Stress doesn’t always mean worry. Stress means pressure, change, resistance, etc.
Most of the time, we’re unprepared for stressors – they’d cause less unpleasantness if we were prepared, right?
But there are plenty of types of stress that are good for you and that we can, nay, must, be ready for.
Hormetic stress, for example, or hormesis – the stress your body goes through when it’s fasting.
Some stress is good for us! Exercise is a good stressor. Cold showers? Good stressors. Quitting an addiction is another good stressor. You and your body come out stronger in the end.
Hormesis, at its core, is about how good stress can help you adapt to your environment and lifestyle changes.
For our purposes here today, we’ll talk about it as it relates to intermittent fasting (IF). IF isn’t something you should do out of the blue. The body loves its routines and stability – changing the way you give it nutrients can throw it for a loop and cause unintended damaging consequences.
Fasting is a great example of how stress can be beneficial. We know that fasting induces autophagy – the process by which our cells repair themselves, discard old and malfunctioning cells, and recycle each other for parts.
We also know it’s excellent for allowing the gut’s flora to realign, rebalance, and restore order. Lots of intermittent fasters report weight loss as well, easing pressure on the digestive tract to perform at high capacity.
But it puts the body under stress – hormetic, specifically – and we shouldn’t jump into fasting unprepared for that to happen.
Our Hormetic and Ancestral History
Because of the nomadic and transient lifestyles of our ancestors, hormetic stress was pretty common for them. Extreme heat and cold with no climate control devices, sporadic access to food, and the relatively constant exercise all induced strategic evolutionary survival mechanisms in the human body.
Those changes happened because the body wanted to be prepared for survival, even if that meant no meat for a few weeks, or prolonged physical activity out of necessity.
During those days, and basically until about sedentary lives became the status quo, exercise became a choice, and prepared food became vastly available, humans had metabolic flexibility.
Metabolic flexibility is the ability to respond or adapt to conditional changes in metabolic demand. It deals with fuel selection – when the body chooses to burn fat or carbohydrates, essentially.
For example, those who suffer from anorexia are often told that by not eating, their body is in starvation mode and burning the wrong things for fuel.
It’s shocked and confused by sustained and often abrupt bouts of not eating.
Although intermittent fasting has plenty of proven benefits, you must prepare the body for that to happen so that it doesn’t assume you’re starving – otherwise, you’ll experience limited positive effects, at best discomfort, and at worst medical problems.
So how can you prepare the body to begin intermittent fasting, knowing that you’ll be putting it through stress?
How to Get Ready to Fast
Here are a few tips to help your body ease into fasting and reap the most benefits from hormesis…
- Stay Hydrated: Keeping your body hydrated while you’re not feeding it nutrition is essential! Water helps all sorts of bodily systems run by aiding circulation, keeping your insides well-lubricated, and helping you stave off water weight.
- Try Time-Restricted Fasting First: Instead of heading straight to no food for several days, or a week, or whatever your desired length of time is… try shortening the feeding window first. The 16:8 feeding window is commonly effective for people with standard office jobs – only eating between the hours of noon and eight p.m. This way, your body has the chance to get used to less food, less often.
- Avoid Alcohol for a Week or So: One of the beneficial effects of fasting is that it helps your body clear toxins and waste, allowing your cells to focus solely on regenerating themselves. Don’t overburden the liver by forcing it to clear out the toxins you gave it while it could be paying attention to bigger issues in your body!
- Only Try One Day to Start: If you’re a regular eater (like most of us), start your first round of intermittent fasting with only one day. If that went well, return to your regular schedule for a week and then try again with two. There’s no need to jump the gun! Your body learns pretty quickly how to adjust, but starting small and working up to bigger goals is how you gain metabolic flexibility.
- Add Broth to your Fasting Allowance: If you feel you’re ready to really go without food for a few days, try the first day with bone broth as an allowance. Still liquid, and full of nutrients, so you’re giving your gut a break from the endless digestion of a regular eating schedule, but not as harsh of a transition.
And most importantly – if it feels wrong, stop.
Try to ride hunger waves with plenty of tea and water, and keep yourself busy.
But if you feel faint or sick, go ahead and eat. Try again the next time with smaller doses of fasting!
Intermittent fasting can have enormous positive effects…
The least of which is reminding us that we can all do with a lot less of what we think we need.