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Intermittent Fasting Update


This is a great summary of some current research on fasting and health. Some messages about fasting I have recently heard are that "fasting isn't for everyone," or "fasting requires a lot of will-power." I think these are absurd notions and have not been consistent with my experience. It is true that people with certain health conditions are recommended not to fast, and I do agree with the advice to check with your doctor before you adopt any new diet or eating pattern (fasting included). But these statements (e.g., "fasting isn't for everyone") sound like we have a lot of options for achieving and maintaining healthy weight and improving longevity and disease resistance. The health community has been struggling, faltering and flat-out failing for decades now to address the obesity crisis. Calorie restriction (i.e., eat less) is largely ineffective (for reasons we can objectively identify) and chances of regaining weight once lost are extremely high. Exercise for weight loss is equally ineffective, yet professionals suggest these are gold standards by which fasting needs to be compared. The truth is, the health community has nothing else reasonable to offer us despite its decades of effort, so why not promote fasting?

The other argument, fasting takes immense amount of will-power, is equally foolish. It is true that fasting is not comfortable or natural-feeling once you start, but I don't think it is any harder than a reduced calorie diet or 60 minutes of daily cardio-vascular exercise (the two weight-loss recommendations I hear the most about). It is also one of the few health practices that requires doing nothing. What is a common experience, in my opinion, is that people feel uncomfortable not eating when they are hungry. They link hunger with survival, and panic when they try to ignore the urge to eat. Hunger is, in fact, regulated largely by hormones and these hormones can be adjusted. In the case where food is scarce, hunger helps us survive. Where food is plentiful (like in most places in the West), answering hunger every time can easily lead to obesity. Indeed, when I was about 30 pounds overweight I was hungry almost constantly. My hunger was working against me by telling me to eat when I was already at an unhealthy weight. When people learn about the chemistry of hunger and how to use it wisely, fasting becomes much less unpleasant and much easier.

I am interested in health improvement and maintenance activities that are simple and sustainable. I think it is notable that one of the experts interviewed for this article had been fasting regularly for 30 years. I have personally found an intermittent fasting schedule that I have sustained easily for the past 2 years.

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