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Fasting in the LA Times

Two articles on fasting in today's LA Times, and both are very good in large part.

Running on empty: the pros and cons of fasting

"There is something kind of magical about starvation," says Dr. Marc Hellerstein, a professor of endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition at UC Berkeley, who studies fasting.

Adds Mark P. Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging: "In normal health subjects, moderate fasting — maybe one day a week or cutting back on calories a couple of days a week — will have health benefits for most anybody." Mattson is among the leading researchers on the effects of calorie restriction and the brain. […]

"We've been finding that putting an animal on a reduced-calorie diet for a couple of weeks dramatically slows cell proliferation rates," Hellerstein says. "This is the case in pretty much every tissue you look at: prostate, skin, colon, liver, lymphocytes."

Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction have also been shown in animals to reduce cognitive decline in diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, Mattson says. […]

Among 448 people surveyed, intermittent fasting was associated with more than a 40% reduction in heart disease risk. Fasting was also linked to a lower incidence of diabetes. The study was published in October in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Pretty much substantiates everything I've been blogging about all this time with respect to IF. Of course, an article like that wouldn't be complete without a quote from a useful idiot.

Not all nutrition professionals see the merits of fasting. Some think of it as a recipe for disaster, setting up a person for binge eating and metabolic confusion.

Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn., , says she frequently sees such extreme strategies backfire. "You're hungry, fatigued, irritable. Fasting is not very comfortable. People try to cut back one day and the next day they're starving and they overeat."

Credentialed gibberish from a certificate holding, know nothing. Literally: she knows nothing about fasting and its practices. She's just quoting a textbook she read and got tested on. These people are contemptible, at every level.

The second article has some anecdotes of people who've seen success with fasting. Fasting strategies and pitfalls. Of course, they had to haul out another useful idiot.

Many people find that cutting back on calories causes their metabolism to slow and weight loss becomes difficult, says Andrea Giancoli, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn.

"The real danger of fasting when it comes to weight loss is you risk slowing down your metabolism, and that defeats the whole purpose," she says. "As soon as you start eating again, your body wants to store those calories."

Such ignorance, and they are the ones called on to render "expert" opinion. …As America gets fatter and fatter.

Every dietician and nutritionist in America ought to be fired on the spot, and then be pelted in the town square with rotten tomatoes. (Those of you who shouldn't, know who you are, and why you shouldn't.)

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

44 Comments

  1. David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts on February 2, 2009 at 16:40

    I've fasted in the past, and found it to be effective. I would take one day a week (usually Monday) and just not eat. The whole 'slows your metabolism' down thing never made much sense to me. When you fast, you're purifying your system, which in my mind makes it more efficient. How can that slow anything down?

    – Dave

  2. robert c on February 2, 2009 at 16:51

    I've been an intuitive faster for most of my life. I don't think I've ever gone 24 hours but it's totally common for me to eat dinner at 6 pm and not eat anything till noon the following day. That's 18 hours of fasting on a pretty common basis (2-3 times/week).

    I always felt like I was doing my body a favor by totally metabolizing my entire caloric intake and not allowing surplus calories to do what they will in my body.

    For my age I'm pretty healthy, no health problems, none on the horizon, and a good body weight with good energy.

    I'm lucky and possibly exceptional in that I have always been the type to eat till I was just full. I don't profess to know much about intermittent fasting but I've always been naturally predisposed towards it.

  3. Eugene on February 2, 2009 at 17:33

    I have been doing IF for two weeks now, and I have to say that it's one of my best discoveries, right behind low carb and free weights. Health professionals can be such amazing idiots, but what can you do. Most of them absorb establishment information like a sponge and never bother to try things out for themselves. I can't say I was much different too long ago, but still… IF is the effing best.

  4. J on February 2, 2009 at 18:46

    All I can say, is for all those gimmicks about quick fat loss. If you want to drop fat at a ridiculous rate…..intermittent fasting is the way to go. It may seem extreme, but you can cut body fat pretty darn quick. Richard would probably tell you the same. In fact, eating a natural food will drop the fat off slowly, but if you want to accelerate the fat loss…the 18-24 hour fast will take it off. It's not mainstream, but true. Additionally, fasting is great for longevity/anti-aging, body is constantly in growth/repair mode and the insulin levels are constantly at bay. richard, I am pumped for you to get down to that 10% body fat you want. It'll come faster than you will realize. Where are you at right now?

  5. J on February 2, 2009 at 18:56

    oh yea and one more thing, how are you gonna know for sure abuot your Body Fat%? I had mine done using the calipers measuring skin fold thickness.

  6. Jan on February 2, 2009 at 18:59

    One thing that I have just discovered to my chagrin, is that a 24 hour fast will trigger a migraine the following day. I can go 18 hours no problem, but 24 does it EVERY time (coming off the tail end of one right now in fact). I'm not sure what to do about this quite frankly, I don't want to give up the benefits of fasting, but 24-48hr of headache, nausea, and dizziness (and can't exercise) seems to be a pretty steep price.

  7. Andy on February 2, 2009 at 21:24

    Interesting timing as I read a similar article on exercising during fasting on fitness black book:
    http://fitnessblackbook.com/main/fasted-workouts-and-fasted-cardio-vs-epoc-for-fat-loss/

    Regarding body fat%, Richard, your goal is in sight. I'm the same height and hovering around 150 and sub-10% body fat. I was close to 170 and 20% body fat less than a year ago. I'm sure IF helped plus getting on board the paleo plan.

  8. Patrik on February 2, 2009 at 23:19

    @Richard

    What have you found to be the best schedule (for lack of a better word) for IF-ing?

  9. Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2009 at 18:30

    Yea, all wild animals, 100% responsible for their own survival (they don't have division of labor as we do) are getting "slowed metabolisms" when they get hungry and are unsuccessful in a hunt.

    Ignorance.

    You're exactly right, Dave. Wanna "cleanse." Then fast. Google autophagy.

  10. Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2009 at 18:33

    And ultimately, this is the sort of fasting I'll be doing, once down to whatever weight puts me at 10% BF (probably 165-170 at 5,10"). Then, I'll throw a curve ball every now and then and go 36-48 hours.

  11. Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2009 at 18:39

    Eugene: Yes, you have on your own found the middle finger for the "experts." I can tell: there's no doubt in your mind that IF is really onto something. You now KNOW something, as opposed to the useful idiots.

    Let us know how it goes for you.

  12. Graeme on February 3, 2009 at 03:17

    Regarding bf % do you rely on calipers?Or another method

  13. Leniza on February 3, 2009 at 05:39

    I've been doing one 30-hour fast a week (I'm about to start my fourth), in addition to random 18-hour fasts, and it's amazing how quickly the extra bit of fat is melting off. It's not hard to do at all–I'll feel hungry for about an hour or two at the 18-hour mark, and after that I feel just fine.

    While I don't generally agree with those idiot "experts," i can see their point about binging for certain people. I would never recommend or even mention IF to my friend with the history of eating disorders, for example, because she really couldn't deal with it. But for people without those emotional/mental issues over food, I think IF is a fantastic tool.

  14. billy-jay on February 3, 2009 at 07:58

    Rich,

    Regarding Ms. Frechman, your first useful idiot: she's probably right if you consider the effects of fasting on someone who is regularly eating the standard American Diet. Those carb withdrawal symptoms can be a bitch. I'm not saying she's not an idiot, though. I'm sure she has her blinders on and thinks that's the proper way to eat.

    Bill

  15. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 16:26

    OK, it looks to me (non-medical opinion) like you're one of those high-fat dieters that shows up with elevated calculated LDL, as everything else looks fine and trending in the right direction (trigs going down, HDL going up; ratios good, getting better).

    Probably the only way this isn't going to drive you crazy is to go ahead with an NNR Lipoprofile:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20091116212938/http://www.lipoprofile.com:80/patients.cfm?scid1=17

    They show how to get tested:

    But if your insurance provider won't pay, the Lab Safe one they link to is pretty expensive at $200.

    However, I found this provider who'll do it for $80:

    http://www.privatemdlabs.com/lp/nmr.php?gclid=CMXK4rjzvpgCFRYiagodSFX6bQ

    If you go and do it, please give your results or email privately.

  16. minneapolis J on February 3, 2009 at 10:12

    Richard, Mark Sisson is in that range, he is in fact, at 8% body fat at 165.

    I am at 6-1 165 and I have a body fat percentage around 7%. In some ways I may be similar to you. At 180 lbs. I was in the 18-19% range, so yea, at 165-170, you'll probably be in the 165-170 range.

  17. Patrik on February 3, 2009 at 13:15

    I have been eating Paleo/high fat (and loving it) and recently started CrossFitting. Like Richard, not only has the weight flown off, the inflammation in my face has disappeared completely, so much so that a business acquaintance I hadn't seen in a few weeks didn't recognize me.

    My body composition is definitely changing for the better, people are noticing muscle growth in my arms and traps (all those kipping pull-ups), while my bodyweight thus far has stabilized around 215 – (I am 6'3"). I am not concerned about bodyweight per se but as I estimate my BF % to be about 15% and would like to take it down to about 10%

    @Keith and @Richard (and @anyone else)

    My CF workouts are pretty damn tough but to get there should I add a sprinting workout in addition to or instead of one of my CF workouts?

    I would like to start IF-ing — to get results, does one 30-hour fast a week make sense? Or would it need to be more frequent?

    Thanks in advance.

  18. Minneapolis J on February 3, 2009 at 14:32

    Patrik,

    If there is one thing that will bring your body fat down, it is IF. I shot down from 19% to just over 10% in a very short time(third week of August to about a week and a half into September). I was gonna post pics on here for evidence. It was insane. The fasts were 18-20 hrs at most around twice a week.

    The goal of workouts is to maintain lean mass and gain some. Work on big muscles: chest, legs, shoulders and whatever accessory smaller muscles you feel help your lifts. Do compound movements: benches, squats, deadlits.

    I do 3 days of lifting, a Tabatha sprint protocol and plyos in the other two days. I also have one leisure day to do light lifting or spritn work as well. So to sum up, One full day off for sure, 2 big lift days, and the other just to get the heart going and physical activity.

    Then while reading Richard's site, I was sort of plateauing in the 10% range, but wanted to shred even more and so I fasted 24 hours two days a week. I also worked out first thing in the morning after a extended overnight fast.

    I am today at 6-1 165 lbs, 7% body fat. So in the course of let's say…..5 months that's a drop from 20-7%.

  19. Patrik on February 3, 2009 at 14:39

    @Minneapolis J

    To say your reply has got me fired up is an understatement! 🙂 Thanks. I'd love to see some pics too. Maybe you can send some to Richard?

    The workouts I do are CrossFit workouts at my local affiliate. As you may or may not know, CF is all about high-intensity functional/compound movements.

    Many of the workouts are named. Yesterday we did "Cindy". Which is:

    As many rounds as possible in 20 mins.

    5 pullups
    10 pushups
    15 air squats

    Believe you me, this is 20 minutes of (fun) hell.

    It is great stuff — although, I have to admit, a valid criticism of CF is that it is very, very easy to overtrain and really tax your nervous system.

  20. Patrik on February 3, 2009 at 14:45

    A bit off topic. I just got my lipid panel back and my doctor is concerned about the results. Any thoughts? I don't want to get into talking Paleo/hyperlipid eating with him as he is a nice guy but is a Kaiser drone and will probably want to put me on statins….

    CHOLESTEROL 276 mg/dL

    TRIGLYCERIDE 64 mg/dL

    HDL 70 mg/dL

    LDL CALCULATED 193 mg/dL

    CHOLESTEROL/HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN 3.9

  21. Minneapolis J on February 3, 2009 at 14:51

    thanks patrik and richard. I will post pictures around my birthday, which is in about 2 weeks. Heed Richard's advice and keep reading his articles on this site, this man knows what he is talking about.

  22. Diana Hsieh on February 3, 2009 at 06:54

    Jan — I'm prone to migraines, and I do get them sometimes when I fast. (I've never gotten them after fasting, however, so this might not be applicable to you.) Basically, when I start feeling bad during a fast, the best cure (even better than eating) is to lift some weights or go for a walk or something. When I start feeling that way, it seems like my body isn't drawing on its reserves well, and doing a bit of exercise helps that process.

    However, if that doesn't work — or if the feeling returns quickly — I break the fast. A good fast should be fairly easy, and if it's not, then I stop it. I'm not out to torture myself, and if I'm feeling badly, my body is telling me something — and I listen.

  23. Patrik on February 3, 2009 at 16:10

    Hi Richard,

    I have seen your posts. I have been eating Paleo/high-fat (ala Mark Sisson) for about a year now and have lost about 35lbs, from about 250lb to 215lb. My waist went from a 38 to 34/35-ish.

    Facial inflammation went from balloon head to thin/healthy, better symmetry, cheekbones more visible etc etc I look 10,000x better in pics.

    Lipid panel data below:

    [May 2006/August 2006/Feb 2009]

    CHOLESTEROL 253/229/276 mg/dL
    TRIGLYCERIDE 86/60/64 mg/dL
    HDL 57/53/70 mg/dL
    LDL CALCULATED 179/164/193 mg/dL
    CHOLESTEROL/HDL 4.4/4.3/3.9

    Any and all advice or thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  24. Keith Norris on February 3, 2009 at 09:06

    Want to drop that last bit of stubborn fat? Sprint workouts paired with IF is the way to go.

    Re the LA Times article: unfortunately now we'll see folks attempting to IF while still consuming a trash "western" diet. That's a prescription for failure.

  25. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 09:25

    Well, Mark Sisson is in a similar age range to me (he's 55, I'm 48), he's 5'10" like me, and looks to have similar musculature (he's put on a lot of muscle since his running days). Here's my reference:

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/body-composition-how-diet-and-exercise-affect-muscle-mass-and-body-fat/

    So, if I assume that Mark, at 165, is 10% BF, then his lean mass is 148.5. Let's just say 150. So, if my lean mass is thereabouts, then at 185 I'd be at about 19%.

  26. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 09:32

    I haven't done the calipers and I can't for the life of me believe that it has any relevance to accuracy, as fat distribution varies wildly. For instance, my lower legs and feet are as lean as they are going to get, Same with arms, and probably head and neck. Shoulders are getting leaner, but there are these spots where though fat has shrunk, there are still significant amounts.

    I think the water dunking method is the only way to get accuracy, but that also requires that you be able to expel all of the air from your lungs long enough to get an accurate submerged weight reading. There's also the electrical method, but probably depending on hydration level, I get reading with the handheld one from 15-22%, and on the scale where the charge goes through your feet, I can often get 30% read which is obviously way off. I'd have to have been at 50% BF at 230 pounds. But if I estimate my lean mass at 150, then at 230 I'd have been just shy of 35% BF, which seems reasonable.

  27. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 09:40

    Jan:

    I've never had a headache either during or after a fast. So, I don't know that I could offer any meaningful advice.

    If I did have that problem, however, my personal approach would be to see if I could punch through. I'd start with the realization that this is abnormal. As an animal in good health, I ought to be able to go for days with no food intake and be just fine.

    So, I might try a full-on 36 hour fast, breakfast to dinner next day. At 24 hours, you just may barely be getting into the fat burn metabolism, the thing that's going to kick gene expression into high gear. As Brad Pilon explains in EatStopEat, fat burn doesn't really kick into high gear until 18 hours and actually accelerates through 30 hours where it begins to level off, i.e., your body has reached a homeostatic equilibrium. Then there's the issue of when a fast really begins. Does it begin at the end of your last meal, or does it begin six hours later, when you would normally consider food? So, an 18-hr fast may really only be 12 hours, not nearly enough to get any real burn going, 24-hrs is only 18, meaning you're ending your fast just when the burn is getting started.

    Consequently, I'm partial to the 30-36 hour fast. If I'm going to go to the trouble of getting into that fat burn zone, I want to maximize it.

  28. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:17

    Patrick:

    I prefer the 30 hour fast above all, from about 1-2 pm (after a nice lunch) until dinner at 7-8 the next evening, preceded by a workout from 4-4:30.

  29. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:20
  30. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:25

    Leniza:

    Fantastic! I love it when poeple have the courage to go 30, or even 36 hours (my longest is about 40). The thing is, you've hit it squarely. Once you go to the trouble of getting over that hump at 20-22 hours, typically, why not just go all the way?

    Please keep us updated on your progress, and what you learn.

  31. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:31

    That's great advice, Diana. Sometimes my fasting workouts take place while I'm still getting over the hump (18-22 hours) and I've found that hunger at first increases to a really uncomfortable level, but only for five minutes or so, and then it just magically disappears and I get a burst of energy.

  32. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:37

    Yes, of course. This is a blog and I'm sure that Ms. Freechman has her good points. My perspective is as wide as possible, so from my evolutionary perspective, it's idiotic.

    Ms. Freechman, then, is simply working within the confines of the box she keeps herself in.

  33. Patrik on February 3, 2009 at 18:37

    Thanks Richard. I will probably do the $80 option and let you know. Thanks again for your time.

  34. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 10:48

    Keith:

    What I'm pretty sure of is that those on SAD who fast will certainly have a harder time adapting to the fast. But interestingly, Brad Pilon (EatStopEat) doesn't seem to place that much importance on a proper diet (if you've ever read his blog). He seems to sport quite a number of success stories.

    Just speculating, I'd say that a person on the SAD, if able to adapt themeless to fasting might, as fat is lost, change their hormonal profile, altering hunger, eating less, and so on.

    But this is also why I don't really follow Brad's blog, anymore. While I think episodic hunger is foundational to everything, so is real food. I don't want to compromise on either score.

    This issue kinda reminds me of Doc Eades' post on fasting a while back where he ultimately dismissed it. It turned out that he and his wife were using it (by his own admission) as a means of partaking of junk food. That boggles my mind. Fasting is what brings the Paleo-like life way into complete focus.

  35. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 14:35

    Amazing, J.

  36. Richard Nikoley on February 3, 2009 at 15:04

    Patrick:

    How long eating "paleo" and how long high fat?

    Also, have you seen the two cholesterol posts from last week and any idea what your trigs and hdls were before and how long ago?

  37. Minneapolis J on February 4, 2009 at 13:50

    Jan, you know the one thing that might be happening. Before you go on your fast, maybe you should deliberately overeat. I do it all the time before I hop into a fast. In fact I purposely overeat on the nonfast days.

    Arthr Devany in his blog says that this is a perfectly natural response because the fast trims the fat while the excess eating keeps the lean mass(provided that the food doesn't stress the insulin levels). This is what the body was acclimated towards. It wasn't built for the consistent same thing. Fasting is random, chaotic, intermittent, but it puts human metabolism into high gear.

    I have to "prepare myself" for a fast. I imagine myself not having food during the fast….so
    I "plan ahead".

  38. Dave on February 4, 2009 at 20:57

    I came across your blog because of this fasting post. First, I should say it was nice to read about your success with losing weight (as you mention under your photo). That is awesome.

    I am a person that fasts so it is nice to see your notes about these fasting articles. I have also been taking a look around the site and it is very interesting. I will be back soon to read some more.

    Cheers.

  39. Richard Nikoley on February 4, 2009 at 14:10

    Patrick:

    I think a sprinting workout can be as simple as 4-6 30-second all-out sprints on a stationary bike (or out in nature, of course). To me, once per week is optimal and they're actually becoming my favorite "exercise" now that I have, at 48, begun to learn to run, again (all out, I mean: like kids do).

    The 30-hour fast is my favorite, and actually, workouts near the end of that are easier than at the end of an 18, presumably because we have had sufficient time to fully adapt to the fast. For a 30 hour, I like to go from about 1-2 pm to 7-8 pm the next day, with a workout from 4-4:30 pm. Once is fine, but I'd not do it more than twice per week.

  40. Jan on February 5, 2009 at 07:25

    After a bit of research, I've found a few interesting tidbits. The release of free fatty acids into the blood stream causes an increase in catecholamines, which in turn elevate blood glucose levels, blood pressure and heart rate (stress responses, to either psychological and environmental factors). They also incidentally trigger migraines. Doesn't seem to be a way around it, as increasing a trigger only increases the severity and frequency of migraines.
    Jan

  41. Jan on February 5, 2009 at 07:34

    I get them 12-36 hours after the fast has ended. I usually don't feel bad during the fast at all. During my fast last weekend I went hiking in the mountains and had a blast, felt great all day. I usually feel a little hungry at the 18-20 hour mark, but that's transient, and I still feel fine. You're right about the exercise though, when I get to that point, I usually go to the gym. Although finding something to occupy my mind also helps, as I have always tended to eat when I'm bored.

  42. Richard Nikoley on February 5, 2009 at 06:56

    Welcome, Dave. Feel free to chime in with what you know and have experienced.

  43. Jack Milne on May 5, 2009 at 01:31

    I have been fasting on and off for the past fifteen years. Two-and-a-half years ago I began doing a 36-hour fast every week (two nights and the day in between). For the past six months I have added an 84-hour fast once a month (four nights and the three days in between). The impact on my health is substantial. I no longer visit doctors and I have not been sick for a very long time. I was interested in Mark Mattson's research but this is hardly a new idea. The medical profession has been laughing at my fasting for decades and now it is finally admitting that there might be something to it.

  44. Richard Nikoley on May 5, 2009 at 08:26

    Jack:

    My experiences with fasting can be found here:

    No argument from me.

    You might find this quite interesting:

    https://freetheanimal.com/root/2008/04/counterintuitiv.html

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