Some of today’s most cutting-edge nutrition research suggests that you should eat less often, forcing yourself to go longer periods of time without food—a practice that was common just a few centuries back. Our basic, primal instincts drive our brain to function best when we are hungry and physically active, says Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. “It evolved, in part, for success in seeking and acquiring food.”
The way many of us eat today—satiating hunger with snacks high in simple carbs—leaves the body craving a constant sugar fix. Without it, you crash and suffer from fatigue, lack of mental clarity, and deteriorating athletic performance, among other things. But fasting has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels through a process called glucose regulation, says Mattson. By putting your body through short-term stress, you teach it how to use energy more efficiently and recover quickly, he says.
Getting started can be a daunting task, but we’re here to make it simpler. Read on for your guide on how to hit your body’s reset button.
Choose How You’ll Fast
Fasting is distinct from the likes of a juice cleanse or a two-day restrictive diet. There are two categories—traditional and intermittent—each of which appeals to different individuals depending on their goals and lifestyles.
While both can be beneficial to your brain health, intermittent fasting is better for weight loss and maintenance. Pick the one that works best for what you want to accomplish.
Traditional fasts typically last anywhere from 24 hours to seven days or longer. They emphasize developing willpower and honing self-discipline as opposed to weight loss, making them a favorite among those looking for a mental or spiritual refresh. While you’ll certainly see some physical effects, the changes of a single fast won’t be permanent. That said, it’s a useful tool to help you understand hunger and your reaction to it.
If you’re a beginner, start with a 24-hour fast: Eat dinner, and then refrain from eating until the next night. Be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and plan your fast for a nontraining day. Going for a walk can help you get into nutritional ketosis—a state where your body starts to burn fat rather than glycogen—but don’t do anything more strenuous until you get accustomed to existing with lower energy levels.