If you experience ongoing pain; perhaps an arthritic hip or remnants of an old injury, a little-known and underrated way to lessen its impact is through fasting—the temporary avoidance of food, about a half day to two days straight, done periodically.
The word “fasting” causes apprehension in some people, which is unfortunate because once you get used to it, it’s not as bad as it seems. Fasting isn’t about making yourself gaunt, thin, weak and unable to stand up. It is completely natural and compatible to the human body; even more so than eating three meals a day.
Sound a bit outrageous? Well, let’s look to science to see if there is evidence for this.
Scientific Support for Fasting
When it comes to evaluating what is healthy and what is not, I like to bring science into the equation; particularly evolutionary biology.
A main concept of the Theory of Evolution is that nature optimizes all living creatures’ anatomy and physiology to increase the odds of survival. This is the basis of natural selection – where nature determines or “selects” which traits, visible and not visible, an organism will have. Traits that support survival are passed on to future generations; traits that threaten survival are eliminated from the gene pool through predation and other means.
For example, there is a species of frog that lives in an area that freezes over during the winter. This frog developed an amazing ability to stay frozen in hibernation—entombed in ice for the whole winter—and then thaw in the spring, awaken and carry on where it left off!
Camouflage is another example of natural selection. An animal that is well camouflaged in its environment does a better job hiding from predators than one that contrasts with its surroundings, so nature often selects appearances that blend in with the environment.
So how can evolutionary biology be used to justify the benefits of fasting to humans?
Observing predators in the African savanna offers clues. A predator such as a lion or leopard, when it attempts to take down prey, fails most of the time. It doesn’t always get to eat when it wants to. Prey is elusive, so predators go for days without eating.
Early humans, who were predators themselves, faced a similar situation. And, they weren’t as fast or strong as top predators that lived with them during that time such as sabre toothed tigers (they did, however, have an advantage in intelligence). Early humans walked for miles each day, stalking their prey, failing most of the time just like the lions of today. Days could go by before they had a solid meal. Sound like fasting?
Early humans foraged for edible plants and ate their roots and leaves, too. Like prey, this wasn’t easy either, as many of the plants that lived during that time were poisonous or basically inedible.
When early man did manage to take down a beast like a Mastodon, he and his tribe gorged on it; probably for several days. They ate the organs, tendons and muscles and used the hide for clothing and shelter. Then it was another couple of days without eating until they had success again, repeating the cycle.
Hence, fasting, although not by choice, was a natural part of early human life, for millions of years. It was an “evolutionary pressure” that caused adaptive, physiological changes to develop in our species homo sapiens. This means that the human body can not only handle prolonged periods without food, it has a preference for it.
These ancient survival mechanisms are present in your own body to this day. Your body takes some calories from your diet and stores them in your liver and skeletal muscle as glycogen, which can carry you for about half a day as long as you don’t over exert yourself.
Excess calories are stored in fat cells. This includes calories from sugar, protein and fats. Your liver converts this stored fat back into sugar, as needed. This is how your body is able to maintain a relatively stable fasting blood glucose level regardless of your energy expenditure; kind of like how your car’s cruise control keeps your car the same speed even when going uphill.
Increasing the time interval between meals in an irregular pattern is better for your body than eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the usual times.
OK, so I think you get the point. Now let’s entertain the converse question:
Since the human body is designed to go without food for many hours to a few days, is it less healthy, or even harmful to eat frequently throughout the day?
The short answer is yes: eating frequently is less healthy than eating on an intermittent fasting schedule, and is even damaging.
The Problems With Eating Multiple Times a Day
Here are the problems associated with frequent eating (multiple meals every day vs. fasting):
- Stress to gut: Eating multiple times a day stresses your stomach, gall bladder and intestines. Your stomach has to constantly produce and churn out digestive enzymes. If your meals lack fiber, the intestines have to strain to push it along.
- Stress to pancreas: If you frequently eat high-carb foods like a rice burrito and soda, the surge in blood sugar stresses the pancreas as it has to pump out lots of insulin to lower your blood sugar.
- Can trigger inflammation: Some food additives trigger an inflammatory reaction which can increase pain; unbeknownst to the individual.
- Worsens leaky gut syndrome: If you have this condition, the more you eat, the more macromolecules leak into your system causing systemic inflammation.
- Diverts energy needed for tissue repair: If you’re eating processed food frequently, your liver has to expend extra energy detoxifying those additives for elimination.
- Massive free radical generation: When you eat frequently, tissue-eroding free radicals are generated in the cells—muscle cells, liver cells, brain cells, everywhere. Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are unstable molecules generated during metabolism that can react with your DNA and cell membrane and cause damage. Damaged cell membranes can interfere with toxin removal from cells.
Most people know by now that eating wholesome, naturally-occurring foods emphasizing green plants, healthy fats and moderate protein is much healthier than eating sugary, processed food and wheat-based food.
Eating this way on an intermittent fasting schedule is the absolute best option for your body because it mimics how early human ancestors ate – an animal or plant every other day or so, with nothing in between except water. It is what your body and all its parts–muscles, brain, heart, liver, gut, etc.– are “engineered” for.
Fasting Helps Reduce the Intensity of Pain
Can you see how fasting can lessen pain? With fasting you are essentially turning down the furnace in all your cells, reducing free radical generation and “quieting” pain-producing inflammation.
By fasting, your organs aren’t straining to process this food, enabling available energy to go towards cellular repair and regeneration—very helpful if your pain is still acute or sub-acute.
Fasting reactivates body fat burning, producing ketones for energy. Ketones suppress the activation of a protein that drives inflammation in chronic diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. This is a direct link between fasting and pain reduction.
If you are experiencing daily pain, definitely try intermittent fasting. Eat whole, naturally-occurring foods on an intermittent fasting schedule, and notice how your pain decreases dramatically. It could lessen your dependency on medications. You may be able to reduce your dosage, or eliminate them entirely!
Make sure you only drink WATER, too. A can of soda or fruit juice will negate some of the health benefits of fasting.
How to Do It
One approach to intermittent fasting is to eat your last meal of the day at 6:00 PM, and your next meal around noon or later the next day. That’s an eighteen hour fast.
Alternatively, eat a big breakfast around 10 AM, skip lunch and eat an early sizable low-carb dinner at around 4:00 PM.
P.S. If you’re not willing to part with carbs like pancakes, potatoes and cereal; rice, bread and pasta, then strive to eat most of them during your first meal of the day– the 10:30 am or noon meal in the proposed schedules above. Limit the second meal (dinner) to meat, fat and lots of greens.
Keep in mind your early human ancestors who lived for millions of years before you, and how they ate: thanks to them, your body is hard-wired to handle hours and hours without food. If you feel hungry starting out, it’s because you were accustomed to eating three meals a day all your life. Your brain anticipates these frequent meals, and when it doesn’t get it, it triggers the feeling of hunger unnecessarily, like a false alarm because you aren’t in danger of starving.
You will be surprised that in just a week or two on this schedule, those hunger attacks will cease and fasting will come naturally to you. You will be less hungry as intermittent fasting becomes routine for you (strange, but it’s true!); have less cravings for sweets; have less brain fog and will not feel lethargic. Instead, your mind will be sharper, your energy level will be higher and your mood will be better.
And, if you have pain, it will dissipate. Remember, nothing is as powerful and knowing as Mother Nature!