Intermittent Fasting for Fat Loss and Optimal Health an Old Prophecy?

healthy body imageEat like a Paleo man? A pair of new medical books claim that a continual routine of restricted eating results in fat loss, increased longevity and improved overall health.

The Prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him as Muslims are careful to say when they mention his name, was a proponent of regular fasting. Dr. Michael Mosley refers to this fact during a BBC interview promoting his bookThe Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting.  Mosley suggests the best path to optimum health is to eat normally for five days a week, and fast for two.

Sort of “fasting lite”: he recommends cutting back to ¼ of your normal food intake (about 600 daily calories for men and 500 for women) while drinking plenty of water and plain tea. He lost 19 pounds in two months by following his own advice. Of course, this diet must be paired with exercise.

The health benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) are also touted in the best-selling The 8-Hour Diet.  Co-authors David Zinczenko and Peter Moore  declare war on our 24-hour eating culture, telling MNBC that people can lose weight by only consuming food during a set time period.

They say in their book,“Consider this 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study: Researchers divided study participants into two groups and had each group eat the same number of calories — enough for them to maintain their weight. The only difference: one group ate all their calories in three meals spread throughout the day, while the other practiced intermittent fasting, eating the same number of calories but in a restricted time frame.”

Participants who ate in a smaller window of time had a significant modification of body composition, including reductions in fat mass.

Simply restrict your daily eating to a limited time, a variant of regularized fasting. Zinczenko and Moore recommended eight hour window is practical for most people.

Research shows that intermittent fasting quickly improves insulin’s ability to manage blood sugar, and fluctuations in food consumption appear prerequisite for optimal metabolic function.

Dr. Andrew Weil says in the Huffington Post, “An IF regime works…because it aligns with our evolutionary history. Over the 250,000 years that Homo sapiens have been around, food supply has waxed and waned [read our post on a Paleo Diet here]. We evolved to take advantage of this fact, building muscle and fatty tissue during times of abundance, then paring it back during lean ones. Fasting periods accelerate the clearing-out of waste left by dead and damaged cells,…failure to keep up with accumulated cellular debris is believed by many scientists to be one of the major causes of the chronic diseases associated with aging.”

He elaborates, “The positive effects of IF have been chronicled in a variety of animal and human studies, starting with a [University of Chicago] seminal experiment in 1946….in a 2007 review by University of California, Berkeley, researchers concluded that alternate-day fasting may:

  • Decrease cardiovascular disease risk
  • Decrease cancer risk
  • Lower diabetes risk
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Protect against some effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases”

What should we make of this?  

When I was a kid, we ate 3 meals a day.  Home-cooked and simple, with an occasional Friday night pizza pick-up (only milk was home-delivered).  Constant snacking didn’t exist. You could grab fruit, someone usually had leftover birthday cake on offer, and maybe a rarified run to the corner candy store. But no home stocks of cookies, ice cream, and salty chips; no microwaveable instant food (no microwaves!); no 24/7 eating opps.

My ma had a quote still used on her constantly-grazing grandkids, “Hey you, the kitchen’s closed!”, a line usually heard around 7 PM.

Obesity’s rising, our food waste is gargantuan.  Ponder the benefits of a return to limited, sensible eating of better quality foods.  I can see no downside, I’m going to give this a try. (I’ll get my mom’s message as my ringtone).

Fasting isn’t for everyone, and should only be undertaken with your doctor’s approval.

Image of a muscular man’s body by Shutterstock.

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