Sunday, December 07, 2003


Leigh handed me an article in November and asked me if I wanted to try a new eating regimen. The article comes from Health magazine and is entitled, "Miss a meal, add years to your life." The 25-word summary of the article is, "Research is showing that intermittent fasting (e.g., eating one day and then fasting the next) appears to have a lot of health benefits."

I grew up hearing (mainly from TV commercials for breakfast cereals) that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day," with the implied sub-text that missing breakfast causes severe mental impairment and possibly death. That's a good message if you are selling breakfast cereal for a living, but the research presented in this article begs to differ.

First of all, a healthy person is not going to die if he/she misses a meal (or even three or four). Second, it appears to actually be good for you, at least if you are a mouse (most of the current research is rodent-based). The article claims, among other things, that:One thing the article points out is that most mice don't lose any weight on this fasting regimen. They fast every other day, but they are allowed to eat as much as they want on the eating days. So they consume about the same amount of food. But they still get the health benefits.

Leigh and I have tried this approach with varying levels of success since November. I'm at the point now where I can go 24 hours without eating. There are five things I've noticed.
  1. I've never really fasted before, and it is fascinating to watch the hunger messages your body sends to you. I find myself saying, "you stupid body, would you SHUT UP about the hunger! You have 20 pounds of fat you can burn off -- quit bitching!"
  2. It is a lot easier for me to handle the fasting days with a "zero food" policy. I don't know why, but it is easier for me to say, "zero food today" than it is to say "only a little food today" as with a diet.
  3. The eating days sometimes turn into binges, but sometimes don't. Sometimes I actually eat less.
  4. It's hard for me to do a lot of exercise on the days I fast -- I get too hungry after exercise.
  5. I find that I appreciate the food I eat on the eating days a lot more than I did in the past. When you eat constantly, you take food for granted.
As with dieting, the idea of purposefully restricting food intake is slightly perverse, and I find myself thinking about it more with fasting for some reason. At any given point in America, half the population is dieting because they eat too much. Yet half the people on the planet are living in abject poverty and have the opposite problem -- not enough food. It seems that, as an intelligent species, we should be able to create a system to correct this imbalance.

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