What is the advantage of using a strategy based on intermittent fasting versus simple dietary changes alone – such as the LowCarb HighFat diets that we prefer? There are several good ones.
Reason #1 – Simplicity
When I started out my clinic, I tried to persuade people to adopt the LCHF diet. I was doing this for people of all ages, of all nationalities. It is difficult enough for a well educated English speaking, computer literate person to adopt a strict LCHF diet. This is hard given all the conflicting advice flying around the internet and the airwaves.
We would tell people to go Low Carb and find food diaries full of whole wheat bread and plates of pasta. Many people honestly did not understand the diet at all. I spent lots of time and grey hair trying to change their diets, but many people simply did not understand. Furthermore, their diets had not significantly changed in 40 years, and they were having a lot of trouble changing it.
Since the Low Fat approach had been indoctrinated into them for the last 20 years, it was hard for people to understand how to eat a diet high in natural fats, rather than the low fat fare they were used to. Using a completely different approach such as fasting was much easier for people to understand.
Fasting itself, is so simple that it can be explained in two sentences. Eat nothing including sugars or sweeteners. Drink water, tea, coffee or bone broth. That’s it. Even with this simple method, we (Megan, not actually me anymore) spend hours explaining ‘how to’ fast.
The most obvious benefit to simplicity, though is demonstrated by the startlingly simple graph above. The simpler, the more effective. Amen.
Reason #2 – Cheap
While I may prefer patients to eat organic, local grass fed beef and avoid the white bread and processed foods, the truth is that these foods are often 10 times the cost. Some people, simply put, cannot afford to eat that well.
This is due to the distorting effect of government subsidies on cost of food. Since grains enjoy substantial government subsidies, it is far cheaper to make something out of flour than whole foods. This means that fresh cherries cost $6.99/ pound and an entire loaf of bread will cost $1.99. Feeding a family on a budget is a lot easier when you buy pasta and white bread.
But that does not mean they should be doomed to a lifetime of type 2 diabetes and disability. Fasting is free. Actually, it is not simply free, but it actually saves people money because you do not need to buy any food.
Reason #3 – Convenience
While I may advise people to always eat a home cooked, prepared-from-scratch meal, there are many people who simply do not have the time or inclination to do so. The number of meals eaten away from home has been increasing over the past few decades. While there are many who try to support the ‘slow food’ movement, it is clear that they are fighting a losing battle.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking as much as the next guy. But it just takes a lot of time. Between work, writing, and taking my kids to school stuff and hockey, it just doesn’t leave a lot of time.
So asking people to devote themselves to home cooking, as noble as it may be, is not going to be a winning strategy. Fasting, on the other hand is the opposite. You save time because there is no time spent buying food, preparing, cooking and cleaning up. It is a way to simplify your life. I often skip breakfast in the mornings. Man, the time saved! I often skip lunch, too. Man, the time saved! If time is money….
Reason #4 – Cheat days
While I might advise people to never, ever again eat ice cream, I don’t think that is actually very practical advice. Sure, you might be able to swear off of it for 6 months, or 1 year, but for life? And would you really want to? Think about it. Think about the joy that some people get from savouring an especially delicious dessert at a wedding feast. Do we need to deny ourselves that little bit of pleasure forever? Let us all enjoy our birthday salad feast! Thanksgiving kale festival! All you can eat brussel sprouts! Yes, life just got a little less sparkly. Forever is a long time.
Now, I am not saying that you can eat dessert every single day, but fasting gives you the ability to occasionally enjoy that dessert because if you feast, you can balance the scale by fasting. It is, after all, the cycle of life. The reason these ‘cheat’ days are important is because it builds compliance. Simply put, it makes the diet easier to follow and changes it into a lifestyle instead. We often counsel that the most important aspect of fasting is to fit it into your life.
Reason #5 – Power
I often treat type 2 diabetic patients. Most of them have had it for 10 years or more. So, of the obese patients I treat, they are often the worst of the worst in terms of obesity and insulin resistance. Sometimes, even a strict LCHF diet is not strong enough. The fastest and most efficient way to lower insulin is intermittent fasting.
In the end, you must ask yourself this question. If you do not eat anything for 1 week, do you think you will lose weight? Even a child understands that you must lose weight. It is almost inevitable. So its efficacy is unquestioned.
There are only two remaining questions. First – is it unhealthy? On the contrary, there are extraordinary health benefits. Two – can you do it? Well, if you never try it, you will never know. I think almost everybody can do it.
Reason #6 – Flexibility
Fasting can be done at any time and in any place. Furthermore, if you do not feel well for any reason, you simply stop. It is entirely reversible within minutes.
Consider bariatric surgery (stomach stapling). These surgeries are done so that people can fast for prolonged periods of time. And they tend to work, at least in the short term. But these surgeries have tons of complications, almost all of which are irreversible.
Furthermore, why would we assume that somebody cannot fast for 1 week or 1 month without ever having tried it?
Reason #7 – Add to any diet
Here is the biggest advantage of all. Fasting can be added to any diet. That is because fasting is not something you do, but something you do not do. It is subtraction rather than addition.
You don’t eat meat? You can still fast.
You don’t eat wheat? You can still fast.
You have a nut allergy? You can still fast.
You don’t have time? You can still fast.
You don’t have money? You can still fast.
You are travelling all the time? You can still fast.
You don’t cook? You can still fast.
You are 80 years old? You can still fast.
You have problems with chewing or swallowing? You can still fast.
What could possibly be simpler?
Start here for Fasting Part 1 – Historical Perspective
Continue to Fasting Part 15 – Muscle Mass
By The Fasting Method
For many health reasons, losing weight is important. It can improve your blood sugars, blood pressure and metabolic health, lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. But it’s not easy. That’s where we can help.
By Jason Fung, MD
Jason Fung, M.D., is a Toronto-based nephrologist (kidney specialist) and a world leading expert in intermittent fasting and low-carb diets.