Whoa...Slow Down! Fasting is Fine.

Intermittent fasting is a term you may have seen or heard in the last couple of years. Books like Ori Hofmekler's Warrior Diet and Jimmy Moore's podcast and blog are two big reasons why.

If you had asked me two years ago to make a list of all the words I thought of when I heard the word ‘fasting’ -- it would have looked like this:

  • Bible
  • Prayer
  • Monk
  • Hunger
  • Miserable
  • Gaunt
  • Crazy

Today, that list looks like this:

  • Energy
  • Fat-Adaptation
  • Autophagy
  • Healthy
  • Restorative
  • Wonderful
  • Immune-Booster

That’s a pretty big difference. Let’s explore the reasons my thoughts changed, shall we?

First, we’ll start with a look at the OPPOSITE of fasting: snacking. You hear the word “snack” and, if you’re anything like me, you have visions of grabbing a bag of Gushers or M&M’s and running back outside to play.

Those were my early years, and not to say my parents didn't have good snack options around because we always had fruit and veggies, but like many kids do, I chose the "other" stuff. As I got older -- into the late 1990s -- I was told that I needed to keep my metabolism going by eating 34 small meals throughout the day. I exaggerate but not by much.

I was playing college football and trying to keep lots of muscle mass on so my “small meals” were actually huge meals -- six times a day -- eat until you gag -- very low fat. 

The idea of fasting at that time would have been absolutely absurd. Nonsense. The thought was (and still is for the most part) that if you skip breakfast or go for several hours without eating that you slow down your metabolism and will get fat super easy.

So people are always asking me what they should snack on -- what they should eat that will keep their “fire” going. Fruit and nuts are probably the most common snack items for those who are trying to make good choices. And those are two choices that are much healthier than Gushers or Mars bars.

But I’m here to argue that eating every two hours isn’t necessary and that three square meals a day doesn’t really jive with the Simply Human lifestyle.

Let’s imagine pre-historic man. A man that doesn’t have a car or statins or TV. A man that lives in a world where fruits, veggies and grains have not been domesticated. A wild man. Wild Thing. He makes my heart sing.

Do you think that man (or woman -- or child) woke up with the sunrise, ate a big breakfast of pancakes and waffles, downed a glass of OJ, went foraging around for food, stopped to eat a turkey sandwich with a glass of sweet tea and some cheesecake for lunch, sat on a tree stump all afternoon, then ate a huge dinner. Oh and all throughout the day, this man would stop and eat nuts or fruit or some baby carrots he stumbled upon?

Not very realistic.

Fast forward several thousand years and imagine a man from Greece. A Greek man. You know, like the statues in the museums? The images of lean men with large muscles? Do you think those guys took a lunch break during a battle with the Spartans? Or took baggies of snacks with them to the battlefield?

“Zebulonecles!! I have forgotten my baggie of raisins and Cheerios!!! I must return to the village and …. [arrow enters the chest of Zebulonecles and he dies].

No.

Our bodies were designed to deal with times of scarcity and famine. Back before the days of Wal-Mart, food wasn’t as easy to get as picking up your phone and paying someone to bring it to you.

No. Food scarcity and famine was part of the deal. There were times of plenty -- like maybe after a big kill. And there were times of scarcity -- like during the winter. Our brains are designed to deal with that kind of swing in inventory.

When times were tough and food was scarce, do you think people just sat around and waited for the end? No! They went out and hunted and foraged and their brains, knowing that there was no gas in the tank, would get energy from one of the best fuel sources they had supplied for themselves -- the bodies attached to them.

I can’t think of a time to be at your best than when your life is on the line. I don’t think our brains would malfunction or set up a system where they would be malnourished in times of scarcity when being creative, alert and quick-thinking would be vital for survival.

According to Paul Jaminet in his book “The Perfect Health Diet”, in times of fasting

the ability to hunt, gather, fight, and survive infection … would have been strongly favored by evolutionary selection.

That makes sense to me.

There’s another thing the brain has done which I think is pretty cool -- the human brain (which in most cases is the most intelligent type of brain on the planet...not mentioned any brains in particular Rick Bentley...ahem) has surrounded itself with an energy source which will keep it going when times get tough -- a human body.

Therefore, it makes sense that what the brain prefers to maintain a high level of efficiency and health all the time, would be fuel that is similar in makeup to the body it has surrounded itself with.

A few examples --

  • Think of an engineer who is out in the oil field all day every day. He drives a truck everywhere he goes and where he goes is the middle of nowhere. He stocks up on extra cans of gas and takes them with him in case he were to run out of gas. He wouldn’t take marbles or sand. On board with him would be the stuff that would keep him going which, oddly enough, is the same thing that his truck is designed to run on in the first place.
  • Think of a skyscraper that has hundreds of tenants and runs primarily on electricity. I would guess that the reserve energy system would be electricity, right? Like if lightning struck and the main power source was disconnected, the building wouldn’t all of the sudden start using Popsicle sticks to keep the lights on and flush the automatic toilets.
  • Think of an army that is in the heat of battle. When preparing to travel to the front, the supplies (other than food) would be other weapons and ammunition in the case that their supply line was cut and things were scarce, right? They wouldn’t take extra remote controls for their TVs or coffee mugs.

I hope that makes sense.

The brain has surrounded itself with material which will keep it running smoothly in the case that its energy source is cut off. In the examples, those energy sources are gas, electricity and weapons.

The brain didn’t get to the top of the food chain by surrounding itself with an energy supply that wasn’t efficient or with material it would have to take time and effort to adapt to in the case of emergency. So if that makes sense, the next logical step is to analyze what exactly the brain has surrounded itself with -- what is the reserve energy source for times of scarcity: the composition of the human body.

A pretty typical, healthy, NORMAL, human body (from an energy standpoint) is made up of around 65% fat, 23% protein and 12% carbohydrate. I say “energy standpoint” because if you break down actual fat, protein and glycogen/carbs in a healthy human body it’s more like 73% fat, 25% protein and 2% glycogen -- but there is SOME carbohydrate in both fat and protein.

I mean, the human brain itself is around 65% fat, so doesn’t it make sense that fat would be good for the brain?

If the brain has supplied itself with an energy source (the human body) that is around 65% fat, 23% protein and 12% carbs, in my opinion, that’s what the human diet should come close to resembling.

The way Jaminet puts it is “eat what you are.”

He also says that in the case of obesity

whatever factors may contribute to a weight problem, eating macronutrients in the proportions found in useful tissue will make weight loss easier.

In other words, eating fat, protein and carbohydrates in the ratio that the brain/body USES is most efficient.

You could skew this thought process up real quick if you took the energy makeup of a really unhealthy person and relied on THAT as your guideline. That would seem to have the opposite effect on health and what the brain is trying to accomplish in its quest for survival.

It would be something like 65-70% carbs/glycogen, 20% protein and 10-15% fat -- oh wait -- those are the GOVERNMENT guidelines for the last 35 years [insert violent eyeroll here].

Here’s another thing that happens when you fast: autophagy -- or “self-eating”. What? Gross! That sounds horrible!

But wait! It’s not horrible...it’s great!

When you eat and after you eat, your immune system is not killing germs, it is dealing with the food and the digestion process (I’m ginormously paraphrasing here). Only in the absence of food do cells begin to hunt for germs and bad stuff and use them for cellular food.

Could this be a reason that appetite is suppressed during most sicknesses? Hmmm...interesting thought. Another thing that happens when you give your digestive system a break is that important enzymes in your gut are allowed to repopulate whereas eating every 30 minutes exhausts these resources and leads to a myriad of GI and digestion problems.

Jaminet talks about autophagy in more detail in his book -- it’s pretty cool.

Here’s the bottom line: fasting is good for you once you’re in a healthy metabolic state, aren't totally stressed out mentally, aren’t stressing your system out with way too much exercise (which would mean you’d need to eat more to fuel your activity level), and are getting good and regular sleep.

I fast just about everyday for anywhere from 16 to 23 hours. Some days, I eat a lunch then an early dinner and I’m good. Other days I don’t eat breakfast or lunch and eat dinner anywhere from 5-6 PM and I’m good.

In those 16 to 23 hours of fasting I’m not keeping my system running on purely air and smog. Good, quality fat sources in moderate amounts won’t turn off the autophagy or the repopulating of digestive enzymes I mentioned earlier. The fats I use during my fasting period are grass-fed butter, MCT oil, extra vigrin coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. I also drink bone broth at some point during the day nearly every day -- another item that won’t “break the fast.”(I just had some...just now).

I did not wake up one day and start doing that. It was a process. I feel better now when I fast during the day so I keep doing it.

Back to snacking -- so when someone asks me what they can have for a snack, my initial thought is that snacking isn’t necessary and may be doing more harm than good (even if you’re eating good, healthy, human food), but I know that it’s not wise to advise people to start fasting immediately, too.

OK, Mark, you’re confusing us. What the heck am I supposed to do? Snack? Fast? Work on my Halloween costume?

Here are some things I would tell people to get to a point of fasting:

  • cut out grains, sugars, legumes and vegetable oils
  • go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night (as often as humanly possible)
  • focus on eating fat in the same percentage that your brain wants (aka eat lots of good fat)
  • eat around a pound of protein from quality sources per day

Once you do those things and start becoming more Simply Human, then you won’t have to force the fasting. You will just one day not eat breakfast and it will be lunchtime before you realize it. Then you know you are in a place to start fasting for health and wellness.

I have great energy during the day. I never get that afternoon slump. I have coffee most every morning but I don’t NEED it to function. I don’t have cravings for non-human food. And I sleep great.

Our bodies are designed to fast. It is good for us, and we shouldn't be scared of it. Hopefully now when the topic of fasting comes up, it won't scare you off. Hopefully, you will not just believe what I'm saying and go out and find out for yourself, which is what I did.

And I'm grateful that I did.