When I think of fasting, it congers up images of incredibly disciplined historical and/or religious leaders like Gandhi, or scary fad-diets that have you drinking nothing but broth for days on end, until you look like a zombie and have the emotional resilience of a two-year old that hasn’t slept in 24 hours. I haven’t even fasted, nor have I every been interested enough in the potential health risks/benefits to investigate it thoroughly. My mother recently read a book on the topic and pointed me to an article in Scientific American, titled “Intermittent Fasting Might Help You Live a Longer Healthier Life”, that weighs into the relatively polar debate on fasting, with some research containing some pretty intriguing findings.
The key findings of the research seem to support the general premise that “intermittent fasting may boost your cellular defenses and regeneration.” Since fasting creates a stress on your body, perhaps triggering a “fortification/rebuilding” response (for survival purposes), the idea is that “triggering” this reaction from time-to time via intermittent fasting keeps the cellular defenses, rebuilding, and fortification “up” so that these things are optimized for the greatest health. The research goes further stating that failing to fast intermittently, providing your body with all the protein it needs to build muscle, etc. (e.g. the typical recipe for a health nut) lulls your body (at the cellular level) into a place where it’s so “taken care of” it reduces the number of cellular defenses on hand, regeneration, etc., and in the spirit of “use-it-or-lose-it” you don’t regenerate as effectively or optimally.
As with most research, there is a strong call for additional clinical research in the form of longitudinal studies, and there are a lot of potential risks that can come from fasting (we all know the challenges associated with stalling and/or messing with your metabolism from a weight management perspective). Thus, I’m certainly not recommending anyone start up an ‘intermittent fasting’ regimen anytime soon – – I would view this as risky. However, I would stand by all the research and some of my prior blog-posts that call out the need to reduce overall calories consumed, the goal of be a little bit hungry instead of being constantly “full”, and the ideal that food should be fuel and not simply a void-filling hobby or drug. I really hope more work is done to clarify the risks and benefits of intermittent fasting, because from a face validity perspective the “boost your cellular regeneration” argument makes sense. If you practice or have ever practiced fasting, I’d love to hear your experience if you’d be willing to share.
Small steps add up!!!