Fasting: The Truth About an Ancient Practice in a Modern World
By Natalie Reimer Anderson RHN, B.Ed
We all know Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, but did you know the full quote reads, “Everyone has a physician inside him or her. We just have to help it do its work. The natural force within each one of us is the greatest force for being well. Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed sickness.”
Hippocrates and many of his contemporaries were proponents of fasting as a way of healing the body, heightening mental acuity, enhancing spiritual connection and promoting longevity.
Fasting is currently gaining a buzz in the media, but this ancient therapy has been used for thousands of years to reverse health conditions and reset the body and mind. The question is, does one have to do a long and difficult fast in order to reap the benefits of this amazing therapy?
The answer is No. Science is showing the increasingly popular lifestyle of Intermittent Fasting to be just as effective as long term fasting in receiving the myriad health benefits. Intermittent fasting or “IF" is easy to fit into your busy modern schedule and it promotes healthy and sustainable body composition by stabilizing blood sugars and burning fat while improving energy levels, mental clarity, muscle and skin tone and helping people reach their health goals much quicker.
The secret lies in taking an “insulin break” for 16-20 hours at a time so that the body can become insulin sensitive once again and tap into fat reserves as fuel.
There are a few different styles of IF, one of the most popular methods being the “20:4” ratio. The faster typically stops eating after 8:00 pm, fasts while sleeping, skips breakfast and lunch, then has a healthy snack at 4:00 pm when they start their 4 hour “eating window” from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm achieving a 20 hour fast. The point of IF is not calorie restriction, but rather, to shorten the “window” of eating so that the body can flip from digestion mode into repair mode. You may find you will naturally eat less, yet feel very satisfied. This is due to the stabilization of blood glucose levels and proper singling of the hunger-satiety hormones.
"The HOW": during the day...
It is recommended to first begin by consulting a health care practitioner to decide if IF is right for you and then to begin by slowly increasing your fasting window each day until you are at the desired ratio of hours spent fasting versus eating. When fasting, drink plenty of spring or mineral water, and even some tea or black coffee if you choose. I recommend using "Fasting Days" by Innotech Nutrition, as a supportive supplement made in Canada which is a doctor formulated, nutrient complex powdered drink mix specifically designed for intermittent fasting that acts as an all natural low calorie drink to prevent hunger while maintaining your electrolytic balance.
At 4pm Snack on something healthy, simple and easy to digest to gently break the fast, such as vegetable soup, a handful of natural almonds or a protein shake with added chia seed, berries and a dairy alternative.
At 6pm Have a satisfying dinner with a serving of protein, plenty of leafy green salad and/or steamed veggies with healthy fats such as grass-fed butter, coconut oil or avocado, avoiding excess grains, starches and sugars.
7pm Another healthy snack if you’re feeling hungry.
8pm Stop eating and begin your fast.
"The WHY" : Some of the benefits of this “insulin break”:
- Save Your Body
- Autophagy – when insulin production is turned off a mechanism called Autophagy gets turned on. Autophagy means, “self devouring”. Your body searches out and consumes “bad cells” and recycles the materials to produce new and healthy cells. This is showing promise in reducing the risk of many types of cancer.
- Stem Cell Production – fasting stimulates stem cell production which allows for self-renewal and reversal of many cellular diseases.
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH) Production – studies show that fasting triggers the youth hormone known as “HGH” which increases muscle mass, improves skin tone, joint strength, energy metabolism, and fat burning.
- Healthy Weight Loss– IF is much different than calorie restriction diets. Calorie restriction shuts down then spikes glucose making the dieter feel deprived and fatigued causing a rebound effect and falling “off the wagon”. Fasting however, uses up stored glucose and shuts down insulin production thereby allowing us to become sensitive to insulin once again, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and gaining more energy without the crashes. With fasting we become “fat-adapted” or fat burning, which is the body’s preferred source of fuel because it is stable and sustainable.
- Digestive system and gut microbiome rest and reset: studies show that IF restores microbe diversity in the gut, increases our tolerance to “bad” bacteria, and restores the integrity of the epithelial lining, all of which has a beneficial outcome for our immune system which is 80% or more found in our gut.
- Save The Planet
It has been shown that there is a 45% decrease in food packaging, containers and recyclables while using a 20:4 IF protocol. It is evident that recycling just isn’t enough so it makes good sense to do our part to reduce excess plastic and packaging. Intermittent Fasting can help reduce our consumption and our own personal burden on the system.
- Save Your Time
- Skip the shopping time
- Skip the prepping and cooking time
- Skip the clean up time
- Skip the driving time and costs of stores and drive-thrus.
- Save Your Energy
IF allows us to break the often obsessive hold that food has over us in our modern consumerist culture. Food is all too often used as our primary source of bonding and pleasure. With consistent intermittent fasting we begin to realize that we have much less of a requirement for food than we have been conditioned to believe. As this conditioning is challenged, we begin to look to other ways to spend our time and enjoy the other pleasures life has to offer. Further to this, the digestion process itself requires a significant portion of our daily energy to breakdown, absorb and assimilate food giving us a net gain of very little energy from the process. This is why we feel ready for a nap after a big dinner. But with IF we can begin to really enjoy our relationship to food without feeling enslaved to it. And as a bonus, people who intermittent fast have more time and energy for leisure, family, recreational pursuits, and getting things done due to the increase in mental energy, focus, clarity and mood stability.
In summary, intermitting fasting is a modern take on the ancient therapy of fasting that is an extremely beneficial and sustainable lifestyle for both your body and the planet. Imagine that the simple answer to our health woes was not found in the pursuit of what we needed to do more, but in what we need to do less. And as we allow the inner physician to do its work, we are also allowing this natural force of well-being aid the planet in healing too.
Natalie Reimer Anderson was a former professional athlete and high school teacher before being sidelined by a debilitating autoimmune condition that caused her to pursue recovering her health full time. She is now known for her inspirational personal story of overcoming her illness through cultivating the mind-body-spirit connection to optimal health. As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Fitness Trainer and Life Coach for over a decade, she combines her expertise of intermittent fasting, cellular nutrition, and fitness hacks along with mindset training and cognitive therapies to transform lives from cell to soul.