Fasting & The 40 Hour Famine

Posted by in March's Magazine

I am fascinated by the fast. Not the fast car, the fast buck or the fast guy, simply fasting – the act of not eating. Fasting has spiritual connotations and as a concept is as old as time: To put on hold earthly pleasures for rewards in the afterlife (or something similar).

Food is a pleasure and my days often revolve around the growing, gathering and preparation of that very thing. Thank god for my job as a fitness professional where I get to burn it all off! So the idea of not doing something that is so central to my being has always been intriguing.


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The first time I fasted was for a charity event called the 40 Hour Famine. It was an Australia-wide campaign where fundraisers went without food for, yup, 40 hours. I did this in the 1980s when I was a mere 15 years old and juniors were advised they could, from time to time, suck on a lemon barley sweet. Nowadays the rules aren’t so hard and fast (so to speak) and you can give up technology or talking for 40 hours if you prefer…Lightweights!

I remember those 40 hours with absolute clarity; indeed the experience affected me for life. Recently, when I heard more about some research done on health benefits from intermittent fasting (basically not-eating from time to time) I decided to try and implement it into my life on a regular basis.

It has not been without its ups and downs and I have learned much about the human body – for instance, I’m typing this halfway into a fast and already hitting the wrong keys. Low blood sugar levels on fasting days mean motor skills can be affected. Don’t fast and operate heavy machinery! In fact, I usually schedule fasting days for when I don’t need to ride my bike anywhere. Low blood sugar levels + a near miss from a car = a shaky cyclist. Best avoided.

Low blood sugar levels can also equate to crankiness and bad temper. You wanna avoid any potentially stressful situations when fasting. Other than being grumpy, and slightly clumsy, fasting can have a positive flipside as well. When you eat less on one day (fasting days are generally 500 calories for women and 600 for men) you will find that you need to eat less on the next day. Personally I feel lighter at the end of a fast day and sometimes even have brilliant creative ideas.

Fasting is not an easy thing to do, you need to want to do it, otherwise you do end up as a grumpy mother****er. If you spend the day thinking ‘I want a chocolate doughnut’ you will make yourself miserable. Instead it helps to look at fast days as days where you’re giving your digestion a break. It is a time when the body actually undergoes self-repair by burning its own fuel (i.e. using fat stores and the associated build-ups in the body). A bit like spring-cleaning the body on a molecular scale.

There’s been a staggering amount of research into fasting and it is mind-boggling that more people don’t pay attention. My theory for this is twofold. Firstly, fasting is not comfortable; it makes your body use alternative fuel sources. Many people cannot cope with the feeling of being hungry, which I totally understand. However if you are one of those people who don’t mind being hungry from time to time, you might want to consider exploring it. Secondly, you need to be quite organised and have any food ready in advance, while also considering potentially tense situations. For instance, I only fast if I have less than four studio PT sessions and no stressful meetings.

As people we have too much easy access to plentiful calories. We need to embrace a simpler form of eating and educate our appetite towards the process of staying healthy. I rarely advocate 5:2 fasting to my PT clients. In fact I only do one fast day a week. However another form of intermittent fasting is to stop eating earlier in the day.

Instead of snacking on junk food in front of the TV at night resist and go to bed on a not-full tummy. Try to eat half of your daily food intake by lunchtime. Simply by shifting when you eat the bulk of your food to earlier in the day you can have a significant impact on body weight and energy levels.

When you’d otherwise be scouring cupboards for late night biscuits, spend that time packing some simple tasty snacks for work the next day. I find not eating anything in the three hours before going to bed is a really easy way to kick start getting in shape – even if it’s not seven nights a week try to achieve what you feel comfortable with. Those three evening hours, combined with a good nights sleep should equate to over ten hours, which means you’re effectively fasting for ten hours a day. And you will relish your breakfast. Easy.

Oi! Oi! Oi!
An update on the punk aerobics shenanigans at Leith Depot bar; they were a staggering (operative word) success. Keep your eyes peeled – a Bic disposable razor should do it – for more @punkaerobics.

Twitter: @tracygriffen
Facebook: /griffenfitnesss

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