Despite its surge in popularity, fasting is a practice that dates back centuries, and there is plenty of scientific research that confirms its benefits, which goes well beyond weight loss. For example, fasting does wonders for promoting blood sugar control and decreasing insulin resistance. By increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin, your body becomes more efficient getting glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells where it is needed. Fasting also fights inflammation, improves blood pressure, and reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels, just to name a few. Why don’t more people do it? It’s hard. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.
How do I know? I’m living proof. I’m just finishing up my 6th five-day fast, less then a week after my 60th birthday. Most associate fasting with the complete abstinence of all food and drink except for water. Needless to say, few of us are disciplined enough to endure a five-day absolute fast. I was fortunate enough to find an alternative way to obtain the myriad benefits of fasting without an absolute fast. I am a firm proponent of the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) developed by Dr. Valter Longo. an esteemed biogerentologist and Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. He has devoted his entire professional career to the field of aging.
The FMD is supported by over 25 years of university research and, in fact, goes well beyond weight loss. Weight loss happens to be a really nice side benefit for those of us who seem to naturally climb up the weight curve despite our best efforts. The FMD was developed to promote longevity and not just adding years to your life, but quality years. After all, what really counts is not your lifespan, but your “healthspan,” extending you life with quality years without debilitating issues like diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic problems. His research culminated with a 5-day plan that reduces the hunger and possible side effects of a water fast by providing an exact macronutrient combination and calories so your body believes it is fasting. Fasting activates pro-aging pathways that put cells in a “protective mode,” increasing DNA repair, regenerating stem cells, and other activities that literally “supercharge” the body. Our cells respond to the stress of fasting by becoming stronger.
How did I come across this? It started about a year ago when I was STILL struggling with my weight. It seems no matter what I did or tried, I just could not consistently keep a healthy weight. Like many, I’d lose a few pounds and inevitably gain them back and more. And it’s not only me. Many have the same issues, and the problem is only getting worse. Two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese and we are struggling with record rates of Type 2 diabetes and other preventable diseases. Mainstream health care has been ominously quiet. More and more meds are bing prescribed, yet no one seems to be addressing the underlying cause: too many people are carrying too many extra pounds. Maybe I’m cynical, but I feel that too many in the health care field and too many corporations, especially those in the food processing industry, are making too much money off of the obesity health crisis. We to make the needed wholesale changes in our food supply and our lifestyle. KFC is test-marketing a fried chicken sandwich in a glazed donut bun!
I was convinced that someone somewhere was conducting serious research on these pervasive problems. So, as most people do, I went to the Internet to see if i could dig up anything useful. To my surprise, there was plenty. There are some amazing biochemists and medical doctors who doing some “alternative” thinking on weight loss, longevity and other roads to optimal health. Unfortunately, these lone voices do not have the marketing platform to get out the word and you must actively work to find them. These amazing researchers won’t show up on your doorstep. It’s not easy digging out this information, but knowledge is POWER! With a little work and some understanding some basic physiology, neuroscience and psychology might give you the knowledge you need to help solve your own unique body.
What did I learn?
Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Feeding.
The body is not meant to be ingesting and digesting food 24/7. Our hunter-gatherer bodies and our evolutionary hard-wired behaviors were based on feast and famine. It is only in recent times where we have ready access to food, food that we don’t have to work that hard to obtain or chew. Scientists call this an evolutionary mismatch. I found some great research gathered by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, on her blog https://www.foundmyfitness.com/. One in particular blew my mind — an interview Dr. Satchin Panda of the Salk Institute https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/satchin-round-2. When you eat is as or more important than what you eat. Our bodies were simply not meant to have food around the clock with constantly elevated blood sugar levels. Heeding this simple advice, I reduced my eating to an 8-10 hour window, which for me was around 9 am to 6 pm, without exception during the week. This gives the body about a 14-16 hour daily fast. At first, I was conscious of it, but routines do not take long to become habit, especially when changes in lifestyle make you look and feel better. If you don’t make any other changes in your life, just limiting your window of consuming food is an easy first step in weight loss and better health.
I incorporated a few tips from Matthew Walker, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who serves as the Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. For as long as I could remember, I had trouble sleeping and was a light sleeper who would wake up from the slightest noise. Dr. Walker stressed the importance of darkness at night and wearing a sleep mask if your sleeping area has any light at all. It is also important to reduce exposure to stimulating blue light at night. Good sleep is essential not only for weight management, but for life itself. Sleep has a profound influence on learning, mood, and even our immune system. You can learn more at https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/matthew-walker.
Feast and famine. You go out and hunt, eat the catch then famine till the next. Our body is used to that and knows how to store food and then burn that stored food till the next kill. Unfortunately for us, the body has not evolved and with 24/7 access to unnatural processed food, we never experience the famine. And that’s why we just keep getting fatter. To make matters worse, we are surrounded by inexpensive calorically dense foods that are purposefully manipulated with combinations of sugar, salt, and fat to stimulate our appetites. No wonder why there is an obesity epidemic. With all of the tempting foods we have to choose from at the supermarket, the deck is stacked against us.
I learned that our body is a wonderfully complicated mechanism, and in a natural environment is an amazing machine. The problems all started when we transplanted this efficient machine to the modern world. During my research, I found Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist. He’s a world-leading expert on intermittent fasting and low carb, especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes. His research is too complex to summarize here. I strongly recommend watching his videos discussing what he refers to our “two-compartment” system. These videos are truly life-changers. https://idmprogram.com/videos/
Fasting Mimicking Diets (FMD)
So maybe water fasting isn’t for you. Dr. Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences and director of the longevity institute at the University of Southern California. developed the FMD. Dr. Longo researched and realized the tremendous benefits of fasting for longevity and weight loss but getting people to do actually do it was the challenge. Over 20 years he came up with a specific food plan with the exact amount of calories that puts your body in a fasting state. I highly recommend his videos https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/valter-longo and book The Longevity Diet.
I would say that Dr David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite was one of the most significant influences on my journey. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Kessler clearly explained how our brain chemistry has been hijacked by the foods we most love to eat: those that contain stimulating combinations of fat, sugar, and salt. I have to warn you, after you read this book and see how the restaurant and food industry takes advantage of basic human physiology to get you to consume far more than you ever would of. And no, it’s not will power and you are not a failure. We are hard-wired to pursue “rewarding” food, that is, food that’s loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. But if you understand how your body works and why your body has such a strong drive to eat certain foods, it is much easier to make the necessary changes to regain once’s health.
Conclusion: A Healthy New Me
One of my health goals as I was approaching 60 was to be close as I could get to my ideal weight. That goal has eluded me for much of my life, or I’ve gotten there only to have the extra weight somehow return. In fact, even just six months ago I wouldn’t have thought that possible. But I was relentless. I was committed to finally gaining the knowledge to figure it out for myself. No doctor or anyone else was going to give it to me on a platter. By researching my own genetic profile, my own psychological and physical connection to food, I finally found the answers. It was like finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I am now very close to my ideal body weight, and I know I’ll soon get there. But even more important, the biggest relief of all is that I am finally confident I can maintain my proper weight because I understand what’s going on in my body and brain. Because I understand why I do what I do, I finally have my once self-destructive behaviors under control.
Nothing would please me more than to have others find the same path. This is one secret I do not want to keep.
I’d love to hear from you about your healthy weight journey.