Fast and Slow
A quick comment on intermittent fasting
What is the purpose of eating a tangerine? It is to eat the tangerine. During the time you eat a tangerine, eating that tangerine is the most important thing in your life.
— Thich Nhat Han, How to Eat
For many people, when choosing what to eat for dinner, the option of simply not eating doesn’t even come up as a possibility. But for those who fast intentionally, it is something to consider. Not only is it an option but it is one with tangible benefits.
Fasting regimens of various sorts have been regaining in popularity, it seems. Usually, they are coupled with some other rules to make up a full “diet” but other times they are only a set of times when you can and cannot eat.
16:8 is one of the more popular versions (it is probably the least restrictive and easiest to follow), meaning 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour window in which you can eat. Since sleeping counts, this usually means if you are fasting in this way you will be able to eat from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm; lunch and dinner, with some snacks in between if you’re feeling cheeky.
What might not be obvious is that if you go to bed at 11:00 pm and get up at 7:00 am, 8 hours of that 16 are spent asleep! Anytime you are asleep, you are also fasting (unless you happen to sleep eat). And fasting for longer hours is much easier when you aren’t conscious for part of it.
But what is really going on during fasting that’s so great? For a lot of people, fasting is nothing more than one more way to eat less. The full benefits are far more interesting than that.
When your stomach finally empties (which takes 4-6 hours) and digestion has had time to relax, your body can put more energy into a process called autophagy. Autophagy happens all the time: it’s part of the normal cycle of anabolism and catabolism (construction and destruction) that keeps the body running. Autophagy means “self consuming” and refers to the way that cells which are past their prime are partially recycled. What can’t be recycled is disposed of as waste matter.
Usually when we think of a “cleanse” we think of “removing toxins” but what may not be apparent is that most of those “toxins” are really defunct cells which need to be cleaned up. By allowing the body the time to clean, you are left with fewer reactive byproducts which can cause domino effects that lead to that endless list of symptoms known as “metabolic disease”.
The waters of the science of metabolism run very deep. Far too deep to get into here — perhaps I’ll go swimming in a future post — but suffice it to say that the biology of our eating really is the biology of our living.
By choosing to limit not just how much you eat but how constantly you eat, you can help your body function well. No special medicines required.