Contributed by Bruno Jonas, producer of the podcast Busting Addiction and Its Myths, airing its 156th episode as of September 1, 2022.
There must be a thousand diet books that are supposed to help you lose weight, lose that last ten pounds of belly fat, help you get your energy and sexiness back, and maybe even save your marriage. They are all based on some formula that eliminates one thing or another or includes a whole lot of this or that.
There’s the Mediterranean diet, the paleo diet, the ketone diet, the South Beach diet and a hundred more. And these diets, if you followed them religiously, will probably work for you.
The problem, however, is that none of them address the issue of when we eat which is just as important as what we eat.
People cringe when I bring up the topic of fasting, which is why I titled my piece Just So No To Food? which is what fasting implies. Starve yourself for days on end and then voila! You’ll come out the other end skinny and very hungry and put all that weight back on again.
Fact is that humans were not meant to be eating all the time. The reason that we feel the need to eat often is because we are eating often.
Fasting for hours or even days at a time has always been part of human existence. In the Paleo days, it was because we had to go without food for long periods and our bodies evolved to expect little and still stay relatively robust. Later, much later, after the development of agriculture made fasting unnecessary, many cultures and religions continued to use fasting for its health benefits and as a spiritual practice.
Eating all the time is not normal for humans. The truth is that our bodies rely on longer periods without food to detoxify, recycle damaged cells, lower insulin levels and use stored fat. That is the heart of the matter.
I am not even talking about fasting for days on end. I am talking about intermittent fasting which only requires that you could fast for as few as 12 hours a day, or as I do, for 16 hours a day, and it’s way easier than you think. After you’ve tried this approach for a few weeks (it takes time for your body to adjust), and your friends say: “Hey, you look great. What’ve you been doing?”, you don’t have to say “I’ve been fasting”. You might just say: “I’ve been eating differently”.
You can then explain the concept of fasting by saying that you are stretching the times between your meals and not eating junk in between. That’s all you’re really doing when you practice intermittent fasting.
Of course you want to make the most of your meals (or what some call the eating window) by not loading up more than you should. You know the rules: try to eliminate sugar, refined carbs and fried anything, and take your vitamins. After hearing of my plan, one of my friends said to me: “Well, Bruno, that leaves me nothing to eat”. He’s a big guy; I wonder why.
If we want to burn fat, we must allow our insulin levels to get low. This cannot happen if we eat often. Our insulin levels get low when we don’t eat for a while. Low insulin levels stimulate the breakdown of fat for energy. Our stored fat is broken down into fatty acids, which are used by tissues of the body as energy.
One of the things that happens when we keep our insulin levels high is that we develop insulin resistance.
In my research on fasting, I stumbled upon a new concept called autophagy which describes the process by which the body recycles damaged or diseased cells. It’s the body’s way of detoxifying itself. When we fast, according to Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi (awarded a Nobel Prize for his discovery), and there isn’t enough incoming energy to sustain these damaged or diseased cells, the body breaks them down and recycles components of the cells.
If we just keep eating, then our body simply accumulates more and more damaged and diseased cells, which is not a pretty thought.
There’s a great book out there if you are curious about the when of eating versus the what of eating: check out The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung.
By the way, I still do not like aka hate the term fasting. I like to think of it as timing my eating window. The only real difference in what I eat is making the decision not to eat anything in between, and I mean anything. That’s probably accounting for the greater part of the 6 kg I lost in the first 8 weeks than anything. It was gratifying to go from 86 kg to 80 kg for a six-foot tall old guy who seems to want to re-invent himself. But when I am mindful of when I eat, I become that much more conscious of what I eat.
You never know. Another thing to try to get healthier. The goal is not to lose weight. Losing weight just happens as an outcome of changing the cadence of your eating. With fasting, people have been known to kick Type 2 diabetes, improve the healing effects of cancer therapies and modify the effect and advance of Alzheimer’s disease.
Read more about it in Dr. Fung’s book.
And of course, once you commit and follow through (the supremely hard part), you can stay with it for a longer, lighter, and healthier lifetime.