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Why We Use Intermittent Fasting

A few years ago we became interested in all the research on intermittent fasting for various health benefits, and decided to try it ourselves. "Fasting" for various lengths of time has been shown to help prevent or treat:
• heart attacks (Research in Endocrinology, June 2014)
• diabetes (Translational Research, October 2014;164(4):302–311)
• certain cancers (Sci Transl Med, 2012;4:124ra127)
• premature death in animals (Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, May 2000;115(1–2)17:61–71)

"Intermittent fasting" does not mean complete avoidance of foods and drinks. Instead, you markedly reduce your intake of food during certain periods. The benefits of intermittent fasting can be seen as long as you significantly reduce your total caloric intake during those periods (Medical Hypotheses, 2006;67(2):209–11).

Intermittent fasting appears to work by increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin and reducing an overactive immunity, called inflammation (Cell Metabolism, Feb, 2014;19(1932-7420):181–92). Various programs of intermittent fasting have been shown to:
• lower blood pressure (British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, April 2013)
• lower cholesterol and triglycerides (Am J Clin Nutr, Nov 2009;90(5):1138-43)
• reduce body fat (Int J Obes (Lond), May 2015;39(5):727-33)
• lower insulin (Am J Clin Nutr, Jan 2005;81(1):69-73)
• lower blood markers of inflammation (Free Radic Biol Med, March 2007;42(5):665-74)
• increase speed and endurance in athletes (Med Sci Sports Exerc, April 2016;48(4):663-72)

Types of Intermittent Fasting
Different researchers and authors have used different definitions of intermittent fasting for their studies, including:
• Daily limited-time fasting, such as eating only between noon and 6PM, eating three meals (morning, noon and early evening) and then fasting overnight from 6PM to 7AM, or eating only twice a day at the times of your choice
• Various combinations of fasting and non-fasting days in each week, such as fasting on alternate days, or 5:2 (five normal days and two fasting days, on the days of your choice)
• Monthly variations such as fasting five days each month
Research has not yet been able to prove that any one method of intermittent fasting is superior to other methods.

Our Version of Intermittent Fasting
We chose to follow a liberal alternate-day program of "fasting" because we can do it without keeping a calendar or making special schedules. When we have lunch or dinner dates with our friends, we let that take precedence and just skip that day or make the next day a fast day.

We eat a plant-based diet, with fish two or three times a week and occasional cheese. For breakfast every day, I eat oatmeal made with water and added raisins, and Diana eats cooked black beans. On "non-fast" days, we go out to eat our second meal between noon and 3PM, typically vegetables, salads, soups, seafood and fruits, with no limits on portion sizes. On "fast" days, we do not eat that second meal. Whether it is a fast day or not, we snack on nuts, fruits such as oranges and vegetables such as tomatoes or cauliflower, as often as we like. We know that no one can depend on will power, so we do not keep any other foods in our kitchen. We do not snack after 7PM.

Note that we eat only two meals a day on our regular days.  We decided many years ago that the three-meals-a-day pattern was just too much food for our needs and I think that is true for most people over 40, 50, 60, or wherever the weight starts to creep on.  We live in a large retirement community where we are surrounded by older people and what a sad picture it is; at least 80 percent and maybe 90 percent are overweight.  Usually our main meal is mid-day (noon-3PM) but if we are invited to join friends for dinner, we just adjust to their schedule and make our second meal "dinner" at their preferred time. 

What This Program has Done for Us
After Diana's accident two years ago, she found that she had lost more than three inches in height from compression fractures in her spine. She decided to use a strict program of intermittent fasting to bring her weight down to match her new height. She lost 15 pounds in six weeks, so where she had been 5'9" and 135 pounds, she is now under 5'6" and 120 pounds. I was so impressed with her results that I decided to try it myself. I am 5'10", and after just a few months on the program, my weight had dropped from 168 to 138. See my report on Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss

When we reached our goal weights, we went to our more relaxed program and have since maintained our weights without much effort. Diana exercises vigorously every day even though she has severe rheumatoid arthritis, and she believes that staying active and keeping her weight down help to control the pain. I have to keep my weight low because of my genetic predisposition to store all my fat in my belly. I have very narrow hips. I had high blood sugar levels when I weighed 168 pounds, my father died of diabetes and my brother is diabetic.

Why a Fat Belly Leads to Diabetes
Storing fat in your belly, rather than your hips, increases your risk for diabetes because it shows that you are storing fat in your liver. When blood sugar levels rise too high, your pancreas releases insulin which lowers blood sugar levels by driving sugar from the bloodstream into the liver. Fat in your liver prevents the liver from accepting sugar from the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels high. Almost everyone with a large belly and small hips already has high blood sugar levels and is at high risk for diabetes and heart attacks. In one study, intermittent fasting markedly helped decrease belly fat (Translational Research, October 2014;164(4):302–311).

Intermittent Fasting May Not Be for Everyone
Certain conditions may be complicated by fasting. Check with your doctor if you:
• are being treated for diabetes
• have low blood pressure
• take medications
• are underweight
• have an eating disorder
• are under age 14
• are pregnant or breast feeding, or may become pregnant 

April 24th, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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