UK readers may have seen the Horizon programme on monday night called Eat, Fast and Live Longer (currently available on BBC iPlayer or YouTube )
I watched with interest, mainly because I have seen intermittent fasting promoted on paleo and primal sites, but it hasn’t really registered as something that might interest me before. The programme was made very watchable by the slightly delicious (my iPad just autocorrected delicious to odious!) Michael Mosely. The aim, for him, was to find out what role diet can play on maintaining good health into old age. Michael was told from quite early in the programme that he was carrying 30% fat around his abdomen, and was thus at high risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But this part of the programme lost credibility for me because he was then compared to a man of his age who was living a calorie restricted lifestyle and for whom, it was claimed, it would be impossible to suffer a cardiovascular event. That is of course a ridiculous statement. In the first place, low risk is not zero risk. There is no zero risk, he is alive, therefore there is risk. We don’t know everything, this is why there is still medical research. If we knew everything, they could stop researching! Anyway, before I give you the full rant on that ridiculous statement, I will move on.
After meeting tiny mouse and his massive brother, destined for early death, Michael embarked upon a 3 day fast that looked utterly miserable. Clearly if this is what it would take to live a longer life, any sane person would choose early death. Blood tests done before and after the fast did appear to be remarkable, showing improved blood sugar, cholesterol and IGF-1. We learnt that high levels of IGF-1 are associated with increased risk of cancer, and are influenced by protein consumption, but reduced by fasting. It was explained that high IGF-1 causes our cells to constantly renew, but when reduced, they slow down and actually start to repair instead of renew, which is good, apparently.
Clearly Michael was keen to reap the benefits of fasting, but naturally couldn’t see himself doing it for days on end, so he set out to find out if there was an easier way. And thank god, there is. He was introduced to the 5:2 way, in other words eat normally for 5 days a week, fast for 2 days. The definition of “normally” may have been a tad exaggerated, since they showed a fast food feast at this point, and I don’t think anyone would claim that is a terribly good idea really. The technical details of the fast are pretty simple: 24 hours from one meal to the next, be it breakfast one day to breakfast the next, or any other point in the day of your choice. And then you may consume a limited calorie meal. I think it was 400 calories for women, 500 for men. I’d need to watch again to check that.
Our brave and handsome presenter went back to his daily life (and lovely wife and family, dammit!) as he tried this new regime for several weeks. He chose to start each day of fasting with a decent breakfast. I would choose differently, but that’s one of the beauties of the plan, flexibility. At the end of the programme, his blood tests etc were repeated and were again impressive, with much less effort than the 3 day fast. Additionally he lost over a stone in weight. Impressive figures for a man who wasn’t too shabby to start with. So the conventional advice of eating little and often is brought into question then, since stopping eating for reasonably long periods is so demonstrably beneficial.
As with all things, it comes down to “do your own research” I think. There is so very much written about diet, nutrition and health, it becomes impossible to know what to think. After doing a little more reading, I have decided there is nothing to lose by trying this, and there is no time like the present. Last night I caved into a bit of a chocolate binge. I wish I hadn’t, but since I did I may as well use the remorse to power myself through a fast. As I am the sort of person who can happily skip breakfast, I have decided that my 24 hour fast began when I stopped pigging out last night and will end with my evening meal tonight. It will actually be a little short of 24 hours, but I don’t like eating too late in the evening. It is now around 1:45pm and I am feeling ok. I have had hunger pangs, but a drink seems to squash them, at least for now. I am about to go to the gym. I don’t know whether this is wise or not, but it will stop me thinking about food for an hour. At least I hope it will….. Since I am not particularly using scales at the moment, and obviously won’t be having a raft of blood tests, this is all going to come down to how I feel in myself. If I feel good, I will repeat it. If not, never again. Either way, I will report back. Unless I die of hunger while I’m at the gym.