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Intermittent Fasting

May 5, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try intermittent fasting, or IF. I understand that this sounds unpleasant, but my experience has been otherwise. This style of eating already exists in Buddhist culture and strikes me as a logical fit for a primal lifestyle.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

In short, IF is a modification of the common eating traditions of three to six meals a day, in favor of fasting anywhere from 16 to 24 hours between “eating windows.” One of these windows could last days, several hours, or just a single meal.

So why is IF Buddhist?

Siddhartha Guatama suggested an “eating window” of morning until noon. This practice was followed for a few reasons:

– Train the mind to overcome unnecessary bodily desire. (Note: Hunger for more food than needed to maintain health)
– Train the mind to let go of attachment to food and good flavor. (Note: Still enjoy the food while eating)
– Compassion for others by “giving up their share.”
– A courtesy to the lay people so they would know when to expect the monks would be walking for alms.

Followers of the Therevada Forest tradition fast daily from morning to noon. This appears to best correlate with a six hour eating window.

In Mahayana tradition, fasting is seen as a “Dhutanga”, a way to “shake up” ones practice. This optional practice can be a strict fast, or simply the giving up of the more pleasurable foods like meat.

So why is IF Primal?

Our pre-agriculture ancestors probably didn’t have three square meals a day. There may have been a good ‘kill’ every several days. That kill would have to be eaten relatively quickly as it wouldn’t keep for long. Combine that with research that suggests a wide variation of eating habits for hunter-gatherers depending on where they were located. The seasonal availability of plant resources for harvesting would have forced several different levels of fasting throughout a year.

My experience with IF

For these first two weeks I’ve kept to an eight hour feeding window from Noon until 8:00 PM. My largest meals have been at lunchtime, with one or two smaller meals.

The first couple of days I was very motivated, and made sure to stay active to minimize my focus on any hunger pains. Truthfully, there weren’t that many, and they weren’t that bad. I did resort to the trick of taking a couple of fiber pills in the morning, and I drank a lot of water.

I did notice very mild and temporary headaches the first few days. I have not had any since. I have a feeling this was due in part to an addiction response to the change in feeding pattern.

After a week into this daily fasting schedule, my hunger became less frequent and less difficult. I felt more satisfied after a meal, and certainly appreciated the taste and texture more than usual. I have not noticed any need to increase my daily calories to prepare for the fasting period. In fact, I feel that I’ve reduced my total calorie intake.

Physically and mentally I feel energized, I sleep well, and I’ve been able to exercise without detriment.

There have been several days that I felt I could reduce the eating window to six hours. I haven’t done so yet, but will soon. I like the concept of matching the Therevada practice of a six hour window, and those extra two hours should provide that much more benefit. Up to 70% of the fasting benefits occur in the first 24 hours.

My goal is to attempt a 24 hour fast once or twice a month.

My morning meditations were difficult at first. My thoughts drifted often to food, and the anticipation of waiting until noon for it. But as my body got used to the pattern, my mind settled and I’ve been exceptionally clear minded and peaceful.

I did not notice a change in my evening practice.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this as an optional practice for both Zen and Paleo lifestyles. I feel that intermittent fasting is an excellent tool to strengthen ones skill in releasing from unnecessary attachments. My experience of increased clarity of morning meditation has also been beneficial.

Aside from the exceptional list of health benefits, cycling between a fasted and fed state has a certain evolutionary rhythm to it. For me, it’s akin to a day hike in the forest, both challenging and peaceful, with a delicious sunset picnic at the end.

Suggested Further Reading:
– Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D. – On Fasting From a Buddhist’s Perspective
– Mark’s Daily Apple Primal Fasting
– Lean Gains
– Eat Stop Eat

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dennis permalink
    May 5, 2012 9:35 pm

    Great, hadn’t heard of IF from a Buddhist perspective before. Thx!

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