What if we told you there was a way to delay aging, reverse arthritis and diabetes, prevent and treat diseases, even lose stubborn extra weight that won't budge in spite of dieting? Healthy Girlfriend will even throw this gem out: it's an ancient method and it's free.
We're talking about intermittent fasting. Fasting, or going without food, has been used throughout history as a healing method, a way to achieve mental clarity, and a method to explore human's spiritual connection to the great mystery, or creator. In nature, animals use it all the time. Ever notice your dog doesn't eat when she's sick? It's a biological instinct that humans have as well. We've just lost touch with our instinctual rhythms of nature and become desensitized to our body's cries for healing.
Fasting is natural to us. Think about it...we evolved going through periods where there was no food available. Our prehistoric ancestors definitely did not eat three squares a day (much less the 4-6 times that many diet/fitness gurus claim we should be eating.) A very good day was very likely one where there was one decent meal. Other days saw a handful of berries or a few tubers, perhaps some very small game, and that was it for the family. There were times when there simply was no food to be had and therefore they went without for days. Based on what we're told by mainstream "experts", this doesn't sound very healthy at first consideration, but actually it was extremely beneficial, and we now have the science to prove it.
Here's what the science shows: Fasting can help your brain, specifically, improving the ravages of Alzheimer's and dementia and likely preventing those horrible diseases in the first place. Studies with fasting mice point to benefits such as this, and also indicate that memory and learning are improved by periodic fasting. So is mood. Fasting seems to lessen depression in sufferers.
Studies show that fasting naturally leads to weight loss, even when people eat normally on non-fast days. Different fasting methods that we discuss below lead to different rates of weight loss, so if you decide to practice intermittent fasting for weight loss, you will want to consider each one based on that criteria.
Calorie restriction, as practiced in any "diet," is followed by weight loss which happens with intermittent fasting, too. In real life, people who practice IF, only eat about 10% more food on non-fast days. They are incorporating calorie restriction without even trying. Consequently, this weight loss leads to improvements in trygliceride and cholesterol levels, effectively reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
More studies with real humans show that intermittent fasting stabilizes blood sugar. We are led to believe that we must eat regular meals to keep blood sugar steady, but even when people do longer fasts, blood sugar remains constant until the 4th day of fasting! We would not give a blanket approval for Type 2 diabetics to start practicing intermittent fasting; you should consult with your M.D. or N.D before jumping into IF. Still, the preliminary studies look good for many people with blood sugar problems.
Other benefits that were found both in mice and humans indicate that intermittent fasting improves skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema and is even protective against cancer and diabetes. Some really great news that recently came out concerned fasting in conjunction with chemotherapy. In studies with mice who were fasted before having chemo, tumors shrank more than in the mice who were not fasted prior to the procedure. Read more about that here.
More detailed information on studies with humans and mice can be read here.
Intermittent fasting refers to going without food for a certain number of hours, not for days. For example, many fans of intermittent fasting (IF) simply skip one meal every day, typically breakfast or dinner. Others incorporate it by specifying one entire day per week with only water.
Anything more than 12 hours and the benefits of intermittent fasting start kicking in. Go for 16 hours every day and you'll start to notice a gradual weight loss in month. What that looks like is stopping eating at 8 p.m., skipping breakfast (coffee and tea are ok as long as you drink it black) and not eating lunch until noon. When it's meal time, make healthy choices but eat until you're full. Our experience with this method is that it's not difficult and in fact, left us feeling physically and emotionally better than eating 3 squares. We discovered that the feeling of hunger is not that intense, and that the sensation rises and falls. We are not constantly hungry and thinking about the first meal of the day. Surprisingly, many people find it improves their concentration and productivity.
Another popular method involves calorie restriction and focuses on weight loss. Sometimes called the Fast Diet, people can choose to skip breakfast or lunch (so either one 16 hour or two twelve hour fasts.) For their two meals, calories are restricted to a total of 500 for women and 600 for men. Those with plenty of weight to lose practice this form of IF two days per week. Once they achieve their ideal weight, they drop down to fasting one day a week. When we first heard about the benefits of fasting, we tried this for about a month. It's harder to do than the previous method because we were really hungry with such a small amount of calories and could think of nothing but food! Many who swear by the Fast Diet say you get used to it, so maybe we should have given it longer. One thing is for sure, doing this type of IF exposes how psychologically addicting food is. It made us aware just how much we view eating as emotional comfort rather than nourishment. Besides the dramatic weight loss that results, we recommend experimenting with it for the psychological aspect of eating that it sheds light on.
Dr. Michael Mosley wrote a book on the Fast Diet and also created an informative and watchable documentary called Eat, Fast and Live Longer which you can view on YouTube.
Sipping on herbal tea while fasting curbs appetite, hydrates, and takes your mind off fasting.
As we mentioned above, we prefer the daily 16 hour fast. It's the easiest IF method and generally, people feel the least deprived. In fact, we adapted in a couple days and don't feel very hungry at all with this method. It has now become habit and truly cuts down the time it takes to get out the door in the morning. It looks like this:
7 pm Finish up eating for the day. Dinner is over, kitchen is cleaned up, and there's no snacking beyond this time. It usually works out that this is our biggest meal of the day, so we don't feel like grazing in the evening.
5 am We get up and have a cup of tea or occasionally coffee with a small amount of soy milk. Technically, if you add anything to your morning beverage, it's not a fast, however, if you keep it at 25 calories or less, it shouldn't do any harm.
11 am This is break-fast and usually consists of a piece of fruit or small green smoothee that holds us until our scheduled 1:00 lunch. On weekends, we may eat a big salad or a bowl of hearty soup (as much as we want) around 11:30 or 12. If we have fasted from 7 pm until 11 am, that makes a 16 hour fast.
6pm Dinner. We aim for a plant based dinner most days and don't count calories since veggies are not calorie-dense. If we eat a meal that contains meat, we are conscious of not overdoing the portion size since meat is high in calories and contains plenty of unecessary fat.
Healthy Girlfriend found out that going without eating is not at all like we imagined. First of all, hunger is not a constant gnawing in your gut. The first day we tried IF, we were doing the 5:2 method which calls for restricting calories to 500 on fast days. We did experience stronger hunger but it came in waves and we simply drank water or tea when we felt the wave peak. That turned out to be an 18 hour fast just because we wanted to push ourselves.
After a month on the 5:2 method, our IF just naturally lapsed into daily fasting without calorie restriction. This method was easier because we knew we could eat whatever sounded good and was healthy after the 16 hour mark. Our hunger lessened, too. Now we view hunger as no big deal, just a body sensation that doesn't need to be satisfied in that moment.
5:2 (or the Fast Diet) involves more planning to make sure you don't exceed the 500-600 calorie allowance on fast days. Also, we weren't used to daily fasts when we started fasting and so it felt more extreme. We would definitely consider doing a once-a-week calorie restricted day because we are now used to, and prefer to skip breakfast. If we find our pants a bit tight after the holiday, we will definitely go down this road again!
We noted that eating is truly a psychological phenomenon. It is a social ritual, a boredom-filler, and often a way of comforting yourself rather than simply a way of supplying the body with fuel. The truth is, the body can delay eating for longer than we think without adverse effects. Mental clarity and energy improves during fasting and it's an ideal time to do creative work. It's also the ideal time to exercise because it intensifies the results. Bottom line; stay busy so you don't dwell on food and get active to maximize your exercise.
As far as losing weight, we noticed that our close-to-ideal weight stays pretty stable with this method, but if you are carrying a larger amount of extra weight, you will definitely experience gradual weight loss with a daily fast.
If you try this 16 hour style of intermittent fasting and find the weight doesn't come off as quickly as you'd like, please do check out the Fast Diet or the Every Other Day Diet for more aggressive weight loss. All methods of intermittent fasting are beneficial when you do them the right way, so please do your research and find what works for you.