The 3 Benefits of Fasting
In previous blog posts I have talked about the power of your environment. I believe that there are numerous triggers in our environment that make us think we are hungry when in reality we aren't. Instead, we are just reacting to a habit that has been drilled into us, i.e , we are on auto pilot. Based off evolutionary data, we know that our ancestors went long periods without food. As a Rokiskyfitness reader, you know that evolution has been occurring for the last 200,000 years. You also know that our diet/environment has evolved more in the last 100 years then it has over the last 200,000 years. Basically, evolution happens very very slow and technology advances very fast. Therefore, we must realize that their are still innate desires in all of us and that certain physical adaptations that took place 1000s of years ago, still pertain to us today. The adaptation I am referring to is intermediate fasting. I have always been aware of fasting, but never did much research on it. Luckily, I came across the Tim Ferris and Rich Roll Podcast. In those podcasts, they mentioned numerous benefits of fasting: increased longevity, increased human growth hormone and increased metabolism. In addition, they talked about people fasting for weeks at a time. I figured, if these guys can fast for a month on just water, then I can certainly go 24 hours.
I decided to start fasting once a week for 24 hours with just water, coffee/tea and amino acids. Usually, I perform it Sunday into Monday. However, this weekend I didn't go out and drink on Saturday night. Usually, my Saturdays are filled with tequila and vodka until 1 am (it is my last semester in college, you have to live it up right ? ) . Instead of drinking, I went out with some friends and saw Deadpool. By the way, Deadpool is probably my favorite movie of all time. I highly recommend you go see it, the movie is funny, action packed and very entertaining. Before going to see the movie, I decided that I was going to start my fast at 7pm Saturday night. I had just worked out and eaten a ton of food, so I was very content with my fullness. I got to the theater and of course my friends ordered popcorn and candy. Instantly, I was tempted to break my fast. Nevertheless, I stayed strong. The urge to cave was very real, but I thought to myself, " I am going to hate how I feel after I eat all that popcorn." The trick was resisting the instant gratification and the novelty of the popcorn. You see, most people associate popcorn with the movie theater. Thus, when they go to the movie theater they must have popcorn with it. They may not even be hungry, but they are so used to having popcorn during a movie that they instantly get this craving for popcorn. I think, we tend to overlook our habits and our environment.
Let's fast forward 22 hours, towards the end of my fast. It is around 5pm and I just got done with an hour run. According to my heart rate monitor, I burned 600 calories. You would assume that I would be starving during my run, but I wasn't. I didn't have any cravings during my ten minute cool down where I was just walking. It all changed when I walked up my stairs and opened my door. I was hit with food craving and hunger struck me instantly. Was it the fact that my body had finally ran out of energy or was it the habit of coming home and eating food? Could my mind have associated my house with eating food? I believe that it was the latter. Just like how my friends got to the movie theater and instantly wanted popcorn, I instantly wanted food right when I got back home. I think it is imperative that you make yourself aware of these environment habitual triggers, which brings me to fasting benefit number 1..
#1 Fasting Makes You Aware of Your Hunger Signals
The beauty of fasting is that it takes all the decision making out of your day. You don't have to think about breakfast, lunch or dinner. All you have to do is drink water. In a world filled with decision making it can be very relaxing to not worry about one less decision. Furthermore, when you are not thinking about when to eat, you start to not crave food as much. Since I have started my weekly fasts ( a month now), I am more in tune with when I am hungry. Instead of eating out of habit, I am now eating out of hunger. I believe that fasting is a great tool to heighten this awareness.
#2 Fasting Does Not Slow Down Your Metabolism
Throughout human history, we have been fasting anywhere from a day to a year. And actually, (please swallow your beverage before reading this next part) the longest recorded fast ever is 382 days! That is insane, a year of no food, and people are trying to say you will get fat if you skip breakfast. You see, one of the biggest misconceptions about fasting is that it slows down your metabolism. And this couldn't be further from the truth. A study done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that individuals who fasted for 84 hours increased their resting energy expenditure significantly ( 3.97 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 1 to 4.53 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 3). If we do some simple math, we find that the subject burned more calories on the third day versus the first day. The scientists believe the reason for this was due to norepinephrine. Norepinephrine plays a huge roll in fat loss bystimulating hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). When this hormone is stimulated, it breaks down the triglyceride (fat cell). This is called lipolysis. It addition, norepinephrine has been shown to turn your white fat into brown fat by creating more mitochondria in the fat cell. Thus, more mitochondria in the cell means more energy getting created i.e more fat burned! The reason norepinephrine increases during fasting is due to the sympathetic nervous system. During a fast, your body is stressed and it deals with this stress by turning on the sympathetic nervous system. One of the byproducts of the sympathetic nervous system is norepinephrine. This same reaction occurs in exercise, cryotherapy, and the sauna. Basically, anytime your body gets stressed it starts to go into the flight or flight (sympathetic) mechanism. However, this system is to not to be abused. Chronic stress can take a toll on the body and do more harm than good. It is very important that you have your stress managed before starting a fasting regimen.
#3 Fasting Increases Longevity
Most people go to work five days a week then take off the weekends. Usually, after the weekend you feel recharged and ready to take on the work week. Don't you think that our digestive system should get the same treatment? It takes alot of energy and reactions to break down food in the body. Remember, there is no free biological lunch, every time a reaction occurs there is a good and a bad side of it. For example, protein is very good at telling the body to secrete insulin like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 is great for building muscle, it tells the cells to grow. However, this response becomes very problematic when it comes to cancer tumors. Your body cannot tell the difference between a healthy cell and a cancer cell. When you consume protein, your body sends the same IGF-1 signal to grow the muscle. Unfortunately, the cancer cell also grows. Take a look at the following study, if you didn't click the study, here are the cliff notes. Rodents that were fed a reduced protein diet and fasted showed reduced tumor size and increased longevity. The scientists concluded that a down regulation of the IGF/mTOR pathway lead to the reduction of the tumor size. Granted this is a rodent study and it is just one study, but I believe that as we get older it is important to reduce protein intake and increase our vegetable consumption. You may not realize it, but cancer cells can start growing at any age. This is why it is so important to get started on your health right now. Don't wait until you are unhealthy or overweight, start the intervention today.
There you have it, three amazing benefits of fasting. Fasting will increase your hunger awareness, speed up your metabolism and increase longevity. Imagine if the supplement companies could sell a pill that could do all of these things. Whoever invented that pill would be a billionaire. Every single person in the world would want to take that supplement. Luckily, it is totally free, all you have to do is not eat for a day.
Fasting Cheat Sheet
- Intermediate fasting can be anywhere from 16 to 24 hours
- Fasting can be anywhere from 1 day to 382 days
- Fasting is a stressor and should only be done under medical supervision
- Coffee, tea, and water
- Amino acids, creatine, and taurine can be used if you exercising