I fasted for the first time in college.
I had to. I couldn’t get beaten by another girl.
A classmate had showed up to our Medieval Mysticism class with a plate of cookies and a glow.
She had spent the weekend fasting like Saint Hildegard of Bingen, and she felt great.
Like many early Christian mystics, Hildegard believed that fasting cleared the mind and purified the spirit. She recommended healing fasts of soup and tea.
You could even sneak in a few cookies, as long as they were made from spelt and spices. (Get the recipe for Hildegard’s “Cookies of Joy.”)
Not to be outdone, I vowed to do the same.
And I did. I managed to survive 24 hours on nothing but tea and clear broth.
I don’t remember feeling hungry. I just remember feeling exhilarated. I wanted to shout to the world:
“Look at me! Look at my self-discipline!! Aren’t I awesome?!”
But fasting for a day didn’t make me a saint. It didn’t change my life. I may have done it a few more times, but I certainly didn’t make it a habit.
Then, a few years ago, a pair of elderly relatives informed me over cups of tea that they were on the 5:2 diet and had never felt better.
What in the world was the 5:2 diet?
They explained that they ate normally 5 days a week and fasted for 2 days. Well, it wasn’t really fasting. They just ate a quarter of what they normally ate.
I went home that night and looked it up.
And I discovered that fasting had come a LONG way since medieval times.
The Benefits of Fasting
Fasting has long been associated with health, mental clarity, and long life.
Even back in the 1100s, Hildegard understood that digesting food takes a lot of energy.
Energy that could be put towards more important tasks, like healing the body or composing heavenly music.
Fans of fasting love how much more productive it makes them. (Perhaps because they’re not spending so much energy preparing food, eating, and cleaning up again?) They feel greater energy, clarity, and focus.
But the idea of fasting is scary.
Who could go an entire day without eating?
Why torture yourself when you could just get more energy and clarity from a triple shot of espresso?
That’s where intermittent fasting comes in.
That is what my elderly relatives were trying, and there are so many flavors of intermittent fasting that you’re sure to find one that works for you.
The New Diet
Fasts are the new diet.
Dieting traditionally requires elaborate menus, calorie counting, and too much food prep.
Which is why it’s a breath of fresh air to see a diet that requires doing nothing at all.
With intermittent fasting, you control WHEN you eat rather than WHAT you eat.
You still want to eat healthy. But your main tool is the clock, not the scale.
The simplest way to start intermittent fasting is to limit your eating to 12 hours a day—say, from 7am to 7pm. Don’t eat outside of those hours.
Wait a second. Isn’t that too easy?
A 2014 Salk Institute study found that it works—at least in mice. You can even eat whenever you want on the weekends, as long as you adhere to the 12-hour fasting window during the week.
Humans may benefit more from limited eating hours than mice, because we have a habit of enjoying a glass of wine or a few chocolates in the evening. Midnight snacks sneak on the pounds.
Your Fast, Your Choice
Not hard enough? No problem.
Simply increase the number of fasting hours.
If you can go 12 hours without eating, try going one hour longer for a week.
Then another hour the next week.
Then another hour.
You can work your way all the way up to 20 hours of fasting a day, which is known as the Warrior Diet.
There are other fasting options, too. You could fast on alternate days. You could do a 24-hour fast once a week. Or you could try the 5:2 diet.
But be warned. Intermittent fasting can affect women’s hormone levels. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you have diabetes, or you find that you’re skipping periods, stop immediately.
You may worry that you’ll binge when you can finally eat, but that shouldn’t happen if you start out gently. Most people find that a 12-hour fast is long enough to shift their relationship with food without triggering feelings of deprivation.
Your body adjusts. If you never eat after 7pm, you’ll find that you stop wanting food after 7pm.
That’s a diet I can get behind. If nothing else, it’s inspiring to think of all those dishes I don’t have to wash!