Sometimes we will come across people who have been doing IF for a while, yet they experience very slow weight loss or even no weight loss at all. They may think that IF “isn’t working.” While it’s true that they may not yet be seeing the weight loss they were hoping for, is IF “working”? And, if so, what is happening?
Let’s take a look at some of the latest research into what may be happening in our bodies when we fast. After reading about these new and exciting studies, you will realize that weight loss is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fasting! And, the benefits that we can’t see on the outside are actually the most important for our health and longevity.
For each of these titles, click on the title itself to go directly to the article that reports the research. I have given you a brief summary of each, but to learn more, you can (and should) go straight to the source. I am not a research scientist, nor do I play one on TV.
Are there any proven benefits to fasting?
Johns Hopkins, Spring/Summer 2016
Dr. Mark Mattson's research shows that fasting improves neural connections in the hippocampus and also protects our brains against the accumulation of amyloid plaques. Benefits of fasting include fewer signs of depression, improved memory, and an increased ability for our brains to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In pursuit of healthy aging: Intermittent fasting may be center of increasing lifespan
Harvard, October 2017
As we get older, the mitochondria of our cells lose the ability "to process energy over time, which leads to aging and age-related disease." Researchers from Harvard are beginning to understand how intermittent fasting promotes healthy aging by enhancing the plasticity of our mitochondrial networks. This should lead to a reduced likelihood of developing age-related diseases, which would increase lifespan.
Intermittent fasting leads to significant weight loss, slows aging
University of Florida, April 2018
Researchers at the University of Florida performed a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on fasting. In their paper, they examine both time-restricted eating (the eating window approach) and various alternate daily fasting strategies (the up/down day approach). In their analysis, they describe how fasting allows our bodies to shift from burning glucose for energy to obtaining energy from fatty acids and their byproducts, ketones. When the body flips this metabolic switch, we are able to access fat stores while preserving lean muscle mass. Also, fasting "may optimize physiological functioning, enhance performance, and slow the aging and disease processes."
Fasting boosts stem cells' regenerative capacity
MIT, May 2018
As we age, our intestinal stem cells lose their regenerative abilities, and it takes longer for the intestines to recover from infection or injury. Biologists at MIT found that a 24-hour fast can reverse age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function. In this study, they found evidence that "fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat." As a result of the metabolic changes, they saw enhanced function and cellular regeneration.
Longer daily fasting times improve health and longevity in mice
National Institute on Aging, September 2018
Scientists found that "health and longevity improved with increased fasting time, regardless of what the mice ate or how many calories they consumed." This study was performed on mice, and the mice who ate one meal a day, which was the longest fasting period examined, "seemed to have a longer lifespan and better outcomes for common age-related liver disease and metabolic disorders." Yes, these were mice, but the researchers are hoping to expand the research to other animals and then eventually to humans.
Researchers identify molecule with anti-aging effects on vascular system
Georgia State University, September 2018
We know that as we age, we become more susceptible to diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Vascular aging plays a significant role in this process, as the vessels become sensitive and more subject to damage over time. Researchers at Georgia State University found that the body produces a molecule during fasting called beta-hydroxybutyrate (involved in ketogenesis) that promotes cell division and prevents cellular aging within the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels of our vascular system. They believe this may help us keep our blood vessels young.
Fasting boosts metabolism and fights aging
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, January 2019
This study is exciting, because it wasn't done on rats or mice...but was actually conducted with humans. In this study, four volunteers participated in a 58 hour fast, and researchers took blood samples at specific intervals: 10, 34, and 58 hours into the fast. (Yes, this is a small sample size. Yes, it is still exciting.) Over time, and in all four subjects, scientists were able to identify "44 metabolites that increased during fasting, some of which increased 60-fold." Overall, they found a boost in metabolic activity, increased mitochondrial activation, and higher levels of antioxidants, which they expect would reverse some of the effects of aging. Next steps will include repeating this study with a larger sample.
Exercise, fasting help cells shed defective proteins
Harvard, February 2019
As we age, our cells lose the ability to dispose of "junk proteins," and this can lead to the accumulation of "misfolded proteins, which clog up the cell, interfere with its functions, and, over time," lead to "the development of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases such as amytrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer's." Researchers at Harvard found that both exercise and fasting (even for brief periods) enhanced the cells' ability to dispose of these junky proteins that cause diseases.
So, if you are one of the people who started IF for the weight loss (Gin raises hand), you should now understand that fasting is so much more than a way to drop pounds and sizes. I genuinely believe that almost all adults could benefit from some sort of intermittent fasting regimen. Remember: at the core, fasting truly is the health plan with a side effect of weight loss. Even when we can’t yet see the results outwardly, the latest research on fasting, health, and longevity should thrill us, as we begin to understand that amazing things are likely going on within our bodies. Not everyone who does intermittent fasting will be a size 2 or fit back into their jeans from high school, but everyone can benefit from the time our bodies spend in the fasted state.
And, here’s something else to think about. Once you truly embrace IF as your healthy forever-lifestyle, and disconnect from the thought that it’s a temporary diet to help you lose a certain number of pounds, you can exhale and relax into it. Once you do, you realize you have the rest of your life to tweak your IF regimen to find approaches that will allow you to eventually release the excess weight you may be holding onto. And, as you do, never lose sight of the fact that you’re reaping all of the health benefits along the way.
Fast on, friends!
It's that time of year again: New Year's Resolution time! After the ball drops and the confetti settles, there is one resolution that usually tops everyone's list, and I am sure you know what I mean:
THIS IS IT! This is FINALLY the year I am going to lose the excess weight and get healthy! YES! I am going to find the latest and greatest new diet, and I am going to follow it like a champion! 2018 will finally be my year!
With your resolution in mind, it's time to head to the bookstore and peruse the diet books! Of course, when you get there, you find that the NEW diet books look an awfully lot like the OLD diet books. Sure, they have been repackaged and reconfigured, but most of them tell you which foods are dietary heroes and which are dietary villains, and as long as you follow their (probably complicated) plans, you can achieve weight loss nirvana! They tell you what to eat and what NOT to eat, and they generally have phases and meal plans, with a "fabulous" recipe section. Of course, you'll be sick of these phases and meal plans in a couple of weeks, and you'll long for whatever foods you have restricted. Over time, you'll gradually drift back into your old dietary patterns, and the diet is over. Hey! There's always next year! Maybe 2019 will finally be your year!
What if it is a lot easier than that? What if, instead of the latest and greatest NEW diet, we look back in time to a practice that has been around for so long that most people have forgotten it? Let's go back to the time of Hippocrates, also known as "the father of modern medicine." He lived from around 430-360 BC, and is famous for this quote:
"Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness." --Hippocrates
Instead of a fancy new diet that promises to help us Lose 12 pounds in 12 days! Or Drop 3 sizes by Next Tuesday!. why don't we look to the practice that has been a part of every major religion and culture for millennia. Let's look to the natural healing force within that Hippocrates was talking about: fasting.
Did I lose you there? Stick with me. I get it: the word "FASTING" carries with it a lot of emotional baggage. You may be picturing emaciated monks or teenage girls with eating disorders. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. An intermittent fasting lifestyle is not a life of dietary restriction and eating disorders. It's actually one of the healthiest things you can do for your body, and it's a lifestyle that will bring you true FREEDOM from dietary constraints and restrictions.
It's important to understand: I'm not talking about extended water fasts where you aren't eating for days at a time. In an intermittent fasting lifestyle, you eat every day, and you get to enjoy all of your favorite foods with no guilt. Fun fact: you ALREADY fast every day! It's true! From the moment you finish eating at night to the moment you eat breakfast the next day, your body is in the fasted state. Congratulations! You are already a faster and didn't know it. All you have to do to adopt an intermittent fasting lifestyle is to extend your daily fast further into the day. You push back your "break-fast," and then, you eat without guilt. That's where the dietary freedom comes in. My first book (which explains how to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle) is called Delay, Don't Deny, after all! "Don't Deny" is a big part of it.
So: when you think of fasting, you may have certain concerns right off of the bat. Do any of these come to your mind?
"Fasting?!?!?! You are putting yourself in starvation mode!"
"Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!"
"You must eat 6 small meals per day to keep your metabolism from shutting down!"
Guess what? Not ONE of those statements is true!
Before beginning an intermittent fasting lifestyle, the important first step is to educate yourself on the health benefits of intermittent fasting. Read, read, and read some more, until you are confident. Watch videos. Listen to podcasts. The Intermittent Fasting Podcast is one I highly recommend, and that's probably because I am one of the co-hosts (yes, that is totally why.) Of course, I also think you should read Delay, Don't Deny, my book about Intermittent Fasting. You can order the paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble online, or download the e-book from any of your preferred e-book retailers or platforms. In Delay, Don't Deny, I go into all of the details about how to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle. I also tell my weight loss story: I lost 75 pounds back in 2014-2015, and I have been effortlessly maintaining the loss since March of 2015 (and even getting leaner over time...what "diet" does that for you?) Since 2015, I have also been the administrator of a Facebook intermittent fasting group, watching tens of thousands of members shed pounds and get healthier. Some of their success stories are found in Delay, Don't Deny, and others are found here on my website. Take a look and get inspired!
So, are you intrigued? Let's get educated!
Many of us begin intermittent fasting for weight loss, but IF is about so much more than just weight management. Even if you never lost a pound, I am convinced that IF is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body. One year ago, the biggest news in the intermittent fasting world was without a doubt the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine. As written in the press release, Yoshinori Ohsumi "discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components." What stimulates autophagy? Fasting, of course!
Rather than try to explain all of the benefits of autophagy myself, I am going to share some links that will take you to videos and/or well-written and easy to understand discussions about autophagy, so you can learn about it yourself. Click here to view a video that explains the process and benefits of autophagy, even though it is a bit dry and science-y. The article available here explains many of the benefits of autophagy in straightfoward terms, and this is a powerful quote from that article: "Autophagy is a process of cellular recycling that effectively removes old, damaged, and faulty equipment in our body, potentially stopping cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, infections, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, and even aging." WOW. Who wouldn't want those benefits? With a list like that, I think you would have to be crazy NOT to try intermittent fasting, personally. You can read Dr. Jason Fung's take on autophagy here, on his blog at Intensive Dietary Management. (His explanations are always my favorite.)
Notice that I led with the health benefits of intermittent fasting, because I want you to have that first and foremost in your mind. IF is healthy, and fasting has powerful anti-cancer, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits. Even if you never lost a pound, it is worth doing for the health benefits alone. BUT--is it crashing your metabolism, as critics warn? Are you putting yourself in danger of slowing your metabolic rate, resulting in long-term damage to your metabolism and eventual weight gain? Fortunately, the answer is NO.
This study is often cited by intermittent fasting experts, and I included it in Delay, Don't Deny, as well. From the study: "Resting metabolic rate (kJ/min) was significantly increased after 36 h of starvation...but was not significantly different from the 12 h value after 72 h." Don't be alarmed by the use of the word "starvation" in that quote, because they are referring to periods of intermittent fasting from 12 to 72 hours in length. Nobody ever starved to death in 12-72 hours. When you analyze that quote from the study, you see that they found that metabolic rate INCREASED after 36 hours of fasting, and at 72 hours, the metabolic rate wasn't lower than the metabolic rate measured after 12 hours. Metabolic shutdown? Clearly not! On the contrary--at the 36 hour mark, metabolic rate was UP. Take that, "you're going to shut down your metabolism" naysayers!
This article does a nice job summarizing much of the thinking surrounding intermittent fasting and metabolism. Of course, as usual, the most entertaining analysis of intermittent fasting and metabolism can be found on Dr. Fung's blog at Intensive Dietary Management. His classic post is found here (with an accompanying photo of George Constanza, in all of his glory), and Dr. Fung explains how IF not only protects your metabolism, but it can also help reverse metabolic damage brought on by following calorie-restricted diets in the past. This is really important to understand: not only are you NOT tanking your metabolism through IF, you can actually repair damage brought on through other dietary approaches. Keep in mind--this isn't always a fast process (fasting pun, right there...) If you have been following a restrictive diet long-term prior to starting an IF regimen, expect weight loss to be slow or nonexistent for awhile. You could even gain weight at first, until your body has a chance to heal metabolically. No one wants to hear that, but you should be aware of the possibility if you are a long-term dieter.
1. Fasting is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body! As I shared, fasting stimulates autophagy. This is how your body naturally takes out the cellular trash, and the more I read about it, the more I believe that it's one of the most powerful things you can do for your health.
2. Intermittent fasting is great for your body metabolically. Rather than slowing your metabolism, which we find in diets that promote long-term calorie restriction, IF has metabolic benefits you miss out on when you follow typical diet recommendations. (I'm looking at YOU, "eat less/move more"...) You can even repair metabolic damage brought about by long term restrictive dieting through fasting, though it takes time.
It's important for you to realize that intermittent fasting is not some radical new fad diet that is here today, and gone tomorrow. It's an ancient practice that is seen all around the world and in every major religion. In intermittent fasting, you're not being asked to go 40 days and 40 nights without food; with most intermittent fasting plans, you are eating until you are satisfied every day, and most people find that it's a lot more enjoyable than trying to eat tiny meals spread throughout the day. Once you adjust, it's actually easier than typical diet plans. This is one of those things that most people don't believe until they try it for themselves.
There's also one more exciting benefit to intermittent fasting that seems to be universally true: over time, your body will direct you to eat "healthier" foods, and many of your junk-food favorites actually lose their appeal. It's pretty magical, and I discuss it in the blog post found here. No one tells you what to eat or avoid, but you naturally gravitate to healthier choices. Win-win! If you do want to make better food choices but aren't sure what foods are "good" and what foods are "bad," you may be interested in my second book: Feast Without Fear. In it, I explain how our bodies are all different, and that there really are no one-size-fits-all dietary plans. Instead of ME telling you what you should eat, you learn how to figure it out for yourself. The foods that work best for me may not be the foods that work best for you, and vice versa. It's pretty empowering to know that YOU are in charge, rather than some sort of diet guru who doesn't live in your unique body.
As we enter 2018, I hope you will embrace my mindset: no sparkly new diet needed! Instead, discover the practice that is as old as time and yet still as effective today as it always has been: intermittent fasting. Learn how to Delay, Don't Deny and then Feast Without Fear! When you do, you will truly reach the dietary freedom you have been searching for!
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the #1 Amazon best-seller Delay, Don't Deny and the follow-up book Feast Without Fear, Gin is host of the Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast and co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.intermittentfastingstories.com and www.ifpodcast.com or search for the podcasts through your favorite podcast app.