Three years ago I wrote a column on intermittent fasting. I had studied it and was intrigued by what I found, but I was not a practitioner. In other words, I wrote an information column but didn’t have any personal experience or insights.
Frankly, I didn’t think about it much more until it was published and I received an incredible response from readers, far more emails on this topic than on any other topic I’ve covered in my 43 years as a health columnist. Furthermore, the responses have been extremely enthusiastic, advertising surprising effects and benefits. As a result, I decided I needed to have more first-hand knowledge, so I took the plunge.
I would like to start with the different types of intermittent fasting. The first is the type I follow on a daily basis where I pack my food into a narrow window. Initially, that window was eight hours, meaning I would consume everything I would eat for the day between approximately 1pm and 9pm and fast (nothing but water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee) the rest of the day. This was easy and posed no problem for me as I had become a staunch believer in eating when I’m hungry rather than eating at set times, and I’m generally not hungry when I wake up in the morning, so skipping breakfast was no big deal. .
At around 1pm, I was starting to get hungry and had lunch. But I would go easy on food and would typically consume 24 to 32 ounces of a nutritious homemade blend with lots of green leafy vegetables and a few carrots, fruits (an orange, an apple, blueberries, etc.), soy powder. high protein (chocolate flavored), raw nuts and soy milk, mixed in a high-powered Vitamix blender. There are other brands of blenders to choose from, but the key is high power, as a regular blender can’t do the job.
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I did this for a while, but I was eager to progress and I did it quickly, narrowing my window to eat at six hours, then four and often just two hours. This meant I was fasting for 18, then 20, and finally up to 22 hours a day. The results were fantastic and similar to the emails I had received previously. Most noticeable is that my belly fat is gone, not just the deep belly fat under the muscle layer, but also the subcutaneous fat just under the skin. This amazed me because, despite all my exercise, I never thought I’d lose the “love handles” on my hips or see the “six pack” I had when I was young. But I did, on my way to losing 15 pounds and reaching my goal of 190, my sophomore weight in high school.
Other approaches to intermittent fasting may be more to your liking. One is the alternate day approach where you eat normally and hopefully healthy one day, then fast the next day. This could result in a complete fast for the whole day or, more typically, people will consume a small meal throughout the day of around 500 calories. Another less demanding approach is the 5: 2 method of fasting two days a week per week. Again, fasting days can be no food or just a small mid-day meal of around 500 calories.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting and exercise?
I became a huge fan of the research of Dr. Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Aging and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Thousands of studies have been done on calorie restriction and intermittent fasting in animals, but little has been done in humans until Mattson started his work 25 years ago. At first, he was intrigued by the research prospects of intermittent fasting, then he adopted the lifestyle for himself to improve his health.
Mattson argues that intermittent fasting has many of the same benefits as exercise because they are what he calls “good stressors.” Both stress the body, but instead of a negative outcome, good stressors increase the removal of old cells and trigger their replacement with younger, more vital cells, and also provide a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect.
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According to Mattson, “If you don’t expose yourself to mild bioenergetic stress, whether it’s exercise or intermittent fasting, then it’s not so good for your cells, especially as you age. You’re not harnessing all the processes that help cells resist stress, function efficiently and fight disease. “
Mattson points out that exercise stresses the muscles, making them more efficient. He adds that exercise can cause the muscles to release proteins (myokines) that signal the brain to promote new connections between the nerves. Exercise has been shown to be a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease prevention, and this myokine release process could be a useful mechanism. Along the same lines, a research study on intermittent fasting conducted for two years supports a positive effect on the brain similar to exercise, with improved cognitive function and memory, which could help prevent mental decline and dementia in the following years.
Mattson draws another parallel between exercise and intermittent fasting by pointing out that muscle development does not occur during exercise. It occurs later when you eat and rest. Likewise, intermittent fasting stresses cells, pushing them like exercise into a stress-resistance mode that causes helpful changes, but these changes don’t happen until you eat and rest. Another similarity is that the effects of a longer fast are like increasing the intensity and duration of the exercise.
Intermittent fasting also mimics exercise to increase the rate of production and release of human growth hormone which helps reduce belly fat by promoting an increase in muscle mass.
Finally, both intermittent fasting and exercise promote immune health. Given these similar benefits, it makes sense to combine the two and maximize the benefits. This is exactly what I have been doing for the past couple of years and have reaped far greater benefits than I imagined at my current age of 75.
Reach out to Bryant Stamford, Professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Hanover College, at email@example.com.