Surprising & Life-Changing Takeaways from the Mindfully Edible Fasting Retreat
Upon discovering Intermittent Fasting (IF), experimenting with longer term fasts here and there, and becoming a total Dr. Jason Fung groupie over these past 6 months, it was truly an honour and a bit surreal to host my very own Fasting Retreat this past October in California - my home away from home.
Megan Ramos from the Intensive Dietary Management Clinic joined us as the special guest facilitator throughout the 3-day fasting weekend, and the insights she shared have completely transformed my outlook on what and how to eat.
There were multiple sessions and lectures held by Megan throughout the retreat, so it’s hard to narrow down to just a few key takeaways. With that said, there are 2 concepts in particular that anyone looking to better their relationship with food and their health NEED to know.
1. Meal Timing is Key → Don’t be a Grazer. No Snacking.
Do you “graze” all day long? Even if you’re eating “healthy”, you may want to reconsider all that snacking around. All day grazing leads to constant insulin response stimulation and excess fat storage. Instead, Megan suggests picking two 90-minute or three 60-minute “feeding periods”. Breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner - it’s up to you and your unique circumstances and lifestyle. While Dr. Jason Fung admits that the ideal situation would actually be one single eating period, and for it to be breakfast (see his post on it here) - it’s simply not practical for everyone (even Jason opts for dinner instead of breakfast). If you’re new to the world of “fasting”, the reasonable starting approach would be to go with the classic three meals a day route. Megan reminded us that this was most likely how your parents ate - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s it. No Timmies run in-between meals, and none of this 3pm “snack wrap” nonsense that big businesses which care more about profits than the state of our health are leading us to believe.
In other words, you don’t even have to overhaul your schedule or create an uproar in your family’s mealtime routine. Simply ditch the snacking. Ate breakfast and still hungry? Perhaps you didn’t eat enough - at least not of the right foods to satiate you. Here’s where fat comes to the rescue! Yes, you heard right: ensure your plate is filled with healthy fats that will crush your hunger and keep you fuelled up all day long - or at least until your next meal. Getting hungry as the next meal time approaches? Congratulations, that’s the point. It’s not the end of the world to feel hunger - we seem to have developed this weird fear around the idea that god forbid we should ever experience the tragedy that is being hungry for more than 3 seconds. Try refraining your perspective and focus on enjoying and savouring nourishing meals, and then giving your body the time to properly digest that food, rather than constantly and mindlessly shoving food in your mouth to satisfy what is probably just boredom, stress, or politeness (office treats, food offered at an event, etc.).
For those of you who care, and would like more info on my own personal regime, I’m currently practicing 1-2 meals a day (usually in 60-min time-slots). Generally I start the day with a Bulletproof coffee (which can be made vegan for those of you who follow a strictly plant-based diet, and Calii Love does a fabulous Vegan Bulletproof Coffee rendition), and then have 1 main “linner” towards the middle of my day. I tend to enjoy the Bulletproof Coffee in morning, usually pre-workout as I find the caffeine serves me well if I choose to do more strenuous activity, and then I’ll have my main meal of the day sometime after that (around 2 or 3pm) which I switch up from day to day - but I try to always ensure it’s high fat, moderate protein, and low carb. I don’t like to do coffee everyday, so sometimes I’ll do a “Bulletproof” matcha, or even just use Dandy Blend instead (any tea - herbal or otherwise, works great!). On busy days, or days where I’m not too physically active, I’ll skip the Bulletproof coffee altogether and follow just one 90-minute eating period. I know this might sound a bit nuts to people not familiar with fasting protocols or are simply so preconditioned to eat continuously throughout the day. All I can say is don’t knock it until you try it! Or at least, read the supporting evidence before you start playing doctor.
Meal Garden has been an absolute life-saver in this regard, as “meal planning” is now super straightforward with a lesser number of “meals” to plan for my week. I can use the tool to quickly and easily find those high fat, moderate protein, low carb recipes that suit my dietary restrictions and preferences, pin them to my calendar, get the groceries I’m all sorted - no wasted energy, stress, or endless hours trying to figuring out what to eat and what I’ll need. I’ve used the tool for over a year, and it’s seen me through a multitude of different dietary practices and eating regimes - but this is by far my favourite application of the app. The advanced search knocks Googling recipes out of the park, and having my main meals set up on my calendar is not only organizationally efficient, it feels satisfyingly rewarding!
[I’ll be sharing a more in-depth explanation of how I’ve taken advantage of Meal Garden to assist in my new fasting dietary protocols in the near future. Detailed resources such as recipes and meal plans will also be included]
2. For Every 1 Gram of Carbohydrates, Your Body Retains 3-4 Grams of Water.
This was a surprising fact that Megan casually mentioned, and it garnered quite the reaction from all of our guests at the retreat. Talk about a “double-take” statement.
While we were at a “fasting” retreat, there was certainly a lot of talk about food, and exactly what to put on your plate during the equally important times of eating. Megan stressed the importance of properly fuelling your body with the right foods, and certainly doesn’t shy away from advocating the importance of EATING - lots and lots of calories! It’s just as important and therapeutic as fasting, it just has to be done mindfully and with the proper ingredients. In fact, increasing your calorie consumption can actually help to boost your metabolism as - if done correctly - it can essentially train your body into burning more calories more efficiently. Heck yes!
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty on what it is Megan (and her team at the IDM Clinic) suggest you load up on - versus avoid like the plague. To no surprise, if you’ve been even skimming this post, or have any sense as to what’s going on in the dietary wellness world these days: FAT is not the enemy. Just ensure you’re getting the right healthy fats, and especially if you’re consuming animal fats - take extra precaution that you’re sourcing organic, grass fed and local foods always. Even Megan, who loves to sing bacon praises, was explicit in her warnings for the danger of eating sick factory-farm raised animals.
Fats to Feast On:
Olives (+ EVOO)
Avocados (+ oil)
Coconut (+ oil)
Macadamia nut oil
MCT oil (Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil is my personal favourite!)
Salmon (wild, sustainably harvested)
Sardines (wild, sustainably harvest)
Eggs (from pasture-raised hens)
Ghee (organic, grass-fed)
Moving along the macros now, let’s address protein - something we love to think we’re doing ourselves “good” by loading up on. Unless you’re killing it at the gym on a daily basis, you likely do NOT need to jump on the protein powder bandwagon. Sorry folks, but “protein bars” are one of those marketing ploys that you should probably avoid. In fact, the Recommended Daily Allowance for an adult is 0.8 g/kg per day - read why here. The short and sweet of it: excess protein will simply be processed like sugar in your body. As Megan smartly puts it: protein isn’t Miracle Grow. If you’d like to put on some more muscle mass, pick up some weights - not a protein bar.
Now last but certainly not least, the topic everyone loves to talk about (and indulge in) - carbs! Enter a major reality check: for every single gram of carbohydrates you take in, your body retains 3-4 grams of water. Needless to say, this piece of information was a shocker for just about everyone in the room, and certainly hit home as I had previously loaded up on carbs (although - the “healthy” kinds), but often struggled with bloating after meals. If you want to beat the bloat, and literally bust water retention problems, the solution is usually as easy as cutting back on carbohydrates. While going excessively low-carb is NOT something I’m advocating for here, it’s still an important consideration to keep in mind when balancing out what’s on your plate. Let this knowledge encourage you to be more mindful and diligent about consuming adequate amounts of the right healthy complex carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes are generally a safe go-to carb for anyone dealing with food allergies or working with a sensitive or inflamed gut, and the bonus is that they work well in both sweet and savoury dishes! Neither Megan or myself want to present this carb-water-retention information as a source of fear or to fuel complete avoidance of carbs - they are an essential macronutrient. With that said, they are often eaten in dangerous excess, and the consequences are a tenfold (or at least, a threefold!).
So there you have it, maybe you didn’t get to enjoy the Avio Vineyards where the retreat was held, but at least you are now equipped with some of the valuable learnings shared at the event! A huge thank you to all who made the event happen: Megan Ramos, Sandra Augustin, Amina Cordano, and Stefano & Lisa Watson.