Seemingly there are as many varieties of fasting as there are of cooking. At this moment in time, intermittent fasting is definitely a thing, and many people swear by it.
What are the claims? What is the underlying science, if any? Niraj Naik, “pharmacist turned holistic health expert,” explains the historical basis:
The normal 3 meal a day eating pattern with snacks and desserts came from the 9-5 work routine that was instilled in cultures around the world with the dawn of the industrial revolution.
So actually, there is nothing normal about the breakfast-lunch-dinner routine. Many people just don’t feel like eating for an hour, or several hours, after waking up. But if a worker does not force herself to eat before leaving for her office job, the chance will not come again for quite some time — perhaps too long.
Alternately, a co-worker with the same schedule might eat a hearty breakfast, and when noon rolls around he is definitely not hungry yet. The choice is to eat when he doesn’t feel the urge; or bypass lunch, and then feel desperately weak and starved at 3 p.m. But work doesn’t end until 5 p.m.
Being obliged to eat just for the utilitarian purpose of filling up with fuel is a form of abuse. A person with human dignity is not a camel preparing to cross a desert. At the very least, we should all be free to discover and follow the natural schedule that suits us best.
Naik writes that when he took up intermittent fasting, the benefits were “immediate and obvious”:
I have more energy, feel lighter, and my mood is elevated as a result. I no longer have bloating and have lost weight around my waist too. Having been a past sufferer of ulcerative colitis, constipation is a recurrent problem. This has now gone too.
Here is the basic program: Pick an eight-hour window when eating is okay. That leaves 16 non-eating hours, of which at least eight should be spent in sleep. Naik suggests splitting the difference, with four fasting hours before the eating window, and four fasting hours after.
He recommends three or four glasses of water in the morning. Tea, coffee, and probiotic beverages are okay. He does his gym routine and takes a sauna. Four hours into the day, it’s time for a smoothie that contains hemp protein, maca, raw chocolate powder, kefir, colostrum, banana, coconut butter, milk (almond, rice or goat), and honey. Even though a smoothie is more drunk than eaten, this counts as food.
For the next six hours, coffee, tea, and water are okay. The main meal is eaten 10 hours after waking up, and six hours before going to sleep. It consists of lots of vegetables and no gluten, and Naik avoids “anything made in a factory as much as possible.” Then, no more eating until bedtime, although liquids are fine, and he even quaffs the occasional red wine or beer.
What happens next?
That was the regimen of one particular healer and teacher, whose web page mentions that 50,000 people have benefited from his advice. There is wiggle room for individuals to custom-tailor their own best practices.
The next part cites studies to support its assertions, which have to do with how the various organs and systems react to a 16-hour fast. Insulin levels stabilize, and insulin finds it easier to wrangle the ornery critter known as blood sugar. Triglycerides are lowered. The damage that cells sustain from free radicals is reduced.
Do intermittent fasters suffer from hunger pangs? Reportedly, no, at least not after the first week or so. They don’t get sugar cravings, either. Subjectively, an upsurge of energy and clear-headedness is felt. Hazardous belly fat has a tendency to disperse, and the risks of obesity and its associated co-morbidities go down.
The aging process is slowed, and there is evidence that Alzheimer’s disease becomes less likely. Somehow, growth hormone is affected. Naik writes:
Research presented at the 2011 annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans4 showed that fasting triggered a 1,300 percent rise of human growth hormone (HGH) in women, and an astounding 2,000 percent in men.
It goes without saying, but we will say it anyway: Please do not embark on any fasting regime without first consulting your doctor.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!