I want to tell you about a remarkable man whose story motivated me to undertake water-only fasting. I was first introduced to George Newman’s story through an article by Dr. Joseph Mercola, and will pass on highlights, as well as learnings from my own research and personal experience:
- At 62, and having a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, George Newman is an inspiring example of how simple lifestyle strategies can turn your health around. He’s keeping his AFib under control with a combination of keto-adaptation, fasting, and magnesium supplementation
- By fasting five days out of every 14, Newman goes far beyond what most should attempt
- Water fasting can provide benefits — greater mental clarity to radically improving your body’s ability to digest damaged cells (autophagy) and increasing healing stem cells
- Fasting has been demonstrated as an amazingly successful cure for type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance by Canada’s own world-renowned fasting expert Dr. Jason Fung
- Read the available literature; consult with your healthcare practitioner
- Additionally, there are specific considerations if you are on medications, so consult your physician.
Fasting – It’s All About What You Don’t Eat
Although I eat well and do not have a problem with weight (BMI = 18), blood sugar (FBS = 82) or insulin (FI = 1.7), I was fascinated by the research that Newman had discovered by USC’s Valter Longo on so-called Blue Zones (where there are higher than average numbers of centenarians), as well as by his experiments with fasted animals and their resistance to the negative effects of chemotherapy. This led me to the work of Dr. Thomas Seyfried, whose research shows that extended fasting shows a therapeutic effect as an intervention against cancer by lowering the blood sugar level while simultaneously raising the blood ketone level. He attributes this effect to an amplification of a natural process called autophagy (literally self-eating), whereby the body digests damaged and mutating cells while increasing the production of stem cells to replace them. But as Newman noted, there were still unanswered questions:
Newman explains: “When you look at Valter Longo’s work … when rodents, mice, were fasted before chemo, during chemo, after chemo and then refed until they came back to their before-fast weight … Chemo will normally knock your white blood cell count way down, but after six or seven cycles [of fasting and refeeding], they noticed that these mice had the white blood cell count of young mice and not cancer model mice with a lot of chemo.”
Taking It Step by Step
So, in order to begin the fasting process, it is necessary to first put the body in the optimal state to thrive on its own stored energy, and that is a state referred to as metabolic flexibility. This refers to a condition wherein your body is able to switch effortlessly from burning carbohydrates to fat and ketones, and this requires a bit of preconditioning because most of us have become metabolically inflexible by feeding ourselves a steady stream of fast-burning carbohydrates. In fact, the late pathologist Dr. Joseph Kraft even coined a phrase “diabetes in situ” to describe the condition of insulin resistance that he discovered in 80% of the North American population, whereby the body was so used to having excess blood sugar to deal with that it was secreting higher than normal amounts of insulin to deal with it, even when the blood sugar was in the normal range. He believed that this condition was a harbinger of Type 2 diabetes on the horizon and that it could predict the onset of the condition 25 years in advance.
To prepare the body for fasting, here are some pointers to get you started but make sure you consult your physician:
- Transition yourself onto a ketogenic, or at least a keto-style diet, which consists of lots of healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, grass-fed butter, and coconut oil
- Reduce net carbs – leafy greens and sugar fruit such as berries) and
- Moderate amounts of proteins – eggs, good-quality meats, and legumes
- Make sure you’re getting enough salt, as this type of eating requires you to up your salt intake
- Consider restricting your eating window by skipping breakfast. This will reduce the time between your first and last meals to 8 hours. As your fast approaches, you can then reduce yourself to one meal a day, which will prepare you psychologically and physiologically for fasting. Remember that the idea of time-restricted eating is not to restrict your total calories, just the window in which you are eating them. This gives your body to digest, and time to relax between periods of digestion.
George Newman fasts for five days every two weeks, and when he is not fasting, he only eats one (very large) meal per day. His diet, when he is eating, is ketogenic (75% fat calories, 20% protein and 5% carbs).
I Don’t Know…. Isn’t This All a Bit Extreme?
Most people can’t wrap their heads around the idea of fasting. They feel that it is too extreme, and fear that their bodies will go into some sort of catastrophic starvation mode. If you prepare yourself, you will find yourself pleasantly sharp and focused. After all, when your body’s source of energy disappears, it naturally adopts a posture of super-hunter, becoming alert and energetic in response to the need for food. And your hunger will be neither constant nor overwhelming.
As Fung reveals in his book, “hunger’s not on a linear upswing, it comes in waves… but the longer you fast, generally the easier it gets. If you are keto-adapted, then you really don’t have the hunger issue…”
In my experience, fasting began as a sacrifice I was willing to make for all of the extraordinary health benefits, but it has become such a pleasure that by the time the fast is over (and I am about to have my first meal) I find myself a bit sad that the experience is ending, and that the euphoria and focus I achieve over the period of the fast will be coming to an end. In Newman’s case, he has used it to keep a debilitating and potentially fatal disease at bay.
That said, this is a major intervention and should not be undertaken lightly, nor without the advice of a health and wellness professional. Specifically, extended fasting should not be undertaken if you fall into any of these categories:
- Underweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less
- Malnourished (in which case you need to eat healthier, more nutritious food)
- Pre-pubescent children should not fast, as they need nutrients for continued growth
- Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women. The mother needs a steady supply of nutrients in order to assure the baby’s healthy growth and development, so fasting during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is simply too risky for the child.
Otherwise, if fasting has piqued your interest as it did mine, please share your experience with the Aha! community.