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Let’s talk about fasting

Let’s face it, covid came and we all wound up in our house binging Netflix and eating comfort food. We may have put on a little more weight than we care to admit. As the sun shines a little longer each passing day, we may be daring to have thoughts of getting active again…getting healthy…and maybe losing weight. But, what is the success rate for cutting back on calories and increasing exercise for weight loss? The sad statistic is one out of 100 will be able to succeed with this method. But why is this?

As it turns out millions of years of evolution accounts for this. In order to survive during times of little or no food, our metabolic rate goes down causing whatever food we consume to get stored as fat for when we truly fast out of necessity. When we do a prolonged (or greater than a day) fast, we remove the energy from our fat cells. This begins at around 36 hours of no food. At this point, all of our blood sugar stores are used up and we begin to remove calories from our fat cells to turn this into fuel which can be used any place in our body.

I tell all my patients that just about anyone can safely fast for up to seven days without medical supervision. Diabetics are the exception to this rule.  You can fast with diabetes but should be supervised by your doctor. Interestingly, Dr. Jason Fung, a Toronto-based diabetic specialist, has reversed and even cured hundreds of his diabetic patients getting them off all their medications using a water-only fast. (do NOT do this without discussing with your doctor first.)

What about fasting for other reasons? Fasting twice a year for five consecutive days can add an additional three years to your life. It also helps reduce the risk of hardening of the arteries and most types of cancer. Our body’s cells are able to use two different fuel sources: sugar, derived from eating protein and carbohydrates, and ketones, derived from the breakdown of fat cells. Cancer cells can only use glucose for fuel. When we fast, we enter a state of nutritional ketosis and the precancerous cells that we make daily cannot readily divide. At this point, they become more susceptible to destruction by our immune system. There is ongoing research on how fasting can not only help prevent cancer but also help to treat cancer.

Fasting is the one intervention that not only prolongs life but also saves us time and money. Exercise raises metabolism, helps us feel better, and reduces all-cause mortality. Fasting can do the same and is really the only proven way to lose weight and help keep it off.

~ Dr. Mike and Action Medicine team

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