I was reading an Outside magazine article entitled “We have Found the Cure! (Sort of…)” in which the author describes her adventures at a spa/detox center. The treatments (fasting, colonics, meditation, saunas, scrubs) leave her glowing and feeling beautiful and young, but then she asks doctors about the science behind the treatments. When questioned about fasting the quoted doctor rolls his eyes and states, “There are no proven health benefits from fasting.” Another doctor said it might be okay as long as you don’t do it too often. I found these statements interesting, particularly when compared with the research described in "The Complete Guide to Fasting" by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore. Dr. Fung is a practicing kidney specialist, treating patients who suffer from obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. There are fifteen chapters in his book; each chapter references on average six (but often three times as many) studies published in peer-reviewed journals. Backed by this literature, Dr. Fung describes how insulin decreases during fasting. High levels of insulin are linked to many diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, stroke, abdominal obesity, etc. The information that I found most fascinating involves autophagy, which is the process of cellular cleansing, or destroying broken or diseased cells. Autophagy is turned off when our bodies have high levels of insulin, glucose and proteins. As Dr. Fung describes, when we have an overabundance of food the body thinks that it has enough to feed and take care of all the cells, even the diseased ones. When the body senses a lack of food it gets to work eliminating those problematic, damaged cells. (Wow. I started my very first extended fast the day after reading that chapter!)
I have practiced intermittent fasting, which Dr. Fung describes as “periods of fasting [that] occur regularly between period of normal eating” for over a year. In other words, I have a condensed eating window. I finish eating by 7pm and don’t eat again until about 12-1pm on the following day. I do have bulletproof coffee in the morning. Dr. Fung says that including bulletproof coffee is not “technically” fasting, but the effect of the fatty coffee is “...small enough that it seems to make no difference to the overall outcome of the fast”.
Since reading "The Complete Guide to Fasting" I have also rotated in longer fasts about once a month. Sometimes 36 hours, sometimes 48 hours, and once 96 hours. I simply pay attention to my body and eat when I start to feel like I should. It’s incredibly easy!
I doubt I would have been successful with fasting if I hadn’t first become fat adapted. As a former glucose burner, I remember the feelings of dizziness, spaciness, irrational hunger, and crankiness that accompanied a missed carb-laden meal. Once I became fat adapted those sensations dissolved, seemingly forever. I have a fabulous supply of stored energy (fat!) and my body knows how to access it. This provides me with a steady stream of incredible energy all day long. My experience with intermittent fasting coincided with my adoption of a primal lifestyle, so I can’t pinpoint my transformation to fasting. But I can report that over the past year I have experienced 180° shift in my digestion, an elimination of carb/sugar cravings, lowered stress, improved sleep, effortless weight maintenance (while enjoying satisfying, delicious foods) and an overall ease and relaxation surrounding food and mealtimes.
This is MY experience with fasting. With the conflicting information out there, it is important to try things for yourself and trust your gut. It is my belief that we need to take responsibility for our own health. I still think about the doctor who told me that my health issues (constipation, bloating, gas, low energy levels) were normal. Well, perhaps those symptoms are “normal” for our unhealthy population, but I am grateful that I did my own research and experimentation to live optimally and feel amazing every day.