Why do I practise IF if it’s so difficult to follow, and when so many good folk around me oppose it?
I have been an IF practitioner for over 18 months. A very disciplined one, I didn’t stop my 16:8 fast even during my three week holiday recently in Europe. The cruise ship Viking Jupiter’s amazing supply of exquisite culinary cuisine and abundance of wine, glorious breakfasts and desserts couldn’t break my resolve; I didn’t break my fasts prematurely. The good uncomprehending and incredulous folk around me exhorted, “You’ve paid for it, this is expensive food you’re missing out on! What a waste! You can fast after your holiday!” Yes, I’ve paid for my holiday but I don’t need to pay more for it with my health, I whispered inside my mind. I was too polite to come up with such a retort, I only resorted to flash a smile. They must think I’m such an idiot. So I kept telling myself I’m just a local idiotes ( old Greek word).
There are a few versions of IF. I follow the 16:8, fast for 16 hours leaving a window of 8 continuous hours to enjoy my healthy diet. Does anyone really need more than 8 hours to consume the food that they want? Hunter gatherers in neolithic times inform me otherwise. They were very unlike us, unspecialised in any field but needed to be adept in every task to survive. There was no agriculture, therefore little consumption of carbohydrates and sugars that are so bad for us. They didn’t lead a sedentary lifestyle, most of us are desk bound specialists in our jobs. Taxi drivers, truckies, pilots all sit on their bums when they work.
It’s now 11.40 am. My last meal finished at 7.45 last night. In another 5 min, I can break fast and have my breakfast. I’ve been up since 8 this morning. It’s Sunday, my day of rest. I got up and had a full mug of warm water. My body needed to be rehydrated, it appreciated that mug. It’s the second day of winter, so it’s a bit cold. I went out to say hello to my four chooks. They don’t have to fast, so I fed them some seeds and grain. Organic ones I hope so I’ll have organic eggs. The coop was filthy, these chooks aren’t toilet trained, so today’s my turn to be their toilet cleaner. Aah, the Zero app which I use to record my daily IF history just flashed the message that I’ve reached my goal of 16 hours. But I’m not hungry, so I’ll continue writing. After the chook poo’s been transferred to the compost bin and floor of the coop flushed clean, I walked to my neighbour’s garden via the side gate that we share, to say hello to my fish. They think the koi belongs to them now that they are in their pond. I shan’t argue, since I know they are mine. Hello, my beautiful koi, you give me so much joy. I spent the next hour cleaning the pond and flushed out the waste from the water filter system. The waste is collected and becomes a wonderful source of fertiliser for my neighbour’s veggie patch and flower beds. It’s a fresh morning, so I didn’t linger to enjoy their garden. My sons are yoga enthusiasts, they popped into my mind, so I came back inside and did some simple yoga stretches. I saluted to the sun even though it didn’t appear this morning. I did the dog pose, almost as easily as Murray does it. Murray isn’t my dog but he adores me like a best friend would.
Lunch will be at 1pm. It will be a gathering of a big family. Which means lunch won’t start at 1. I’m still not hungry, will make myself a cup of black coffee. Apparently it’s ok to have black coffee when fasting, without sugar or milk, it doesn’t add calories and glucose that require our body to burn off. The idea is to let the body burn off the glycogen in the body so that it gets to burn off some of the fat stored. IF is a great way to slim down. I weighed 74kg before I started IF, now I’m consistently at 69-70 kg. During my three week holiday, the glutton, no, gourmand in me added 1.2 kg but that was soon lost after a 19.9 hour fast when I got home. My BMI has been hovering around 21.9 for a long while. A niece in Miri was over 99 kg three months ago after decades of failed diets; today she is a gorgeous youthful 81.9 kg woman on IF. Her friends now ask for her secret.
Yum! Ok I’ll share a secret with you. That first cup of black coffee for the day tastes amazing! When the body has been deprived of food and drinks for so long, that first sip or that first morsel tastes simply divine. It’s as if my body is thankful and it’s its way of showing great appreciation when it enjoys that first taste sensation. It’s 12.49 pm, I should stop here and make my way to lunch. The yumcha will be awesome!
It’s now 4.15 pm. Lunch was delicious! The bill was only $164, for 20 of us, meaning most of us were 70% full, did not over indulge. After that we went to a sister’s house for afternoon tea. There, I ate a bit more of her Macadamia tart than I should, so I’m feeling a bit full. It’s not a nice feeling, this feeling of satiety. My body has gotten accustomed to a “clean system”, it no longer welcomes the feeling of over eating, that sense of heaviness and fullness inside. Tonight’s dinner will be light, maybe some veggies, an omelette and some fruits to close my 8 hour window. I may even close it after 6 hours. That will allow me to have a breakfast of rolled oats drizzled with pure honey, with mixed dried fruit tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that!
I’m encouraged by a recent study published by The British Journal of Nutrition which shows that fasting not only helps reduce the incidence of strokes but also helps the body repair the damaged tissues caused from a stroke. Subjects who participated in the above mentioned study were able to clear triglycerides from their blood more quickly than the control group. Triglycerides drive up the LDL-P. The higher the LDL-P, the more they will penetrate the endothelial membrane causing plaque buildup. It’s the burst plaque that causes strokes if they travel to the brain and restrict/block blood flow to it. The fasting group’s systolic blood pressure reduced by 9% compared to the control group. The lowering of pressure on the arteries is good news, it may reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. Research also finds that fasting supports neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons and neuronal connections after a stroke.
Apart from the early benefits of rapid weight loss and shrinking bellies, IF may deliver other more important health benefits such as lowering risks of diabetes, heart disease and therefore offer us a longer healthier life. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine, for his discovery that fasting enhances the process of autophagy. It clears out old, unwanted cellular materials and proteins, especially weak or damaged cells, and also stimulates the production of growth hormones which enables cell regeneration. When autophagy does not take place frequently, our body accumulates a variety of weak cellular material and proteins which show up starkly in Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and even cancers. With autophagy, levels of 1GF1 marker of various cancers decreased. To induce autophagy, we need low liver glycogen which is usually achieved only after 16-20 hours of fasting.
Another benefit from fasting is mental alertness and clarity. When our body is deprived of food, it goes into a state of heightened awareness and sharpened senses. The now retired UFC champion, Georges St-Pierre attributed his faster reflex to IF. According to the journal Neuroscience, from an evolutionary perspective, “those individuals whose brains functioned best during periods of resource scarcity would be the most successful in meeting the challenges (of survival)”. IF also increases the production of a molecule known as BDNF, improving synaptic plasticity, thereby increasing the brain’s ability to resist ageing.
Apart from regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet, IF is also a great tool to help fight against diabetes. Recent studies suggested that IF enhances the regeneration of pancreatic cells, helps reduce insulin resistance which in turn keeps blood sugar levels under control. But, the science lags behind the fad. Therefore, responsible doctors continue to refrain from recommending IF to combat specific illnesses even though IF has gone mainstream. Having turned 60, I can’t afford to wait for studies to prove the benefits of IF. I know it’s benefiting me, I feel good, I feel I look good too, having lost that fat belly.
Another big benefit of fasting can be had if we go into ketosis. Ketosis is only achieved when our body, having burned up glycogen, starts burning fat for energy instead, producing ketones. Ketones unlike glucose, does not affect our insulin levels. The presence of ketones is evidence of the body regenerating itself, which protects against ageing and disease. Glucose buildup in our brain causes brain cells to die, leading to Alzheimer’s. Through ketogenesis, the body can produce ketone bodies that provide a source of energy that the brain can utilise. Being in ketosis reliably reduces blood glucose and insulin levels, i.e. reduces Type 2 Diabetes. When we reduce our blood glucose levels, insulin typically falls, and the HDL/triglyceride ratio usually improves, reducing the risk of heart disease. As the incidence of diseases reduces, we gain a prolonged healthy life.
One big caveat: People with eating disorders should not fast. It will have unintended consequences, disrupting hard-won efforts to maintain a regular eating pattern. Please do not sue me for this article or bombard me with criticisms for any inaccuracies. I am not a professional in the medical field, merely an uneducated urghhling in the field of medicine and science, who has been asked to share his IF experience.