Alright. Let’s talk about fasting and pull it apart a bit and put it back together to make some sense and debunk a few things.
Set the record straight perhaps.
You will have come across the term ‘fasting’. But what does it mean? To understand something we must use best evidence to define it (except women and cats – for another post, maybe).
In essence, fasting is not eating and/or drinking stuff, that’s it and it’s really broad and undefined. It might be not eating anything for some time; it might be not eating and drinking for some time. Or it could be eating only very limited things. Seems a bit discombobulated now doesn’t it… There is no formal definition and I don’t care what Google or anyone else says, in that this is a heavily commercialised arena so there is distortion for commercial motive.
Ok, let’s go.
Fasting is one of those confusional topics that is poorly understood – the most popular interpretations are 16:8 and 5:2 which refer to times of not eating and eating and so on.
E.g. 16 hours not eating and 8 hours where ‘you can eat’ in a 24-hour period. 5:2 means you can eat normally for 5 days of the week then for 2 days you eat a reduced calorie diet. Neither of these is really fasting in the true sense.
But so what? Why do this? Are there any benefits? Are there any downsides?
As Sinek says.. ‘start with why’. And he’s right, why are you doing this? There might be a voluntary reason it might be involuntary.
We’ll look at both.
Voluntary fasting is where you make the very conscious choice to stop eating for a period of time, and during that time you only drink water. This is a water fast and that’s the 16:8 gig that a lot of people and for good reason.
An example of this might be that you stop eating at 7pm and then do not eat again until 11am the next day. Ie 16 hours later; that’s 16 bit covered. Then from 11am until 7pm you can eat. This works for a lot of people to help them lose weight and that is the primary motivator for doing this. It’s easy to stick to and makes people feel better but why does it? Well, the benefits are that you likely won’t be going to bed on a full stomach; during the time we sleep our bodies have an opportunity to get to work on cleaning out cells, flushing out dead ones. It’s a process called autophagy. It happens all the time but when you’re asleep it happens like crazy! And your body isn’t using up resources on digestion it can really get to work. More of that later. The downsides? You get hungry, you might want to drink wine, that’s basically it.
16:8 is good, but is is 20:4 better following the same concept. Yes, it’s just a bit more difficult to implement.
What about 5:2 – well, that means for 5 days of the week you eat normally and on 2 days of the week you restrict the amount of calories you eat to a significantly lower amount, usually 700-900. What are the benefits here… well, overall, as in over a week you will consume fewer calories and so you will lose weight. And it works… The downsides? You get hungry basically.
Now, these two I’ve just covered come under a term you’ll likely have heard called intermittent fasting – does what it says on the tin.
BUT, and here is the but… it’s a big one and I can not lie.
These are not fasts.
Fasting needs to be for at least 24 hours for health benefits beyond weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, 16:8 alone encourages discipline and if you’re packing a bit too much of what you shouldn’t around your midsection then it’s a good deal but the benefits don’t go further than weight loss really, although you will notice your sleep is better and therefore as a second order consequence your energy levels will be better. The caveat here is that you absolutely must must must drink lots of water. There’s a post on water tomorrow that you will love and it’s stuff you won’t have heard before unless you’re a complete geek like me.
Where actual fasting comes into its own is in that it is an incredibly powerful modality for health and * probably * the fastest way to get rid of most auto immunes, inflammation and so so many health problems.
Remember, I am talking about water fasting for greater than 24 hours. Why 24 hours? So your body uses it most of the glycogen stores around your liver. 48-72 hours is better really. But 24 hours is more doable and gives the most bang for buck.
Let’s use a few evolutionary clues to extrapolate some data…
Observe any mammal that is sick, ill, injured or distressed; it will not eat. During this time of not eating the body can repair damaged cells, accelerate the rate of new cells being produced and apply more bandwidth to the promotion of health rather than allocating a significant percentage of energy to digestion which is a useless process other than to obtain energy and nutrients.
Fasting is an adaptation (adaptations are a separate topic) that animals have developed to survive during periods when food has not been available and also to recover lost health. Powerful combo yeah?
Any human examples of this? Absolutely!
Probably the most famous example is Dr Henry Tanner who was so ill and in pain from arthritis he decided to ‘end it’ to put himself out of his misery. He stopped eating, against all advice of his peers and he stopped eating for 42 days. Guess what happened? He didn’t die, he came alive! His health exploded… Mark Twain mentions him in his work; it’s highly notable stuff!
Now, that seems excessive and maybe it is but there are places where you can go and be medically supervised and water fast for this period of time. You don’t die, you get better. You start to enjoy foods that you didn’t before and you add years of longevity to your life. Roy Walford discussed this in his book ‘maximum life span’ where he showed that rodents lived about 40% longer using, in part, this modality. We don’t have enough data on humans yet simply because humans live too long but we will and I expect the results to be similar.
If you want to see this stuff in action, look up the True North Health Centre in Santa Rosa, California. I trained under the clinical lead and resident psychologist back in 2015.
The point is this, people have fasted since the dawn of time for various reasons be it cultural, religious, a lack of food, spiritual, or whatever. It’s old tech.
This OLD technology has now been proven with NEW technology – the world leader in this field is Valter Longo – currently working out of UCSF.
So, is fasting for you – it depends…. and it depends on what you are wanting to achieve. That said, I have not known one person to become ill from fasting. However, and this is important – do not fast for more than 3 days without medical advice. Stuff can go wrong, particularly for people on certain medications, I’m looking at you blood pressure meds, antidepressants, and diuretics.
There is also an entire genre of fasts that are not fasts, stuff like juice fasting, which is really just a very low-calorie diet but it works because you’re getting food and focused on your diet. There will be tons of others.
But water fasting, for auto immunes, infections, covid, flu, does it work – fuck yeah!
And that autophagy thing I was mentioning. That is how to slow the ageing process. Let your body repair itself. This is what stops your telomeres from getting decimated by inflammation and oxidative stress. The images show the process; they’re funny I think! Those macrophages lol
Oh, and the term ‘hangry’ a portmanteau of hungry and angry has truth in it. If we were deprived of food when it was available we would fight for it as a survival strategy! 🙂