Every year, around this time, marketers and store brands let you know it’s time to begin that age-old tradition of spring cleaning by having huge sales on cleaning products to get your home in tip-top shape. But have you ever considered starting the “cleaning” process with your own health and wellness? Spring is a great time to renew and refresh not only your home, but also your mind and body, and for many this means fasting.
Fasting has recently resurfaced among the health conscious as a way to drop weight or kick-start healthy new lifestyle habits. With many Americans trying different forms of fasting, there remains an ongoing debate as to whether it’s safe, and which ones work the best. With all the options surrounding these diet plans, confusion can lead to questions that eventually lead patients to the doctor’s office. Done right may do more than help you drop weight. It may have the potential to increase the time you are healthy as you age, improve brain function, or even help some people reduce risk factors for disease.
Fasting has been a part of human history for thousands of years, and in fact, it is still an integral part of five major religions. We live in a world where food is accessible all the time, in all settings, and on demand, so it makes sense that we would look to proven diet plans like fasting to help balance the scales. Ironically, we fast every day without even realizing it. Consider the word “breakfast,” which works because while we sleep, we are technically fasting, but then we break the fast first thing in the morning when we eat. Most Americans are accustomed to eating throughout the day, so the idea of fasting can be overwhelming, which is why many people start with intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting has become the most popular form of fasting. In the past few years, intermittent fasting — when you don’t eat for anywhere from 16-48 hours (or more) — has gained traction for its incredible effects. It centers on the belief that you simply choose when and how to eat versus consuming without deliberation. Intermittent fasting is an eating style where you eat within a specific time period. During intermittent fasting, a person will refrain from consuming calories during a full day. It can be done anywhere from 1 to 3, non-consecutive days per week. This method allows you to eat normally 5 days a week. The other two days are your fasting days, although you do still eat; just keep it between 500 and 600 calories. Though intermittent fasting is an effective way to lose weight, it’s less a diet and more a lifestyle choice.
Time restricted eating focuses on the timing of eating instead of limiting the types of food or number of calories that people consume. This diet restricts the amount of time they can spend eating, meaning a person on a time-restricted eating diet will only eat during specific hours of the day. This approach to fasting sounds more palatable to most people. Time restricting eating is a daily pattern of calorie consumption between a window of 8-12 hours each day. They should, however, drink water or calorie-free beverages to remain hydrated. Time-restricted eating can help a person to restrict their food intake without having to count calories. It may also be a healthy way to avoid common diet pitfalls, such as late-night snacking. Some recent studies have shown that it can aid weight loss. However, people with diabetes or other health issues should speak to their doctor before trying this type of diet.
The latest fasting program to catch the attention of the health community is the Fasting Mimicking Diet or FMD. It’s gaining momentum and is sure to appeal to many people because it allows people to reap the benefits of a 5-day water fast without having to give up food. The Fasting Mimicking Diet is based on prolonged fasting, which is typically done for 5 consecutive days and tricks the body into thinking it’s fasting because the carefully designed calories and nutrients of the foods do not trigger nutrient-sensing pathways.
Water-only prolonged fasting enhances natural cellular clean up processes which can promote metabolic health; however, it has a high dropout rate among participants and it can be dangerous because it deprives the body of macronutrients, leads to muscle wasting and increases the risk of gallstones. This led Dr. Valter Longo to develop the Fasting Mimicking Diet, a “fasting with food” concept. This plan gives you the same health benefits of prolonged water fasting, but it’s more sustainable over the recommended 5 days because the stomach sees food, while the cells see fasting. The benefits are so profound that TIME magazine named Longo as one of the 50 most influential people who are transforming health care. Benefits of fasting with FMD include protection of lean body mass, maintaining healthy levels of metabolic markers and increased circulation of stem cells. The only Fasting Mimicking Diet available is called ProLon (www.prolonfmd.com), which has been clinically shown to result in an average of 5-8 pounds of fat loss without losing lean body mass in the process.
Individuals can return their usual diet in the weeks between doing the Fasting Mimicking Diet. As a clinician who attended the first global fasting summit at University of Southern California, and has been doing some consulting work with L-Nutra, the company behind the ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet, I can tell you I personally use ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet in my practice, and for myself. However, in lieu of returning to a “usual diet,” I do encourage patients to eat a Flexitarian meal pattern.
We know how to prevent many lifestyle diseases, yet their numbers remain high. Heart disease and diabetes remain among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Research shows that fasting can support overall metabolic health, supports cellular clean-up that leads to cellular regeneration, and increases circulating stem cells. Whether we recognize it or not, fasting is an innate part of us, and this spring is the perfect opportunity to begin a new fasting regime to reboot, start fresh and increase your chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
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