When it comes to finding the perfect diet and weight loss programs in the ongoing pursuit to look better, feel better and live longer, we are frequently bombarded with information overload. Ketogenic, paleo, vegan, Mediterranean, DASH, Weight Watchers, low carb-high fat, high carb-low fat diets all promise results. No wonder we are confused.
By now I am sure you have heard something about fasting or intermittent fasting. There has been a huge interest in limiting food intake and how it pertains to our health. Some may think of this as a fad diet, but there is a lot of research backed behind fasting. In fact, one of the most reproducible interventions that have been shown to modulate the aging process across multiple organisms (yeast, bacteria, worms, mice, monkeys and, yes, humans) is fasting and calorie restriction. Related research starting in the 1930s and ongoing today shows promising results for weight reduction, maintenance of weight, increased lifespan and reducing chronic diseases such as autoimmune, cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and neurocognitive disorders.
Multiple studies have shown that over consumption of calorie-dense foods and lack of physical activity are the leading cause of weight gain, obesity and all-age related diseases. I have a significant number of patients and friends lose 20 to 50 pounds or more by calorie restricting and cleaning up their diets along with some form of exercise that usually involves just plain, old walking. If that surprises you, keep in mind that what we eat, or more accurately what we don’t eat, will result in 85 to 90 percent of weight loss.
Magically, their heartburn and indigestion clear up, their joints are not as stiff and sore, they have more energy, their blood pressure normalizes and they have reduced or eliminated their diabetic medication. In fact, most of the biological markers such as blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, lipids-cholesterol-triglycerides and inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein improve to normal levels.
So now comes along intermittent fasting (IF) or what is often called time restrictive feeding (TRF), alternate day fasting (ADF), calorie restriction (CR) or prolonged fasting (PF). My intent is to share some of the latest information on this topic and how it might be beneficial to periodically fast.
What we do know is that IF or TRF has been shown to effectively change the markers of aging and inflammation, and that it is a way for our bodies to rejuvenate and clean up our cells in order to be more efficient and resilient. It also has been shown that eating food within a certain window of time, and not so much about what type of calories we consume, reduces weight and markers of chronic diseases. We probably know people who went on a low calorie diet of some sort (think of the 500 calories a day for 42 days that is quite popular with the diet programs in the Springfield area) and lost a remarkable amount of weight. Unfortunately, a greater percentage of people gain most, if not all, of it back after resuming a normal diet.
When we calorie restrict for a long period of time, our metabolism slows down and our body tries to conserve our energy supplies. What is really fascinating about time restrictive feeding research is that we don’t get that lowered metabolism when we periodically restrict food intake or eat within a certain window of time. What researchers are discovering about fasting and fasting mimicking diets is that the body goes into a self-cleaning or rejuvenating mode and dead, diseased or damaged cells are self-eaten and destroyed while new cells are formed. Centuries ago when people were unsuccessful in hunting or gathering food, they went for periods of time without eating. What the research is showing is that actually was an effective way to enhance health and take care of diseases that are prevalent today.
We are all genetically different and come from different ancestral backgrounds. What does make sense is that no one particular diet will work for everyone. Eliminating or reducing refined sugar and flour intake, eating high-quality fats, reducing calories, getting our weight to normal BMI, getting off our butts, moving and getting some exercise, along with quality sleep and staying socially and spiritually connected will go a long way to ensure better health. Intermittent fasting or fasting mimicking diets are at least fairly safe and show promise in reducing chronic diseases and improving our life span.