The fast route to better health
Study shows that fasting for as few as 16 hours can repair molecular damage and counteract disease
The buzz about fasting has grown louder of late – with promises of weight loss, fighting disease and helping you to live longer. Is it all it’s made out to be?
Fasting involves eating very little (but usually no) food and beverages containing calories. There are different ways you can fast, depending on the time period you choose to do it.
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on meal frequency highlights that humans have evolved to eat three meals a day – whereas our bodies can run on little or no food for long periods.
The same study found that intermittent fasting for as few as 16 hours can improve health, repair molecular damage and counteract disease.
Philippa Bramwell-Jones is a Johannesburg-based registered dietician and certified health coach at Robyn Rees & Associates. She says there are some wonderful evidence-based health benefits to intermittent fasting, which is how she’s eaten for the past 10 years.
The most common fasting methods focus on alternate-day fasting (some days you have a calorie restriction and some days you eat what you want); whole-day fasting (a full 24-hour fast, once or twice a week); or time-restricted eating (each day has a set number of fasting hours).
Mike Summers has fasted intermittently for eight years to ward off disease. “I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis about eight years ago and since then I have never been sick again, not even the sniffles,” he says.
Summers started fasting once a week but has lately been fasting three times a week, including one 24-hour fast. He says on days when he does the 24-hour fast he still trains and has energy.
According to Bramwell-Jones, apart from the benefit of weight loss, intermittent fasting could reduce bad blood lipid levels such as cholesterol; inflammation and oxidative stress; and cancer risk.
Summers says it is advisable to start by cutting out bad carbs such as sugar and wheat. Once your body becomes used to not eating these foods, you can slowly ease into fasting. “Intermittent fasting is not about whimsically missing some meals and then eating whatever you want at the next. It is a conscious approach to optimising health using whatever medical knowledge we have now,” says Bramwell-Jones.
“What works well for one client does not necessarily work well for another and so it is important for each individual to make a decision on how they eat through self-focused research and understanding.”