What’s the Point of Fasting?

ThaiFor many years, the recommendation to eat six or so small meals a day has been passed around liberally. The idea is that by constantly providing fuel for the body, it would be continually energized and calories would burn at an even pace, making weight loss easier.

Bad Advice

More recently, it is becoming clear that eating five to six small meals each day is not such good advice. Although the premise may sound good, it doesn’t work very well in practice. One of the reasons for this is that those extra meals usually ended up being an “energy bar” or some other such quick fix and not the fruit or vegetable concentration recommended or a meal prepared at home.

Many also took this advice to mean, “eat all the time,” which understandably led to overeating. It comes as no surprise then that the advice to eat five to six small meals has coincided with the increase of obesity rates in the U.S.

Trying the Opposite Approach

Instead of eating every few hours, the idea is to put more time between meals, even beyond the typical three meals a day scenario: this is known as intermittent fasting, or IF. Cultures all over the world have used fasting in various ways for centuries, one of them being the perceived health benefits.

Intermittent fasting can take many forms. Some prefer to limit food intake to a particular number of hours each day, such as an eight-hour window. Others prefer to fast for entire days. There are increasing research reports that have found that IF may have many benefits for health and longevity.

empty plate

Photo credit Noesis

Following a plan of intermittent fasting does not mean not eating one day and then binging the next. To reap the most benefits, IF means timing meals so that there are regular periods of fasting. For those trying to lose weight or some other health issues, IF can be a powerful tool. IF helps your body to shift from burning carbs/sugar to burning fat.

Is Fasting Healthy?

Is starving yourself a little each day, or for even a couple of days each week, a good idea? Accumulating evidence is indicating that yes, fasting can have beneficial health side effects.

Intermittent fasting requires that a person pay closer attention to their diet in order to obtain proper nutrition. This can include cutting carbs and substituting healthy fats such as olive oil, eggs, butter, nuts and avocados. Although it may take several weeks, the body will shift to burning fat and the desire for fast energy (carbs that turn into sugar) will disappear.

healthy mealIn a 2007 review conducted by the University of California, Berkley, concluded that fasting every other day might:

  • Decrease cancer risk
  • Lower diabetes risk
  • Decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Provide protection from some of the effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Yes, intermittent fasting can provide benefits to the brain. Research has shown that when the body begins to use fat for energy, fatty acids called ketones are released and these help to protect memory and learning. In addition, IF boosts the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which is a protein. Depending on the area of the brain, BDNF can experience a boost of 50 to 400 percent. Brain stem cells are activated by BDNF and they then convert into neurons, increasing neural health. The protein also protects brain cells from the changes that take place that are associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

So, what’s the point in fasting? Increasing evidence shows that it does have health benefits, and that’s reason enough. Before starting an intermittent fasting program, you should talk with your internal medicine doctor or cardiologist. IF can be considered complementary medicine or integrative medicine as part of a life centered on health and wellness.

Dr. Jorge Bordenave and his staff at Miami Integrative Medicine serve the communities of Coral Gables and South Miami, just to name a few. They would love for you to come in and learn how the holistic medicine approach to health care can benefit you. Call today for a consultation.

Published by Axiom Health Care Marketing


Images: 6 meals Julio Biason credit