Scientists have begun researching the benefits of fasting, and one of the things that fascinated me was that fasting can lower certain markers for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Also, beyond the weight-loss benefit, it appears that it is important to have periods of rest for the digestive system, because when easily available glucose is depleted during fasting, the body shifts from constant cell division to the process of cell repair and regeneration.
There are three main types of fasting that have shown to produce these results:
- Time restricted feeding: this means you only eat during a period of between 8-12 hours per day. In other words, you would eat normally say between 9a.m. and 7p.m. and then no food intake in the evening and at night. This gives your body a longer time for repair work.
- Intermittent calorie restriction: you restrict food intake to 800-1000 calories for two consecutive days of the week. This might mean that you have only one big meal during two days of the week and eat a healthy balanced diet for the rest of the week.
- Period fasting: very limited food intake (maybe as little as a cup of soup a day) for up to 3-5 days. I would be very careful with this last method because it is so drastic and could lead to other detrimental health effects.
This is just a very basic overview, but if you'd like to do some of your own research, here are some of the articles and papers I've been reading on this topic:
- Intermittent fasting: the Science of going without - NCBI, NIH
- The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers - NCBI, NIH
- The complete guide to the science of fasting - Endpoints by Elysium Health
- New intermittent fasting studies reignite debate about its benefits - The Sydney Morning Herald
- The power of intermittent fasting - BBC Health (a little long but lots of good stuff)
- Eat, fast, live longer - a BBC Horizon production
While I'm not advocating that we all begin to fast (and some folks with health issues should definitely not be fasting), and while we have to be careful of fad-diets that aren't supported by science, and while we have to remember that many of these studies have been conducted on animal subjects, I did find the results of the human studies fascinating. We know that under-eating has very serious health consequences, but so does over-eating, and it seems to me that on the whole in the western world, food consumption is excessive and contributing to major health problems. It seems that when it comes to eating, sometimes less really is more.