Starving sucks. Despite the many well-supported benefits of fasting, it’s no mystery why most of us choose food over fasting. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier to experience the health benefits of fasting without living a chronically restricted and uncomfortable lifestyle.
Step 1. Get motivated – Find your reason to fast.
Do you want to increase your healthspan, preserve mental function, lose weight, reduce your chances of developing cancer, appear and feel younger, lower your blood sugar/blood pressure, or experience one of the many other benefits of fasting (R)? If so, then find a method that works for you.
There are lots of different ways to fast effectively. While some methods appear to offer better health benefits, most methods are better than not fasting.
One of the more popular and effective methods of fasting is intermittent fasting (R).
It involves only eating within an 8-hour window. This method is nice because you get to eat whatever you want within these 8 hours.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to fast every day to experience the benefits. Even fasting just once has benefits. The reason has to do with a process called autophagy.
Autophagy is one way the cell can clean itself of damaged proteins by selectively “eating itself” recycling proteins that are interfering with the proper functioning of the cell.
Another way that autophagy benefits the body is by keeping stem cells healthy, by recycling their damaged parts. This is important because a thriving stem cell reserve is likely the main thing that keeps us young physically and mentally as we age (R).
Other popular types of fasting include:
Ketogenic fasts, full-day fasts, water fasts, and veggie juice fasts.
From my experience, I believe the easiest of these to achieve is the intermittent fast with a focus on more fats and less high-glycemic index carbohydrates, such as grains, fruit, and other fast-digesting foods. Many of the benefits of traditional fasts can be had by eating only fats, while greatly reducing proteins and carbohydrate intake.
There are a few reasons that eating only fats has benefits. Unlike proteins or carbohydrates, fats don’t impact your blood sugar or impact insulin release. Fats are also unique because they are the precursors to ketone bodies, which are made from our body’s fats in the absence of carbohydrates and excess protein. Ketone bodies have multiple benefits that nicely complement fasting. Medium chain fats, like those found in coconuts, can be ingested to quickly elevate ketone levels and stimulate autophagy. Since fats alone produce ketone bodies in the absence of carbohydrates and when protein intake is limited, it makes sense to include them in the fasting plan to reduce hunger and increase the benefits of the fast, though they may reduce some of the benefits of traditional water only fasting.
Fats are also better at reducing hunger for longer compared to carbohydrates. One reason this happens is because fats don’t stimulate insulin (unlike carbohydrates). When insulin is stimulated it lowers blood sugar. When blood sugar becomes low it signals hunger. Another bad quality of stimulating the insulin response is that insulin and IGF-1 directly inhibit autophagy (R, R2).
Proteins and carbohydrates prevent the body from autophagy by stimulating the mTOR and IGF-1 pathways, or the growth pathways. The body developed this system to help it save fuel and put on muscle when in a well-fed state, but since most humans now have easy access to excess food, we live more in a state of cellular growth, more than repair.
image source: B. C. Melnik, S. M. John, G. Schmitz: Over-stimulation of insulin/IGF-1 signaling by western diet may promote diseases of civilization: lessons learnt from laron syndrome. In: Nutrition & metabolism Band 8, 2011, p. 41, ISSN 1743-7075. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-8-41. PMID 21699736.
Other things to help make fasting easier include:
Eating more fiber – Make green veggie smoothies or other low carb/ non-fruit smoothies. Fiber fills you up without calories and so tricks the body into thinking it just had food.
One of my favorite fiber sources besides fresh greens is glucomannan, it is derived from the konjac root and is able to absorb 20 times its volume in water. It forms a gelatinous mass when added to water and given 3-5 minutes to congeal. If you can’t wait that long stick it in the freezer to make it solidify faster and create an icy, fibrous treat.
Another filling fiber source is psyllium. It also works best after you let it congeal by letting it sit for a while after fully mixing in the psyllium powder. When it’s congealed, it fills up the stomach and helps you feel full longer.
Other supplements that can increase the benefits of fasting include:
Green tea extract – boosts autophagy, increases dopamine, beneficial effects on the gut microbiome
Garcinia Cambogia – Hydroxy Citric Acid – Boosts autophagy, increases serotonin which reduces hunger.
Asian ginseng – boosts dopamine, increases AMPK
Gynostemma (tea, pills) – increases AMPK which stimulates autophagy. Legend has it that a small town in China where it was gynostemma tea was regularly drank had an unusually high percentage of centenarians.
Pterostilbene and/or Pterocarpus – a more bioavailable, longer lasting version of resveratrol that occurs naturally in blueberries and other plants like marsupium Pterocarpus.
Berberine – boosts AMPK
Low-dose Lithium – promotes autophagy
Things that decrease the benefits of fasting:
BCAAs – stimulate mTOR and reduces autophagy
Protein. – boosts mTOR and IGF-1
Carbohydrates – boosts mTOR and IGF-1, stops autophagy
Insulin – reduces autophagy https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S193152441400200X