Intermittent fasting is a recent buzzword which refers to regular episodic fasting. Probably this has become most well known in the UK through the 5-2 diet popularised on TV by Michael Mosely.
Why would we dream of forgoing food for hours or even days? There are several good reasons:
- give the insulin system a rest in order to reset the pancreas beta cells and experience many health benefits of low insulin
- lose weight
- allow our bodies to obtain energy through the fat burning metabolic pathway
- cleanse the gastro-intestinal tract by just allowing liquids to flush through the system
- experience heightened mental acuity
In fact it is specifically the first of these reasons which has excited the medical world recently by the rediscovery that an initial fasting regime followed by a diet low in insulin producing sugars and carbohydrates can reverse type 2 diabetes in most cases. See this video by Jason Fung, consultant nephrologist at The Corporate Medical Centre, Ontario for a clear and detailed explanation.
Of course we could all benefit by applying in a moderate and consistent way the principles of intermittent fasting – whether in the 5-2 format, by a complete fast on 2 of 7 days or by fasting on alternate days.
Many of us are faced with ‘too plenty’: too much, too often, dizzying choice. Many of these modern choices attract us because of their quick energy effect: we lead busy stressful lives and what could be more convenient than a quick energy burst? Unfortunately it can start to play havoc with our digestive hormones.
We are told that if we want to be healthy and lose weight we must eat less on the simple, but mistaken, principle that it is just a matter of calories. In fact, as Jason Fung demonstrates, a healthy diet means having control of insulin. Once this is achieved all the other metabolic considerations fall into place. We can get our health back and lose weight …
Fasting is also a great exercise for the brain and our habitual conditioning. We have to work with our hunger response – through distraction or mindfulness. The feeling of hunger originates from the hypothalmic gland in the centre of the brain. Interestingly after 3 days fasting the body generally starts getting most of its energy from fat and the resulting ketone bodies become the brains main source of energy in place of glucose. This is also when we start to experience stronger mental clarity.
Perhaps this explains why Jesus took to the desert for 40 days of fasting – he arrived at a state clarity where he could revoke the temptations of hedonism, egoism and materialism.
We don’t have to go as far as Jesus did to get real benefits …