The Definition of Fasting
What makes fasting seem so novel is that, with all the diet advice out there, the easiest might be to simply not eat. Of course, fasting isn’t the same as starving yourself, which is what many people think when they hear “fasting.” And yet, fasting isn’t a diet, either. The literal definition of fasting is to abstain from food and drink from a specific period of time; it’s been around for thousands of years, as spiritual fasting is a part of many religions. But in this context, I prefer looking at fasting as simply a change in eating patterns.
In place of three square meals a day or a handful of smaller meals throughout the day, you’ll have a specific window of time when you’re eating, whether it’s a few hours a day or certain days of the week. During that time, you can eat whatever you want. Of course, I say that within reason.
If you’re eating processed foods and potato chips, it’s unlikely you’ll reap the benefits of fasting. If that’s you, I encourage you to examine your diet before trying a fast. But if you practice fasting and stick to a mostly whole food diet, rich in fruits, veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats and raw dairy, you will see changes — and those occasional splurges on chocolate or cheese won’t have as big of an impact as they might if you were on a calorie-restrictive diet.
The beauty of fasting is that there isn’t one “right” way to do it. In fact, there are several types that are popular.
Different Types of Fasting
This type of fasting is also known as cyclic fasting. Intermittent fasting is a catch-all phrase for eating (and not eating) intermittently. In fact, almost all of the fasting methods below are types of intermittent fasting! Typical intermittent fast times range from 14 to 18 hours. The longest period any one of these plans would require you to abstain from solid food would be about 32–36 hours.
If you practice time-restricted eating, you’ll abstain from food for anywhere between 12–16 hours. During your eating window, you can eat as much of your favorite healthy foods as you’d like. This is one of the most common methods of fasting.
Time-restricted eating is pretty simple to implement. If you finish dinner at 7 p.m., for instance, you wouldn’t eat anything again until at least 7 a.m. If you wanted to take it further, you’d extend the no-eating time until about 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. Because you’re sleeping for a large chunk of the “no eating” time, this is a good way to introduce fasting into your lifestyle and experiment without any major changes.
Basically another name for time-restricted eating, here you’ll fast for 16 hours a day and then eat the other eight.
Alternate Day Fasting
Another type of intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting has you severely restricting the amount of calories you eat during fasting days, then eating to your stomach’s content on non-fasting days. Food isn’t completely off the table, but you’ll stick to about 25 percent of your normal caloric intake. Someone eating 2,000 calories would cut back to 500, for example. Alternate-day fasting isn’t necessarily a long-term plan, because it can become difficult to stick to, but it can be helpful to get a healthy habit in motion.
It’s very similar to alternate day fasting except here, you eat normally for five days of the week. On the other two, calories are restricted to about 500–600 calories a day.
The Warrior Diet
Here, you’ll stick to fruits and veggies during the day and then eat a well-rounded, larger meal in the evenings.
The Daniel Fast
This is a type of spiritual fasting. Based off of Daniel’s experiences in the Bible’s Book of Daniel, the Daniel Fast is a partial fast where vegetables, fruits and other healthy whole foods are featured prominently, but meat, dairy, grains (unless they’re sprouted ancient grains) and drinks like coffee, alcohol and juice are avoided. Most people follow this fast for 21 days in order to experience a spiritual breakthrough, have more time to reflect on their relationship with God or just to feel closer to what Daniel would have experienced in his time.