Fasting: Ancient Secret of Health – Part II

In my last newsletter I talked about the history of fasting, which has been going on as long as there have been humans on the planet eating. One is the flip side of the other. We are either eating or we are fasting.

In years past fasting felt to me like a scary proposition – I could DIE if I missed a meal. I imagine that it feels like a daunting proposition to other people as well. If not daunting, maybe irrelevant.  For a little background about fasting and a glimpse of the many benefits it offers, read this piece if you missed it earlier. There are some important words there about who should fast and who should not.

As it turns out, since fasting has been clinically studied more in recent years than in previous ones, benefits that have always been associated with fasting are now receiving much more attention.  Hence, the question which once was, “Why would I want to fast?” is now, “Why wouldn’t I want to fast?”

Some History 

Through millennia, most fasting that was done, whether because of the unavailability of food, religious directives, or for physical healing, over long periods of time – a week, a month, 3 months, whatever.  In modern times we became adapted to 3 meals a day, followed by a long period between the last meal of one day and the first one of the next.  Short term fasting, or intermittent fasting, happened naturally this way. After the late 1960s interest in the longer, therapeutic fasts faded.

A few years later,  when obesity in this country was noticeably on the rise, intermittent fasting took on new life as a powerful tool for losing weight, protecting against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. and a host of other health benefits for your body and your brain.

Intermittent fasting is the pattern of extending periods of not eating between periods of eating.

Intermittent fasting is not concerned so much with the diet, the what you eat, as it is with the timing, the when you eat. It is not a “diet” in the conventional sense.  It is more an “eating pattern.”

Intermittent fasting assists your healthy lifestyle, always a work in progress, and brings a welcome simplicity to busy, stressed 21st Century lives.  It is simply simpler!

For example, one of the main obstacles to eating well these days  is all the work required to plan for and cook healthy meals, particularly as the world of fast food, and now grab-and-go foods mitigate against it.  Intermittent fasting makes life simpler by not having to prepare as many meals, eating less often, and cleaning up less often.

Weight loss is the most common reason that people try intermittent fasting.

Remember that there is no concern here about the “starvation factor.” Short term fasts actually boost metabolism in the body, rather than slow it. The result is that you burn more fat, (read-lose fat), on the cellular level.

When you fast, though, several things happen in your body on the cellular and molecular lever. For starters, your body changes hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible, so that it can be used for fuel. Cells initiate important repair processes and change the expression of genes. Insulin sensitivity improves, cells begin the repair process, and the function of genes change related to longevity and protection against disease.

In my book, one of the nicest features about intermittent fasting is that there is no regimen or rule book.  It as individualized as there are individuals, so that you can begin at any time, and start gradually working it into your life the way it fits you and your lifestyle.

In these last few decades, as intermittent fasting has enjoyed a revival, several methods have emerged, each of which has several variations, depending on the lives and lifestyles of those doing the fasting.

There are some popular methods with which to experiment

The 16/8 Method involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, for example from 10 am to 6 pm, or from noon to 8 pm noon, or from 2 pm to 10 pm. Otherwise, life goes on as usual. You work, you exercise, you drink lots of liquids and eat a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet.

The Eat-Stop-Eat Method involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week, for example, by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.

The 5:2 Method I did this for several months and found it very easy to manage. It entails eating regularly on 5 days of the week, but on 2 non-consecutive days, (ie., Monday and Thursday, or Wednesday and Saturday), eating only 500-800 calories.  I did this by having just a quart or quart and a half of green smoothie* throughout the day, which included about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I felt well nourished and energized. There was some hunger – just hunger – that came and went.  When it came, my mantra was, “I’m not eating any more today.  I’ll eat tomorrow.  I’ll be fine.”  And fine I was!

Any of these methods or their variations will enable weight loss as long as you don’t overeat when the next eating time comes. The tendency to “load up” after any time of fasting is natural, and, within reason will not, curtail weight loss.  The good news is that the longer you do intermittent fasting, the more you will get used to the ebb and flow of hunger. A new rhythm comes into play which feels natural and there is no need to “panic eat.”

I currently do a 16/8 method.  I am generally not hungry in the morning, so am happy to not eat until late morning.  Additionally, I do 2 36 hour fasts a week, usually on Monday and Thursday, which suits my schedule well. That means that when I finish dinner on Sunday, for example, I eat nothing, (but drink plenty of water!), until Tuesday, late -morning. Occasionally I will replace one 36 hour fast in a week with a 5/2 fast. I’m losing weight, feel mentally sharper and more focused, and have energy levels and stamina that amaze me.

I have a friend who does the 16/8 method most days, and then skips dinner twice a week. So, on those days,  he extends his fast through the night all the way from the previous lunch time.

The point here is that there are many ways to do intermittent fasting, and the benefits abound with each of them. If you want to give it a try, start with something non-threatening and manageable for you, and then, when and if you are ready, add in another piece to extend a fasting period.

It’s a good thing.  Try it.  Intermittent fasting can definitely enhance your already healthy lifestyle.

*To download a  free copy of my ebook Green Smoothies: Your Best Quickstart to a Healthier, Happier YOU, click here

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