Let’s face it, anything with the word fasting in it is a hard sell. First off, the idea of intentionally skipping meals sounds counterintuitive. Yet fasting has in fact been practiced for centuries, primarily for religious purposes, as a way to get closer to God.
Now science is discovering that fasting can also help you get closer to optimal health. A growing body of evidence supports the idea that intermittent fasting can not only help you lose weight, it may help you live longer. Years of studying fasting on animals suggests a link between restriction of calories, fewer diseases and longer life. A 2015 study published in Cell Metabolism showed that on mice, two to five days of fasting each month reduced biomarkers for diabetes, cancer and heart disease. When the research was expanded to people, scientists saw a similar reduction in disease risk factors.
What is a fasting mimicking diet?
Nevertheless, fasting mimicking diets (FMD) in which you eat tiny micro meals throughout the day, has become the new darling of weight loss and health experts. It’s a subtle departure from intermittent fasting in that rather than going longer periods without food, one eats micro portions that amount to roughly half off one’s daily caloric intake.
But before you run in the opposite direction, FMD fasting is not necessarily synonymous with deprivation. The diet, as developed by Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, “guides your body into a fasting state to get all the health benefits that come from long fasts while enjoying delicious meals and tasty snacks.”
The food is nutrient dense and consists of plant-based whole foods like nuts, olives, teas and soup mixes that are 80 percent fat, 10 percent protein and 10 percent carbohydrates. The goal of the diet is not just weight loss, but reversing lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.
Longo claims fasting mimicking diets can jumpstart stem-cell based rejuvenation. The five days of the program include a full range of fasting techniques, from time restricted feeding, which limits eating to a certain number of hours each day, to intermittent fasting, short-term fasting and prolonged fasting.
How it works
Our bodies typically run on glucose, or simple sugar. When we fast for a longer period of time, that energy source becomes unavailable. At that point, our system needs to get more creative with identifying potential fuel.
The body flips a metabolic switch and begins to convert certain types of body fat into fatty acids, which are easily absorbed by the blood. Fatty acids produce molecules called ketones—the body’s new source of energy. FMD is very similar to the ketogenic diet, a process of depriving your body of carbohydrates and forcing it to use up stored fat for energy.
The underlying takeaway of both kinds of diets is that we have the ability to switch our metabolism from glucose to ketone utilization. Gently pushing our metabolism to be more versatile may have profound health benefits that go well beyond weight loss.
Several studies devoted to FMD suggest several profound payoffs associated with inducing a fasting state. A 2017 study published in Science and Translational Medicine suggests that a 5-day FMD can reduce markers/risk factors for aging and age-related diseases. Other studies show FMD can boost longevity, improve metabolism, enhance cognitive function, increase physical performance, reduce harmful instances of inflammation and protect against cardiovascular diseases.
Before you plunge in, however, note that this kind of diet is not appropriate for everyone, especially pregnant women and people on medications. In some cases, this style of dieting could even do more harm than good. But if it is a good fit, you may be pleasantly surprised by how rejuvenated you feel when you give your body a break from its digestive duties.