5

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Using fasting to compensate for a cheat?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created March 02, 2010 at 1:31 AM

Many of us doing the Paleo thing (or similar) embrace the notion of the occasional cheat. Mark Sisson goes as far as advocating the 80/20 Principle as part of his Primal Blueprint -- stick with the plan 80% of the time and you'll be okay. Others are very strict with their diet and swear off bread, dessert, etc. for good. I'm a bit more in the middle -- in regular life, I stick close to 100% to what I consider ideal but I will occasionally go way off plan for a family event, fancy restaurant, or just a really darned good looking pizza at a friend's place on a Friday night. I'd estimate that a really excessive cheat like this occurs maybe once a month or less.

I think most of us have also embraced the notion of intermittent fasting. I prefer a spontaneous approach to fasting -- for example, skipping a meal if I'm not hungry -- compared to a more systematic, scheduled approach. One trigger that I find works well for me is to do a fast in response to a cheat, particularly a carb-rich cheats. My rationale for this is to force the depletion of glycogen stores to compensate for the carb-rich meal. For example, following Friday night pizza, I might not eat again until a relatively late and small Saturday night dinner. The fast seems to set me back on track in terms of hunger and energy levels more quickly than if I just returned to 100% ideal regular eating.

Just to make it very clear, I'm not talking about regularly binging and starving like an insecure teenager. I'm also not talking about using fasting as an excuse for cheating or arguing that cheating is a good thing and that fasting makes it okay.

What are your thoughts on this? Assuming that a cheat has happened, is fasting a good way to get back on track? Is it better to deal with a relatively high carb meal (high by our standards) by attacking the glycogen stores with a fast or is it better to ease the body back on to a fat-based metabolism by providing it with dietary fat? What approach sends the right hormonal signals?

EDIT: I realize that this has a good chance of provoking a debate about whether cheating itself is okay. A couple of weeks ago, gilliebean brought up the cheat question here so please head over there if you wish to discuss the merits of cheating!

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10

(5838)

on January 04, 2011
at 06:56 PM

This is the exact method I use for heavy eating days... Works very well

29686e6867f73a7deee8bf0578cb2107

(68)

on January 02, 2011
at 05:54 PM

Yeah, this is what I struggle with as well. My metabolism seems well and truly broken, and cheats are therefore dangerous events. Sometimes I naturally fast for ~20 hours after a major blowout (um, like this recent New Year's Eve), and it does help superficially, but I've got very little margin for error in terms of recovering fully. I basically have to be "perfect" for weeks on end to make up for a major cheat. And minor cheats ("carb cycling", phooey) inevitably lead to major ones.

1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

(1248)

on January 01, 2011
at 05:37 PM

Just out of curiosity is your partner paleo? Check out Steve Cookseys website http://www.diabetes-warrior.net....he is a type 2 diabetic who fasts all the time as he has reversed his type 2 diabetes symptoms.

5cd18bfcafadc56292971e59f2f1faf6

(2475)

on March 04, 2010
at 04:56 AM

Flexibility and spontaneity are important to me as well. I guess the trick is figuring out how to use fasting as a tool for compensating for the inevitable cheat while not using it as an excuse for more cheating. As a sidenote, as a long time reader of your blog, it's nice to see that you made it over to this site.

5cd18bfcafadc56292971e59f2f1faf6

(2475)

on March 04, 2010
at 02:49 AM

That's a great point! I think in the future I will try to do a fast before planned cheats for exactly that reason and keep the post-fast cheat in my pocket for the flexibility.

4dc97234de5ef4ebe77c78323d527bd0

(183)

on March 03, 2010
at 07:46 AM

I can just imagine Kurt Harris telling a smoker "Just quit! What's the problem?" He acts like there is no willpower involved. Yeah, if I ate pure paleo, that would be healthier. But I don't think I could do it, and if I could, all my willpower would be going into that - I wouldn't exercise, I'd do lots of drugs, etc. Anyone can design a healthy diet if the people trying to follow it have no problem sticking to the diet. It's the sticking that's the hard part! We should judge diets based on how easy they are to stick to - not judge people based on whether they can stick to diets.

4dc97234de5ef4ebe77c78323d527bd0

(183)

on March 03, 2010
at 07:38 AM

I like it and do it. I mean, there are a lot of caveats: I think that not "cheating and fasting" is better than "cheating and fasting", and that one should be careful of potentially dangerous binge/purge habits, and watch out for doing this too often, because the fast doesn't actually make up for the cheat (only partially) in a health sense. But with all these caveats, I think fasting before or after a cheat is a good way to partially balance it, as well as having more flexibility and spontaneity in your life.

5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

(1922)

on March 02, 2010
at 05:36 AM

Yes, fasting increases insulin sensitivity. I have been doing 16-hour per day IF with Paleo almost since the beginning. One problem with a high-carb diet is that such a long period between meals is pretty much impossible for me; I just get way too hungry!

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11488)

on March 02, 2010
at 03:55 AM

Ace, won't a fast increase insulin sensitivity? I'm not saying it will fully compensate for a cheat. Also, some of the studies which showed benefits of intermittent fasting were done on subjects who weren't carbohydrate restricted ( http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/intermittent-fasting/fast-way-to-better-health/ ). In other words, you can "cheat" constantly with a high-carb diet and still reap the benefits of IF. In your experience, a cheat cost you 10 stubborn pounds, and paleo has made you more sensitive to cheats. Maybe it would be better to skip paleo altogether and just do IF.

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9 Answers

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9
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on March 03, 2010
at 08:27 AM

If it's a 'planned cheat', I wonder if fasting beforehand in preparation might be even more beneficial. It seems to make sense that it might be better to deplete your liver and muscles of glycogen before a cheat, so that the meal then largely goes to fill up these stores; whereas if you cheat then fast, presumably the cheat would largely be turned to fat (since your other stores were full anyway), which would be harder to burn through.

5cd18bfcafadc56292971e59f2f1faf6

(2475)

on March 04, 2010
at 02:49 AM

That's a great point! I think in the future I will try to do a fast before planned cheats for exactly that reason and keep the post-fast cheat in my pocket for the flexibility.

5
5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

on March 02, 2010
at 03:22 AM

I've seriously cheated for two short periods since I started Paleo about a year ago. The first time I didn't notice anything too terrible. The second time, I gained about 10 pounds in 10 days (and felt terrible during that time), and have been unable to reverse the gain in the two months since then. It feels like the longer I'm on Paleo, the more sensitive my system becomes to cheats. I can see it with blood glucose measurements, too.

In other words, to answer your question, no, I don't think a fast will compensate for a cheat. You might deplete glycogen stores, but a carb spike will disrupt insulin levels in a way that can last for much longer. I can't think of a good after-the-fact food-oriented compensation for a sudden insulin spike. One approach might be to take a supplement like resveratrol, alpha lipoic acid or carnitine, which can temporarily improve insulin sensitivity. That might help minimize the metabolic mayhem that could otherwise develop. Doing a very vigorous workout might also help, since that can also increase insulin sensitivity.

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11488)

on March 02, 2010
at 03:55 AM

Ace, won't a fast increase insulin sensitivity? I'm not saying it will fully compensate for a cheat. Also, some of the studies which showed benefits of intermittent fasting were done on subjects who weren't carbohydrate restricted ( http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/intermittent-fasting/fast-way-to-better-health/ ). In other words, you can "cheat" constantly with a high-carb diet and still reap the benefits of IF. In your experience, a cheat cost you 10 stubborn pounds, and paleo has made you more sensitive to cheats. Maybe it would be better to skip paleo altogether and just do IF.

5ebeec76e20738d0a17cd724d64b1e0f

(1922)

on March 02, 2010
at 05:36 AM

Yes, fasting increases insulin sensitivity. I have been doing 16-hour per day IF with Paleo almost since the beginning. One problem with a high-carb diet is that such a long period between meals is pretty much impossible for me; I just get way too hungry!

4
1a8f3b2b29419ab65f78271eecd82862

(230)

on January 01, 2011
at 05:23 PM

As someone who has struggled with eating disorders for 30 years, sugar is poison to me, I would hazard against this king of behavior. It starts innocently enough, but for a surprising number of folks this kind of stuff leads to some severe behavior to manipulate weight. I've yet to meet someone with food issues who stated it began intentionally, usually it begins with some little behavioral changes and next thing you know it's out of hand. That being said, I do regular IF, but base it on a schedule of time, not eating behavior. Trust me, eating disorders SUCK so be careful with such "balancing" efforts.

29686e6867f73a7deee8bf0578cb2107

(68)

on January 02, 2011
at 05:54 PM

Yeah, this is what I struggle with as well. My metabolism seems well and truly broken, and cheats are therefore dangerous events. Sometimes I naturally fast for ~20 hours after a major blowout (um, like this recent New Year's Eve), and it does help superficially, but I've got very little margin for error in terms of recovering fully. I basically have to be "perfect" for weeks on end to make up for a major cheat. And minor cheats ("carb cycling", phooey) inevitably lead to major ones.

3
4dc97234de5ef4ebe77c78323d527bd0

(183)

on March 03, 2010
at 07:39 AM

I like it and do it. I mean, there are a lot of caveats: I think that not "cheating and fasting" is better than "cheating and fasting", and that one should be careful of potentially dangerous binge/purge habits, and watch out for doing this too often, because the fast doesn't actually make up for the cheat (only partially) in a health sense. But with all these caveats, I think fasting before or after a cheat is a good way to partially balance it, as well as having more flexibility and spontaneity in your life.

One reason I do IF instead of paleo is that flexibility.

5cd18bfcafadc56292971e59f2f1faf6

(2475)

on March 04, 2010
at 04:56 AM

Flexibility and spontaneity are important to me as well. I guess the trick is figuring out how to use fasting as a tool for compensating for the inevitable cheat while not using it as an excuse for more cheating. As a sidenote, as a long time reader of your blog, it's nice to see that you made it over to this site.

1
Eafee106d73d49bdaec8cb3dae41d514

on January 03, 2011
at 06:29 PM

I usually don't do a full fast after a cheat day, I'm more likely to do a zero carb day instead which seems to re-set my body, or a vegetables-only day if I'm at that rare point where eating good fatty foods is going to make me feel ill. And that's only if I feel very terrible, because the fast makes me feel better. If I'm hungry, I don't fast, I eat better food.

Otherwise, my fasting days tend to be planned ahead of time. Fasting just because you cheated can easily turn into an eating disorder. Habitually fasting after a binge is a form of bulimia and I'd advise people not to get into the habit.

1
9e2180e7bfd688eb52d4f0c536172024

(2004)

on March 02, 2010
at 04:13 AM

I agree that exercise will help burn off the extra carbs. But I think we???ve all done this. I pigged out on sushi recently (fish good; panko, sushi rice and mayo sauces, not so much). I skipped the meal before, and I was so stuffed afterward that I didn???t eat again for a full day. It just naturally worked out that way. It feels right to give your body a break after you???ve abused it a bit.

Most of us have probably fasted in anticipation of a special meal as well. I???m not going to turn down my Sicilian grandmother???s stuffed artichokes. So I???ll skip a few meals beforehand and enjoy it guilt-free. I think this gets down to the understanding that intermittent fasting has benefits even when one does not strictly follow a paleo diet. Eades has written about this, and I think followers of the warrior diet would concur. I personally can???t make a habit of it without completely going off the rails, but occasional feasts accompanied by fasting is not unnatural to man. Unless your metabolism is broken (or your cheat meal becomes a cheat week), I wouldn???t sweat it.

(Regarding cheats, Kurt Harris had a great rant recently on resisting social pressure to eat poisonous foods; I admire the zeal, but I confess I???m not all the way there yet).

4dc97234de5ef4ebe77c78323d527bd0

(183)

on March 03, 2010
at 07:46 AM

I can just imagine Kurt Harris telling a smoker "Just quit! What's the problem?" He acts like there is no willpower involved. Yeah, if I ate pure paleo, that would be healthier. But I don't think I could do it, and if I could, all my willpower would be going into that - I wouldn't exercise, I'd do lots of drugs, etc. Anyone can design a healthy diet if the people trying to follow it have no problem sticking to the diet. It's the sticking that's the hard part! We should judge diets based on how easy they are to stick to - not judge people based on whether they can stick to diets.

0
03281912f1cb9e4e771a8a83af302e3a

(1204)

on January 04, 2011
at 06:33 PM

I like to fast BEFORE a cheat or before a feast. My normal fast is 14 hours minimum, but on days like Christmas, or when i know I am going somewhere to be social, I fast ahead of time. I try to make sure to get a good fasted workout in that day as well. If I have enough preparation, I try to go as low carb as possible for a few days ahead of cheat day, so the insulin sensitivity is high enough to cope with the rush of crappety crap food.

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10

(5838)

on January 04, 2011
at 06:56 PM

This is the exact method I use for heavy eating days... Works very well

0
Medium avatar

on January 04, 2011
at 12:21 AM

I don't really "cheat" since I've come to associate those foods with poison, but I would think that a higher level of activity subsequent to the event would dampen down the blood glucose spike and thus prevent the insulin response.

Using fasting afterward sounds a lot like an eating disorder.

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 04, 2010
at 02:04 AM

My hardest thing with intermittent fasting is that my type 2 diabetic partner eats three meals a day and likes company. It is hard to sit beside him and not join in unless I am sick (which I am not very often).

Sometimes I'll wake up and not care about breakfast but in the course of feeding him I get sort of sucked in. On a down day, when I didn't eat anything but a cup of homemade chicken broth in the evening, I felt great afterwards.

I guess I just need to do what I need to do, when I need to do it, and not feel the need to explain or join in.

1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

(1248)

on January 01, 2011
at 05:37 PM

Just out of curiosity is your partner paleo? Check out Steve Cookseys website http://www.diabetes-warrior.net....he is a type 2 diabetic who fasts all the time as he has reversed his type 2 diabetes symptoms.

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