I just got home from seeing a friend who has struggled with her weight most of her life. I’ve never known her to be hugely overweight, but she described herself as being the “fat, funny friend” …not how I saw her, but self-image is usually more important than how others see you.
At any rate, she looked absolutely FANTASTIC and shared that she had lost 25 pounds since last July, had kept it off AND…more importantly, that it had been pretty easy. Her husband had engaged in this experiment with her, even though he had never before been willing to follow any of her health journeys and he lost 50 pounds and is enthralled with the new life this has opened up to him, in terms of what he’s able to do physically.
I was intrigued.
While most people think of me as being super fit, I often find myself wanting to lose 5-10 pounds and the “more mature” I get (read: older!), the more I’m interested in all easy hacks to keep all of my systems operating optimally and to keep myself medication free. I needed to investigate this information more closely!
Before I dive into this topic, let me say a few things about who this type of eating plan is NOT for: pregnant or nursing women, any woman wanting to be pregnant and nursing, children under 18, people with a history of eating disorders, anyone with health challenges that caloric restriction would be detrimental to…in other words, check with your doc before you follow any of these programs. (One of the reasons I loved the medically supervised fasting retreat we recommend.)
The program my friend follows is outlined by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer in their books and website: https://thefastdiet.co.uk Their program is based on 2 days per week of restricted calories, any two days you choose, and the other 5 days a week made up of your normal eating habits.
Now, there are LOTS of ideas and plans of this concept called “Intermittent Fasting” and all of them tout the same health benefits which I will get into, in just a minute. What intrigued me about this method was that it felt “doable” to me AND seeing my friends’ results were impressive.
I’ve long followed, and recommended, not eating after 6 pm which basically gives one a fasting state of 12-16 hours or more, depending on when you eat your first meal of the day.
I find that I’m able to maintain my weight with this practice, but it doesn’t help me to overcome the slides I take while on vacation or at the holidays or…during the pandemic!
I have gone to supervised water-only fasting retreats several times in the last 15 years to reset my metabolism, cravings and habits. You can read about my last experience here. I am a big believer in water-only fasting as a healing modality and a way to get out of the “pleasure trap” that many of us fall into. The only problem: many people are opposed or unable to taking 2-4+ weeks out of their lives to do so!
The 10-day reset that Jake and I engage in and recommend, includes the concept of intermittent fasting by having one of the 10 precepts be not eating after 6 p.m. As I mentioned earlier, this effectively is having the person engage in intermittent fasting. My question is “does it go far enough”? Do we get more profound results with a more dramatic practice like the 5:2 method recommended by Mosley and Spencer or the ADF (Alternate Day Fasting) method or some other variation?
After my first week following the 5:2 plan, I have to say that it hasn’t been too tough and I’m already down a couple of pounds, but more importantly, I’m intrigued by all of the other health benefits that intermittent fasting suggests.
Let’s go through them.
Longevity: The only proven method of absolutely increasing life span is caloric restriction. While counter intuitive, caloric restriction studies have been performed on rodents, worms and even primates. Calories are reduced severely: approximately ½ of their normal intake and lifespans appear to increase by 50-300%! Yowser!
The only bummer is that eating half of your normal intake of calories for the rest of your life sounds terrible! Other studies done with using fasting rodents every other day or 1 day in 3 or 4, also increased their lifespan AND their health span…meaning they had few signs of cancer, heart disease or any other degenerative disease! This is fascinating.
The hypothesis is that a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor” (IGF-1), needed while we are young to grow, becomes detrimental to our health, in large quantities, as we age. Research is showing that periodic fasting can lower the amount of IGF-1 thus helping to prevent things like cancer and diabetes.
Producing Repair Genes: The mechanism for this is not thoroughly understood but it is well documented that our bodies start to get rid of “bad stuff” when we fast. This process is called “autophagy” and basically means “self-eat”. One hypothesis is that not taking in calories is a signal to our body to do the best it can with what it has, namely “clean house.
Stem Cell Regeneration: Stem cells are cells that can become anything in our bodies: liver, heart, etc. As we age, our bodies immune systems seem to be adversely affected so the idea that we could produce more white cells, for example, which fight of illness and infection…even cancer, is very exciting. A 2014 study shows just this: fasting can switch on stem cells and regenerate the immune system!
Weight Loss: of course, we will lose weight when we fast, but prolonged periods of fasting can cause muscle wasting and often a rebound effect when the fast is over. With intermittent fasting (especially with exercise), weight loss is more gradual, yet sustained over time.
I admit, I am new to this, but I felt fine playing tennis on both days of my fast during my first week.
Your brain: Can fasting make you smarter? Studies done on rats seem to point in that direction. Mazes were used in this study and observed to see which ones navigated their way easily and which ones struggled. The rats who were being intermittently fasted did much better and appeared to get a much longer span of clear thinking compared to the rats being fed a “normal diet”.
One of the biggest changes in the brains of the fasted mice was an increase in something called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF) which stimulated stem cells to grow into new nerve cells in the hippocampus, which is crucial for normal learning and memory.
Why would this happen? When you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint, it would be helpful to survival for our ancestors to have better functioning brains when low on food for hunting and foraging, right?
Mood: Referring to the BDNF info above, elevations in this hormone have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Complex studies into examining the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) seem to suggest an increase in BDNF levels after just a few weeks of intermittent fasting!
Diabetes: Anything that reduces insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes. In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31%. Not only does insulin affect blood sugar levels, elevated levels actually induce your body to store fat.
Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke…Yikes! Not to mention impotence, blindness and amputation due to poor circulation…double yikes!
Other conditions: inflammation, immune function, skin conditions, allergies and more are all conditions that have been found to be positively influenced by intermittent fasting either experimentally or anecdotally. All this evidence is enough for me to give it a try. One thing that I would encourage anyone attempting intermittent fasting is to up your intake of fruit and veg nutrition by using the same plant concentrates our family has been using since 1994. Additionally, our super-food smoothie mix gives you the highest quality nutrition with low calories: nutritiously dense, calorically sparse! Did I mention, “it’s delicious”?
I’m optimistic about this journey and am so hopeful that experience some of the benefits I’ve been reading about. I’m ALWAYS looking for ways to up level my health!
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