Are you questioning your fasting routine and wondering why some days are different to others? Do you find yourself starving on some days yet totally fine on others? Well, welcome to the club! Rest assured, this is a totally normal trait and one that we need to make peace with, in order to stay balanced on our fasting journey. However, if you have a curious mind you’re going to want to know what’s going on inside, so let’s take a deep dive.
Our body is constantly striving to achieve its own balance (homeostasis) through maintenance or regulation of internal variables including our neural system (the brain), endocrine controls (hormonal) and overall behaviour (Asarian, 2012). If our internal temperature goes down, we shiver to keep it regulated. In turn, when we drink a glass of fruit juice, our glucose (sugar) levels increase and our pancreas responds by producing insulin to help use the glucose for energy.
In the world of hunger and satiety, the hormones in the bloodstream talk to our brain to tell it whether we should eat more food, or if we’re full. The part of the brain that determines whether our body is rich in energy or if it’s poor in energy – whether or not we’re hungry – is called the hypothalamus.
Our brains are also constantly communicating with our gut. When we’ve eaten, the stomach will be pretty full with food. If we haven’t eaten in a while, our stomachs are empty and can start talking to us. It starts making noises and actually starts to growl. If you listen closely, the stomach is saying ghrelin… Ghrelin is the name of the hormone that’s released into the blood stream to tell the hypothalamus that we’re hungry and to motivate us to find some food (Kahn, 2021). Beautiful, right?
So let’s bring this back to fasting. We all have a fasting muscle that we need to stretch and relax according to how we feel on each particular day, in each particular hour! There is not one size fits all, because one size will never fit all. You are in charge of your fasting muscle and it’s up to you how you want to use it – it’s up to you what you want the outcome to be.
There is concern that by promoting intermittent fasting, we are, perhaps unintentionally, encouraging extreme behaviours such as bingeing. However, moderate proponents of fasting have a different, more balanced take; eat sensibly most of the time to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress and preserve learning and memory function (Collier, 2013).
Below are a few beneficial tips that will help you stay out of the way of ‘STARVING’:
Eat whole, unprocessed food :
In his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, Jason Fung states that our body has evolved to handle natural foods and that when we feed it unnatural ones, the result is illness.
He goes on to say that foods should be recognisable in their natural state as something that was alive or has come out of the ground. Boxes of Cheerios do not grow in the ground. The true secret to healthy eating is to just eat real food.
Change the narrative:
Fasting is completely different from starvation in one crucial way: control. Starvation is the involuntary abstention from eating and people have no idea when and where their next meal will come from. Fasting, on the other hand, is the voluntary abstention from eating for health or other reasons. Food is readily available, but you choose not to eat it. It is the difference between recreational running and running because a lion is chasing you (Fung, 2016a). When we change the narrative in our minds, magical things start to happen.
Bend over backwards; bringing yoga into the mix:
The communication between our brain and gut is based on a complex system including the vagus nerve. This wonderful nerve not only carries an extensive range of signals but is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate and respiratory rate.
There is growing evidence that nutritional components, such as probiotics, gluten and drugs e.g. antibiotics, have a high impact on the vagus nerve and targeting it could lead to a greater improvement in the emotional symptoms. In turn, some yoga practises can directly stimulate the vagus nerve. Thus, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY), a breathing-based meditative technique, stimulates the nerve by changing the heart rate, improving cognition and improving bowel function (Breit et al. 2018).
As you become more in tune with your body and start providing it with what it really needs, you will slowly start to feel more satiated and be able to go longer between meals without that uncontrollable need to eat.
Now, where did I put my yoga mat….?
Asarian, L. Gloy, V. Geary, N. (2012). Homeostasis. [Online]. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123750006001919 (Accessed: 27th April 2021).
Breit, S. Kupferberg, A. Rogler, G. Hasler, G (2018) Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders [Online]. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044/full?fbclid=IwAR3PA3EFjHZPgy0zsChJWyJMyVGkKyPM7SN7UDb2vCTuOCl97Ob2SQabkRo (Accessed: 27th April 2021).
Collier, R. (2013). Intermittent fasting the science of going without. [Online]. Available at: https://www.cmaj.ca/content/185/9/E363.short (Accessed: 27th April 2021).
Fung, J. (2016) The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent Fasting. Chapter 1: What is Fasting? Pp 39-56.
Fung, J. (2016a) The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent Fasting. Chapter 1: What is Fasting? Pp 39-56.
Kahn Academy. (2021). Hormone Control of Hunger. [Online]. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/biomolecules/hormonal-regulation/v/hormone-control-of-hunger (Accessed: 23rd April 2021).
This article was originally published on Women-Fasting.com