The Lucky 7 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight loss is the obvious benefit, but there are many others.
- What are ketosis and autophagy?
- Ever wonder why the Middle East, the biggest sugar consumer on Earth, has a much lower cancer rate than the West?
We’ve made it to another weekend, thank heavens. I’ve got my java ready to go, along with a naughty chocolate croissant.
That’s ok, because I broke my fast hours ago.
I’m down another 5 kgs (11 pounds) since I last wrote, which I’m thrilled about.
But what really got me going was a YouTube video I watched a few days ago. I’ll share it with you in a bit.
So grab your coffee, and away we go!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
“Fasting is something Muslims do during Ramadan.”
Let’s face it: that’s the most common definition of fasting in the West.
And most Westerners I know – especially Americans – utterly loathe the idea of fasting. It’s impoverished thinking as far as they’re concerned.
But thanks to Indiana Jones, Wall Street, and my resulting wanderlust, the Muslim world isn’t so foreign anymore.
It may sound ridiculous, but I think the maps showing Indiana Jones traveling across the world had a huge effect on me.
But more importantly, my first real boss on Wall Street was an ethnic Albanian Muslim. (Countrywise, his family hails from Montenegro, where James Bond beat Le Chiffre in the movie version of Casino Royale.)
Lula – we’ll call him that – was a great boss, but in the December before I left for London, Ramadan fell.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community.
Fasting from dawn to sunset is fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely or chronically ill, traveling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating. The predawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks the fast is called iftar. Although fatwas have been issued declaring that Muslims who live in regions with a midnight sun or polar night should follow the timetable of Mecca, it is common practice to follow the timetable of the closest country in which night can be distinguished from day.
Lula, being a pious Muslim – and a NY Jets fan, incidentally – had to fast the entire month. (As Islam uses a lunar calendar, Ramadan rotates around the year. And it’s particularly hard to fast during the summer months, with the longer days.)
Luckily, December is short, but I recall his struggle. So vivid in my mind is his discomfort that I remember that 4:38 pm was when he could treat himself to McDonald’s one particular Friday.
He kept looking at the clock.
I thought he was nuts.
So I had no intention of ever fasting.
Many years later, in Hong Kong, I was listening to a podcast while walking around the ICC. That’s the building I worked in.
This particular podcast was about Hollywood’s “Secret” Diet and how they stay so young. (No, it’s not satanic worship.)
They just don’t eat all that much, and when they do, it’s during specific designated windows.
I was shocked, as, ignorantly, I didn’t think anyone fasted except for Muslims during Ramadan.
I thought of Lula and his struggles, and more recently, whenever I had taught during Ramadan in the Middle East.
The kids have no energy. There’s nothing I can do to get their attention. As a result, we beg clients not to schedule classes then.
(Most of the Middle East engages in a “clean fast.” So that’s no food or water during the sunshine. I’ve never done it, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know.)
But since fasting was Hollywood’s “secret,” I had to give it a go.
With a few failures behind me, I’ve finally made it work.
The benefits are plentiful, and you can feel them as you go.
And if you’re approaching your 50s, already in your 50s, or through your 50s, then really listen up!
The Lucky 7 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1. Weight Loss
I’ve beaten this horse to death, so let me get more specific about two processes that happen when you fast.
About 11 hours after your last meal, your body starts to burn fat. That’s great, but the two processes that kick in after that are even better.
You don’t need to know the biochemistry per se, but instead the benefits of the process.
Fatty acid molecules called ketones are formed when fat cells are broken down for energy.
The liver produces ketones, but can’t use them.
So when you restrict your food intake, your liver releases ketones into your bloodstream. As a result, your body starts to burn off your fat instead of carbohydrates.
These ketones provide energy for your heart, brain, and other vital organs.
From the Greek meaning to “consume oneself,” autophagy is the process kicked off after about 16 hours of fasting.
Old cell components and “misfolded” proteins are recycled during autophagy.
Think of it as a system clean-out.
I’ve felt the benefits of these two processes already. My ability to concentrate and my energy levels are at multi-decade highs.
With these two processes in mind, let’s see how they affect some other critical health points.
2. Lower Blood Sugar
This is huge. If you get this under control, many of your health problems disappear.
That’s not to say you can’t have the odd chocolate bar. (But make it a 70% solution, Sherlock!)
Type 2 diabetes has become a very common diagnosis in recent decades.
Its main feature is high blood sugar levels in the context of insulin resistance.
Anything that reduces insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and to lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels (10).
In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3–6% over the course of 8–12 weeks in people with prediabetes. Fasting insulin has been reduced by 20–31% (10).
3. Heart Health
Research shows that intermittent fasting lowers chronic inflammation. Inflammation can damage blood vessels and increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
4. Increases Brain Health and Reduces the Chances of Alzheimer’s Disease
Again, from Healthline:
Studies in rats and mice show that intermittent fasting may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or reduce its severity.
In a series of case reports, a lifestyle intervention that included daily short-term fasts was able to significantly improve Alzheimer’s symptoms in 9 out of 10 people.
Animal studies also suggest that fasting may protect against other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
5. Cancer Reduction
Dr. Eric Berg posted this video on YouTube, which blew me away.
The Middle East consumes more sugar than anywhere else on Earth. But it has lower cancer rates than anywhere else on Earth.
Because Ramadan is a form of intermittent fasting.
Think about this: Muslims are only obligated to fast for one month per year. That’s it.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a lifestyle thing for them the rest of the year. It’s a religious obligation once a year.
And yet, thanks to that one month of fasting, their cancer rates are 50% lower than the world average and far, far below Western countries.
Note to Australian PM Scott Morrison: hey mate, your problem isn’t covid. It’s cancer. 50,000 Aussies died from cancer in 2019. That puts the 898 Covid deaths in perspective, doesn’t it?
Of course, if you’re inhaling noxious fumes, smoking, or living in a polluted environment, intermittent fasting won’t help you as much.
Watch the video. It’s informative.
6. Increases Life Span
This is the whole point, right? More years to your life and more life to your years.
Fasting repairs your cells. It’s “unfolds” misfolded proteins. You actually “de-age” yourself in the process.
This mainly happens because of autophagy.
Now, don’t starve yourself.
A 16-8 fasting schedule works for most.
According to my Fastic app, I average at least 17.5 hours of fasting per day. When you’re 70 pounds overweight, those extra hours add up.
7. It Costs Nothing!
No one mentions this, but I think it’s one of intermittent fasting’s best benefits.
No expensive gym equipment. No expensive gym membership (that you’ll only use for January anyway).
Just a bit of discipline.
Great things are done in secret.
Enjoy your social life with your friends. Eat, drink, and be merry.
And when you get home, start the clock.
Have a wonderful weekend!
All the best,