Fasting For Increased Resiliency – How Not Eating Will Make You Stronger

Drowning in Food Choices

Wake up, eat, go to work, eat, work some more, have a snack, go home, eat, go to sleep, repeat. The thought of missing just one meal sends us into visualizations of being short tempered or cranky. But is this normal?

Today, we have more food choices than ever before. Name another time in history when someone could go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac at 2am. It’s never been possible before.

This idea of 3 meals a day every day may not be ideal. Research is starting to suggest that allowing the body to have an extended break from digestion, allows it to recoup.

Ancestral Roots

If we can imagine a time long ago, when our ancestors lived as part of the food chain, it wouldn’t be hard to envision extended periods of time without food. Having the ability to overcome these food shortages with extended fasting, would have been an evolutionary advantage.

Fast forward to today. Our vast food supply doesn’t have any restrictions on it. You can find something to eat whenever you get hungry. Unfortunately, evolutionary changes have not been able to occur at the same rate that we’ve introduced our modern eating habits. Evolutionary changes take thousands sometimes millions of years to occur.

We are living in a time when there is food everywhere, with DNA that evolved to go extended periods without food. These two factors are incompatible. Nature was usually slow in its environmental changes. Human innovation in the past 500 years was not.

How Do We Know That Overeating is The Problem?

It’s important to point out that disease is more widespread across society than ever before! Although people live longer, most lead miserable lives because of their burden of disease (depression, diabetes, acne, etc). The only reason that people live longer is because we have better technology to save them from death.

Most of the diseases that we see today are new and can be traced back to the spread of western dietary ideals around the world.

Diabetes in particular is the latest epidemic. Diabetes is a disease that originates from overconsumption of carbohydrates (there are more contributing factors but refined carbohydrates are the main culprits) and diabetes is being shown to play a key role in contributing to one’s risk of cancer, alzheimer’s, arthritis and parkinson’s, just to name a few. [1]

But Not Everyone is Diabetic

It is now said that more than 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes. [2] Prediabetes is a condition in which one’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, indicating that they are on their way to developing type 2 diabetes. This is an epidemic that has never been seen before!

The problem is that our society revolves around carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates). Placing emphasis on these foods makes us very carbohydrate dependant.

Have you ever missed a meal and felt very irritable because of it? That’s a sign that you are carb dependant.

Carbohydrates (later digested into glucose in your body) are one of your brain’s fuel sources. The other fuel source is ketones. You can get ketones in one of two ways:

  1. Cut all carbohydrates out of your diet and wait a few days until your body begins to pull fatty acids from your fat stores to turns them into ketones
  2. Start fasting and wait a couple days for your body to pull fatty acids from your fat stores to turns them into ketones

When your body has fully adapted to the use of ketones as fuel, missing a meal no longer has the same effect. Hunger even becomes reduced. Consuming primarily carbohydrates around the clock will make you dependant on carbohydrates, since that’s all that you’ve ever shown your body.

Introducing ketones (from dietary and stored fats), gets your body used to a new fuel source. This is the reason why the keto diet is such an effective fat loss tool. Alternating between use of ketones and carbohydrates (glucose) for fuel is most likely ideal. Something that can be achieved by fasting for an extended period of time, feasting for a short amount of time and then repeating. Maybe that’s how our ancestors managed to survive times with limited supplies of food while staying active and healthy.

More info on the details of ketosis can be found here.

Makes Sense But Why Don’t I Just Cut Carbs?

Getting into ketosis is a great start but to reap more healthy benefits, one must fast. One recent research paper in particular, describes the positive effects of fasting. [3] The paper explains that when in a fasted state, damaged cells are discarded and replaced by regenerated cells through stem cell activation.

This is especially true in the immune system. Fasting kills off damaged cells within the immune system and regenerates them which leaves the system much stronger. This process is also very important in fighting aging.

The team of researchers also showed that prolonged fasting can protect healthy cells from chemotoxicity. This ultimately helps chemotherapy to eliminate cancer cells while having lesser negative effects on healthy cells.

Although science is starting to reveal these mechanisms, the results have been known for a long time and have been utilized by many ancient cultures around the world.

A great list of the benefits of fasting can be found here. [4]

Conclusion

Fasting has been frowned upon by many. It’s become part of our culture to be fed around the clock. Unfortunately, it may be a contributing factor to many disease processes that we’re currently faced with today.

To be honest, hearing people say that fasting isn’t for everyone really irritates me. If fasting wasn’t for you, than it’s a surprise that your lineage has survived. Humans have been through periods of famine throughout extended history. We evolved to be able to handle fasting.

Introducing it slowly is your best bet for success, since we’re just not used to it. Our physiology needs to be reintroduced to it slowly, to awaken genetic adaptations within that can help us to lead healthier lives. Starting out with shorter lengths and extending them as you become more confident is ideal.

Anyone who has tried fasting (fasts ranging from 16 hours to 3 weeks) can attest to how great it makes them feel. Obviously it’s not easy when all we’ve ever known is eating, but with a gradual increase in fasting lengths we can begin to understand it’s value.

References

[1] BioMed Central. “Over-stimulation of insulin/IGF-1 signaling by Western diet may promote diseases of civilization: lessons learnt from Laron syndrome.” [Online]. Available: https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-8-41

[2] CDC. “Diabetes Latest.” [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfactsheet/

[3] Cell Stem Cell. “Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression.” [Online]. Available: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1934590914001519

[4] All About Fasting… for health and healing. “The Benefits of Fasting.” [Online]. Available: http://www.allaboutfasting.com/benefits-of-fasting.html

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