The fact that being deprived of food and nutrients for a period of time can have healing properties is something that most people, including myself when I was first introduced to fasting, find difficult to understand.
We are told that we need to eat 3 to 5 times a day to ensure the appropriate intake of calories and nutrients needed by our cells to be able to carry out their metabolic reactions, allowing our bodies to function correctly. We are taught that the body needs specific quantities of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids daily to avoid becoming weak and prone to infections and disease, yet when we are ill we do not want to eat.
Eating 3 or 5 times a day, or even daily, is artificial. Our bodies are still those of the humans that lived in the last period of the Stone Age, the nomads that would eat only after a hunt. They did not wake up and have breakfast, then lunch a few hours later, then dinner in the evening. They did not eat snacks in between meals, they did not even know when their next feast would be. Our bodies are still the bodies of those men and women. In evolutionary terms, we are still the same. We can assume that eating was not part of their daily routine, and that other than eating fruit and vegetables, they would eat after a hunt not when their (not yet invented) clocks struck 5.30. During the last Ice Age, finding meat would have been far easier than finding vegetables and fruit. They would hunt when they were hungry as they didn’t have the luxury of refrigeration or kitchen cupboards to store their food. It stands to reason then that natural selection could never have favoured individuals that would be weaker and less focused at the time when they needed to hunt if they were to survive the hunt and eat.
What’s more, consider our tendency for loss of appetite during an illness.
When we have the flu, or gastroenteritis, we don’t want to eat. This is because digestion takes considerable energy. We often feel sleepy straight after a meal because the body’s energy is geared towards our digestive system. The loss of appetite experienced when we are ill is the body’s way of conserving its energy to efficiently fight the illness, to restore the balance that has been altered. It does not want to use up precious energy in digesting, filtering toxins, breaking down protein, storing glucose and fat, etc. At this time, our body is talking to us, telling us not to eat, and we should listen to our body.
Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from all food and drink, except water, as long as the nutritional reserves of the body are adequate to sustain normal function.
When we fast, we allow our body to repair the damage that metabolism causes, fighting off toxins and free radicals. When people fast, they may experience stomach pains, dizziness and mood changes, however these symptoms can be minimised by appropriate nutrition prior to starting a fast. After 3 days of fasting, once the body is in ketosis, using ketones as fuel, people report disappearance of hunger and clarity of mind. Fasting has also been linked to the slowing of the ageing process. It seems that fat is a much more efficient way to fuel our system than sugars and carbohydrates.
Fasting can be intermittent, or prolonged depending on the patient and the need.
The differences between these types of fasting will be discussed in a future blog post. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how fasting could be integrated into your lifestyle, I would be delighted to see you at the Westlake Clinic in Harley Street. Click here to book an appointment.
Until the next time, stay well.
Dr Saúl Díaz.