If I were to try to sell you a pill that burned excess body fat, regenerated every cell in your body, and resulted in laser-like levels of mental clarity, how would you react?
You’d probably dismiss is it as fantasy. And you’d be right. I would be. No such pill exists.
However, within the inner workings of own intricately amazing biology lies the ability to achieve those same outcomes through the practice of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern in which you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It most closely resembles the biological environment of our ancestors as food was not available 24/7 as it is today. In fact, “three meals a day” is more of a cultural construct than a biological necessity.
I have found the most beneficial intermittent fasting pattern to be what is referred to as the “compressed eating window”.
This is a daily form of intermittent fasting. I typically eat my first meal around noon and my last before 8pm. I am therefore compressing my feeding into an 8 hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day (granted, I am asleep for a chunk of those hours.)
While it is important to focus on the nutrition you provide your body, you should also pay attention to the benefits of going long periods without. There is a yin to every yang.
Before you eschew this practice as the latest fad, understand that almost every world religion has practiced some form of fasting, and for good reason (whether they understood the science behind it or not): There are a multitude of scientifically backed health benefits that come from the practice.
For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the three benefits that have affected my life dramatically: burning fat, cellular regeneration, and mental clarity.
Your body evolved to use stored body fat as a fuel source during times when calories were scarce. This built-in mechanism served us well throughout the course of evolution, as times of scarcity were a common occurrence. However, this is not the situation in which we find ourselves in contemporary society. With all foods, especially carbohydrates, readily available, we spend most of the time in a “fed state” as opposed to a “fasted state”.
A fed state, especially on a high-carbohydrate diet, creates a state of high insulin, high blood glucose, using glucose for fuel, and storing excess fat.
A fasted state, on the other hand, creates a biological environment of low insulin, low glucose, and the burning of fat for energy.
Essentially, when you are in a low-glucose state, your body is forced to burn fat for energy instead of glucose. The goal is to tap into the biological mechanisms already in place within you in order to achieve this state.
Fasting for a period of sixteen hours creates an optimal environment for autophagy.
Autophagy is the natural, destructive mechanism that disassembles, through a regulated process, unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components. The word itself derives from the Greek “to self-eat”.
During a sixteen hour fast, you provide your body with a sufficient level of nutrient starvation to optimize the cell clean up process. During this period, unneeded proteins are degraded and the amino acids are recycled for the synthesis of proteins that are essential for survival.
This process may reverse the effects of aging by ridding the body of “cellular junk”. It is the accumulation of this junk that may be responsible for the negative effects of aging.
A recent study also found that fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of a damaged, old immune system.
Intermittent fasting on a daily basis has led to an increase in my mental clarity.
This is more than just anecdotal. There is scientific evidence to back up these effects.
The process of autophagy applies to brain cells as well. During autophagy, your brain cells also undergo a cleansing process, which leads to sharper mental acuity.
Studies have shown that in mammals, mental activity increases when hungry and decreases with satiation. Many scientists theorize that from an evolutionary standpoint, great mental awareness is required in times of scarcity to find calories, and less so when the body is fed.
Studies also show a link between fasting and reduction in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There is also a correlation between lower fasting glucose levels and improvement in memory!
I hope you can see the multitude of benefits that can be conferred simply by tapping into the existing mechanisms of your own biology.
A sixteen hour fast is optional. In leveraging sleep time as part of your fast, you will rarely succumb to hunger, especially if you are eating a low-carb, high-fat diet.
What are your thoughts on the compressed eating window, and have you tried it? To what effect?
Be awesome. Be vital.