I’ve been wanting to start a fast for the last year, because I’d been hearing the buzz about all the incredible health, cognition and weightloss benefits of intermittent fasting. Not only from trendy bloggers, and youtubers, but I was actually beginning to hear it from peer reviewed journals as well. Still, there was always a little voice in my head that told me. “But what if I get groggy during work” or “I should wait until I’m on vacation” “There’s just too much going on right now” I had a thousand excuses, but the biggest was probably “How am I going to survive without coffee.”
So instead of confronting all of my internal chatty saboteurs at once, I decided to tackle them one at a time, and leave at least my favorite crutch in place. I wanted to try to see how long I could go without eating after I had my coffee. I had already tried the bulletproof diet, which entails simply exchanging breakfast for a buttery coffee beverage. And though it took some getting used to the idea of putting something in my coffee that belongs on toast.
I eventually began to really love the prolonged, and sustained energy it gave me. After doing some research, I found out that the traditional drink is actually based on an ancient Tibetan recipe for sustaining mental clarity in high altitudes. The drink is made by churning fermented black tea with salty yak butter. I wasn’t going to go that far, a nice slice of Kerrygold, in my favorite organic coffee was plenty experimental for the time being. The result was phenomenal, and actually allowed me to easily go without breakfast. Now it wasn’t my hunger, but rather my habits of having lunch during my lunch break that was keeping me from extending my fast. And just like that, I had hit my 17 hour mark. Well within the range of Autophagy. Autopha-what?
Autophagy is the body's way of cleaning house. Not bogged down by the constant labor of digestion, it begins to attend to other chores, such as cleaning. It gets rid of old cells, damaged cells, and seems to have highly beneficial effects on the mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the power plants inside our cells. New research from Harvard shows the shape of the mitochondrial networks can not only increase longevity and energy levels, but by manipulating those mitochondrial networks through dietary restriction, they are more likely to remain in a "youthful" state and retain their plasticity as they oscillate from one shape to another, and adapts to their environment.
Granted, worms aren’t people, but similar studies seem to point to the fact that restrictive eating, especially within the 12-72 hour range can have significant beneficial effects on energy levels, longevity, and general well being. Plus, improved plasticity when changing from one shape to another – whether emotionally or physically - sounds like a good deal to me.
2: Stubborn Fat Loss
I’m not gonna lie, this is definitely my second favorite benefit of intermittent fasting. Stubborn Fat Loss! The relationshipg between toxicity and weight loss is something very few people ever talk about. Because the liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body, a common misconception is that toxins are stored in our liver. Not so folks. Toxins make themselves cosy in our fat cells. In fact, some of that stubborn fat is busy acting like a protective layer, encapsulating toxins that would otherwise flood our bloodstream if they were to be broken down. For that reason, our body is sometimes unwilling to break apart those cells. It would be like breaking down prisons, because you don’t like the prison systems - but what to do with all those prisoners?
Scientists have expressed concern that the released toxins could increase dieters' oxidative stress which comes with risks of serious conditions such as hormone (endocrine) disruption (reproductive and fertility problems), heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Yikes. So exercising and dieting without detoxing first, is not only inefficient, but it may even be dangerous.
So. What's the solution? You guessed it. Autophagy. Like I mentioned earlier. Autophagy turns your body into a scavenger, consuming all the toxic elements floating around in your body, and thus making it easier to break down, or utilize the now clean fat cells for energy.
Kind of like a car, your body needs clean fuel to run efficiently. Which brings me to my next point.
3: Gut Bacteria
Though scientists are only beginning to understand how intermittent fasting impacts gut health and microbiomes, within the 12 hour plus range studies (at least on animals) clearly indicate that caloric restrictions have a positive impact on microbial diversity in the gut. Hence, increasing tolerance against “bad” gut microbes, as well as restoring the integrity of the intestinal epithelium. (Which is basically the fence around your garden that keeps the deer out.)
So in short, fasting fixes the fence that protects your cells, and promotes the growth of good bacteria. Good Start.
Now, did you know that the human body is only partially made of up cells, while the rest is made up of trillions of microorganisms that actually outnumber your human cells by ten to one? Well everything you eat influences your gut microbes and can thus influence the choices you make throughout the day. In a way, you really are what you eat, and think like you digest - literally. You make up your mind to have a good, clean food day, but a few hours later, your critters are overriding the control mechanisms, and making decisions for you - remember - they have a 10 -1 stake on your company. So be careful what microscopic employees you hire to do your digestion.
Not to mention the million names for sugar that have been conveniently rebranded so even avid label readers fall for the marketing trap plastered to the side of a vegan, sugar free ice cream pint. “No Sugar.” It’s usually replaced by erythritol, stevia, or other sugar alcohols under different names, and though scientists can’t keep up with all the new invented processed foods flooding the market - refined sugar alone has been known to feed precisely those microbes linked to obesity, heart disease, and a host of other diseases. So even if you think you’re eating clean throughout the day chances are sugar, preservatives, pesticides, and artificial oils are sneaking their way into your meals. I'm personally not a compulsive label reader, which is what one has to be in order to avoid the sneaky ingredients. My point is: less is more. While you’re fasting for 8-12+ hours you’re automatically avoiding the majority of those pitfalls we encounter from snacking on “healthy” food throughout the day.
We’re often just one metabolic process away from achieving our goals. Eating a spoonful of sugar in your coffee in the morning for example will spike your blood sugar, wake up your NightWalker sugar zombies, and leave you craving more for the rest of the day. If that's part of your morning routine, you'll just be making your life unnecessarily difficult. Instead, abstaining for 12 hours can have your body switching to a more reliable energy source – and one that most of us have plenty saved up to spare. Fat.
So if you want to unleash Daenerys and her dragons on the bacteria that don’t serve you, do a 12 hour fast, and starve them out.
That takes me to my 4th point.
4: Uptake of Nutrients.
A study at NCBI showed that when mice were injected with gut microbes from malnourished children, they showed signs of decreased growth in relation to mice given microbes from healthy children. The mice with the healthy microbes had stronger bones, and more muscle.
You may say to yourself, “What does this have to do with fasting? I drink fresh pressed juices, green smoothies, kale, and only shop at the organic farmers market” That’s great and certainly a great lifestyle choice, but if you have never fasted, you may be cutting your results short, and not getting your money’s worth on your groceries. Just like you wouldn't put Hermes pillows on your dog couch, a short term fast of at least 12 hours, would greatly increase the absorption of what you’re putting in your body.
Your gut bacteria’s primary job is to synthesise the nutrition from your food, and make it available to you. So no matter how many kale smoothies you’re guzzling after yoga class — if your body does not have the bacteria to absorb the essential nutrients present within the food, your $300 Whole Foods bill may be going to the dogs.
5: Increased Energy
When animals go without food, within the first few hours of scarcity, the body activates a switch that forces itself to become a little smarter, a little faster, and a little stronger. Even increased memory, focus, and improved cognitive skills has been shown in lab animals. In short, the body activates a nitro like switch that makes you better at finding, and getting whatever it is you’re looking for. Some studies suggest that people experience up to 60% increase in energy. It seems the body has evolved to perform at a higher level when in a food-deprived state, specifically when fatty acids and their ketones become the major source of fuel, as opposed to glucose. In the case of mice, they found that a mouse fed every other day had better endurance than mice fed on a regular schedule. So on that note, my primary myth was debunked… I hope I’ve debunked some of your myths too.