You may have heard of the benefits of occasional fasting. Fasting has been considered a healthful practice for centuries. It may not be something that you intentionally practice. But did you realize that you do some fasting regularly? When you sleep, you are not eating! To gain noticeable benefit from this fasting period, it needs to be long enough for your body to exhaust the “easy calories” and start accessing its reserves. Fasting may be difficult when you feel pangs of hunger through the day, but if you sleep much of your fasting time, fasting becomes quite easy — with a little practice.
Different versions of intermittent fasting have become popular for weight loss and general health. The American Medical Association tested “alternate-day fasting”, where participants ate only 25% of their usual calories one day, then 125% the other. This study showed weight loss similar to those who just cut calories every day, but the study drop-out rate was 38%. This was a helpful but difficult form of fasting. Let’s look at an easier option.
When you eat, food breaks down into sugars that your body then uses for energy. Insulin drives and controls this process. If you eat from the moment that you arise to bedtime, insulin has been active much of that time because your pancreas frequently secretes it to drive the sugar to the cells and bring the blood sugar level back into proper range. Excess sugar is stored in body fat, because your body tries to use the sugar and it tries desperately to keep the blood sugar level correct.
When your sugar levels drop too low, your pancreas secretes glucagon instead. This hormone is the opposite of insulin, driving the blood sugar levels back up, and this should happen when you are not getting your supply of sugars from food. The alternation of hormones provides “homeostasis”, which means that you have a relatively constant supply of energy all the time.
If you are spending the majority of your 24 hours of the day producing insulin, you are overusing that hormone. Continued overburdening of this metabolic pathway leads to a reduction of its effectiveness. Your body senses that the insulin is not succeeding in lowering your blood sugar to safe levels, and produces even more insulin to compensate. This works until your cells are even more resistant to the insulin, and eventually you reach the point where your pancreas can’t produce enough to keep up, or it burns out from the effort. At that point, you have diabetes.
Switching over to the glucagon pathway gives your body a rest from the insulin. That switch is vital to restoring insulin effectiveness and resting the pancreas, just as rest is a vital part of exercise to rebuild muscle.
Your body naturally cycles between these two pathways daily.
Fasting Made Easy
When you eat a good meal, you should not feel hungry for a few hours. Take advantage of that time, and add it to the period you sleep, to come up with a longer window of time that you are fasting. Then don’t rush to eat in the morning. Push those borders out and get used to them, and you can regularly achieve a 14-hour fast. Your body adjusts as you practice. Halting your food intake completely after dinner at 5 or 6 PM, combined with a perfect 9.5 hours of sleep would easily get you there. This is called the “10-hour window”. Easing into this window and making it habitual makes this rather easy to do. Some may use an 8-hour window for even greater results.
Now, there are times you should not push fasting. If you are pregnant for instance, or have certain illnesses, this may not be for you in this season. But most people will benefit from the 10-hour window form of intermittent fasting.
The University of Alabama studied a group of overweight people, divided into two groups. One group ate only over an 8-hour window, while the other group ate during a 12-hour window. Only the eating period was restricted, not the amount that they ate for the day. The 8-hour group had much lower insulin levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and lower blood pressure after five weeks compared to the 12-hour group. And the 8-hour group’s appetite was reduced: without starving, they simply didn’t want as much food. The Salk Institute studied the 10-hour window and participants reduced blood pressure and total cholesterol, reducing cardiac risk, plus lowered blood sugar and insulin levels, reducing diabetes risk.
This form of fasting, by reinforcing the daily rhythm, was highly effective and easily maintained. The most natural pattern we have is the daily cycle, and reinforcing it produces major benefits.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Fasting is a natural part of how your body sustains health. So all you have to do to start on a fasting path is first and foremost fast from the standard American diet. Start eating more raw and living plants, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and stop eating as much bread, pasta, carbs and cooked animal proteins. This becomes denatured in the cooking process and produces inflammation in the body. This is the first fast you should get started on. You can call it a more permanent Daniel fast. From there you can progress to time restriction fasting where you do not eat in between meals, and you never eat after dinner until breakfast. Everyone should be able to do a 12 hour fast every night. The more you rest your insulin secretion, and the more you rest your digestive system, the healthier you will become.