The Benefits and Risks of Intermittent Fasting

It has been shown again and again that diets don’t work.  Mostly because after losing weight people go back to their old eating patterns.

Fasting is all the craze now a days, not only for losing weight, but also research shows it is great for regulating type II diabetes, and now new evidence with mouse studies shows it prolongs actual lifespan! What is more important though, is that it looks it does this by actually delaying the onset of the aging process and increases your “healthspan”.

Healthspan is the part of your life where you are generally in good health. Compared to disease and longevity, health and healthspan are a problematic concepts to measure; indeed, disease or death can both be noticed and measured easily, whereas the subjective evaluation of health is more defined by what each individual values. I would argue that a person’s healthspan is more important than their longevity. (Next blog: What we know about how to extend your healthspan!).

One of my most popular books at our clinic library here is the “Fast Diet”. Michael Mosley is the doctor who made popular the fast diet after he was diagnosed with type II diabetes. (here is his website). The pun about the name is that it is not fast at all, but is so named for the concept of what you DON’T eat (i.e. fasting) and not about what you DO eat.

This diet takes weight off slowly and is then maintained as a lifestyle to keep weight off. It is both a metabolic and psychological tuning in which the body and mind calibrate better to satiety and hunger, with two days a week restricting calories to 1/3 of maintenance (about 500-600 cal), the level that forces the body to borrow from our fat reserves.  If it becomes a maintenance diet, the fat is restored before the next fasting day by normal non-restricted eating.  If it is for weight loss, the body gradually adapts to its more natural and optimal weight over time, adjusting to the hormonal signals through the fasting cycles. There is some good science behind this.

Quirks and Quarks, a popular CBC radio science show, recently feature their documentary on intermittent fasting.  Read their documentary or listen to their podcast interviews with the scientists, about the benefits and risks of fasting, here…..

In the CBC documentary they defined the 3 basic types of fasting as….

“Time-restricted eating limits eating to a 4 – 12 hour window of the day. Often, people choose to eat all of their meals in an eight-hour period and fast for 16.  Aligning these eating hours with our internal circadian rhythm and eating earlier in the day (like from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) may increase the potential for other health benefits, regardless of whether or not you lose weight.

Intermittent or periodic fasting includes alternate day fasting and the 5:2 diet. In alternate day fasting, dieters fast for 24 hours every other day, drinking only water on fast days, but eating without restriction otherwise. With the 5:2 diet, popularized by Dr. Michael Mosley, dieters eat only 500 – 600 calories two days per week, and whatever they like the remaining five days.

Finally, there are extended fasts, including a 72-hour fast that has been reported to mitigate immune system damage.”

Regardless, the best diet is the one you can stick to — one that is sustainable not only in loosing weight, but in maintaining weight after you are at a healthy weight for your goals.

Can acupuncture help me lose weight?

Acupuncture can be part of a strategy to lose weight in a number of ways.  In addition to helping people develop a healthy plan to improve eating habits (i.e. one that can be maintained as a lifestyle), our treatment plans address a number of other factors that can influence weight.

Chronic stress shifts a body’s metabolism toward depositing more deep abdominal (belly) fat, which is associated with increased risk of heart disease and other pathologies. Research shows that acupuncture reduces the body’s stress response (ie. normalizing the nervous system’s fight/flight activity).  Healthy lifestyle choices aid not only in losing and redistributing weight, but also in preventing disease.

Acupuncture helps you in losing weight by:

Decreasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin – the long and short term responses of the fight or flight nervous system.

Deactivating the amygdala, the primordial fight or flight centre in your midbrain.

Hormone imbalances. Acupuncture has been shown to facilitate hormone changes (e.g. insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and CCK) in overweight people, likely indirectly by affecting stress hormones like cortisol levels. These hormones are associated with weight change, satiety, and appetite and have been shown to be influenced by acupuncture in some clinical trials.

Psychological/Emotional Issues. The mind and body are not separate.  Modern research continues to show how metabolism and health are affected by our very thoughts.  Our holistic practice acknowledges the mind & body together. Patients often experience a sense of well-being after acupuncture, and a greater internal awareness.  These positive effects can lead to further action and understanding such as:

Seeking support & counseling

Examining attitudes on body image

Understanding your appetite

Diet and digestion: Our traditional and modern approaches to treat digestion problems can help you eat well and absorb important nutrients better.  Acupuncture, massage, and herbal therapies can all influence metabolism. We help you to monitor your energy, feelings, and body’s responses in relation to your diet and exercise.  This information is used to create treatment plans with you tailored to your personal goals and health needs.

In the end “being in shape” is a matter of opinion. It is not a number on a scale.  Your “shape” is something you move comfortably in.  Regardless of society’s standards of fitness and beauty, it is important to develop goals that make sense to you, and are achievable by you.