This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Fasting, particularly the type known as intermittent fasting, has been popular in many health communities for awhile. Many people learn about it through Mark Sisson, Leangains, or Eat Stop Eat. Some people do it for weight loss, other people do it for its other potential benefits such as boosting cellular cleanup known as autophagy.
But it has been getting some negative press. The latest I saw was this horror story: How Intermittent Fasting Saved Me…while Slowly Killing Me:
By week 8, my chin was breaking out more. By week 9, more, by week 10, I had legitimate acne; large cist-like monsters just hanging out under my skin. A bumpy, unhealthy face, tired eyes, no energy, what my mom called a “depressed” state of mind. My hormones were ALL out of whack.
Yikes! But many people report that fasting has great benefits. That was my own experience. At first at least. I liked the idea of IF because I've always hated breakfast and it jived with my natural tendency to want to work without thinking about food. And often it was pretty awesome for me. I felt energetic and focused.
But sometimes I just felt terrible. Fatigued, lacking focus, light-headed, distracted by gnawing hunger. Was it time to ditch the IF habit?
No, because this was only happening sometimes. Clearly there were times my body was not up for fasting. And others when it provided a boost.
So over time I've figured out a few rules that keep me from fasting when it's going to back-fire. Of course this requires you not follow a strict regimen, that you be willing to skip fasting when it's not the right time. Don't worry you can always go back to Leangains or whatever later. And you'll be better prepared to do it if your body isn't a mess. Because fasting in the wrong context can stress your body, telling your biological systems that you are in a very bad place. And when that happens, it can respond dysfunctionally.
A borderline case is when you feel like you are getting sick. Often I will fast in this case and end up not getting sick. But the research on this matter is mixed, with few studies in humans. One study showed that it might be a good idea to feed a cold and starve a fever. Instead of fasting, it might be a good idea to stick with gentle easy to digest immune nourishing foods like soup or stews. There is even some scientific evidence that chicken soup might help fight colds
edit: and as someone pointed out in the comments on Facebook, it's probably not the greatest idea to fast when you are pregnant or nursing. I'd hope that would be obvious...but you never know. And it seems to be a problem in some cultures.
I'll fully admit that sometimes this is hard to follow. When I'm stressed and have a big project due, the last thing I want to think about is breakfast. But to be honest, I've found it's better to eat something "bad" in this kind of situation than to fast. I wish I could just skip a meal if there are no good choices, but sometimes I have to bite the bullet and know that while what I'm eating isn't optimal, at least I am not pushing my body into a bad place.
And as always: if something makes you feel bad and isn't working for you, it's probably a good idea to stop doing it.
Thanks for all the kind words yesterday! I have learned so much recently and had to face up the fact that eating paleo isn't going to erase staying up until 4 AM. So far my plan to get better includes:
1. Blackout curtains
2. Going to bed at a normal time and working normal hours
3. Morning sunlight
4. Not pressuring myself to do something all the time (easier said than done)
6. Quitting the coffee treadmill
7. One alcoholic drink a week. This is a tough one, but I come from a family of people who had to quit drinking for very good reasons. Maybe in the future I can resume drinking again, but for now it seems like a bad idea.
8. Figure out what I want to do with my life. Right now I'm not exactly living my dreams. I have a love-hate relationship with my city and a mostly hate relationship with work. Honestly, there has to be something out there for me right? I'm not that happy sitting in front of the computer, even if I make more money and have more flexibility. I thought that was freedom— I was wrong.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Robb Wolf's Paleolithic Solution seminar at Crossfit South Brooklyn. I wasn't feeling so awesome (I must have had caught a bug, I haven't been sick for ages, but I'm definitely feeling it today), but I really perked up when we started talking about one of his trainers— a "superwoman" trainer/mother-of-3/do everything kind of gal. One day she had a couple of shots of espresso and just collapsed.
Like um...me? The past couple of months I've been to pretty much every type of doctor and it's been a slog because all my numbers are good. So why did I collapse?
Dr BG tipped me onto the concept of adrenal fatigue as a possibility and at the seminar Robb really convinced me that I haz it.
Which is big, since I've been very skeptical of it in the past, because like "candida" it often is described as something with vague symptoms that could easily be something else. But here I am with medical markers of such a syndrome. I'm already seeing an endocrinologist. According to him I have some borderline markers, so I'm not a full-fleged case, but they can leave me with some issues. It's been a nightmare trying to get treatment. Even with insurance, every time I go to the doctor I feel like I'm gambling. I dread getting the mail. What will I owe this time? It's a surprise!
As Robb says "if you have a sunburn, get out of the sun." Easier said than done since I seem to be great at getting myself into high-stress situations. And all these medical bills don't do much to help one of the major sources of my stress: bills. But there have been other sources ranging from losing my apartment, work-related stress, and an extremely stressful breakup. I'm really kind of good at hiding that and seeming to be successful, but if you noticed I was off, this is why.
Let's be honest: I might have to leave NYC and move back home. I was certainly too proud to do it before (even when I was barely scraping by), but now that I'm sick this becomes a less unattractive option. Wouldn't it be nice if this could be like Eat Pray Love where I get a book advance and rest my weary head in Indonesia? But it's not like that. I am however very lucky that this problem comes at a time when my family has started farming, though that's a whole different set of stresses.
I'm not sure what I'm doing yet, but you met me at a very strange time in my life.