Years ago, one of the greatest footballers, Sir Stanley Matthews, always fasted on Mondays. By all accounts, he was a fitness fanatic, but his Monday fast is memorable, perhaps because the medical consensus at the time was that it was unhealthy. His reason was that it made him feel so much better, and the proof of the pudding is that his career lasted more than thirty years, and he was still able to play football in his seventies.
Scientists now know that periods of eating very little, or nothing, may be the key to controlling chemicals produced by the body that are linked to the development of disease and the process of ageing. Before we look at the science, this does make sense if we consider our ancient, hunter-gatherer ancestors. They must have gone to bed hungry on many occasions, and they did not stop their hunting or gathering for three meal breaks a day.
The key, according to researchers like Valter Longo, is insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). We need adequate levels of IGF-1 and other growth factors when we are growing, but high levels later in life appear to lead to accelerated ageing. IGF-1 stimulates our metabolic rate and keeps our cells constantly active, encouraging them to replicate. One way to dramatically reduce IGF-1 levels, which slows the ageing process and encourages cells to repair, is by fasting. In the process, we also lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, blood pressure and our cancer risk.
Modus Vivendi does not support fad diet or crash dieting, but there is now good evidence that stressing the body with occasional fasting is beneficial. The way to start is to fast for 3 hours between your evening meal and bedtime, and to fast for 12 hours between that meal and breakfast.
Fasting for 3 hours before bedtime ensures that the evening meal is well digested before sleep, when the digestive process slows down. This helps to avoid fermentation of undigested proteins, which release toxins into the blood stream. Fullness also inhibits sleep. The 12-hour fast is important because, during fasting of over 8 hours, anabolic processes are switched off, and catabolic processes are switched on. ‘Anabolic’ means to build up and ‘catabolic’ means to break down. During catabolism (sometimes called ‘autophagy’), cell cleansing takes place and old worn out cells are broken down and disposed of.
Intermittent fasting has been popular for many years and several different methods have been used. The 5:2 Diet has recently gained popularity. This intermittent fast involves eating normally, but sensibly, for five days a week, whilst cutting your recommended daily calories to a quarter (500 for women; 600 for men) on the other two non-consecutive days. This diet is claimed to promote weight loss, but is likely to be beneficial for the reasons given above.
Recent reports argue that reaching an ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be enough; to be fully fit, we need to be slim. Studies with monkeys have shown that calorie restriction delays the onset of cancer, CVD and diabetes, as well as staving off dementia.
And how do I know if I am slim or not? Do I need to calculate my BMI? No, I just need to pinch some skin on my wrist, and then pinch some on my tummy. Alternatively, I can stand naked in front of a mirror and jump up and down. If I particularly want to measure something, then I need to ensure that my waist measurement is less than half my height.