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First, let’s deal with the Big Fat Elephant in the Room
Nobody makes money when you fast. Certainly not Big Food or Big Pharma. Nope. Nada. Why would they want you to find out about age-old secrets to good health, longevity, and weight loss? What they want is for you to consume! consume! and consume some more! until you grow fat and sick, whilst they get fat and filthy rich. Nothing wrong with making a profit but when it comes at the expense of human health then I’m not down with that. Nope. Nada.
We’re constantly being bombarded with faux messages around health and wellness that don’t quite stack up and aren’t scientifically proven.
Things like. You should always eat breakfast. You must snack to keep up your energy levels. Grazing boosts your metabolism. You mustn’t miss a meal ever. Eat low fat. Blah Blah Blah. These messages are everywhere and have been for decades – all over the internet, TV, radio, newspapers, books, advertising, doctor’s surgeries, you name it. The problem with hearing these messages over and over like we do is that it creates the illusion that it’s true. Which is total BS by the way. In fact, the opposite is true. Constantly eating and having good health just don’t add up.
Time to Chew the Fat
The key hormone involved in both the storage and use of food energy is insulin, which rises when you eat. Getting fatter and fatter you see, turns out to be a hormonal, rather than a caloric, imbalance. Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. And as it turns out, *insulin causes insulin resistance. (Jason Fung: The Complete Guide to Fasting)
Think of it this way. When you drink more and more alcohol, your body responds by developing a resistance to it. What you and I call ‘tolerance’ The same thing happens with insulin.
- Eat Food = Insulin increases. This either gets stored as sugar in the liver or it produces fat in the liver. (Higher with carbs, followed by protein and then a very small amount from fat)
- Fasting = Insulin decreases. This burns the stored sugar and therefore burns body fat.
So what really goes on when you do an extended water fast? You basically switch from burning glucose (sugar) to burning fat. And as you progress into extended fasting insulin starts to drop far more dramatically, burning your body fat for fuel. This is known as Ketosis and is what enables your body to become more responsive to insulin. The opposite ‘high insulin resistance’ is the root cause for diabetes and has also been linked to a number of other diseases.
‘Autophagy‘ Meet the Star of the Show
This is the REAL reason why I fast. Sure I can break some bad habits, replacing them with better ones. I usually lose a kilo or two, nothing major in the weight loss department in the short term, but it does improve my ability to burn fat over time as I improve my insulin sensitivity.
Autophagy is where it’s at!
In 2016, Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on how cells recycle and renew their content, a process called autophagy. Think of Darwinism and ‘the survival of the fittest’ Well that’s what’s going on here folks. Extended fasting triggers and boosts autophagy, which helps your body clean out the weaker, more damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier ones. This kinda makes sense. Eating all day never allows your body the time to clean out all the garbage and regenerate.
Roughly 72 hours after you’ve begun fasting you’re in full ketosis mode and this is when your body starts to really go for it and clean up shop. I see it as all those old diseased cells being hoovered up and used for fuel to keep me going and then when I start eating again, my stem cells start creating newer, stronger cells replacing the old ones.
Basically a complete REBOOT.
I am particularly intrigued by what this means when it comes to the mind-body connection. Given I come from the yoga world where these ideas have been circulating for decades, I’m a strong believer that memories and traumas, physical and emotional, are held within the cells of our body and brain. Otherwise known as ‘cellular memory.’
As we release those old, toxic cells through autophagy, those memories and traumas deeply buried from our past are released and renewed. I think this is where that feeling of space, of being clear and grounded and healed comes from every time I fast, even if it’s just for 24 hours. Imagine then what an extended fast can do. It’s also why fasting makes me feel immensely teary and emotional at various points when those old memories resurface. It makes sense to me then that when these toxins get processed, broken down, and released, it results in a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthier you.
Your body is more than capable of addressing many illnesses and healing itself if we just lay off and let it do its job. Remedies can treat symptoms, not the causes, and it is only by eliminating the root cause of a problem that we can expect to solve the problem. Fasting helps do that.
This is probably why so many people refer to ‘extended water fast’ as an ‘extended healing fast.’ We’ve all got things inside of us we want to heal, cleanse, and release. And that’s why autophagy makes complete sense to me. With any luck, fasting will help my brain, body, and emotions stay really strong and healthy into old age, so I can carry on being creative, doing the things I love, and being active with the people I care about the most.
Fasting Myths Debunked
You’re going to die. You’re going to starve. No I’m not! Let’s get some perspective here people. I’m only skipping 14-21 meals out of roughly six hundred to a thousand, if we’re assuming I normally eat two to three meals a day, over a year. When you reduce calorie intake your body’s BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate), which is basically what we use to measure how much energy your body burns, adapts to make sure your body can still do what it’s gotta do, which is, to keep your lungs breathing, brain functioning, heart pumping, kidneys, liver, and digestive system all working. In other words to keep you alive.
The fact is, your metabolism goes up, during fasting, not down. Back in paleolithic times if we didn’t eat, our bodies had to use our stored energy as fuel – between you and me that’s the fat sitting on our hips, bellies and thighs! – so we could hunt for more food. We haven’t evolved to need three meals, plus god knows how many snacks every day. When you fast, your body obviously can’t take your BMR down to zero – we still have to burn some calories just to stay alive. Instead, it’s the job for hormones to allow your body to switch its’ fuel source from food to body fat.
Your metabolism’s gonna be shot to pieces. Nope. Not true. And certainly hasn’t been my experience. The longer-lasting booster effects on my metabolism have been apparent weeks, even months later. You see, you’re still fuelling your body from burning fat rather than burning food. Plus the good news is that adrenaline helps release stored glycogen to facilitate fat-burning, even if blood sugar is high. This adrenaline boost stimulates your metabolism. *Studies have shown that after a four-day fast, resting energy expenditure increased by 12 percent. (Source: Jason Fung; The Complete Guide to Fasting)
Metabolism doesn’t slow down, it speeds up.
Fasting breaks down muscle for energy. A lot of people I speak to are put off from fasting because they think it burns muscle if they’re not eating and they’ll be using their muscles as an energy source. That’s not actually what happens. As humans, we’ve evolved to survive periods of fasting by storing food energy as body fat and we use this as fuel when food isn’t available. AKA when we’re fasting.
Muscle, on the other hand, is preserved until body fat becomes so low that the body has no choice but to turn to muscle. *This only happens when body fat is at less than 4 percent. (Source: Dr. Fung The Complete Guide to Fasting.) Several studies of fasting have shown that this muscle loss myth is misplaced. *One study of ‘Alternate-day’ fasting over seventy days decreased body weight by 6 percent, fat mass decreased by 11.4 percent and lean mass (muscle and bone) did not change at all. (Source: Bhutani et al., “Improvements in Coronary Heart Disease Risk Indicators by Alternate-Day Fasting Involve Adipose Tissue Modulations.”)
How will you be able to work and think and create, won’t your brain feel sozzled? Quite the opposite actually. Since there’s nothing to digest, your body stops directing its energy to your digestive system and instead directs them to your brain, which is now using ketones primarily to fuel it, giving you higher mental output.
Fasting has always boosted both my creativity and productivity.
Let’s get a bit more into the science here. The main reason for this is because under stress – your brain produces a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). About a dozen papers on BDNF were published before 1990, the year scientists discovered that it exists in the brain and nourishes neurons like fertiliser. Researchers found that if they sprinkled BDNF onto neurons in a petri dish, the cells automatically sprouted new branches, producing the same structural growth required for learning. You could say that BDNF is like miracle-gro for the brain. BDNF is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions, and movement. Wow. Just Wow. (Source: Spark!: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain by Eric Hagerman)
So you see BDNF really does wonders for your brain function, and guess what? when your brain is operating better…. productivity and creativity blossom. In Part 3 I’ll be talking about how this takes you to another level. How when you release deep blocked emotions during extended fasting you enter higher states of consciousness. A bit like when meditating for extended periods of time. The same thing happens again and again and again. It’s mind-blowing!
Won’t you put all the weight back on as soon as you stop fasting? Sure, you’ll put some of the weight back on as you probably lost quite a bit of water weight during the fast which comes back when you start eating again. My personal experience has been that for every day I fast I lose about half a pound of weight over the long haul which is good for me. What I notice more is my shape changes. After completing my seven-day water fast my hourglass shape was back. And I LOVED that.
I don’t want to mess with my electrolytes. Electrolytes are certain minerals in the blood. They include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. The body keeps these blood levels under very tight control in order to maintain health. Prolonged studies of fasting have found no evidence of electrolyte imbalances. The body has mechanisms in place to keep electrolytes stable during fasting.
Next up we’re getting to the really juicy bit you’ve all been waiting for. Buckle up. Grab a cup of tea and settle yourself onto the sofa because…
…In Part 3 of my seven-day water fasting experiment, I’m taking you on my fasting odyssey. The Good. The Bad and The Ugly. Grab yourself a bite to eat whilst you read. Why not? And enjoy every mouthful.
A bientôt de te revoir
DISCLAIMER: Do Your Research Before Trying Fasting
If you want to do a fast, definitely spend some time reading up on it and proceed at your own risk. I am not a medical expert. I am not responsible for the decisions you make for your health. I’m writing these fasting articles based on my research and experience.
Needless to say pregnant, breastfeeding women, children should NOT undertake fasting. Also anyone with an underlying health condition should also consult a medical professional before attempting to embark on a fast.
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