Underfasting and the Fountain of Youth

Throughout the millions of years of our evolution, life has not provided our species with food sources like we enjoy in the free world. Most of us have never in all our lives gone even one day without food.

And that is very unnatural.

And our bodies aren’t capable of dealing with it. The development of agriculture and a steady food supply is relatively recent, and our bodies have not evolved any adaptations to this new condition of plenty. So our desire for sweets and calorie rich foods — a desire that has helped us survive — now is our downfall. The free world is becoming obese. We eat several times a day, day after day after day. Non-stop.

The non-stop part is the real problem. It was necessary in our evolutionary past to eat all the sweet stuff we could find. And it was good to eat all the meat you could eat when you killed an animal. Nearly all mammals — from your dog to lions — wolf down dinner. Eat as much as you can as fast as you can. Store as much fat as you can because tomorrow you may not have anything to eat.

Until recently, people have always gone through lean times. Your ancestors often went days without enough food. Some of them went weeks and even months without enough food. And the only ones who survived were those who were fat enough. You body wants to put on fat. Fat equals life itself when you don’t have any fruits to eat or game to kill. The only people who lived through the lean times were those whose bodies had stored the most fat.

Your body wants to store fat so you crave high calorie foods. This works just fine — as long as you go through lean times.

But now we don’t go even one day without food. It’s probably a big deal to even miss a dinner. And THAT is the real problem. It’s not so much that we overeat: It’s that we don’t go through any more lean times.

But you can. You can add lean times to your life, deliberately. Go without food for a day. It’s called fasting. Try it. Don’t eat anything tomorrow. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Just drink water and lots of it. Not one bite of anything.

What will happen? Well, let me tell you about some lions and some mice. There were some lions in a zoo and they were getting out of shape and listless. Their health wasn’t the best. So the zookeepers decided to feed them every other day instead of every day. Same amount of food, but they let them gorge one day and then receive absolutely nothing the next. It’s closer to the way they live in the wild.

And what happened with this feast-or-famine feeding style? It was really good for the lions. Their health improved. The lean times were good for their health.

Lean times are good for our health too.

Researchers have been testing mice and when they feed them every other day, they also live longer and they act younger longer, their coats remain shiny longer, and they have higher levels of activity than the mice that eat every day.

There’s something about not eating that is very very good for mammals. Lean times are somehow essential to good health. Our bodies apparently do a lot of good work when they're not busy digesting food.

You see, your body must not only digest your food and break it down into usable parts, but it must also manufacture what you need out of those parts. But it can’t do both at the same time very well. And digesting food always comes first (the body can't leave food rotting in the stomach).

So, as long as your body is busy digesting food, it isn’t producing the hormones and assembling the proteins you need to repair tissue. The time it normally does this is at night when you’re asleep. And the other time it does it is during periods of little or no food.

That means there are two things you can do to improve your health. First, go to sleep with an empty stomach. Stop eating three hours or so before you go to bed. That way, when you fall off to sleep your body can spend all night rejuvenating your tissues instead of digesting food.

When you go to sleep on an empty stomach, you get a lot more rest and rejuvenation. And I want you to note I did not say "go to sleep hungry." There’s a time after you eat when your stomach is empty but you don’t feel hungry yet. That’s the state you’re after.

By the way, another good thing about going to bed with an empty stomach is it reduces heartburn.

The second thing you can do to improve your health is to make sure you endure some lean times. You need to fast.

How often? Well, some volunteers agreed to eat every other day like the lions and mice. And you guessed it: It improved their health and even though they were told to eat twice as much food on the days they ate, they still lost weight.

When it comes to mammals, apparently we’re at our best living a feast-or-famine life. We have a healthier body and less body fat. Such a deal!

Now, do you need to fast every other day? No. You would be extremely healthy if you did, but you don’t have to go that far. You will get improvement from any amount you can do. Go without any food tomorrow and you will be healthier for doing it. Going without food once a week has even more benefit. I decided to go without food two days a week. I chose Mondays and Fridays because they are very busy days for me and I’ve found it’s almost a blessing to not have to stop and eat. And, when I want to eat, having something to do that needs to be done helps me think about something besides my desire for food.

I personally find fasting peaceful. Yes, sometimes I feel hungry, but a glass of water helps a lot and the hunger fades. It just comes in waves. It is NOT a constant feeling.

I think the first time you go without food, it feels rather scary. You might instinctively worry that something bad will happen if you don’t have enough food. But nothing bad happens. I go about my life not really aware I’m fasting. I walk around town doing my errands or ride my bike. I don’t feel faint. I don’t pass out from exertion. Once I even did a very strenuous hike to the top of a mountain. Though I felt like I didn’t have my normal oomph, I still was able to do it. The Apaches used to go for several days without food when they were riding hard and didn’t have time to stop and kill game and cook it. They thought nothing of it.

If you’re healthy, you can go a day without food. In fact, your body would love to have a day without having to digest anything. You can’t wash the floors when the room is full of guests.

I’ve been fasting Monday and Friday. And it has changed my life. For one thing: I’m losing weight. I find it much easier to not eat than to watch what I eat. Much easier. There’s no trying to control my appetite by stopping once I’m eating, which I find difficult. It is just easier to not get started. Besides, everything I see will still be there tomorrow. I can eat it then. Not really a big deal. There are so many benefits to fasting — like a lot of extra time — that not eating is actually sort of fun.

I feel free of it all when I fast. I don’t have to figure out what to eat or go shopping for food. I don’t have to cook anything all day long. I don’t have to clean any dishes. Plus, the day is free of meal interruptions. I can keep doing what I’m doing and don’t have to stop for lunch or dinner. It makes for productive, satisfying days.

What has surprised me is I’m not twice as hungry the next day. Most people must have some of this response because even the volunteers who were told to try to eat twice as much on the food days just couldn’t seem to do it, so they lost weight even though they weren’t trying to.

There is also another benefit to all this. On the days I eat, I’ve stopped worrying about overeating. It doesn’t matter much any more. I can relax. I can eat what I want. Well, I eat good food, nutritious food, but I’ve stopped being so concerned about how much I eat and shifted my attention over to making sure I fast enough.

The problem the developed countries are having with obesity isn’t so much because we’re overeating. The problem is we are underfasting. And if you will concentrate on increasing your fasting time, first by going to bed empty so you make the most of your nightly fast, and second by imposing at least a weekly fast, then you will be giving your body what it so desperately needs: A little famine.

By the way, periods of famine actually improve not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. When they deliberately starved volunteers during WWII to simulate the starvation that many people in Europe were enduring and how best to recuperate from that, they found that even though these men had become skin and bones, when they recovered their weight, they were actually healthier than they’d been. Blood pressure was lower. Depression and anxiety was lower. These people were truly better off for their period of starvation. It did not damage their health like you’d think such a horrific experience of months of starvation would do. The body evolved to count on lean times. It was such a regular occurrence in the evolution of human beings, primates, mammals, and probably as far back as single-celled animals, that our bodies are actually harmed by the lack of lean times.

Fasting is every bit as important to your health as exercise and stretching and eating the right foods.

And one last comment: Eating every other day increases your life. You will live longer if you fast. And those years will be much better years. You'll be healthier. You'll feel better.

Try it. For the next month instead of trying to eat less, just fast more. That’s all. Just go without eating for one whole day. And do it again and again. Even as much as every other day.

Once you’ve seen how good it is for you, consider fasting for longer. Investigate fasting. It’s the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. 

Klassy Evans is the editor of Principles For Personal Growth, and the co-author of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English) and Fill Your Tank With Freedom.

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