HEALTH NEWSLETTER #25
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING
3rd June 2017
At the beginning of the May, I went for a weekend wilderness fast. I left the house Friday night and spent the next 48 hours fasting in the woods. I spent most of my time relaxing by the fire and swinging in my new hammock. It was bliss.
Since then I’ve spent the last few weeks editing the videos I made while I was out there and putting them on YouTube and Facebook. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and found some value from my ‘Words from the Woods’ series.
I’ve also been busy writing a blog all about the powerful benefits of fasting. Unfortunately, it’s not quite ready yet, so this newsletter is a brief introduction to fasting that will get you in the mood for learning more. So here goes…
Reading time: 5 mins
Why I fast?
I fast for two reasons:
- Fasting improves my appreciation of actual physiological hunger
- Fasting improves my health and longevity
Fasting and intermittent fasting might not be for everyone, but it works for me. When I talk about fasting, I’m referring to a practice where the only thing that goes in my mouth is water (a water fast). Although, I sometimes have a herbal tea or wheatgrass, spirulina and chlorella shot!
Some days I’ll fast from my evening meal through to 3/4pm the next day. Other days I’ll fast for 24 hours. And two or three times a year I'll fast between 48 and 96 hours (2-4 days). Somedays I eat three meals, but most of the time I eat two meals and sometimes I just eat once but have a real feast! One day I hope to complete a much longer fast, maybe a 21 day fast to learn more about deeper fasting.
Fasting versus Starving
There’s a big misunderstanding around fasting and starving yourself. They are two distinct physiology phenomena. Fasting should be treated with respect but we shouldn’t be scared of it either. With a healthy mind and body, fasting is an excellent tool for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development.
In some people though, it may be advisable to seek medical supervision, especially for fasts longer than two days.
A few years ago I read about the three three's of survival. To make it in the wild we have:
- 3 hours to find shelter
- 3 days to find water and
- 3 weeks to find food (21 days)
I’ve since discovered other experts on fasting and found that even thin individuals have enough body fat to fast for 45 days and often longer. Starvation only occurs when the fat stores run out and the body begins to break down protein as a primary fuel. This can occur anywhere between 45 and 120 days. When the body gets to this point, you’ll know about it!
I even discovered a study from 1973, where a 27 years old male fasted for 382 days under the supervision of medical researchers in Scotland. Naturally the more stored body fat you have, the longer you can fast for. But don't worry I’m not advocating fasting for this long.
Many people learning about fasting from the great world religions but in recent years it’s become much more popular in the mainstream as a way to lose weight. Fasting will make you lose weight but you will also burn through stores of body fat when fasting longer than 10 hours. I remember my first three day fast, I think I finished almost 9 lbs (4kg) lighter. But is that why I fast? Not entirely.
I see weight as a poor metric for measuring health. Most of the weight lost during a fast is put back on as soon as you refuel the body with carbohydrates. You see, for every gram of stored carbohydrate, we store a gram of water alongside it.
Fasting makes me feel better about myself and the food I eat. I might lose a pound or two but that is not why I fast. Fasting for weight loss alone is a dangerous psychological trap to fall into, so take care.
Fasting puts our body and mind back in tune with physiological hunger. Humans are emotional creatures that suffer from psychological hunger. We like to eat to feel better, we like to eat to reward ourselves and we like to eat to solve boredom. Some of us even eat to feel numb, punish ourselves and sabotage our hard work in the gym!
Believe it or not, animals have known what to eat for millions of years. Guided by our senses humans are no different. Mammals and other animals will crave certain foods that contain nutrients required by the body. Unfortunately, McDonalds and Pringles have messed this one up for us! We are no longer in tune with our senses and we do not sense what is good for us. Every day the billions of humans across the world eat unhealthy food.
Fasting has a beautiful way of improving the sensitivity of our senses. Fasting increases the sensitivity of an organ you’ve likely never heard of before: the vomeronasal organ (VSO). The VSO or the Jacobson's organ is an auxiliary olfactory sense organ. It is responsible for identifying the substances entering into the body. After a fast, this organ becomes much better at telling us what is good and what is not so good for us.
Fasting also increases the sensitivity of two hormones: leptin and insulin. Leptin is the hormone released by our fat cells to tell our brain to reduce hunger. And insulin is the fat storing hormone triggered by spikes in blood sugar.
After fasting we become more sensitive to sugar, meaning we don’t need to so much of it. Thanks to an increased sensitivity to leptin, our hunger hormones get a reset too. Kind of strange that going without would make us less hungry in the long run!
healtH, longevity and fighting disease
As the founding father of medicine famously said:
There is a lot of death and suffering caused by cancer and there is no single cause or solution. But the emerging science supporting medical fasting is demonstrating what has been known for thousands of years. Fasting, especially longer fasts, is a great way to combat disease. But fasting can also be used as a preemptive tool to extend our health span.
The human body is a product of billions of years of biological evolution. The more I learn about it, the more I’m baffled by its inbuilt intelligence. It turns out that the body has its own way of healing itself without the need of pharmaceutical drugs. We just need to reconnect with our own healing mechanisms.
In a healthy 8 hours sleep, the body and mind begin a mini spring clean. We take out the metabolic trash and repair minor damages caused by free radical damage. Unfortunately, there are many aspects of daily life that reduce our ability to self-repair whilst sleeping. Stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, blue light exposure, electromagnetic radiation are all thought to damage the regenerative quality of sleep.
We might spend 8 hours in bed at night but there is no way of knowing how well our body has repaired itself! When we fast, we free up a lot of energy to continue this process of repair and regeneration. Digestion requires a lot of energy, so when no food comes in the body goes to work. Fasting stimulates a process called autophagy, in Greek, this means self-consuming/ devouring.
If periodic fasting supports my body in fighting cancer and other metabolic diseases then that’s great. I can put up with a bit of fasting every now and then. Ironically once you get used to fasting, it becomes remarkable easy. In fact, it is incredibly liberating, not having to think about food all the time. At first, I thought it would be impossible. Now it’s so easy I couldn’t image my life without it.
So why do I head off to the woods? Well, it’s simple. There’s a total lack of temptation! There’s no food in the cupboards and there's no sumptuous smells coming from the kitchen. I also don’t have to have uncomfortable conversations with people in an attempt to explain why I’m not eating lunch.
Fasting in nature also gives my mind a chance to unwind from the constant distractions of modern living. A wilderness fast has to power to clean the psyche as well as the body.
So that’s that, my brief introduction to fasting, please keep an eye out for the blog which I hope to finish next week. In the meantime check out my ‘Words from the Woods’ series on YouTube (click on the picture below). As ever thank you for all your support and kind comments. Your feedback and questions are always welcome.
James @ EVO•TEE