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Fasting: Why Skipping Meals Gives You a Better, Longer Life

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“Three meals a day is healthy!”

“Breakfast, the most important meal of the day!”

We’ve all heard ‘em, and most of us were probably taught them. In fact, some professional trainers and dieticians recommend four to six smaller meals a day, often to “increase metabolism”.

And it’s just not true, according to Dr. David Brown of Idaho BMI. But before he explains why, let’s start with the basics.

What is Fasting?

Fasting is not eating food. Plenty of water is important, as is being mindful of electrolytes and vitamins. There’s no perfect length of time to fast, but generally the longer you can go without food, the more beneficial it becomes. And it’s not something you’re likely to pick up overnight; you need to practice, which will allow your body to adapt. 

Dr. Brown knows this first-hand. Years ago, before heading to the operating room every day, he just had to have breakfast. If not, he’d be frustrated and grouchy. Jump to today, and it’s the complete opposite; if he eats before noon, he feels sick. This illustrates just how much the body is capable of when you can give it time to adopt a new, healthy routine.

Fasting & Energy

‘If I don’t have food I don’t have energy”. Most of us either feel that or have heard some form of this. Dr. Brown has heard it time and time again at his Idaho BMI and Everest Surgical Institute clinics. 

Thing is, the body is just more sophisticated than that. Think of batteries. Many people charge them right after use regardless of how much juice is left. But guess what improves performance and extends the battery’s life? Letting it drain almost entirely before charging.

Our bodies aren’t much different. We must cycle in and out of fasting because fasting is as important as eating. Our bodily systems become dysfunctional when we don’t allow them to reset, to clean themselves out. And that’s exactly what fasting does. 

How Long to Fast

Don’t worry about a magic number of hours. Just try to extend the time you go without food. If that’s 24 hours like Dr. Brown sometimes does, great. If it’s 15, nice work. You may even work your way up to prolonged fasting, which means no food for three, five, even seven days. Sounds crazy, but it’s not only doable, it’s hugely beneficial.

Fasting and Weight Loss

Being overweight means having excess fat reserves. If the body never needs to tap into those reserves because it has a constant supply of food, it won’t. That’s weight gain. 

Fasting burns the stored fat because…that’s all it has. That’s weight loss. This is the reason the myth of starvation mode (going without food slows metabolism) is false. 

Bears hibernate, right? To prepare, they want to store fuel for that long period of no food. So they eat and eat, and then what do their bodies do? Signal to slow metabolism so they can conserve energy. 

We get that same signal when we eat all the time. Our body thinks it needs to conserve energy (fat) when it’s always consuming, because it thinks a long period without food is coming.

Other Benefits of Fasting

Nearly all the scientific literature shows that most of our systems – brain & memory, muscles, the immune system – improve with fasting.

Think back to our ancestors thousands of years ago. It was the norm to go without food for extended periods. It only makes sense that the body would signal to be more alert, active, and focused so it could hunt or find food.

It would also signal to be more alert against disease. See, our immune system has two parts. One part remembers exposure to bacteria and viruses (think chicken pox). The other part is just chronic, unregulated inflammation, something getting worse in this time of hyperpalatable foods and overeating

Fasting improves both parts, by lowering inflammation and enhancing the memory within the immune system. In fact, there is strong evidence that vaccinations can be more effective in people who regularly fast.

Finally, we recently discussed ketosis, and how fasting triggers it along with better cognitive function. So you’re not just looking and feeling better when fasting, you’re actually thinking better.

Getting Started Fasting

Try skipping breakfast. Drink lots of water and see if you can make it until noon to eat. Then just see how you progress. When can 1:00 PM be your first bite? When can you achieve the final goal of one meal a day?

Dr. Brown’s own routine goes back to the opening point of allowing the body to adapt. He will sometimes fast for two days, and guess what? After about 24 hours, it actually gets…a little easier. There’s no drop in energy, and he loves the mental clarity it brings.

Daily life even gets easier when fasting, especially if you’re busy. Dr. Brown has a patient who travels frequently, and all over the globe. His favorite aspect of reaching the one-meal-a-day goal was just how much more simple mornings and afternoons became. Always eating isn’t just unhealthy, it can be a chore.

There’s so much information out there about fasting, so just be curious. Ask questions, experiment with strategies, drink plenty of water. But the bottom line is if you want to live a long and happy life, time without food is time well spent.

Brain Over Belly is available wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe now for this episode on fasting, and others discussing weight loss, general health and longevity. Brain Over Belly, get it on Listen Boise today. What have you got to lose?

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