A recent report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that today Americans are fatter than ever before. More than 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women over age 25 are overweight or obese (JAMA Internal Medicine. June 22, 2015).
Many studies show that being even slightly overweight appears to shorten lives. Most weight loss programs fail to help people keep weight off after they have lost it.
Fasting can cause hunger, which is painful, so most people will not do it. I have found that a modified program of intermittent fasting with snacking is easy and relatively painless. I believe that future research will show that intermittent fasting helps to control weight and to prevent the diseases that are linked to excess weight.
Benefits of Restricting Calories a Few Days a Month
A new study from the University of Southern California shows that restricting calories just five days a month for three months:
* helped people lose weight,
* reduced a number of risk factors for cancer, diabetes and heart attacks, and
* improved markers for living a longer life and tests for immune function
(Cell Metabolism, published online June 18, 2015). The study author, Dr. Valter D. Longo, says that “the research demonstrates the first anti-aging, healthspan-promoting intervention that doctors could feasibly recommend for patients.”
Thirty-seven men and women participated in the three-month study. For 25 days in each month, they all ate their normal diets. For the other five days each month, 19 of the subjects restricted calories to between one third and one half of their normal intake (the fasting group), while the other 18 continued to eat their regular diet and did not restrict calories (the control group). The fasting group was fed 1,090 calories on the first “fast” day and 725 calories per day for the other four “fast days”. Their food on these days consisted of vegetable soups and chamomile tea.
How Might Intermittent “Fasting” Prolong Life?
Nobody really knows whether intermittent low-calorie diets help to promote weight loss and to prevent disease, but after just three months on this regimen, the fasting group had a reduction in risk factors linked to aging, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer, including lowered blood glucose, reduced markers of inflammation and weight loss.
In similar studies, humans and animals have had a marked lowering of a hormone called Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), high levels of which increase risk for cancer, diabetes and premature death.
Intermittent low-calorie diets have been shown to extend the lives of yeast and mice. Mice in an intermittent fasting program had less belly fat, which helped protect them from developing diabetes, more brain nerve growth promoting memory, and lower IGF-1 levels. Other studies published this year show that periodic fasting helps to prevent diabetes in humans who are at high risk.
How Fat Loss Prolongs life and Prevents Disease
Excess fat stored in your body increases risk for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, certain cancers, and premature death. You store fat in your fat cells, liver and muscles. The most dangerous place to store fat is in your liver because excess fat in your liver prevents the liver from doing its job of preventing blood sugar levels from rising too high after meals.
Normally, when blood sugar levels rise too high, your pancreas releases insulin that lowers blood sugar levels by driving sugar from the bloodstream into your liver. However, when your liver is full of fat, it cannot accept the sugar. Instead, it makes even more sugar to drive blood sugar levels even higher.
When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar attaches to the outside membranes of every cell in your body. Once attached, sugar can never get off. It is converted by a series of chemical reactions eventually to sorbitol that destroys the cell. That’s why diabetics suffer a very high rate of blindness, deafness, kidney failure, heart attacks, cancers and premature deat
An Example of a Basic Training Program to Ride Faster
All knowledgeable cyclists train by stressing and recovering. They typically try to take intense workouts in which they damage their muscles three days a week, and recover by riding more slowly on the other four days. A typical workout schedule would be:
Saturday: hard – A long, fast ride
Sunday: recover – Slower riding or take the day off
Monday: recover – Slower riding
Tuesday: hard – A ride interspersed with lots of short intervals that take less than 30 seconds each.
Wednesday: recover – Slower riding
Thursday: hard – A ride that includes long intervals that take more than two minutes each. You will only be able to do a few of these long intervals during your ride.
Friday: recover – Slower ride or take the day off.
Using “Intermittent Fasting” while Training to Ride Faster
On your hard days and on some of your recovery days, eat your regular meals. Make sure that you drink and eat plenty of food immediately after you finish each intense workout. For up to one hour after you finish your workout, your muscles are much more sensitive to insulin so that muscles heal much faster if you supply the nutrients then. On at least two of your recovery days each week, eat a healthful breakfast in the morning and then severely restrict calories for the rest of the day.
My Intermittent Fasting Program
Regular meal days – eat a plant-based diet four or five days a week. Almost all the latest research shows that you should restrict sugared drinks, sugar-added foods, and fried foods. I think you should restrict red meat, since research strongly associates eating red meat with increased risk for heart attacks and certain cancers.
You do not need to restrict sugared drinks when you ride because contracting muscles remover sugar rapidly from the bloodstream and do not need insulin to do so. Resting muscles, however, remove almost no sugar from the bloodstream and require insulin to get any sugar into them.
“Fasting” days – two or three days a week: I eat oatmeal for breakfast and no other meals. I snack on fruit and nuts for the rest of the day. If you follow these rules, you reduce the calories that you take in for these “fast” days.
I am 80 and am 5’11” tall; my wife, Diana, is 73 and 5’7″. We have always exercised every day and not been fat, but since following a program of modified fasting two or three days a week for the last three years, I’ve lost 31 pounds, and she’s lost 17.
Four or five days a week, we eat our typical plant-based diet with occasional seafood. Two or three days a week, I eat oatmeal and Diana eats beans for breakfast as our only regular meal. Then we snack on oranges and nuts whenever we are hungry. This works for us because we have only oatmeal, beans, fruits and nuts in our house. I eat about 1200 to 1500 calories on these “fast” days, while my normal calorie intake is about 3000 per day. We ride our tandem bicycle or our single bicycles very hard almost every day and I believe that our exercise program also helps us to maintain our weight and good health.
Controlling Weight Helps to Prevent Disease and Prolong Life
It doesn’t matter how you get rid of fat from your body, but many of my former patients and friends have found that intermittent fasting works for them. Getting rid of excess fat in your liver lowers high blood sugar levels and helps to prevent all the terrible complications of high blood sugar levels.
You can lose weight and remove fat from your liver just by taking in fewer calories than you burn. You don’t have to do this every day. Recent research show that reducing calories for just a few days a month can help you to clean fat from your liver to help prolong your life.
True fasting, in which you eat nothing, is painful. However, if you pick out a few days a week to skip meals and snack on nuts, fruits and vegetables throughout the day, you can lose weight and then maintain your ideal weight for the rest of your life.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.