Today, I will explain the history of intermittent fasting and some of its good points and bad points.
Due to food scarcity, our ancestors (think pre-agriculture, think hunter-gatherers) practiced intermittent fasting, periods of feast (I killed the beast! Let’s eat!) interspersed with periods of famine (now, where did I last see those strawberries?).
Those were the good old days, when if daddy didn’t bring home the bacon, mama couldn’t fry it up in a pan. (Yeah, there was no bacon, at that time, and no pans, either, actually). But you get the idea, intermittent fasting involves feast (periods of eating) and famine (not a lovely word, but periods of not eating); we evolved to survive in these conditions. Our bodies have not adapted to constant eating, a perpetual source of food. Obviously, just look at the patrons of any McDonalds in the world. Overeating, three meals a day everyday plus snacks, makes us fat…Fat, fat, fat.
With civilization came religion and spirituality. Since ancient times humans have fasted for religious/spiritual purposes. Ancient peoples, still more attuned to their bodies and the effects of feeding and fasting, knew that periods of deprivation did a body good.
Every major religion encourages its enthusiasts to fast during certain times of the year. Most religions promote the practice for spiritual enlightenment. Apparently, if you want to meet your maker before you die, fasting is the answer. I think they supported the practice for health reasons, also, but health has always been a hard sell. In fact, ancient philosophers and doctors, like Plato and Hippocrates, fasted and used fasting for mental clarity and for its curative powers. Your doctor never told you that, right?
The Hieroglyphics on the Wall
I have read that in ancient Egypt a hieroglyph in a tomb read, “Humans live on 25% of what they eat; on the other 75% lives their doctor.” Did the ancient Egyptians know that overconsumption of food causes diseases? I think they did, and yet most doctors don’t prescribe fasting, they push drugs because there is no money for the pharmaceutical companies in fasting. This is why so many misconceptions about food and diet abound.
Who tells us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Science? No, no, no, not science. No real evidence supports breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Advertising feeds us this misconception. There is better scientific evidence to support skipping breakfast, everyday. Mark Mattson, chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program National Institute on Aging and Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, has studied the effects of intermittent fasting and skipping meals, extensively. He, an expert on fasting and a fasting practitioner, advocates skipping breakfast. His studies have proven the health benefits of IF. See Mark Mattson’s TEDx talk, here.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Simply stated, as I have said before, intermittent fasting involves periods of feeding intermixed with periods of no food. “But wait a minute,” you say, “I already do that.” Yes, my astute reader, you do. EVERYBODY intermittently fasts. We fast when we sleep, and we break the fast when we awake and eat the first meal of the day, thus the name, breakfast. The key to unlock the multitude of health benefits of IF rests in prolonging the periods of no food. And trust me, your body, as addicted to sugar and sugar-burning as it is, is going to fight you every step of the way, at least initially, no matter how you do it. How bad do you want to lose weight and keep it off? How bad do you want to be the healthiest you possible? How bad do you want to look ten, twenty, thirty years younger? How bad do you want a clear mind well into old age? The benefits of IF far outweigh the initial pain and problems. It is well worth the effort.
However, it gets easier. Every person who has practiced IF for any length of time (more than two months) has reported that hunger goes away and fasting becomes easier and easier. EVERYBODY!!! Literally, my wife and I do not experience the feeling of hunger that we experienced prior to IF, no hunger and no cravings whatsoever. I’m no longer even tempted by Snickers bars. How would you like your cravings and hunger to go away, permanently? (There have been a lot of rhetorical questions in this post.) On the contrary, everyone who has not tried IF for any length of time (under two months) has reported hunger, ravenous hunger, unbearable hunger, hunger as the number one complaint. Unfortunately, these “experts” just don’t know the long-term effects of IF. As an IF practitioner, I’m not saying it is easy, but I am saying that our bodies get used to it, adapt to it, and in a weird way, it becomes almost pleasurable. It is well worth the effort.
A Piece of Cake?
And you can do it! Most people can practice intermittent fasting. Take this from a man and his wife, both of whom have never stuck with a diet or an exercise program, he with ulcerative colitis and osteoarthritis, both a little overweight. (Eight months ago, I was overweight borderline obese.) We are doing it! You can do it! Certainly, if I can, you can. What I have found: it is more about psychology than physiology. If you do not think you can, you cannot. If you think you can, you can and you will. Our bodies came well equipped to handle days without food. Unfortunately, our brains came well equipped to reward us, way too well, for overindulgence. Our brain says, “Eat, eat, eat!” like an Italian grandmother in our heads. Our body says, “Stop eating, you fool!!!” like Gandolph the Grey. We stop listening to our body. We really don’t like or respect our body very much. Fortunately, we can reboot our systems for optimal health. When we fast, we start to respect and like and listen to our body, again. No more crossing your fingers hoping you lose weight, hoping you get healthier, hoping for a younger appearance.
The take away, pre-historic and ancient humans practiced IF, IF works spiritually and physically for enlightenment and better health, hunger and cravings become a memory of a larger and unhealthier you, and a new-younger-healthier-smarter-lighter you is worth it. Furthermore, it’s not only possible but also very doable.
Please, in the comments, tell us how your experiences, good and bad, with fasting have changed your life. It may inspire others and me. In the next post, I will explain the different protocols of intermittent fasting, and I will try to convince you that the one that my wife and I practice is the best. Until next time stay fast and fit.