In our pursuit of health (the state of being free from illness or injury) we discovered the magic of meditation, the wonderful benefits of prayer, and the infusion of mind, body, and spirit through the consumption of tea. In this pursuit, we have come across various writings, videos, and artistic presentations which can further these efforts. To be of additional service to you, we have compiled an assortment of these works which you may find helpful. Please enjoy as we have.
Fasting is not about starving yourself. So says Dr. Jason Fung, who just wrote a new book, The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting, about the therapeutic benefits of short-term fasting.
Fasting allows the body to shed weight, says Dr. Fung, because it can help prevent the development of insulin resistance. In fact, Dr. Fung has put more than 1,000 of his own patients on a fasting protocol to deal with health issues, including Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
“In most cases, fasting has allowed us to reverse these patients with Type 2 diabetes,” Fung tells us. “We have taken hundreds of people off diabetes medications, insulin, and high blood pressure medications.
“More than that, we allow patients to take control of their own health. Rather than simply going to the doctor to get yet another medication, we take them off and show people how to manage their metabolic problems with diet and lifestyle.”
In this interview with Be Well, Dr. Fung breaks down the health benefits of short-term fasting and offers some tips to get started. Most importantly, he reminds us not to fear fasting: “Our bodies are equipped to handle it. The lions do it. The tigers do it. The bears do it. And the humans should do it, too.”
Why is when you eat as important as what you eat?
Most conventional diets only consider the total caloric value of their foods. However, weight gain is not the result of excess calories, but hormonal effects of the food that instruct our bodies to gain weight. The primary hormone involved is insulin.
One of the mechanisms by which insulin stays elevated is the phenomenon of insulin resistance. Persistent high levels of insulin causes insulin resistance, which is important because this leads in turn to higher insulin levels, which then drive obesity.
Periods of very low insulin, as can be achieved with fasting, will prevent the development of insulin resistance and help with weight loss efforts in the long term.
Studies directly comparing daily caloric restriction with intermittent fasting show similar weight loss, but much improved insulin levels and insulin sensitivity with intermittent fasting despite equal weekly caloric intakes.
You discuss various fasting protocols in your book, including intermittent fasting, alternate-day fasting, and extended fasting. Can you describe the difference between them?
The main difference is the length of the fast. Intermittent fasting can be of any duration. There are fasts for 16 hours, 20 hours, 24 hours or 36 hours. 36-hour fasts are often called alternate-day fasting since it generally means eating every other day. Shorter fasts are generally done more frequently.
Once past 36 hours, these fasts are classified as extended fasts. They are more powerful, but are sometimes more difficult and generally done less frequently. If you have health issues, or are taking medications, you should consult your physician.
Most of us grew up on the advice to either eat three square meals a day, plus a couple of snacks, or constantly graze throughout the day. What is going on with our metabolism when we are constantly eating versus intermittently fasting?
The NHANES survey in the United States showed that in 1977, the average American ate 3 times per day — breakfast, lunch and dinner. By 2005, Americans were eating closer to 6 times per day — breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. In essence, we are eating constantly throughout the day, from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.
Essentially, the body can only exist in two states — the fed state (insulin high, storing energy) or the fasted state (insulin low, burning energy). It cannot do both at the same time. So, instead of 1977, where we balanced the fed and fasted state, we now spend 80% of our time in the fed state, telling our bodies to store energy as fat. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic.
All fasting does, at its core, is allow our body to use some of the food energy we have stored (body fat). That’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s natural. It’s normal.
What effect does short-term fasting have on our blood-sugar and insulin levels and how our body stores fat?
Fasting is simply the most efficient, quickest way to lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Since insulin is the main driver of obesity, there is no surer way to lose weight. After all, if you don’t eat, you’ll lose weight. Nobody can tell you otherwise.
You write about how fasting can help you lose weight without slowing down your metabolism — unlike cutting calories. How does that work?
Intermittent fasting is not simply about cutting calories, although it does often lower caloric intake. Fasting is about creating periods of low insulin, and alternating periods of high food intake and no food intake. This is more physiological.
Think about the weather. In 1 week, we get 7 inches of rain. In one situation, every single day is grey and drizzles 1 inch per day. In the second situation, we get 6 sunny days and 1 day of thunderstorms. Are these two situations equivalent? No.
It’s the same with intermittent fasting. We alternate feasting and fasting because it keeps insulin levels and insulin resistance lower. This leads to easier weight management.
Can you explain what ketosis is, and its relationship to fasting and health?
Ketosis occurs when the body has little sugar to burn for fuel. The body produces ketones from fat to power the brain. This can happen in very low carbohydrate diets as well as intermittently with fasting.
Ketosis is not necessary to derive benefits, but many people find that they have better mental clarity and less hunger with ketosis.
Does intermittent fasting work if it’s not being paired with a low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic lifestyle?
It works with any diet. Fasting has been performed throughout human history and has been paired with every diet known to mankind. In the end, if you don’t eat, you will lose weight.
Any tips for getting started? What should we expect?
You should expect that fasting, if you are not used to it, will be difficult in the first few weeks, so be prepared. Also weight loss only averages ½ pound per fasting day. However, you will likely lose more than that, typically 1 pound per day. Much of that is water weight and will return once you start eating again.
It is important to understand this so that you do not get discouraged when half your weight loss is regained. That is normal and expected. That is, if you fast 4 days of the week, you can expect to lose 4 pounds, but then regain 2 of them. This does not mean the fasting is not working.
Are there any downsides to short-term fasting? What are some common mistakes people make? Also, is there anyone who should not try fasting?
Fasting should not be done by pregnant or breastfeeding women, children under 18, the malnourished or underweight (BMI<20). If you are taking medication, you should consult your physician.
There are many nuisance side effects, such as constipation, cramps, headaches that can occur during fasting. There are often simple tips than can help. Also many of these problems go away once your body gets used to it.
The most common mistake is to change your daily schedule too fast, thinking that you will have no energy and should stay at home. Your body will have the same amount of energy, but we want it to burn body fat, not food for energy. Stay busy, as it will make fasting much easier to your mind off food.
An Overview of the Pineal Gland
Maintaining Circadian Rhythym
Pineal Gland Essentials
- Of the endocrine organs, the function of the pineal gland was the last discovered.
- Located deep in the center of the brain, the pineal gland was once known as the “third eye.”
- The pineal gland produces melatonin, which helps maintain circadian rhythm and regulate reproductive hormones.
The pineal gland’s full purpose is still a bit of a mystery. But research suggests that we’re getting closer to understanding the pineal gland—and more about the endocrine system as a whole.
There’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve… but they’re rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.
But a growing body of research suggests that the timing of the fast is key, and can make IF a more realistic, sustainable, and effective approach for weight loss, as well as for diabetes prevention.
The backstory on intermittent fasting
IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung’s 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.
As a lifestyle-leaning research doctor, I needed to understand the science. The Obesity Codeseemed the most evidence-based summary resource, and I loved it. Fung successfully combines plenty of research, his clinical experience, and sensible nutrition advice, and also addresses the socioeconomic forces conspiring to make us fat. He is very clear that we should eat more fruits and veggies, fiber, healthy protein, and fats, and avoid sugar, refined grains, processed foods, and for God’s sake, stop snacking. Check, check, check, I agree. The only part that was still questionable in my mind was the intermittent fasting part.
Intermittent fasting can help weight loss
IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.
Intermittent fasting can be hard… but maybe it doesn’t have to be
Initial human studies that compared fasting every other day to eating less every day showed that both worked about equally for weight loss, though people struggled with the fasting days. So I had written off IF as no better or worse than simply eating less, only far more uncomfortable. My advice was to just stick with the sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet.
New research is suggesting that not all IF approaches are the same, and some are actually very reasonable, effective, and sustainable, especially when combined with a nutritious plant-based diet. So I’m prepared to take my lumps on this one (and even revise my prior post).
We have evolved to be in sync with the day/night cycle, i.e., a circadian rhythm. Our metabolism has adapted to daytime food, nighttime sleep. Nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of obesity, as well as diabetes.
Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.
Just changing the timing of meals, by eating earlier in the day and extending the overnight fast, significantly benefited metabolism even in people who didn’t lose a single pound.
So is this as good as it sounds?
I was very curious about this, so I asked the opinion of metabolic expert Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Here is what she told me. “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,” she confirmed, though generally she recommends that people “use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them.”
So here’s the deal. There is some good scientific evidence suggesting that circadian rhythm fasting, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be a particularly effective approach to weight loss, especially for people at risk for diabetes. (However, people with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them.)
4 ways to use this information for better health
- Avoid sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet).
- Let your body burn fat between meals. Don’t snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
- Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
- Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime, all the time.
Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2005.
The Obesity Code, by Jason Fung, MD (Greystone Books, 2016).
Intermittent fasting interventions for treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, February 2018.
Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition, August 2017.