Mini-Fast Your Way to Health
Julian Whitaker, MD
It’s official. The number of adults in this country who are clinically obese now exceeds the number of those who are merely overweight. If you fall into either category—and two-thirds of you reading this do—what should you do?
Well, you could pick up one of the thousands of diet books currently available. You could join a gym. You could take nutritional supplements that boost metabolism or curb appetite. All of these steps, especially when used together, facilitate weight loss. Or you could try a program we use at the Whitaker Wellness Institute that is so simple, so logical, so easily implemented, and so inexpensive that it’s like the missing glasses you finally found resting on your nose. It’s a “mini-fast” coupled with exercise.
How to Mini-Fast
Here’s how it works. You get up in the morning and drink a glass of water or a cup of coffee or tea. You can use a little creamer or low-calorie sweetener like xylitol or stevia, and you can take your supplements if they don’t upset your stomach. But do not eat breakfast or drink anything other than coffee, tea, or water.
Then put on your workout gear and do some aerobic exercise. You can walk briskly, jog, or cycle; use a treadmill, stair-stepper, mini-trampoline, or stationary bike; or take an aerobics class or work out with an exercise video at home. The important thing is that you exercise for 20–45 minutes with moderate effort. (Don’t go overboard. You don’t want to burn yourself out before you get started.)
After you exercise, get on with your day, but continue fasting until lunch. Drink water, of course, and feel free to have coffee or tea. Don’t worry about being too hungry to make it through the morning. You may have to try this to believe it, but this fasting/exercise combo seriously dampens your appetite, and the caffeine in coffee and tea helps blunt hunger as well.
At lunchtime, break your fast and eat normally for the rest of the day. Get plenty of lean protein and low-fat, low-glycemic carbohydrates. You don’t have to count calories, but you don’t want to pig out at lunch or dinner, either. Fortunately, you’ll find that eating sensibly for two meals a day requires far less discipline than cutting calories all day long. This mini-fast program also makes sticking to the routine much easier over the long haul.
Burn Fat, Lose Weight
Obviously, if you miss one meal per day every day of the week, you’re making a significant dent in your overall food intake. Six days of this program is equivalent to two days of fasting, and two months is comparable to a 20-day fast! This caloric restriction in and of itself contributes to weight loss. Furthermore, regular exercise also burns calories. What’s integral to this program, however, is that exercisingwhile in the fasting state dramatically ratchets things up.
The mini-fast takes advantage of and expands upon the 10–12 hours you normally fast during the night. By morning, your body is beginning to deplete the glycogen in your liver (from the carbohydrates you ate at your evening meal) and is starting to rely more on fat for energy. As your glycogen stores are progressively exhausted, your liver starts to turn fat into ketones, which the brain and other tissues use as fuel. This fat-burning state is called ketosis.
Aerobic exercise is a crucial part of the mini-fast program because it rapidly puts you into ketosis. Overnight fasting is a start, but exercise really kicks things into high gear. The fuel used during that morning walk you’re taking in place of eating breakfast comes from burning fat, which is exactly what you want when you’re trying to lose weight. Even better, if you continue fasting after exercising, you will stay in the ketotic state, further reducing fat stores.
Everyone knows that exercise is necessary for weight control, but little focus is placed on the timing of exercise. If you eat breakfast before your morning workout, you will do a wonderful job of burning the carbohydrates you just ingested. But the point is to use exercise to burn fat, not carbohydrates.
Similarly, if you eat carbs right after your exercise, you turn off the rapid fat burning that exercise has triggered. But again, by exercising during a mini-fast, you will be burning off stored fat for hours. And if your subsequent meals are relatively low in fat, you won’t be replacing it—so every day you’ll be chipping away at your fat stores.
Remarkable Study Results
I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I learned about it from Mark McCarty, an astute researcher I’ve known and worked with for years. Mark is his own best study subject. He lost two-thirds of his body fat following this mini-fast/exercise protocol and has been on it now for 12 years. He also introduced the concept to Babak Bahadori, MD, who has been using it for several years as the foundation of his successful weight loss program in Austria.
The exercise-enhanced mini-fast has also been evaluated in a clinical trial that was published last year. The study involved volunteers with an average weight of 199 pounds, BMI of 32.2 (30 and over is considered obese), waist circumference of 42.6 inches, and fasting insulin of 13.2 IU/mL (a level indicative of insulin resistance). They were instructed in the particulars of the program—no food before noon but no other restrictions besides a healthful, low-fat, high-fiber diet, plus aerobic exercise while in the fasting state.
Now, these study participants were people just like you and me, with jobs, families, and the like. They didn’t exercise like maniacs. Most of them walked three to five days a week and built up to an average of 45 minutes, which is doable for most anyone. On the days they did not exercise, they simply fasted until noon. They didn’t count calories, and although they were told to eat low-fat, low-glycemic foods, no one monitored their diets. Yet the results speak for themselves.
After 12 weeks, these folks lost an average of nine pounds and an even more impressive 16 pounds of fat (25 percent of their initial fat mass) plus three inches around the waist. The biggest losers were a man and woman who respectively lost an astonishing 44 and 31 pounds of fat! Additionally, the group’s fasting insulin fell by one-quarter, into the normal range.
Diabetes, Hypertension, and Beyond
As you can see, all sorts of magical things happen with the exercise-enhanced mini-fast. You lose fat instead of lean muscle mass. Abdominal obesity, the most dangerous type of fat distribution, declines. Insulin sensitivity improves, and blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides fall as well.
We are now recommending this program to all of our patients with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome, and results—both in terms of compliance and results—are highly positive. In addition to the outcomes mentioned above, patients also report increases in energy, vitality, mental clarity, and sense of well-being.
If you want to lose weight or are dealing with any of the many health concerns associated with obesity, I urge you to give this regimen a try. By maximizing the substantial benefits of exercise and calorie restriction, the mini-fast with exercise can be your ticket to weight loss, lower blood sugar and blood pressure, better health, and a longer life.
- Exercise aerobically in the morning. Start slowly and build up to 45 minutes most days of the week.
- Drink plenty of water, but eat nothing before lunch. You may have coffee or tea with modest amounts of low-calorie sweetener and creamer before and/or after exercising, along with supplements if desired.
- If you have insulin-dependent diabetes, be cognizant that blood sugars may drop too low on this program, so you should closely monitor your glucose levels.
- Bahadori B, et al. A “mini-fast with exercise” protocol for fat loss. Med Hypotheses. 2009;73(4):619–622.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.