Lately I’ve been really feeling my age. You know you’re getting old when you always make a sound when you bend over to pick something up. Like some kind of warning siren alerting the people around you that 'hey in case something happens to me while picking up this pencil from the floor, call emergency services.'
I’ve yet to see the inside of an ambulance but I know I’ve got to live better. Starting with my diet.
Our bodies are incredibly tough, incredibly resilient machines. It continues to function, operate and repair itself all on its own. We take it for granted. And we abuse it. At least I do - with high-sugar, high-fat, high-everything food. I abuse it so much that it can’t keep up with all the frappuccinos, burritos, burgers and most recently, cronuts.
And like a sign from above, this arrived all the way from my sister in London. Because the last thing I would buy is a diet book.
The book talks about Intermittent Fasting (IF) as a way to not just lose weight but gain a whole range of health and even mental benefits. What intrigues me about IF is that it is unlike other diets. (I’m sure all other diets say that about itself but this one’s for realz.)
How it works is you fast for two days in the week, it doesn’t even have to be consecutive days, just pick two days in the week and limit your eating to 500 – 600 calories during your fast day. The rest of the days you can eat like you normally would. WHAT.
Psychologically, the Fast diet is easier to stay on compared to other diets mainly because it doesn’t feel restrictive. It doesn’t tell you to eat only certain kinds foods or tell you to buy their specially prepared meals. (which are also especially expensive.) It doesn’t even tell you when you should fast. You pick the days when your schedule permits as long as it’s 2 days a week. 5:2 – five days normal eating, 2 days fasting. This kind of flexibility is great because – we have lives, social obligations, birthdays, date nights and rewards points that I have to spend on a Spiral buffet.
This kind of 5:2 diet is more manageable and more sustainable in the long run. Rather than have a diet that restricts your eating for a prolonged period of time, you don’t feel like you’re caught in an endless cycle of suffering.
The book says that our bodies have evolved to survive through periods of famine and feasting. Back when humans were still hunters and gatherers, people would gorge on a fresh kill (feasting) then go through a period where they’d have to hunt again and scrounge for food (famine).
In a famine situation, the body will react this way: SHOCK. Haha. But seriously it’s true. The body will go into repair mode on a cellular level, using its precious store of energy to keep you in reasonable shape until you can eat again. It’s like your body slows down and takes its foot off the accelerator and heads to the garage for maintenance.
Of course that is no longer the world we live in today and hunting now means scouring the city for the last cronut for sale. We’re never hungry because the world makes sure we’ve always got something in our mouths. But being hungry isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s all in your head. The feelings of hunger don’t escalate until it becomes so unbearable that you have to eat your own leg. It may be uncomfortable but bearable. And honestly, after a day of fasting, you can eat again tomorrow. Whatever you want.
You are not going to die while you are fasting. Relax. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is not just a saying, it’s also scientifically true. Just like your muscles repair itself after an intense workout, your body repairs itself in the shock of a “famine” situation.
But dammit we love to eat don’t we? So much of eating is tied to our emotions. We eat our feelings. We eat when we’re sad, we eat when we’re happy but not necessarily hungry. That’s when the calories start piling on. This may be one case where you shouldn’t listen to your heart and listen more to your stomach.
Are there any health risks to fasting?
Not with intermittent fasting. The fasting doesn’t last long enough for your body to have any negative effects. You fast for 24 hours and then you’re done. And even then, you’re still consuming 500 – 600 calories on a fast day. We’re not going full-Ghandi here.
What happens when you eat like me?
Every time you eat, your blood glucose levels rise and your pancreas starts producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the levels of glucose, keeping it from getting too high or too low. Glucose is what your cells use for energy, it’s your main fuel. Fuel that isn’t used gets converted by insulin and stored, to be used later when needed.
The thing with insulin though is that it keeps your body from using up fat. “It inhibits lipolysis, the release of stored fat.” The problem with the “constant eating of sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks is that this requires the release of more and more insulin to regulate the glucose surge.”
“This leads to greater fat deposition and also increases the risk of cancer.”
With this kind of high-evil-but-delicious-things diet, you’ll train your body to produce greater amounts of insulin making your cells resistant to its effects. “It’s rather like shouting at your children; you can keep escalating things, but after a certain point they will simply stop listening.”
“Eventually the cells stop responding to insulin; your blood glucose levels now stay permanently high and you will find you have joined the 285 million people around the world who have type 2 diabetes.”
The last time I had my blood test I was borderline diabetic. SHI SHI!
The benefits of fasting.
There’s more to it than just losing weight and fitting into that pair of jeans you used to wear in college.
Vanity is a good enough reason to start fasting but ultimately, it’s the health benefits that will help turn it into a persistent lifestyle. Or maybe just vanity.
- Weight loss
- A reduction of IGF-1, which means that you are reducing your risk of a number of age-related diseases, such as cancer.
- The switching-on of countless repair genes in response to the “famine” stressor.
- Giving your pancreas a rest, which will boost the effectiveness of the insulin it produces in response to elevated blood glucose. Increased insulin sensitivity will reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline.
- An overall enhancement in your mood and sense of wellbeing. This may be a consequence of your brain producing increased levels of neurotrophic factor, which will hopefully make you more cheerful, which in turn should make fasting more doable.
As of today, I’ve already done my two days fasting for the week. I did it on Monday and Thursday, which are the days that work best for my schedule. On both days, the hunger pangs were pretty bad but very doable. I hung out in a Starbucks on my first fast day. (what was I thinking?!) And I could feel my mouth salivating whenever I’d see food. Which was all the time.
It helps a lot of you can distract yourself. I wrote, I played my iPhone games, I drank a lot of water. During dinner I had soup, which felt awesome. That’s the other thing about fasting, you savor your food more, you take your time eating. I wasn’t plowing through the food, I was enjoying every little bit.
Tomorrow is Monday again but the fear of fasting has been erased with the knowledge that I’m doing something to give me a healthier and longer life with the missus and the boys.
Also, I don’t think I could inject myself with insulin on a daily basis. I’d faint before the needle ever broke the skin. Because every time I think of injections, I think of this.
Portions of this post have been lifted and paraphrased from the book "The Fast Diet" by Dr. Michael Mosley & Mimi Spencer.