What? Fasting is NOT crazy, batsh@* stupid?

Megan Ramos and I started using intermittent fasting in the Intensive Dietary Management program sometime around 2013. At the time, the entire notion of fasting smelled faintly of quackery. The prevailing wisdom was that skipping meals was an entirely suicidal idea, from a weight standpoint. After all, everybody ‘knew’ that skipping meals would make you so ravenously hungry that you would be helpless to resist stuffing donuts by the box into your mouth.

Dr. Michael Mosley and myself

Indeed, when we started, I had never heard anybody talk about fasting. It just sort of occurred to me one day that if you wanted to lose weight, then maybe just not eating was a good idea. I was a physician, and I ask people to fast all the time. When people go for surgery, they need to fast the night before. When people go for a colonoscopy, they need to fast for 24-48 hours. When people go for fasting bloodwork, they need to fast. So, I knew that fasting wasn’t completely out of the question.

But nevertheless, my initial reaction to this thought was that it would never work. But then I paused. I thought to myself ‘Why wouldn’t it work?’ There really was no reason. I also had a good understanding of human physiology and knew that the body stored fat in case there was nothing to eat. So, if we gave our body the chance, it would have to burn this fat that was so carefully stored. So, I set out to research it. There was almost nothing written in the last 40 years. A couple of body builders had written some excellent material on intermittent fasting, but I was more interested in using fasting for therapeutic purposes of curing disease. In 2012, Dr. Michael Mosley at the BBC had produced a great documentary on the subject. But that was about it.

So, we just started treating patients with various fasting protocols. And the results were simply stunning. We had patients reverse their long standing type 2 diabetes in mere months. We had patients lose hundreds of pounds. Not everybody did it, of course, but those that did, generally lost weight. After all, if you don’t eat, you will generally lose weight. But everybody still thought I was crazy, batsh** stupid. I heard it from doctors. I heard it from dieticians. I heard it from nurses. I heard it from personal trainers.

Around then, I started giving lectures at Low Carb High Fat/ Ketogenic conferences. This was a few years ago, so most people thought eating lots of fat was really crazy. Ketogenic diets, since then, have become quite mainstream, with Keto cookbooks regularly in the best sellers lists. And in this room of ‘crazy’ dieters, people would look at me and think ‘This guy is crazy’. My, my. How things have changed in a few short years.

In 2018, the annual Food & Health survey done by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that about 1/3 of consumers follow a diet. The most popular? Intermittent fasting at about 10% of dieters, which is double that of Low-carb and Whole 30 (at 5% each).

The same survey also found that people increasingly blamed sugar (33%) and carbohydrates (25%) for weight gain, which is almost double the percent that blamed dietary fat. In the 1990s any type of fat was considered fattening. We had low fat everything. But eating low fat foods like white bread, pasta and jellybeans certainly did nothing to help weight loss efforts to the amazement of the Dietary Guidelines people, who have continuously stressed fat reduction as their core message for good health. You can’t fool people forever.

Google Trends shows the same increasing interest in intermittent fasting. Up to about 2016, when I wrote The Obesity Code and The Complete Guide to Fasting, there was a low level interest in the topic. After 2016, interest has grown significantly. There are more than 3 times the number of daily searches on the topic.

2018 seems to be the year that intermittent fasting is really catching the attention of the mainstream. An article in Good Morning America quoted Robin Foroutan, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, the main governing body for dieticians in the United States saying “It’s nice when something is popular and actually safe”. Wow. Fasting went from being a completely crazy idea in 2013 to a practice called popular AND safe by dieticians. For those who have trouble during fasting, new products are appearing, which is fantastic and gives people more options. A new line of Fasting Tea was released this year to help with hunger pangs during fasting. Our own IDM program is building a community around helping others fast, and also providing personalized counselling.

Yahoo wrote about “How Intermittent Fasting helped this man with his 125 pound weight loss“. This wasn’t just an ordinary man. This was a doctor, who had just finished years of medical training who turned to intermittent fasting to help with his own personal weight problem. He was able to lose weight, and to keep it off, he turned to intermittent fasting, a practice that has been used since the dawn of humanity. Obviously, if physicians are using it themselves, they must obviously believe it is something healthy and sustainable. The hardest part of the weight loss journey is not losing the weight. The hardest part is keeping it off, and that is where fasting can really give people options.

Even respected academic institutions like Harvard have come around in their thinking. In a recent Harvard Health Blog, Dr. Tello wrote a ‘surprising update’ on intermittent fasting – it just might work. She quotes Harvard University’s Dr. Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center  “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective”.

The advice to eat 6 or 8 or 10 times a day and to always eat breakfast even if not hungry was never rooted in any science. There were no studies to show that this sort of advice actually worked. But if you don’t eat, then people can’t sell you products. So, eating all the time was good for business even if not good for your waist line. Repeated often enough, this advice to eat 10 small meals per day gained a sheen of respectability that was never deserved. If you are not hungry, then don’t eat. That seems pretty logical. Instead, we believed, and told our children that “Even if you are not hungry, you must shove some granola bars into your mouth or you’ll be unhealthy”. Then we turn around and wonder we have a childhood obesity crisis.

My son, this week went to a school camp for robotics. On the parents information, they reassured me that they will provide my child with lunch and 2 snacks per day. ARGHH. Why does my child, or any child need 2 snacks? Yet, because it comes from the school means that we are indoctrinating our kids to believe they must eat constantly to be healthy. By contrast, in the 1970s, when I grew up, nobody, but nobody ate snacks. Obesity, not such a problem.

 

 

2018-07-10T14:30:47+00:0021 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Fung is a Toronto based kidney specialist, having graduated from the University of Toronto and finishing his medical specialty at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001. He is the author of the bestsellers ‘The Obesity Code’ and ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’. He has pioneered the use of therapeutic fasting for weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal in his IDM clinic.

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Jeanne
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Jeanne

Thank you for continuing to put out the good message. It took how long to indoctrinate the US and consequently the world after a concentrated message push by the gov’t and food industry for low fat eating? It will take many decades to turn it around because the gov’t. is not behind this new message. I really hope the dietary guidelines in 2020 reflect more updated knowledge. But the food industry and pharma will be greatly impacted. We’ll see if they still have this incredible sway after the guidelines come out.

Laura
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Laura

Yes, Jeanne, the corruption is breathtaking, isn’t it?. Hopefully, people will see IF (or TRF)results on people they know, and the lightbulb will go on. Hopefully, this will be “the next best thing” because it is based in real science, and has fabulous results. My IR is in check again, Insulin plays a role in Breast Cancer. (there are many different kinds of BC) The one thing I am concerned with on a IF or TRF KETO woe plan, is saturated fat. Having dense breasts (higher risk for Breast Cancer), should I being focused on a few nuts and avocado,… Read more »

Stephen T
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Stephen T

Laura, you already know that insulin resistance is strongly significant for breast cancer (by a factor of six according to Ivor Cummins), but I have never read about any connection with saturated fat. If you accept that eating in a way that reduces insulin resistance is very good for breast cancer, then I see no reason to be concerned about saturated fat.

https://twitter.com/FatEmperor

RF121
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RF121

I know it is mentioned there is nothing new written regarding fasting but if you look a little further back you will find plenty of books. Starting with my favorite: The No Breakfast Plan and the Fasting-Cure, Edward Hooker Dewey, Year 1900. The Fasting Cure, Upton Sinclair, Year 1911. Scientific Fasting: The Ancient and Modern Key to Health, Linda Burfield Hazzard, Year 1927. There are many others and I would say the peak time for these fasting doctors and practioners was the 1880’s through the 1920’s. They essentially were run out of town so to speak. As Dr. Fung has… Read more »

Dena
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Dena

The no breakfast plan Kindle edition is free today! Just downloaded it. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jennen
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Jennen

Hello, I am very excited that I mistakenly ran across your interview on Youtube debunking old information such as calories vs. hormones, insulin injections given to Type II Diabetic individuals, and how fat (good fat) does not make us fat, yet the insulin hormone is the culprit. I would explain this to may people, but they would dismiss everything that I would say. Your video corroborated everything that I believe. I was diagnosed with Insulin Resistance years ago and I have been trying to lose weight. I have been unsuccessful. No matter the intensity of my dedication, I haven’t been… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

“The Complete Guide to Fasting” provides that level of detail. Here:

https://idmprogram.com/books/

Peter Silverman
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Peter Silverman

Puzzling that the the Koreans, who are among the peoples who live the longest and way longer than us, eat 5 high carb meals a day.

Curious
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Curious

Because carbs are not bad. Excessive calories is.

BobM
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BobM

But carbs CAUSE excessive calorie eating. Or at least they did for me. I would eat oats/other hot cereal for breakfast and be famished 15 minutes later. The same for pasta or brown rice/beans. I was ALWAYS hungry on a high-carb, low fat diet. ALWAYS. Now, I rarely eat more than 2 meals per day on a keto diet. I’m currently on 3.5 of a 4.5 day fast. Pete’s observation (any studies of this, by the way?) is just one data point. And it’s without context. What do they eat and when? https://futuredish.com/what-do-koreans-eat-everyday/ And I don’t see any evidence they… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

Really? You think so? After all the posts by Dr. Fung? It’s all calories? Still? No, the point of most of Dr. Fung’s posts and lectures and videos, etc., is that, to begin with the positive message: When you eat, and the frequency of meals, is by far the most important factor in controlling, and limiting, insulin production and, thus, enhancing the use of body fat for bodily energy needs. After consumption of carbohydrates (and to a lesser extent protein), the body produces insulin to deal with the sugars in the blood and while doing so uses the energy from… Read more »

Jenny
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Jenny

Troll!

LCHF IF/EF
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LCHF IF/EF

High carb yes, but low in refined carbs and sugar. Fung addresses this subtle but significant difference between american and asian diets.

Gerrit
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Gerrit

read the wikipedia on Korean Etiquette ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_cuisine to understand why they get away with it.

Jenny
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Jenny

Rubbish! A traditional Korean diet does not include 5 meals a day!

Han
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Han

I’m Korean and eating 5 meals a day is not the norm. Except for my dad who is 80, has maintained his weight forever and still hauls and chops wood. He is literally always hungry!!!
What is different is that Koreans eat kimchi with every meal. The fermented veggies helps reduce insulin spikes. Dr. Fung did mention this in one of his books can’t remember which one. But he wrote about how Koreans eat kimchi and the Japanese eat vinegar with their sushi which also helps. Kimchi (homemade) is like a miracle food.

Reese
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Reese

I think one of the reasons we were told to eat multiple times a day is the low-fat diet. When you eat low fat you get hungrier sooner (less fat, quicker food transit time). This could work okay in populations eating mostly whole foods (rice, fish, vegetables), but when this advice was given to Americans we were told it was okay to eat sugar, processed grains, etc. and that obviously didn’t work.

Christina
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Christina

Would it be safe to have bulletproof coffee daily as a sort of fat fast?

Christina
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Christina

Would it be safe to have ONLY bulletproof coffee daily as a sort of fat fast?

Sam Stone
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Sam Stone

Great article. Maybe you have done this and I missed it, but I wish you would address Dr. Stephen Phinney’s criticism of fasting. It has really caused me problems trying to get some of my family to get into fasting. I had previously recommend Dr. Phinney’s work to them, and for the most part I agree with his message, but I think he is way off on fasting. I was even swayed a little by his argument, so I wrote Dr. Mark Mattss to whether your take on fasting and on and asked him if he agreed with you or… Read more »

Sam Stone
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Sam Stone

Sorry, couldn’t find how to edit my previous entry. Great article. Maybe you have done this and I missed it, but I wish you would address Dr. Stephen Phinney’s criticism of fasting. It has really caused me problems trying to get some of my family to get into fasting. I had previously recommend Dr. Phinney’s work to them, and for the most part I agree with his message, but I think he is way off on fasting. I was even swayed a little by his argument, so I wrote Dr. Mark Mattson as to whether your take on fasting or… Read more »