I decided to make intermittent fasting part of my life over 2 years ago now. I have always been a person who has “Yo Yo’d” in weight not truly understanding why other than in my younger years when I was very active and sporty. After reaching 18 years of age my exercise activity slowed down when I started working and my eating habits became quite poor with my alcohol consumption increasing. I was a result of the “Yuppie” world of the late 1980’s early 1990’s when spending money and dining out often, was high on the agenda. Slowly but surely, I had gone from a size 8 to a fast-approaching size 16 in clothes. This was when my introduction to the dieting world started and I found that I was not very good at it!
At the age of 50 and trying to find a way to help my boyfriend with his severe stomach health issues I came across a number of people who were talking about intermittent fasting. My boyfriend was being helped by a lady called Dr Sarah Myhill who had briefly mentioned Intermittent fasting to him. I became quite curious and wanted to find out more about the health benefits. I then came across another person by the name of Dr Jason Fung who has done a lot of research into fasting which he successful uses with diabetic patients.
In 2016 Yoshinori Ohsumi became a Nobel Prize Winner for physiology and medicine “for discovering the mechanisms of autophagy”.
The Nobel Prize Committee’s press release reads:
“Ohsumi’s discoveries have led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how a cell processes its contents. His discoveries have opened new ways of understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy for a large number of physiological processes, such as adaptation to starvation and response to an infection.”
As you can imagine I started to get quite intrigued about the health benefits and the science, especially surrounding the effects on weight. Some people who have completed some of my Healthy Eating Programs know I now introduce fasting as part of this. Remember fasting is NOT starvation but a very controlled way of eating and is something that human beings have been doing for years so it is part of our DNA.
Hippocrates of Kos in Greece, who is the father of modern medicine. He systemized medical treatments disentangling them from religion and superstitions. He famously said that “our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food but to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness”. He talks about the fact that our bodies are designed to fast and heal naturally.
Benjamin Franklin a scientist and highly intelligent individual who was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America stated that “the best of all medicines is fasting”.
So, we have been fasting for many years now and we fast for many religious reasons eg Ramadan. Why then is fasting so good for us?
10 x Health Benefits
Increase in Fat Burning Hormone – This means that we have a greater ability of controlling hunger and stops craving.
Decrease in Stress Hormone – Enables us to burn more belly fat.
Increased Brain Function – Allows us to gain better memory and concentration.
Boost in Metabolism and Energy
Reduced Risk in Diabetes and easing of symptoms
In men it increases testosterone.
Increased Insulin Sensitivity – Allows us to eat more and stay slim.
Decreased Inflammation – Enables our joints to heal better and feel better
Rapid Cleansing and Renewal – At a cellular level
Increased Growth Hormone – Helps Ageing Process
What Is Fasting?
Fasting is merely an amount of time in which we do not eat. The average person naturally used to fast for 12 hours Example 7pm Dinner until 7am Breakfast. This is where the word “break fast” came about as it was the first meal of the day after fasting.
Our body is usually either in a state of fasting or a state of feeding. Therefore, if we can extend the length of fasting, we are more likely to burn more energy. One of the more popular ways to fast is a “16 to 8”. Sixteen hours in which to fast and 8 hours for your eating window. Some people such as I, have chosen to do a 23/24 hour fast which is literally eating one meal per day. Obviously, you can extend these fasts to a 48 hour fast providing you are safe.
The main point of intermittent fasting is that you do not need to do this daily but 2 to 3 times per week as an average. I would recommend you start on 1 to 2 days at a shorter period and then build up depending on what suits you and your lifestyle as it needs to be something that fits in with you to be successful. My fasting is 5 days per week, and this suits my lifestyle. The most popular way to fast is to do this intermittently every other day and preferably a minimum of 18 hours fasting and with a 6 hour eating window.
Evidence from decades of animal and human studies has shown that Intermittent Fasting has proven to provide us with numerous health benefits such as improvements in Obesity, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancers and Neurological Disorders. There are also studies in progress to find out if intermittent fasting can help us increase our lifespan.
Whenever we eat the body releases’ insulin to help cells convert sugars from food into energy. Sugars are broken down into glucose and if the body does not need these for energy then insulin helps the excess store in our fat cells. Therefore, when we go longer periods of time without eating our body goes directly to the fat stores to produce energy. It is the breaking down of fat cells for energy that helps us in weight loss.
In turn, it is this process that helps us fight against Type ll Diabetes as during Intermittent Fasting you are not constantly eating. This means that your blood sugar levels are lower and so too are your insulin levels. Diabetes in the western world is becoming a pandemic so with intermittent fasting we can help stabilise our blood sugar levels.
Intermittent Fasting works a little like exercise without any of the effort. During exercise there is a stress on the cells. During the resting period, these cells become stronger and bigger because of the exercise. Intermittent Fasting works in a similar way in that when your body is fasting it goes into a stress resistant mode which means that once we eat we use up all the nutrients and proteins so that our cells can grow.
When fasting something occurs in our body known as “Autophagy” which is the body’s natural recycling process of old and damaged cells. This process goes on to rejuvenate organisms by creating new cells, removing defective proteins thus maintaining them in good condition. It is at this point that you find skin looks and feels healthier, teeth brighter and stronger and improvements occur to other organ functions.
The mental benefits occur when your brain goes into a kind of survival mode during your fasting period. This means that your brain becomes hyper focused on what you really want to concentrate on given you clarity without those extra thoughts getting in the way. It gives you true focus and produces ketone bodies which is also a brain fuel.
Ketone bodies are produced by the liver during glucogenesis, a process which creates glucose in times of fasting or starvation. When glucose is high in the body it is busy storing the excess as fats, building proteins, and generally growing known as the “absorptive state”. During fasting the glucose in your body quickly become depleted and start the “postabsorptive state”. At this time, the body starts converting fat back into fatty acids, glycogen into glucose and breaks down amino acids into energy. Most of the cells in our body can survive on fatty acids other than our brain and liver which needs glucose. The liver keeps supplying glucose to the brain through a process called gluconeogenesis and at the same time produces two ketone bodies which flow through the bloodstream. At this moment our muscles and other functions are using fatty acids for food conserving the glucose to feed the brain.
The power of fasting does not just lie in the mere reduction of calories but the beneficial hormonal changes. One of the main benefits is the reduction of insulin but there are also increases in adrenaline, cortisol and growth hormone.
Growth Hormone is made by the pituitary gland and helps our development especially as children and adolescents. As we get older this depletes and we are generally prone to losing both muscle and bone mass.
A number of studies have now proved that fasting helps to increase our growth hormone thereby increasing both our muscle and bone mass at the same time as breaking down fat.
When fasting is done right the result is that we get an increase in energy, control weight, have faster recovery, decrease insulin and insulin resistance, decrease blood sugars levels, increase muscle and bone mass. We feel and look better and help our body to fight against chronic disease.
Start your fasting slowly and then increase over a month whilst allowing your body to get used to the hunger and initial lack of energy before reaping the amazing rewards.
Acknowledgments Dr Jason Fung, Dr Sarah Myhill, Nobel Prize Committee Press Release,