don’t mean yogurt. I mean butter and cream. Whip the cream if you want, but don’t add sugar. (I have a dairy intolerance, so I use coconut oil and coconut cream.)

Extra Fat Please

Eat fatty meats. If you eat chicken, include the skin and the dark meat. Fish? Cook it with oil. Bacon? Keep the fat. Hamburger meat? Skip the 93% lean. Go for the 70% lean, which is 30% fat. Fry it in a skillet so you won’t lose the fat. Do the same with steaks and sausage.

Eat eggs cooked in natural oils. No eggs white omelets. Eat the whole egg plus the fat it’s cooked in.

You can eat high-fat plants such as avocadoes and olives, as well as nuts such as pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almonds. And high fat cheese. But not too much, since these also contain protein and some carbs.

If you’re like me, you’ll resist the call to eat more fat. You’ll think: “If low carb is good, low carb and low fat must be better.” You’ll want to pick the fat off the bacon (a thirty-year habit for me). You’ll want to keep your protein too high relative to fat. You’ll want to pull the greasy skin off the chicken and eat a skinless grilled chicken breast. Don’t do that.

Or, maybe you’re not like me, in which case you can just enjoy yourself.

Fats and Greens

Cook spinach, bok choy, celery, broccoli, kale and other leafy greens in your favorite natural fat. For cooking, pick fats that are solid at room temperature, such as coconut oil or butter.

Eat green salads with lots of olive oil.

Avoid manufactured “vegetable” oils — canola, soy, corn, rapeseed. They have problems. They won’t kill you in the short run. But the best thing that can be said for them is that there’s no good reason to consume them. (The claim that they’re healthier than natural fats is doubtful at best.)

Top Ten Green vegetables

You don’t need to make weird, low-carb substitutes for potatoes, pasta and bread. Fats, meats, and vegetables are actual foods that people eat. Focus on those for now. That said, there are thousands of great recipes online for those following a “ketogenic diet,” which is what this is. You can make some of these recipes to add a little variety. See here and here and here.

Why Am I Doing This?

Why lose the carbs and raise the fats? It will shift your body’s metabolism to fat-burning, which you’ll need for serious fasting.

Here’s a super simple summary of a very complex story. Forget the calorie-is-a calorie myth you learned in school. This might be true as far as the physics is concerned, but it’s irrelevant. It ignores the fact that the body isn’t an inert system. It responses and adapts to inputs. Calories-in affect calories-out. Plus different foods do different things to our bodies. A hundred calories of table sugar and a hundred calories of spinach just aren’t the same thing.

Fasting for Body and Soul Jay Richards 2 - 600

Your body uses hormones to control what it does with food. A key player in this story is insulin, a hormone released by your pancreas. One of insulin’s jobs is to keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels from getting too high. It’s a gatekeeper: It tells your body whether to store extra sugars and fats as body fat, or to burn fat from your diet and fat stores for energy.

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Carbs raise your blood sugar and so provoke an insulin response. That includes starches, such as corn and potatoes. Some carbs, like sugar and refined grains, really spike blood sugar and insulin. When sugar enters the system, the pancreas deploys insulin to send the sugar into your liver and muscles. But they can hold only so much. The spillover ends up being stored as fat.

Leafy green vegetables have carbs, but these plants are mostly water and fiber by weight. Their fiber and other carbs take your body a long time to process, and so they don’t raise your blood sugar or insulin much. In fact, they probably keep your blood sugar and insulin lower over the long term.

Protein and Insulin

Protein is not a neutral party here. It also raises insulin, though not as much as carbs. And the effect is muted if the protein comes into your system with plenty of fat and fiber. So, long story short, you should eat enough protein to meet your needs, but no more. That will likely be at least 1/2 gram per pound of ideal body weight. It could be as high as 1 gram per pound of ideal body weight, but only if you work out hard, five or six times a week.

That’s why, for now, you want to avoid too much pure protein, as with chicken breast and canned tuna. If you eat these, mix them with natural fat.

Here’s a new food pyramid to help you remember. Print this out and put it someplace near the food in your house.

Keto Food Pyramid

Keto Food Pyramid courtesy of Essential Keto

Lots of Water and Salt

A couple of other things to keep in mind: You need to drink a lot of water. The experts often say eight, eight-once glasses a day. I drink more than twice that: a gallon of water a day, not counting the water from foods, coffee, tea, and broth.

If You’re Still Worried …

This plan is based on solid science, years of clinical practice from informed physicians and nutritionists, and the testimony of thousands of self-experimenters, including me. For most people, it will work and you’ll be healthier for it.

To do this, though, you’ll have to ignore the busybodies who tell you you’re clogging your arteries and killing yourself. If possible, don’t tell them what you’re doing.

If you still hear their voices inside your head, then get a complete blood panel beforehand, and then another a couple months after you’ve started this.

You should make sure the doctor knows about fasting and ketogenic diets. In the second tests, look especially at blood triglycerides, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and fasting blood glucose. Total cholesterol is less important than the ratio of HDL to LDL. An HDL score of 50 is good. Above 70 is great. For triglycerides, under 100 (mg/dL) is good. Under 70 is great.

You can also do an NMR Lipoprofile test, which gives more of the relevant details.

Note the ratio of triglycerides to HDL. (See more details here.)

Besides water, you need to bump up your intake of salt. Add extra salt to your food. Put a pinch in your water. Drink chicken bouillon. You can even add salt to your coffee and tea. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it for a few weeks.

This is very important. When you’re on a high carb diet, your body holds onto water. When you ditch the carbs, out goes the water, and with it, electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Especially at first. Millions of people who have tried the low-carb Atkins diet over the last several decades felt flu-like symptoms. They thought dizziness, nausea, and headaches were just part of the process. You should expect some trouble when switching your fuel source. But you can avoid much of this “ketoflu” by guzzling water and boosting your salt. (I also supplement with magnesium, potassium and calcium.)

Why hide the scale? Because right now, you’re learning how to fast, not lose weight. You will probably lose weight this week, even as you increase your fat intake. But it will mostly be water weight. (Jim Gaffigan has some insights on this.)

That’s it. It’s just the beginning. But you can do it.

Next up, I’ll explain more of the logic of this approach.

 

Jay Richards is the Executive Editor of The Stream and an Assistant Research Professor in the Busch School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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  • Hmmm…

    This is the eating program Dr. Don Colbert promotes, currently airing on BVOV. It’s good to see it explained further here. Definitely printing out. Thanks

  • Paul

    Another great installment in this series.

  • Sarah Pierzchala

    Great summary. I’ve been eating like this for about a year and feel great. For folks worried about getting bored with the food choices on keto, check out the amazing recipes on Pinterest!

    • Paul

      The hardest part for us is dining out. Avoiding carbs and junk oils eliminates the vast majority of the options.

  • David Reinwald

    Excellent! This way of eating will actually “lower” your triglycerides (good) and raise your HDL cholesterol (also good). It also makes your LDL cholesterol “healthier” (which is great). Perhaps you’ll touch on this later. Thanks!!!

  • Hmmm…

    What about all that salt? Why?

    • Paul

      Here’s a link that helps explain…just copy to browser and replace the (DOT)

      ketogenic(DOT)com/overview/importance-electrolytes-ketogenic-diet/

      • Hmmm…

        Yes, thanks, part of the electrolytes. The other minerals are understood, but there’s so much salt in most foods that we have all stopped sprinkling salt on it a long time ago. It would be hard now to think it would be needed and not be harmful to our systems as we have learned.

        • Paul

          Ah yes, well the salt is lurking in the processed foods. When we headed down this road we mostly left those behind. But to be clearer, we went the paleo diet route which focuses on organic foods as well

  • G Hazel

    My feeling is “I want to do this” but also “I’m going to wait until I see the whole program”.

    • Hmmm…

      Really. You have to get an overall picture and then what exactly to do. I don’t get how you evaluate from recipes and so forth your balanced intake, but that may not be relevant per se. Got a book coming from Dr. Colbert, who is into this as well, which will help with that. Hopefully, there is agreement among keto folks, lol. It’s good to have recipes available from various places.

      • Paul

        “Hopefully, there is agreement among keto folks, lol.”

        That might be like expecting every member of your church to agree.

        You’ll mostly find agreement on the basics but there will be smaller differences in the details.

        • Hmmm…

          Good point. Have you been doing this long enough to have some cholesterol tests back?

          • Paul

            Yes, my numbers improved along with BP and I lost a lot of weight which probably helped as well. My basic description of my diet is eating meat and green vegetables, but like Jay is saying it is a little more detailed than that. Things we generally avoid are wheat products like pasta and breads, grain oils, refined sugars, fake sugars, starchy veggies like potatoes, etc and for what what we do eat we try to get organics as a starting point, but for meats try to get things like all grass fed beef (no corn feed), free range poultry and eggs, no usage of antibiotics or especially hormone injections, etc. As I’ve heard it said, eating critters who ate what God designed them to eat.

            As for veggies, search online for “organic dirty dozen” to discover the stuff most likely to be heavily treated with herbicides and pesticides.

            Fruits are tricky, lots of good nutrients in them but my activity level is often low and the weight piles on quick if I over-indulge.

            Also there are misconceptions about what organic means. It is now a legal term in the US in that a farmer has to abide by the rules set forth by the feds to be certified organic.

            Lastly Jay is absolutely right, without the carb cravings it is much easier to fast. Hunger takes on a whole different paradigm. Basically I used to be a carb addict, living from fix to fix (called meals) and being miserable if I missed one thinking that was hunger. With the body getting its energy from fat in ketosis it can burn fat instead of making it from excess carbs. I skip a meal and have no carb withdrawals, the body is easily using its own fat reserves for energy since that is what it is already doing in ketosis.

            Sorry for the TMI, but the more we’ve embraced this the better off we have been and encourage others to take a look. This article series could be extremely significant to the church if embraced, offering improvements in physical and spiritual health.

          • Hmmm…

            Super; thanks for sharing.

          • seasonedwsalt

            Like your wisdom. Thanks for sharing. Agree about the church. Should be a shining example to the world..in all things including how we treat our temples of God.

  • seasonedwsalt

    I’ve been doing keto for 3 weeks. Feel great. Lost 10 lbs. More energy.
    This is a very helpful explanation for what I’ve already started with good biblical counsel.
    Excited to read on to learn more of fasting for the purpose of hearing from God.

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