Fasting (or 5 alternatives) to give your body a break
We’re challenging you to give your body a break.
In the Fasting episode of Limitless, Chris sets out to explore whether going without food for 4 days can trigger his body’s capacity to regenerate at a cellular level.
We’re not asking you to go that far – Chris was under the observance of medical professionals and we do not recommend you attempt a multi-day fast.
With help from our nutrition expert Angie Asche, we’re sharing our advice on attempting a fast, plus 5 more ways you can shake things up and give your body a break.
1. Find out about fasting
Intermittent fasting is often talked about as a weight loss tool. Yet there is emerging evidence that fasting might help the body to clear out ‘zombie cells’ – cells that have stopped doing useful jobs in our body, but haven't been cleared away by our immune system.
Curious about fasting? Angie has answered your big questions.
The benefits: An accumulation of zombie cells has been linked to many age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, dementia and heart disease. But as Chris explores in Limitless, some studies have indicated that fasting may limit the spread of zombie cells.
As well as potential cellular repair and weight loss benefits, many proponents report that fasting gives them a sense of mental clarity and alertness, possibly due to a reduction in inflammation and increase in neuron growth.
It’s important to note that the reported benefits of fasting have so far mostly been identified through animal studies. “More long-term research on humans is needed to understand the real impacts, or to support the claims made by many about the alleged benefits,” explains Angie.
What you need to know: Women in particular should be cautious about fasting for longer than 24 hours, Angie advises.
“Prolonged fasts are shown to increase insulin resistance in women, which can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes,” she says.
The reproductive hormones that play an essential role in women’s bodily functions such as metabolism and ovulation may also be negatively impacted during longer fasts.
If you want to give fasting a go, we recommend starting with a restricted feeding window like the 16:8 method and monitoring how you feel. Before you try it, there are several groups of people who should avoid fasting.
“If you have type 1 diabetes, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or use medications that must be taken with food, fasting may be harmful to your health,” says Angie. “Also, if you have a history of disordered eating, I do not recommend you try intermittent fasting.”
2. Say cheers to not drinking for a month
When Bobby gave up drinking for a year, he did it to give his mind a break. But then his training performance skyrocketed. You may also experience benefits you’ve never even considered.
If your goal is to reduce body fat or increase muscle, cutting alcohol is a no-brainer. - Angie Asche
The benefits: “Alcohol disrupts muscle protein synthesis and hurts sleep quality, which impacts muscle growth and training performance,” Angie says. “If your goal is to reduce body fat or increase muscle, cutting alcohol is a no-brainer.”
Gin who? Our Blueberry Lemon Spritzer delivers all the refreshing flavor without the hangover
Angie adds that you may feel better overall, “from digestion to the health of your skin, as alcohol is dehydrating. I would anticipate you noticing these positive effects quickly – within the first week”.
What you need to know: Angie says that there are no risks in abstaining, although “regular drinkers may notice symptoms of withdrawal for the first few days”. (If you are concerned about symptoms, speak to your doctor.)
For Bobby, the toughest thing about giving up was the social aspect of drinking. But going without doesn’t have to mean no more nights out. Angie recommends ordering a flavored seltzer or low-sugar mocktail.
3. Go on a refined sugar fast
Could you swear off soda or cut back on candy for a day, week or month?
The benefits: “Reducing or eliminating refined sugar fast can reduce many risk factors that impact longevity,” says Angie. “It can help with weight management, blood sugar control, inflammation, cardiovascular health and improve the health of your teeth.”
What you need to know: “There are really no downsides to eliminating refined sugar from your diet,” says Angie.
But before you reach for the zero-cal synthetic alternatives, take a pause. “When you opt for artificially sweetened foods, you are simply swapping one type of ultra-processed food for another,” Angie explains. “That’s not an issue in moderation, but if you start to notice artificial sweeteners on the label of every snack, I recommend switching to a better option.”
Angie suggests switching to whole foods or making your own snacks that are sweetened naturally with fresh fruit, honey or dried fruit such as prunes and dates.
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4. Say no to ultra-processed foods for a week
While most foods on the supermarket shelf have gone through some sort of processing (e.g. canned beans), ultra-processed foods are a very different beast. “Ultra-processed foods are typically high in calories, sugar, salt and fat which makes them hyper-palatable, but very low in micronutrients. That’s why they’re linked to overeating and weight gain,” Angie says.
We’re talking french fries, soda, sugary breakfast cereals, packaged snack bars and cakes, candy, chips and frozen pizza.
The benefits: “The risks of ultra-processed food consumption include coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity and other potentially life-limiting conditions,” Angie explains.
“If you reduce or eliminate your intake, I would anticipate benefits like improved energy levels, cognitive function and focus (likely due to improved regulation of blood sugars) and better gastrointestinal health. You’ll see the most benefit by replacing ultra-processed foods with nutrient-dense, whole food options.”
What you need to know: For anybody who isn’t comfortable cooking, completely eliminating ultra-processed foods can make it challenging to get the total calories needed per day.
“This is where minimally processed foods like precooked rice and frozen vegetables come in handy,” says Angie.
If your lifestyle doesn’t make cooking easy – like if you travel for work or fresh whole foods are expensive – eliminating ultra-processed foods from your diet can feel like an impossible task.
“Don’t beat yourself up if you have a packaged snack bar or frozen pizza,” says Angie. “Instead, look for ways to make them a little bit healthier, for instance by having a side salad with your pizza or adding Greek yogurt and fresh raspberries to your sugary cereal for more protein and fiber.”
Swap your salami sub for our Tuna Salad Sandwich and let the Omega-3s do their thing.
5. Cut processed meat from your meals
If meat has been smoked, cured, had salts or preservatives added to it, it is processed. This includes hot dogs, sausages, bacon, deli meats, cold cuts, jerky, pepperoni and fast food nuggets and burgers.
The benefits: “Processed meat consumption has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity,” Angie explains. “Reducing your processed meat consumption can result in significant improvements to cardiovascular health. Substituting plant-based options into your diet can also help increase your intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”
What you need to know: You may worry about not getting enough protein if you cut back on processed meats, especially if you’re training to build muscle. But as Angie points out, that may not be the biggest problem: “Processed meats are often higher in saturated fat than they are in protein.”
“Dear journal, I feel calmer already…”
6. Set a limit on screen time
While working in the digital age means some screen time is unavoidable, could you turn your phone off for two hours before bed or put away the tablet completely on weekends?
The benefits: Giving yourself a break from doom scrolling and binge-watching can be reinvigorating for body and mind. Excessive screen time can lead to eye strain, sleep disruption and an unhealthy reliance on the dopamine hit we get from playing video games or getting likes on our social feed.
Not to mention that when we’re on our screens, we’re usually sitting down, which means less time moving and improving our physical health.
What you need to know:
Next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling, put down your phone and try this instead:
- Get yourself moving with a short workout.
Try journaling to organize your thoughts and release tension.
If you’re always reaching for your phone in front of the TV – double screening! – roll out your mat and do a stretching session instead.
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