In episode 3 of The Human Longevity Project, creator Jason Prall examines the negative impacts of overeating. Dr. Jason Fung, the fat loss specialist, points out that weight management not only comes down to what you eat but also when you eat. Yet, it’s a question that’s been totally overlooked – until now. Intermittent Fasting is one of the fastest growing trends in health, wellness and nutrition, and its benefits are based on some solid science.
The Science of Fasting
The human body was not designed to eat three meals a day or have easy access to food on a daily basis. Up until recent history, people were selective about what they ate because available food was limited to what was in their garden, and there was no such thing as snacks. Food preparation was complex, and time-consuming. As one of the contributors featured on The Human Longevity Project explains, women used to get up at three in the morning to prepare bread for the household.
In countries like Morocco, this is still the practice today. However, in most western countries, we simply go to the store, buy bread, and eat it till it’s gone, then we go buy more. While bread has been demonised in recent years due its gluten content, it’s often not the bread that’s the problem but its commercial ingredients (homemade bread has 4 ingredients whereas supermarket-bought bread has around 35) and the amount of it we eat due to its easy availability.
Continuous feeding has a negative effect on the body because it “reduces our metabolic rate and our ability to switch between burning sugar as our primary fuel and burning fat or ketones,” according to the functional nutritionist Dr. David Jockers. The result is a loss in metabolic flexibility and a slowing of the metabolism. What fasting does is give your body a break from the digestive process, a chance to clean itself up, or, “take the garbage out,” as Ben Greenfield, the performance coach, says.
Look back over human history, and it’s clear that periods of feast and famine are a common feature of life so much so it’s fair to say that humans evolved hungry. As a result, we have in-built mechanisms for survival in times of famine, and as Michael McEvoy, founder of Metabolic Healing, explains, fasting induces a state of stress on the body, forcing “the body to figure out alternate ways of making fuel,” which studies have shown to spark neuro-protective and cell protective mechanisms.
What is Autophagy?
It’s little wonder that so many people suffer with digestive issues because one of the most toxic things we do on a daily basis is eat. As microbiologist Kiran Krishnan explains, when you eat, the stomach produces acid to kill off bacteria, causing problems for people with food sensitivities or leaky gut. “The mitochondria in your body that cannot live for 18 hours without food are going to die [when you fast for 24 hours],” says the biohacker Dave Asprey, which leads to the creation of new cells, a process called autophagy.
In 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries in autophagy. But what is it? The word is derived from the Greek auto meaning self and phagein meaning to eat, making a literal translation “to eat one’s self.” It’s basically the body’s mechanism for getting rid of all the old material, protein and cell waste, it no longer needs. It’s a regulatory process for recycling cells.
This process of cell death is also known by the term apoptosis, and it’s essential for good health. All cells are programmed to die when their use has run out, and when this happens, it makes way for new healthier cells. When we fast, we clear out old cells but not only that, fasting has been shown to stimulate growth hormone secretion, which means new cells can grow, and upgrade faulty body parts. When old cells are not cleaned up, it can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
How Fasting Improves my IBS Symptoms
It’s amazing how few studies have been done on the effects of fasting on IBS considering its benefits are in line with the condition’s symptoms. The studies that have been done demonstrate positive results, and are compelling reasons for further study. It’s my belief that fasting will become a standard treatment for IBS in the near future. Here are five ways fasting improves my IBS symptoms:
1. Manage IBS
Hi, my name is Tasha, and I’m an overeater. I’ve been an overeater all my life. My mum used to call me the “dustbin” because I’d finish my own dinner and everyone else’s, and at night, I’d sneak into the kitchen and snack on cereal. As a teenager, I’d eat all day long and wonder why I was fat. Thankfully, I was an active kid, which meant a fast metabolism protected me for a while, till I reached the age of 25, and the battle with my IBS really began.
At the age of 31, I was hospitalised for two weeks with intense abdominal pain but doctors found nothing wrong. That launched a 15-year investigation into food, what I could and couldn’t eat. Over the years, I’ve eliminated all sorts of food to control my symptoms, but nothing treats inflammation as effectively as fasting. I manage my IBS with a combination of tools including fitness, keto, CBD oil, and cannabis but now that I’ve discovered fasting, I know I’ll do it for the rest of my life. The benefits are that good.
2. Manage anxiety
IBS is a gastro issue that has a major effect on a person’s relationship with food – how can it not? I used to sneak into the kitchen at night to eat that cereal because I didn’t want anyone to know I was eating it, classic addictive behaviour, shirking responsibility for my actions, hiding it from both myself and the people around me. I was using food as entertainment to distract myself from my problems, as well as my anxieties about life and my shortcomings.
To this day, the times I’m most like to unconsciously open the fridge is when I’m faced with a challenging task. My automatic response is to reach for a cookie, to procrastinate, and delay the inevitability of solving the problem. What fasting has shown me is that I provide the solution, not the food. This has had the effect of giving me more confidence in my ability to solve problems, and therefore less likely to reach for food when I’m presented with a challenge. It hasn’t cured me of my anxiety, but it’s certainly helped me see its sources more clearly.
3. Weight Management
Fasting changes your relationship with food because it increases your appreciation of it, while at the same time, dramatically decreasing the amount of food you need in your day-to-day life. Since starting the keto diet, my weight continued to fluctuate, and when I started to measure my macros, I found that on certain days my fat intake was through the roof. I had allowed myself to consume insane amounts of fat on the premise that it was part of the diet, and therefore sanctioned. I was wrong.
What I was really doing was pummelling my body with unneeded food, zapping my energy and sabotaging my weight management. The whole point of doing a keto diet is to enable your body to become fat adapted, or to switch to fat instead of glucose as its fuel source. Achieving this means cutting out sugar and cutting carbs down to around 30 grams per day.
At first, the switch can be difficult but if you’re someone with IBS who reacts to carbs like bread and pasta, it’s easy to cut those things out. However, if you eat too much fat, you’ll feel bloated, the same heavy feeling that IBS causes, and be lethargic. Eating healthy fats is good for the body and brain – but in moderation. The best way to learn moderation is through fasting.
In the first month that I introduced fasting into my life, I lost 3 kilos and reduced my calorific intake from 1650 a day to less than 1200 with zero effort. When I break my fast, I’m very careful about what I eat, as my stomach is sensitive, and it’s really important not to overeat. Learning how to break fast the right way is another invaluable lesson in food restraint. I typically break my fast with fat, and eat a meal two hours later.
4. Boost mental clarity
The first day I did a 24-hour fast, I occupied myself by doing a whole bunch of admin I’d been ignoring for weeks. At the end of that day, I couldn’t believe how much work I’d done, and how charged I felt. With each fast, my mind sharpens, enabling me to plan and multi-task in ways I haven’t done in years. Now, I like to fast because I know that’s when I’ll get things done.
5. New Relationship with Food
If you’re someone who has been dieting and/or working out for years, hoping to reform your body and never getting the results you want, fasting is the answer. Through fasting, you can reduce your appetite significantly, and when you find a fasting routine that works for you, you can easily keep that weight off. I fast once a week from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 6 p.m. on Sunday because that works for me. Sometimes I’ll also fast during the week, or do a fasted workout, for additional benefits.
The discipline of sticking to my fast time, and the results of fasting on my body has also boosted my confidence. Not only do I see the results in the mirror, I feel like I have control over what I do and don’t eat for the first time in my life. I’m no longer a slave to snacks as I now know how little food I can survive on, and if it’s not meal time, it’s highly unlikely I need whatever it is I’m craving. However, if I do have cravings, I keep special foods for the purpose, foods like almond butter and macadamia nuts though I do measure how much I eat; a snack might be a tablespoon of almond butter or 10 grams of macadamia nuts.
Final Thoughts on Fasting
The goal of any weight management programme is to find a diet that’s healthy and easy enough to sustain. However, until you fully comprehend how much energy your body needs in order to get through the day, it’s impossible to know in a tangible way what constitutes too much food. Think back to the most active time in your life, and the shape or efficiency of your body at that time – that’s the optimum weight for you and where your body is striving to be. Fasting is the way to get there. It will also change your relationship with food and treat your IBS symptoms.