Most of us have long been told that if we want to be strong and healthy, we need to eat three square meals a day. Lots of folks think that skipping a meal could be dire for their health.
But it turns out that when folks abstain from food for predetermined stretches of time (also known as fasting), it changes their health in remarkable ways...
One of the most well-known fasters is none other than Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi spent much of his life fighting against racial persecution. On September 16, 1932, from his jail cell in Pune, India, Gandhi began his fast in protest of Britain's decision to separate the country's electoral system by caste.
A hunger strike is an extreme action. It's not typically great for your health. But it can make a statement. Or it can be used to evoke spiritual reflection and meditation. Many religious celebrations use fasting as part of their way to connect with a higher power.
In Islam, fasting for Ramadan symbolizes breaking the boundary between the rich and the poor... It puts everyone on an equal plane from which to ask for the forgiveness of their sins. It also commemorates God's giving of the Quran to Muhammad.
On Yom Kippur, Jews atone for their sins and ask for them to be forgiven. This is a major holiday that involves fasting as a way to "transcend our physical bodies... so that we can focus on our souls," according to the American Jewish Committee.
And many Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays as a form of fasting. Fasting also happens during the 40 days of Lent where folks avoid consuming meat, dairy, and alcohol.
But fasting is more than a political protest or a way to practice religion...
Periodic fasting also helps you live longer. That's what I'm really going to talk about today. Because if you haven't already been fasting, you're going to want to give it a try after reading today's issue.
Studies show that intermittent fasting – in which you only eat during a specified time period – is incredible for your health. It can help with neurological disorders, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even certain cancers.
Fasting allows your cells to regenerate through a process called autophagy – which I'll explain more a little later.
It's easy to start fasting so you can experience these health benefits...
Doc's Tips for Lasting Fasting
Here are my three tips to help make your fasting habit stick.
Tip No. 1: Skip breakfast.
A longtime subscriber of mine, Dr. Jason Fung, is a fasting specialist. Dr. Fung says that skipping either breakfast or dinner is a great way to approach fasting. Dr. Fung explains that skipping dinner will typically cut more calories than skipping breakfast – since dinner tends to be the biggest meal of the day. However, skipping breakfast tends to be easier and more sustainable for folks.
Dr. Fung actually skips breakfast most mornings because it's convenient and often a less social/family-oriented meal. One of my researchers does this too. She stops eating after dinner (around 8 p.m.) and then doesn't eat anything – other than her usual coffee with half-and-half – until around 2 p.m. the next day. She finds that having liquids like coffee and water easily keeps her satisfied until the afternoon.
Give it a try. If you start to feel hungry during your fast, drink some bone broth or water with lemon to tide you over.
Tip No. 2: Try a dinner-to-dinner fast.
Do what I do and fast between dinners. I'll eat dinner one night, finishing before 8 p.m. to balance my body's natural sleep and hormone rhythms. Then I won't eat again until dinner the following day. I may still drink some water or coffee throughout the day. But I won't snack or have a meal.
I do this a handful of times a year. I like how it makes me feel, and I know I'm doing good things to reset my body's systems and cells. Studies show that fasting allows your body to detoxify itself naturally. Our bodies destroy and recycle damaged cells, proteins, and debris during a process called autophagy. Turns out, fasting kick-starts the autophagy process.
Studies show that fasting for 16 hours a day will help you lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. Fasting also improves mental and physical performance.
And if you want to do a longer fast, your body can make significant changes to itself. One study found that prolonged fasting – lasting 48 to 120 hours – reduced and then regenerated 28% of the white blood cells in participants. Regenerated white blood cells mean a stronger immune system.
Tip No. 3: Use an app to help keep you on track.
Using an app to help keep yourself on track with your fasting is really helpful.
One of my researchers uses an app called Lasta: Intermittent Fasting. When you download the Lasta app, you fill out a short quiz and then pick a fasting plan to follow. It does cost a little bit of money, but you can try it out to see how it works for you.
She also keeps track of her calories with a free app called Lose It!. Now, I'm not usually one for counting calories, but it helps her avoid both overeating and undereating.
So try fasting. It's not as hard as it seems, and it does wonders for your health. Do what I do and try the dinner-to-dinner fast several times a month. And download a helpful app to keep you on track and log your progress.
What We're Reading...
- Dr. Jason Fung's video: Should I skip breakfast or dinner?
- Something different: Sugar isn't actually making kids hyper.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 27, 2023