The modern custom of eating three meals per day with a regular snack in between differs a lot from the way that ancient peoples lived for thousands of years. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle meant that people were constantly adjusting from feasting to starvation mode as their food supply allowed. For them, it was not an option but that lifestyle has affected processes in our bodies that are helpful for weight loss and for strengthening the immune system.
The health benefits attributed to fasting are numerous including reduced cardiovascular disease, lower risk of cancer, disease resistance, weight loss and recovery from stress. That last one is one of the main reasons that fasting works. Our bodies are designed to repair genes, cells tissues and nerves after stress, which may be physical or emotional anxiety. Frequent intake of food slows down our body’s repair cycle as it works to process the food instead. If the food is nutrient-rich rather than sugar-rich, we still benefit from this. If, however, your lunch was a pizza and you followed it up with a chocolate covered candy bar at 3:00 PM, your body will be too busy producing and fighting the insulin rush to have any time to repair the damage.
Taking short breaks from food helps your body to use fat as a source of energy, instead of relying on the insulin producing sugars in so many packaged foods. Insulin also stimulates production of hormones in the body that make you feel hungry. Keeping insulin levels low normalizes these hormones. Fasting also stimulates the body to increase human growth hormone production, which is essential for weight loss and to keep you looking younger.
Looking younger, healthier skin and cardiovascular systems occurs because the body gets better control over oxidative stress, which is stimulated by excess glucose. Your brain benefits by this process too. When your body consumes fat, your brain uses the released ketones to support healthy neuron generation. This keeps your brain healthy and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders.
A few concerns about overdoing it are worth noting. If you feel strong food cravings at the end of a fasting period, resist the urge to overeat during that first meal. Keep the meal small and loaded with vegetables and healthy sources of proteins and essential fatty acids, like Omega-3 and the cravings will disappear quickly. Some people report that their sleep is disturbed while fasting. Sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of health issues so please slow down on the fasting if you experience this.
Extended fasting periods longer than a day or so can result in a lack of important nutrients that support a healthy body and prevent inflammation. One consequence of being starved for nutrition is that the body will not only turn to fat for energy, it will also break down muscle tissue. Start slow and be prepared to back off at any sign of discomfort.
If you have not been on a calorie-restricting plan or fasting program of any sort before, then the best way to start is to take small steps. Try skipping breakfast one day per week at first and then add another day if you seem to manage that without any problems. Slowly increase the number of days and meals that you skip eating. You may work your way all the way up to alternating entire days of fasting, but don’t rush into this. A good mode to maintain is to skip breakfast several days per week and to keep your eating to within an eight-to-ten-hour timeframe on the fasting days. You will find that the food craving quickly fades away and you don’t need as much food with each meal to feel full.