A new study entitled “Meal frequency and timing in health and disease” published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA (PNAS) has found that fasting, or at least dramatically reducing calorie intake on an intermittent basis can break down fats, repair the cells of the body, reverse the ageing process, and shrink tumors and guard neurons against degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
How does fasting help?
In our modern society we are taught to eat ‘3 square meals a day’ and usually have snacks in between. However, in terms of evolution and our biological roots this pattern of eating is actually abnormal.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not eat regular meals in this way. They would often go a day or two without food or only the small amount they could forage around them, until they found their next kill and would then be able to eat much more for a while. Obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, cancer and all manner of other ailments were virtually unheard of back in those times.
The paper states “For many of our ancestors, food was scarce and primarily consumed during daylight hours, leaving long hours of overnight fasting. With the advent of affordable artificial lighting and industrialization, modern humans began to experience prolonged hours of illumination every day and resultant extended consumption of food.”
Dr Michelle Harvie, research dietitian at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention and co-author of the paper, said: “There are many myths and assumptions concerning diet and eating patterns, including the belief that a healthy lifestyle should involve three square meals, plus snacks, every day. However, this common eating pattern is in fact abnormal from an evolutionary perspective. Emerging studies suggest that intermittent periods of energy restriction can in fact improve health and even counteract disease processes, such as the development of breast cancer.”
What is the 5:2 Diet?
The 5:2 diet is an intermittent fasting diet. The general principle is that you eat as you normally would for 5 days of the week and then for two days, you reduce your calories down to just 500 per day.
Although not a complete fast, the severe calorie reduction in this two days is low enough to trigger the health benefits associated with fasting. The low calorie period is designed to be short and not meant to be sustained for long periods.
Dr Harvie used a forerunner to the 5:2 diet in her studies. Participants ate around 600-1000 calories for two days. She says that when the body is in a fed state, which we are for most of the time, the cells of the body are in growth mode. It is only in a fasting state that your body goes into repair mode and protects against disease.
This is another reason why sleep is important – as our bodies repair during sleep. But when we have big meals late at night and then a big breakfast the next morning that fasting period overnight is not long enough to repair the cells fully. By fasting for a 48 hour period, we give our bodies the chance to repair more thoroughly.
Have you every wondered just why there are so many diets around these days? I think the answer is simple – we are all different! What suits one person doesn’t suit another.
To begin with, our relationship with food differs from person to person. Think about how many food allergies they are around. One person is allergic to peanut, another to strawberries but there are millions of people who can eat either of them without problems. They is gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, and a gazillion other intolerances.
Then there’s simple food tastes. There’s carnivorous meat eaters but then there are vegetarians. Those who like lots of hot food and others who prefer dipping into a salad. Those who can’t face food before 11am and others who cook up a massive feast as soon as they wake up in the morning. There are lovers of all things hot and spicy and then those who think a Chicken Korma is hot (c’mon!).
There are big eaters, small eaters, those who like one or two huge meals and others who prefer to pick and graze throughout the day. Some people are late night snackers and others won’t eat within a few hours of bed time.
On of top the preferences when it comes to our eating habits and tastes, there’s also lifestyle to consider. A single guy living on his own is likely to eat very differently to a busy mother with several young children. Somebody who works from home and can cook all their meals is likely to eat differently to somebody who needs to take a packed lunch into work every day.
There’s other lifestyle factors – travel, vacations, special occasions, eating out, eating with friends and all of the ways in our social lives revolve around eating. It isn’t just about us as individuals. We eat with other people, we eat on the run, on the road and so on. Somebody who travels for 30 weeks of the year is not going to eat in the same way as somebody who is just at home all day.
There are billions of people in the world and no two of them are alike. Food is one of the most personal things there is and it is essential to life. We all have vastly different lifestyles so of course no one single diet could possibly be right for everybody.
The purpose of this site is to break down diets into their practical terms – who is it good for, what do you need to consider, is the diet suitable for a family to eat? Can you stick to it when you travel or eat out? These are the factors I will be looking at. I w\nt it to be easy for you to find the perfect diet for you – the one that will fit in with your tastes, your preferences and your lifestyle.