Let me make something very clear right from the start. Fasting is not starving. The definition of fasting is, according to the good old Oxford English Dictionary: ‘to abstain from all or some kinds of food especially for religious observance’. The definition of starving is: ‘suffer or die, or cause to suffer or die from hunger. They are as different as leaping from the top of a chair or leaping from the top of a 10 storey building. Interesting that the definition of fasting includes the mention of religion. I wonder in a few years perhaps the definition will include the words ‘for health’?
I am a fan of fasting or intermittent fasting (IF) as you will soon hear of it. The use of the word ‘intermittent’ gently reminds the scaredy-cats out there that it’s only for a while and does not mean you will starve to death! I’m a fan because it works, really works. I felt more energetic, alert and productive from day 1! I don’t know about you but I always went large when it came to meal times. I chose healthy options to prevent weight gain, but breakfast was big, lunch was bigger and supper was huge! As long as I stuck to a ‘Paleo’ plate and exercised I was OK but not great. I’m self employed and I have to be productive, and it is tempting to switch the TV on when I’m at home when I should be writing articles like this! I can tell you now, if I had had a big breakfast this morning this article would be on ever growing list of ‘things to do‘.
Fasting often conjures up images of solitary figures meditating sitting cross legged on mountain tops and humming. Hopefully once you’ve finished reading this you may consider it differently—although it has been used for thousands of years by the religious as a way to cleanse and purify the body and soul. Did you know that Mormons in the US fast once a month and as a result are 8% less likely to suffer from heart disease? Other than that they eat the SAD (Standard American Diet) which, by the way, is not a good one.
I’m pleased to say that I was onto fasting about 4 years ago when I tried a complete fast (only drinking water) for 4 days. I can honestly say that I have never been so bored in all my life! It did however, highlight something to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Our days, in fact our whole lives are pinned down by meal times. Like lions in a zoo, overfed to keep them from ripping the keepers into bite size portions, we are eating way too much and way too often. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel tired or hungry and was able to work as normal. I found that hunger came in waves rather than in a steady increase.
I feel that I must mention someone who has been trying to get intermittent fasting into our consciousnesses for over 12 years now, and that’s Ori Hofmekler, the author of The Warrior Diet and a nutritional expert I admire. When he first wrote about his studies and the positive effects of IF he met a wall of rejection and ridicule. He was called a radical and was accused of putting people’s health at risk. Is missing a meal or two really that bad for you? I don’t think so, and in fact it may be just what you need.
Name an animal that eats three square meals a day—think about it for a second. Every animal on the face of this planet is capable of going without food and has evolved and thrived within a feast or famine cycle. Even grazing animals can’t find lush pastures every day. Wild animals hunt when they’re hungry, then relax, socialise and make sweet sweet love when they’re not.
You are when you eat?
OK, lets get down to some science. Here are some of the reasons why you might like to try IF:
- Normalising your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when your insulin sensitivity plummets) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
- Promoting Human Growth Hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and the slowing of the ageing process.
- Lowering triglyceride levels (blood fat) experts believe that high triglyceride levels increase your risk of heart disease and obesity. (the latter is not a point in contention but the former is–see this link)
- Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage (many illnesses are exacerbated by inflammation: asthma, eczema etc)
The slightly disappointing thing about these facts is that they are results taken from our luckless rodent friends. Studies on humans have been carried out but not on a large scale. (See Michael Mosley’s Horizon: Eat, Fast and Live Longer.) Eating less can’t, I don’t think, be put into pill form just yet, so until it can don’t expect to see large scale tests for obvious reasons.
This is an excerpt taken from Dr. Mercola’s website:
Other research suggests fasting triggers a variety of health-promoting hormonal and metabolic changes similar to those that occur when you exercise, which may help prevent age-related brain shrinkage and other chronic and debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As for weight loss, here are three studies from recent years investigating fasting for weight loss, all of which show positive results:
- Non-obese patients lost an average of four percent of their total fat with alternate-day fasting for 22 days. Their fasting insulin also decreased. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 2005: 81(1); 69-73
- Alternate-day fasting was also effective for obese patients in a 2009 study. On fasting days, participants consumed 25 percent of their daily calorie needs. On average, they lost just over 5.5 pounds in eight weeks, and about three percent of their total body fat. Total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol decreased, while HDL (“good”) cholesterol remained unchanged. Systolic blood pressure also decreased. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition November 2009: 90(5); 1138-1143
- In young, overweight women, alternate-day fasting was just as effective as calorie restriction for promoting weight loss and improving metabolic markers. International Journal of Obesity May 2011: 35, 714-727
OK, it’s fairly safe to assume that it works, so how do you do it? All of the research suggests that as long as you fast for 16 hours minimum you will start to get the benefits from it. This means you can pretty much choose which model works best for you. I follow Ori Hofmekler’s recommendations from The Warrior Diet. Basically, eat just one main meal per day in the evening after exercising and anything that involves lots of concentration. You can eat easily digestible foods like fresh fruit and veg juices, raw nuts and seeds etc during the fasting part of your day. I find this gives me a real sense of freedom; throwing off the shackles of rigid meal times and allowing me to really look forward to my evening meal. All the stresses and strains of work finished for the day and nothing but relaxation follows.
My sister has recently started following the ratio of 2:5, eating no more than 500 kcals (for girls) and 600 kcals (for boys) per day for two days out of every week. 2 days fasting and 5 days ‘normal’ eating. Another approach is alternating your fasting days with normal eating days (ADF). Again on your fasting days no more than the above amounts of calories are to be consumed. Interestingly enough the research is starting to point in the direction that you don’t even have to be strict when on non-fasting days! I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to eat junk food to test this theory however! Bad food is bad food.
We live in a world where no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions and thus blame falls on the shoulders of others. To that end this article is for reference only and not to be used to treat any dietary issues or diseases you may have! Fasting is not for everyone and pregnant women and diabetics are best leaving it out. Currently, medical guidelines suggest consuming at least 2000 kcals per day. It’s important to talk to your GP about diet because of the vast amount of time they have had studying nutrition *cough*. (Don’t get me started.)
If you do decide to have a go at IF please do let me know by writing in the comments below. Thanks a lot!