Variations of Alternate Day Fasting

Depending on what you hope to achieve by alternate day fasting, there are a few ways to approach it.

Weight Loss

If your main goal is weight loss, then you have two options. You can either completely refrain from eating on fasting days, which is the fastest way to lose weight. Or if you find this too hard, you can opt to eat roughly 500 calories on your fasting days to help keep your hunger at bay but still have a substantial enough caloric deficit to induce weight loss.

Personally, I find it just easier to not eat anything at all because once I start eating, it’s a slippery slope for me. Not only is counting calories a hassle and an inexact science, but once I start eating, there’s always the temptation to eat more. It’s very easy to unconsciously convince yourself that it’s okay to eat just a little more because you probably haven’t eaten 500 calories yet, when in fact, you’re already over 500 calories.  Or you could accidentally sabotage your efforts to lose weight by just simply being really bad at counting calories. Even after trying numerous caloric restriction diets over the years, I have no real confidence in my counting ability. On a 2000 calorie diet, I think I could easily be off by as much as 500 calories. But if you simply decide that you’re not going to eat anything, then there’s no two bits about it. No food enters your mouth. Fullstop. There’s no ambiguity to deal with. Caloric intake: 0

Health Benefits

If your main goal is health benefits, meaning detox and healing of your body, or health benefits and weight loss, then the only way to go is to completely refrain from eating on fasting days. This will give your digestive system a complete rest and a chance to heal your body.

If you have a cut or gash or wound on your skin, you know that for it to heal quickly and properly, it’s of the utmost importance to first clean the wound before bandaging. Similarly, if your digestive tract has any cuts or nicks that need to heal, the wound has to be clean for it to be given a chance to heal. If you’re constantly consuming food, it’s akin to putting dirt in your wound. It’s never going to heal.

Therefore, if you’re looking to heal your digestive tract, then it’s imperative that you completely refrain from eating on fasting days. While it might be harder for you, the benefits are well worth the extra effort.

Dry vs. Wet

There is one more decision to make when completely refraining from eating. Do you also want to completely refrain from drinking water?

Dry fasting is refraining from not only eating but also drinking.  Some people believe that one day of dry fasting is the equivalent of three days of wet fasting. I’ll explain this concept in more detail in a separate post, but personally, I find that I have absolutely no issues with dry fasting during the winter. As I sweat very little, my body requires very little water. In fact, I often feel no thirst whatsoever. For me, it takes no extra willpower or effort to dry fast during the winter.




How I Alternate Day Fast

It sometimes bemuses me how complicated alternate day fasting can be for some people to understand. It’s really quite simple. I eat one day and then I don’t eat the next day. Rinse and repeat. Over and over and over.

Actually, to be fair, most people get caught up with the window of fasting. They want to know how many hours I actually fast. Well, for me, it usually works out to 30 hours, roughly from midnight to 6am. But I’m not religious about it. Sometimes my last meal might be at 1am in the morning or my first meal after fasting at 10am. I do what feels right on that particular day. Sometimes on fasting days I tend to sleep lighter and get up earlier. On these days, I might eat at 6am. On other days, I might sleep in and eat later. I do find that I tend to eat up until I go to sleep on feeding days, though, as mentally I’m aware that I’m not going to eat for the next 30 hours, and I enjoy eating – a lot. Some people shop till they drop. I eat till I sleep.

More importantly and interestingly, most of the time, even if I go to bed feeling slightly hungry on fasting days, usually when I wake up in the morning, the feeling of hunger is gone, and I’m in no hurry to eat. It seems that the body manages to refuel itself while sleeping. As I still have fat to burn (17% body fat), I’m presuming that presently my body is burning stored fat while I’m sleeping. I’m not sure whether or not this phenom will continue if I have a lower body fat percentage. This is something I’m looking forward to verifying, provided my weight loss continues and I get to a low enough body fat to test this hypothesis.

From a practical point of view, I can’t imagine anyone needing to reduce their fasting window to anything less than 30 hours as most everyone sleeps at least six hours a night. More likely than not, your fasting window will be longer. In any case, this is absolutely nothing to get all worked up about. Just do what comes naturally. There’s no such thing as fasting too long. To the contrary, I would suspect the longer the better, allowing more time for your body to heal itself.

Alternate Day Fasting Benefits

The benefits I have experienced from fasting are numerous:

  • The most obvious benefit is weight loss. For the first 5 months of fasting, I experienced a steady 2kg per month loss in excess weight. This is the same amount of weight that I usually lose from performing a lot of exercise, but by fasting I experienced the same weight loss with no extra time commitment.
  • Saving money! I estimate that by not eating half the days in a month, I am saving somewhere between $150-300 a month. And I don’t drink anything except water, so for someone who consumes coffee, alcohol, or soft drinks, the savings would probably be even greater.
  • More appreciation for food. I truly enjoy eating now. Every day that I eat, I am thankful for the food I eat. And it tastes delicious! I regularly say out loud, “This is delicious!” while eating a meal. Often times two or three times during one meal.
  • A lot of people eat because they’re bored. As I work from home and have ready access to food all day long, I think I’ve been guilty of this at times. But now this is no longer the case.
  • In terms of a diet, it’s extremely convenient because you don’t have to count calories or watch what you eat. On days that I eat, I eat whatever I like, within reason. I don’t read labels or avoid fat. I eat dessert every feeding day, most often twice a day; both after lunch and dinner.
  • The occasional binge eating day doesn’t derail your progress because the next day is always a fasting day.
  • Save time. I actually don’t save much time myself as my wife usually prepares food for our family, and even though I don’t eat, I still sit with the family during meals. But if you do prepare food, eat and clean up, then you could potentially save a lot of time on your fasting days.
  • For the first time in my life, this feels like a sustainable diet plan. I can’t foresee anything throwing me off this path. I guess time will be the ultimate test, though.
  • Better physique. With weight loss and body weight exercises comes a better physique. Whilst I have already lost 10kg and gone down two belt sizes, this is still a work in progress. I will update periodically.
  • Not a slave to sugar. As I can go an entire day without consuming any food, that obviously includes sugar, and means that I have some semblance of control over my sweet tooth. Although I must admit that on my feeding days, I still consume a fair amount of sugar in both the form of fruit and desserts. By no means am I living a sugar-free lifestyle.
  • People think you are superhuman because you only eat every other day! Well, at least the ones who are impressed.
  • Less body odor. I need to verify this as I am still using deodorant, but I sense that I am producing less underarm body odor.
  • Fixed numerous health issues.




Exercise and Alternate Day Fasting

Many people wonder if it is okay to exercise while alternate day fasting. I personally have had no issues whatsoever. I regularly bike 50km or walk 10km on a fasting day. I don’t feel any difference in strength or speed.

More importantly, I have a set routine of bodyweight exercises that I cycle through on a weekly basis in order to ensure that I don’t lose muscle mass as I lose weight. I perform my bodyweight exercises regardless of whether or not it is a fasting day. Basically, I focus on one exercise every other day. So I do one day of pushups, one day of pull-ups, one day of dips,  and one day of abs. Within each exercise group, I try and do different types of variations to work out as many muscles as possible. So for example, for pushups, I do standard, wide, military, elevated, and staggered. During the day, whenever I feel like it, I will whip out a set of one type or another until exhaustion. Over the course of the day, I end up completing at least one set of each variation and sometimes two, depending on whether or not I am home all day or out most of the day.

Using this routine for the past four months, I have seen consistent gains in every exercise group. Even though my numbers are going up, though, it’s hard to actually say that I am getting stronger as the exercises are getting easier as my weight steadily goes down each month. At the minimum, though, I believe that I am not getting weaker. And the fact that I can now perform 70 consecutive pushups and 15 chin-ups at age 46 is by anybody’s book an indication of an above average fitness level. Furthermore, as these numbers are the best that I have achieved in my entire life, I think it fair to say that alternate day fasting is proving to be beneficial from a fitness standpoint.

Diet is an important factor in maintaining muscle mass. On my feeding days, I make it a point to consume a fair amount of protein. My breakfast is a huge salad, usually with fish, or sometimes chicken. Then over the course of the day, I try and eat chicken and beef or pork, in addition to other less protein dense foods such as bread or nuts or tofu.  I’m not fanatical about it. I don’t count calories or grams of protein. I just make a conscious effort to eat nutritionally well on my feeding days because my body only has half the opportunity to get the proper nutrients. Right now my focus is seeing how far I can progress in terms of muscle development using purely natural protein sources so I don’t take any protein supplements. I want to try and keep my eating habits as normal as possible so that I can live anywhere, shop locally, and live healthily.

Hopefully, this should help allay any fears that anyone has that alternate day fasting will be detrimental to their fitness level unless of course you are an elite athlete, in which case your experience may be different. Having said that, I do feel that it is important to stress that regular muscle training in some shape or form should be performed in order to maintain muscle mass. Otherwise, you will not only lose weight, but you will also lose muscle mass, and losing too much muscle mass will prove detrimental to your health.

Maintaining your muscle mass as you age should be one of your key fitness goals. The exercise routine I have described above takes very little time; at most 30 minutes a day, spread out into five-minute blocks at any time of the day. By splitting it up into small chunks over the course of the day, it doesn’t even feel like exercise. The amount of time you will save every other day by not eating should be more than enough to fit in some good solid exercise. No matter how you cut it, there really is no good excuse not to exercise your muscles if you do alternate day fasting.


Why I started alternate day fasting

All my life, my weight has cycled up and down by 10kg, usually in a single year. Whenever I get above a certain threshold weight, unlike it appears most people, I start feeling quite serious negative side effects to my health that spurs me to start exercising more to lose the weight. I really do find it quite astonishing that people can be 20, 30, 40kg overweight, and not die. Once in my life when I was 30 years old, I was 15kg overweight, the most overweight that I’ve ever been. One day I was lying down on the sofa, and I suddenly started feeling chest pains radiating throughout my upper torso. It felt like electricity was flowing through my body and lasted for seemingly forever, but in reality probably only 30 seconds. While it was happening, though, it didn’t feel like it was going to stop, and the experience scared me to death. In retrospect, it was a blessing because it made me realize instantly that I needed to get back into better shape or I was likely to fall seriously ill.

This incident was what spurred me for the first time in my life to seriously make an effort to lose weight, and on my first attempt, over the course of many months, I actually managed to lose 15kg. Unfortunately, this was also the beginning of my seemingly neverending cycle of gaining and losing weight. Now, though, I always started the process of losing weight when I got 10kg overweight.

My main method of losing weight has always been bicycling; many, many hours and kilometers of cycling. If I cycle about 300km a week and watch what I eat, I can consistently lose 2kg a month. However, if I only cycle 200km a week and eat normally, I won’t lose any weight. And if I cycle 200km a week and eat more than I should, which would happen fairly regularly as I love food, I would gain weight. It takes me at least 15 hours of cycling a week to get up to 300km. Obviously, this is a huge investment in time and energy that I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older is not practical for me to continue into retirement.

Given that I genuinely feel unhealthy when I’m overweight, I started investigating other options to maintain my weight, and one idea proffered by a friend was the 5:2 fast diet, which he had been following for the past three years with apparently good results. I had seen the BBC video by Michael Mosley regarding this method a few years back. Basically, you eat five days a week and fast for two. It had piqued my interest, not just the weight management aspect of it, but also its claims to improve health, but I had never seriously entertained trying it myself. Given my present interest in finding an alternative way to maintain my weight, though, and my friend’s recommendation, I rewatched the video and started researching in earnest the various ways of fasting to lose weight.

During this research phase, I discovered from reading various forums that although many people were having great success, many people were also having problems losing weight using the 5:2 fast diet. Some other methods mentioned were 4:3 (4 days feeding and 3 days fasting) and alternate day fasting. Several people had commented that they had had good results with these alternate methods. After about a month of reading everything I could find on the Internet regarding fasting, I finally decided to try alternate day fasting. I figured that if I found it too hard, I could always switch to one of the easier methods, but logically it seemed that it would be the fastest results producer.

So basically, I started alternate day fasting with the intention of losing weight. Having spent a month researching fasting, though, I suppose I was hoping that it would also improve my overall health, but I didn’t go in with any concrete expectations. The results, however, have been unexpected and amazing.




Four Months of Alternate Day Fasting

It’s now been four months since I started alternate day fasting. The results have been nothing short of amazing:

  • Issue with frequent urination resolved after only 3 weeks.
  • Greasy food no longer makes my stomach feel like I ate greasy food an hour later.
  • No matter how spicy the food I eat is, my butthole never burns when the food exits my system.
  • What I believe was a food-related allergy that was causing a red rash around my nose no longer occurs.
  • Increased energy levels. I no longer get sleepy during the day. I no longer need to take naps.
  • 8 kg of fat loss, averaging a steady 2kg per month. Body fat down to 17% from 23%. Good muscle tone retention with continued training. All body weight exercise reps up substantially.

I believe that my entire digestive tract has been rejuvenated during the past four months. I imagine that over the course of the accumulative 60 days of fasting, all the lesions, tears, cuts and abrasions that were present in my digestive tract have been healed naturally. Put another way, any particles that were leaking into my bloodstream, no longer do so. My digestive tract is now as good as it was when I was twenty years old. Furthermore, any inflammation in my body has been reduced.

Total cost of treatment: $0.

The ramifications are immense. A quick search on the Internet will show that these symptoms, or variations of them, are very common amidst the general population. Sensitivity to greasy food and spicy food are often simply attributed to aging. When Western medicine doesn’t have a cure or explanation for a digestive tract issue, it is often explained away as IBS. After my own experience, I now strongly believe that anyone experiencing any of these symptoms or other digestive issues could greatly benefit from trying alternate day fasting.