Many people hold a subconscious belief that if they somehow go hungry for too long, fast or simply eat less that their metabolism will somehow deem them to be in famine and hold onto fat. The reality is this is simply not true. Because of this belief many people think that fasting will ruin their metabolism, but this is a barrier to weight loss and health in general.

Fasting has been done for centuries as a religious or spiritual ritual, with people citing many benefits in terms of spirituality but which may be the benefits of clearer thinking, increased energy and metabolism.

Going back further, our genes have developed in order to enable us to be able to fast, or go without food and still survive, and even to be able to survive and still remain healthy enough to be able to source, hunt or gather food. Amazingly the energy systems of the body do rather well on intermittent fasting.

Recent research indicates that cellular switches are mobilised in the fasting state and the results of this is increases survival rate. If we constantly over-activate our carbohydrate metabolism and never let our metabolic machinery turn to fat burning then we lose the ability to become fast metabolisers, meaning we may continue to experience carbohydrate cravings instead.

Longevity studies have consistently shown fasting or a continued lower calorific rate to be the main predictor of longevity in animal studies. For example, if you use 2000 calories a day, eating only 1500 increases your longevity. This may be due to the cellular energy mechanisms becoming better adapted to hunger and famine and becoming more efficient at creating energy from food rather than turning it into fat for storage. Sounds like a win – win to have more energy, less fat and not having to eat as much!

The reality is that today there simply is no famine. We have access to all kinds of food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Not only that but our food has become more calorific with food companies using high amounts of sugar to entice unwary consumers. Even foods which seem healthy can have high sugar {think nutella}, damaged fats and lack of fibre {fibre has 0 calories as we cant break it down and absorb it}.  We also consume larger amounts of sugar in everyday foods like yoghurt, muesli bars, jams, relishes, dressings and so on and on top of that many people also consume sugary drinks, lollies, chocolate, cakes and biscuits after meals. How do we even survive the modern day era if our bodies are designed to famine?

The answer is we don’t. Most people in the western world are overweight {Most meaning over 50%}. We have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in history, and we have heart disease and cancers springing up at increased rates.To top it all off we don’t walk anywhere daily like we used to {as we have cars}, some people also have sedentary lifestyles because of working at a desk and we are encouraged to be lazy with gadgets like remote controls. Now if that is not shocking enough {and you should be shocked} then you need to put the iPad down and read a fictional book instead for comfort!

So what is the answer to the modern day conundrum of the high calorie diet and lower output of energy? The only answer is intermittent {part-time} fasting. And yet we think it will derail our metabolism if we eat less! The only answer is that as we get older we simply need less food. We have a metabolism that will maintain our weight even if you under-eat by several hundred calories a day. Many people want to take a pill to help them lose weight but not even herbal medicine can provide a pill for this ill. The ill is there because we have eaten too much in the first place and the only remedy is to burn it off with low calories and hard, fast or long exercise. Herbal medicine can help to a certain extent and that is by using appetite suppressants to help with the hunger pangs until the body gets used to the lower level of food and the stomach shrinks in response. That normally deals with hunger pangs. Some people may need assistance with blood sugar levels, liver or thyroid support, but generally the food caused the problem and only food can solve it. Some people need to do a juice fast especially if underweight or unwell so please talk to us and your doctor before starting on a fast for the first time.

We have also learned recently that fasting helps certain bacteria in the gut get to work healing the gut lining so fasting is also necessary for good gut health. These good bacteria only get to work properly when there is nothing swishing past them (i.e. food!).

So there you have it. Don’t be afraid of going hungry. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child then now is the time to learn. Michale Moseley’s work on intermittent fasting has provided a template for research on fasting and the body of evidence is growing. Check out his YouTube talk here. If you want to discuss intermittent fasting with one of our consultants then get in touch to discuss formulating a plan and using herbal remedies to support your weight loss plan. We also have a course designed to teach you everything you need to know about how the body uses food as energy called Weight loss 101. So check it out here if you are interested. We are here to help 🙂

Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.