Several years ago I remember coming across an old study from 2013 about caloric restriction, emphasizing how it extends life span and prevents as well as helps to reverse several age-related diseases in a variety of species. This was very intriguing to me, especially given the fact that humans have been bombarded with the idea that we need to eat at least three meals a day, plus snacks in order to be healthy and fit. Fast forward to today, and fasting has become quite popular, and this is thanks to a wealth of research that’s emerged showing that not only caloric restriction, but fasting, has a number of health benefits. Fasting has been shown to extend life, protect against neurodegenerative and age-related diseases, ‘starve’
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Several years ago I remember coming across an old study from 2013 about caloric restriction, emphasizing how it extends life span and prevents as well as helps to reverse several age-related diseases in a variety of species. This was very intriguing to me, especially given the fact that humans have been bombarded with the idea that we need to eat at least three meals a day, plus snacks in order to be healthy and fit. Fast forward to today, and fasting has become quite popular, and this is thanks to a wealth of research that’s emerged showing that not only caloric restriction, but fasting, has a number of health benefits.
Fasting has been shown to extend life, protect against neurodegenerative and age-related diseases, ‘starve’ certain cancer cells, reverse and manage type two diabetes, trigger new stem cell generation and help people lose weight. If done for a long enough time, although we don’t quite know exactly how long, fasting also actives autophagy, the body’s self-cleaning system, which allows the cell to get rid of old cell machinery, breaking them down into smaller parts to be reused by the cell. Fasting stimulates the production of ketone bodies in the blood, which have also been shown to have a number of benefits and is one of many mechanisms by which fasting benefits the body.
Fasting Is Beneficial
When you eat food, that food is converted into glycogen which your body then burns. When you fast, your body uses up stored fat for energy after its glycogen reserves are depleted, and the process of the body switching from burning glucose to efficiently burning fat is something that seems to have been built into our biology, meaning we are designed to go short, or even prolonged periods of time without any food, and that this ‘stress’ on the body actually benefits us in many ways.
There is absolutely no evidence that, for the average person, fasting can be dangerous. In fact, all evidence points to the opposite. If you’re on prescription medication, or experience other medical problems, then there are obviously exceptions. But it’s quite clear that the human body was designed to go long periods of time without food, and that it’s completely natural.
If you want to learn more about the science of fasting, there is plenty of research out there. Sifting through scholarly articles on the subject will yield many interesting results. You can find a number of lectures on Youtube as well. The main takeaway for me after studying fasting and its mechanisms for fifteen years now is that it’s an extremely healthy and safe practice with a number of health benefits, and I wanted to share my current experience instead of simply diving deep into the science of it all.
My Alternate-Day Fasting Experience
I have found that the research directly correlates with my experience of fasting on a regular basis, and it’s something I’ve been doing for fifteen years. I have done a lot of prolonged fasts in my life, weekly fasts, as well as many periods of intermittent fasting where I condense my eating period to a time of 5-8 hours. But only within the past few months have I tried alternate-day fasting, and so far it’s the fasting method that’s been the most successful for me. Everybody is different, and at the end of the day you just have to find what works for you.
I’ve always put on weight quite easily, and have had no problem storing food. Perhaps it’s genetics, my family has a strong and long history of type two diabetes, hinting to the idea that insulin levels in my family can remain high, thus making it impossible to access my fat stores. Obviously, fasting drops your insulin levels, allowing your body to access and burn its fat reserves which, again, has been shown to have a tremendous amounts of benefits.
Alternate-day fasting has given me something consistent to go with when it comes to maintaining and stabilizing my weight. For me, intermittent fasting just wasn’t doing it, I found I could not eat what I enjoy without packing on extra fat and slowly increasing my weight. I also did many prolonged fasts, which helped me drop my extra fat, but then I’d put it back on. This was true for me even whilst eating a healthy, whole grain fully plant-based diet.
With alternate-day fasting, I do not gain weight, and my energy levels have increased to the point where I am now working out at the end of every fast. I’ve never experienced so much energy an I’ve never felt so alert. I had a glimpse of it with intermittent fasting, but the period without food just wasn’t long enough for me, I feel, to really tap into the benefits of fasting.
So what does alternate-day fasting look like? It’s when you eat one day, and then fast the next. Simple.
So, for example, what I do is I will eat on a Monday, and then have my last meal in the evening. Then, I wait until Wednesday morning to eat again. So, I am doing 36-40 hour fasts, quite often. What recommended alternate-day fasting looks like is eating on Monday, and then not eating until 24 hours after, or Tuesday night. Or, eating on Monday, and then restricting your calorie intake the next day to only 500 calories., and then repeat throughout the week.
I’ve been fasting for a quite a long time, so my body is quite fat adapted. It’s not difficult for me to fast and when I do I do not feel hungry at all, which means my body has adapted itself to ‘consuming’ it’s stored energy. I am at the point where alternate-day fasting for me usually means not eating for at least 40 hours and after a workout, and every now and then I will extend my fast to 72 or more hours and throw in a workout at the end those fasts as well. The food I eat during my eating periods is, again, a whole foods plant-based diet.
Related CE Article going into more detail: What Working Out In A Fasted State (Not Eating) Does To Your Muscles
That’s how I do it, and doing it this way I dropped nearly 20 pounds before eventually stabilizing my weight. I usually do alternate-day fasting, but every now and then I will eat two days in a row here and there. So I am not extremely strict on myself, but then again, my fasting periods are longer and I believe it’s easier for me simply because I am well adapted to the practice, and my body type and perhaps my genetics helps me have an easier time with it.
If you’re looking to shed some fat from your body, it’s something I recommend you try, it’s great because it forces you to enter into a fat period for a longer state than intermittent fasting, and allows you to utilize more of your fat reserves.
You can look at alternate-day fasting as an ‘extreme’ form of fasting, although there is nothing extreme about it and it’s completely safe. If you’re someone who has never fasted before, I recommend you start off with intermittent fasting, as fasting alone for someone who has never practiced it can be quite difficult at first until your body gets used to it.
If you’re looking for some great resources on this topic beyond simply reading and searching for scholarly peer-reviewed publications on the subject via online journal databases (there are lots), you can visit Dr. Jason Fung’s website blog here. There are a lot of great informative articles on the subject there.
Another great resource is Krista Varady, PhD, a Professor of Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research focuses on the efficacy of intermittent fasting for weight loss, weight maintenance, and cardio-protection in obese adults. Her work is funded by the NIH, American Heart Association, International Life Sciences Institute, and the University of Illinois. She has published over 70 publications on this topic, and is also the author of a book for the general public, entitled the “Every Other Day Diet”.
Her “book for the general public,” The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off is a great place to start.
Reprinted with permission from Collective Evolution.