I had a birthday the other day, and as most of you know, I’m no spring chicken. But I started to wonder – has my life been a success?
Now, I must admit I don’t feel entirely comfortable using the past tense here because I’ve still got some gas left in the tank – I hope!
But it made me think – what constitutes success in a life?
If someone has an expensive car and a luxurious house by the harbour, would you say that person is a success?
You probably would, right?
What if they have a massive stock or property portfolio, or a beautiful holiday home by the sea, or a swanky mountain retreat – would you say that person is a success?
Again, you probably would.
Supposing that same person has several failed marriages. And a brood of children that hate his or her guts. And supposing that person got their wealth through greed and deceit. Would you still regard that person a success?
I wouldn’t. Material wealth and possessions aren’t, in my view, an indicator of success.
In the work I do, as a filmmaker and author, success can be marked by awards. But I know plenty of people who have done great work that’s had a major impact on culture and they’ve never won an award.
Good critical reviews for a creative work could be seen to be a marker of success – but again history shows us that what we regard as masterpieces now were often dismissed or even vilified at the time when these works were first released and critiqued.
In the creative industries, if you make a lot of money you’re regarded as being a success.
But what you make, or do, could be ugly and hurtful.
If someone for instance became wealthy by making pornography, would you regard that person a success? Or if they created works that were exploitative or incited hatred or violence – is that a successful life?
For me, morals and ethics hold way more sway than material displays of success.
Did Gandhi achieve success in life? You bet he did. Did Mother Teresa achieve success in life? Damn right she did. They both had bugger all in terms of possessions. But the impact they made on humanity was immeasurable.
We all can’t be Gandhis or Mother Teresas, but in some small way we can put a dent in the Universe, As Steve Jobs put it. We were born to create. That’s what our purpose is, I believe. And every day we create, all of us, in one way or another. What we create, and how we do it, is what defines us.
I was on a podcast recently hosted by an entrepreneur, and he asked me: What would you say has been your greatest success?
My family, I told this podcaster.
That flummoxed him. He didn’t expected me to say that. But I believe it absolutely. Everything else is secondary to that.
For me, success in life is waking up each morning, being able to do what I love doing.
First off in this newly energised blog – I’m stalling. It’s now 5:13am as I write this, and I got up before 4am to start writing – But I haven’t written anything yet other than this damn blog.
I’m meant to be writing a new book. A novel. It’s going to be short – about 50K words – and I’m now nearly at 40K words. Each day I hope to write between 1,200 -1,500 words. Takes me 5-6 hrs to write that much. Writing is an athletic endeavour.
The new book will be a real departure for me. I haven’t shown any of it to Jennifer. That’s unusual, because she usually reads everything I write as I go.
Not this one.
I’ll tell you the title and a little of what it’s about in later posts. I’ve stalled enough. I now have to get back to it. Sometime around 9am or 9:30am Jennifer will phone down asking for a coffee. This happens every day. I bring her coffee in bed. Normally she’s been up for a while doing her exercises, her yoga and her meditation. She’s very disciplined with all that. But she can’t put three words together with any level of comprehension until she’s had coffee.
I’m Bill the Barista.
I have to stop stalling. I have to start my writing for the day – I have a book to write.
Here’s a nice pic for you that I took in France during that time when one could travel.
Something woke me this morning at 3:13am. I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I checked my FitBit app – I’d had 3hrs 40 mins sleep. Not enough, even for me. So I checked my emails, of course, as if that was going to put me back to sleep. And I saw that there was an email from WordPress telling me that my stats for this website were booming.
That’s odd, I thought, because anyone reading this blog will know that I have been slack in posting regularly. Slack is too kind a word. I’ve been negligent.
So out of interest, I checked on what it was that was causing my stats to boom. I haven’t posted for quite a long time – since my 14day fast I think – so it wasn’t like I’d just put up a post recently and it had taken off.
I discovered that most of the activity was for the home page, and for my archives. And I discovered something else too – that in all the posts that I’ve published here since walking my first Camino in 2013, there are two posts in particular that keep getting viewed year after year. They are:
These are the two posts that, for some reason, people keep coming back to – and I mean like I’ll get multiple views of these daily, and I mean daily.
So anyway, I lay in bed thinking that I really should get back to writing blogs more regularly, so what I’ve decided to do is this: post twice a week from now on – mid week and weekends.
Some posts might be short, some longer. But what I’ll do is write about all sorts of stuff – stream of consciousness stuff, riffs on what I’m working on, what I’m doing in my home and personal life (to a point!), what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what’s important to me.
I’ll try and avoid any reference to saints setting dwarfs on fire. (private joke for those who have followed me from way back!)
Anyway, it sounds pretty boring, right? But I’ll try and make it interesting through my writing. And by nature of my, at times, off-kilter view of the world. Oh, and I’ll post an interesting photo with each blog too.
So, dear followers, I’m back, baby!! Yeah!! Hang on tight ‘cos it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
(Read Dr Jason Fung’s excerpt at the end of this post. It’s the most important yet!)
Day 11 and hunger is no longer an issue. Hasn’t been for a while. But it’s become kind of established. I’ve yet to experience the resurgence of energy that some people say comes with an extended fast. I’ve been feeling flat the last few days, and a bit woolly-headed at times.
I think it would be a bit difficult if I worked in an office or had some kind of job where I had to be at the top of my game. Not sure I could do that. That’s not to say I’m a drooling zombie, (at least I don’t think I am), but I’m operating on 6 cylinders, not my usual 8.
Even so, I did my 40mins on my exercise bike yesterday, and started off feeling pretty poorly, but within 5-7 mins my energy level kicked up a few notches and I finished up doing better than I did the previous session – 40mins/14.8kms/423cals. Not hugely better, but better.
My flatness seems to be worse in the mornings, and this could be because I’m no longer on coffee or tea – I have tea in the evenings – just pure water throughout the day. But by about lunchtime the flatness recedes and I feel okay.
As I say, I would have no trouble extending this fast for another 14 days or longer. The only thing that would stop me is boredom. I enjoy the ritual of eating.
My stats: I dropped another 0.5kgs in the past 24hrs. The big weight drops in the first week are no longer happening in week 2. Interesting my body fat % is remaining roughly the same, but I can tell you my tummy is getting smaller (I am NOT posting photos!) and I’ve lost fat from other parts of my body as well. (I WON’T tell you WHERE!) I think maybe my scales don’t accurately reflect body fat content.
I’ve now dropped more than 7kgs in 10 days – and I’m the lowest weight I’ve been for at least nine years – since I began recording my weight via my Aria scales, which link in with my Fitbit.
Weight loss for me is less about how I look, more about the health issues associated with being overweight. I was seriously starting to worry about becoming pre-diabetic, and all medical advice says that visceral fat around your internal organs is not a good thing.
Dr Fung puts it this way:
The most obvious benefits of fasting are that it helps with weight loss and type 2 diabetes, but there are many other benefits, including autophagy (a cellular cleansing process), lipolysis (fat-burning), anti-aging effects, and neurological benefits. In other words, fasting can benefit your brain and help your body stay younger.
We’ll come to autophagy shortly.
Prior to this fast, I was eating way too much sugar – particularly chocolate, at night. On any given night I could easily chomp my way through half a block of chocolate or more while watching TV. That’s no longer happening, and now after this fast it will never happen again.
Now with the end in sight, I’m starting to give thought to how I’ll adjust my eating once the fast is done. I can’t go back to old habits. If I do, these 14 days will have been a waste of time.
I now want to introduce you to the process of autophagy – which is the real reason I’ve done this fast. What is autophagy? I think it’s one of the most important medical discoveries of recent times. It’s even learned a Nobel Prize in Medicine. I’ll let Dr. Fung explain it…
The cells of the body are like cars. As they age, subcellular parts need to be removed and replaced, and eventually, a cell gets too old to repair and needs to be destroyed to make way for a healthy new cell. In a process called apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, cells that reach a certain age are programmed to commit suicide.
While this may sound kind of macabre at first, the process constantly renews cell populations, making it essential for good health. But when just some cellular components need to be replaced, a process called autophagy kicks in. The word autophagy, coined by Nobel Prize–winning scientist Christian de Duve, derives from the Greek auto (“self”) and phagein (“to eat”). So the word literally means “to eat oneself.”
Autophagy is a form of cellular cleansing: it is a regulated, orderly process of breaking down and recycling cellular components when there’s no longer enough energy to sustain them. Once all the diseased or broken-down cellular parts have been cleansed, the body can start the process of renewal. New tissues and cells are built to replace those that were destroyed. In this way, the body renews itself. But it only works if the old parts are discarded first.
Our bodies are in a constant state of renewal. While we often focus on new cell growth, we sometimes forget that the first step in renewal is destroying the old, broken-down cellular machinery. But apoptosis and autophagy are both necessary to keep our bodies running well. When these processes are hijacked, diseases such as cancer occur, and the accumulation of older cellular components may be responsible for many of the effects of aging.
These unwanted cellular components build up over time if autophagocytic processes are not routinely activated. Increased levels of glucose, insulin, and proteins all turn off autophagy. And it doesn’t take much. Even as little as 3 grams of the amino acid leucine can stop autophagy.
Here’s how it works: The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway is an important sensor of nutrient availability. When we eat carbohydrates or protein, insulin is secreted, and the increased insulin levels, or even just the amino acids from the breakdown of ingested protein, activate the mTOR pathway. The body senses that food is available and decides that since there’s plenty of energy to go around, there’s no need to eliminate the old subcellular machinery.
The end result is the suppression of autophagy.
In other words, the constant intake of food, such as snacking throughout the day, suppresses autophagy. Conversely, when mTOR is dormant—when it’s not being triggered by increased insulin levels or amino acids from ingested food—autophagy is promoted. As the body senses the temporary absence of nutrients, it must prioritize which cellular parts to keep.
The oldest and most worn-out cellular parts get discarded, and amino acids from the broken-down cell parts are delivered to the liver, which uses them to create glucose during gluconeogenesis. They may also be incorporated into new proteins. It’s important to note that the dormancy of mTOR is only related to short-term nutrient availability and not the presence of stored energy, such as liver glycogen or body fat. Whether the body has stored energy is irrelevant for mTOR and therefore for autophagy.
I woke up this morning feeling pretty drak. Very flat, and a bit light headed. Not hungry at all. It might have been due to the 9mg of melatonin I had early this morning at about 4am.
I’m at a crucial point in my screenplay at the moment, and I use the couple of hours from between 2:30am-4am to work through upcoming story issues. I find it’s a very creative time for me. But the downside is that I sometimes find it hard to go back to sleep. So I take melatonin, which for me works well.
But now having had my two double espressos, I’m feeling good. I feel like I’ve entered The Zone, where should I decide to, I could continue this fast indefinitely. I’ve gotta say though, last night was difficult. Our son Henry cooked chicken and rice for dinner and it looked and smelled delicious. I would have loved to have tucked into it, but it wasn’t possible.
One of the reasons I’m doing this fast is to control my random eating urges, and I have to say this is happening. Whilst I would have loved to have sat down with Henry and Jennifer last night and tucked into a good feed, I didn’t allow myself to. I’m either doing this fast, or I’m bailing. I have no intention of bailing – at least, not yet!
My stats are interesting once again: weight down a bit but not hugely, body fat has actually gone up a bit – how does that work? Resting Heart Rate has edged up a bit. I did a bike session late yesterday and my numbers were a bit stronger than the day before, but nothing like they were pre-fast. I’m not able to produce the kind of energy I had while I was eating. (40mins/16.5km/505cals)
Now having done a week of my fast, I have dropped 6kgs exactly. But the weight loss each day is slowing. See graph below ~
Yesterday I had coffee, tea, water, and about 250ml of bone broth. I had that not because I was hungry, but to ensure that I had some nutrients, including salt. This morning I had some turkey bone broth for the same reason. I’ll probably do that daily now that I’m into the second week of the fast. It’s permissible in an extended fast, according to Dr Jason Fung.
Speaking of Dr Fung, here is the second part of his piece on fridge vs freezer!
The two compartments, the fridge and the freezer, are not used simultaneously but sequentially. You need to (mostly) empty out the fridge before you can use what’s in the freezer—you need to burn most of the glycogen before you can burn fat. In essence, the body can burn either sugar or fat, but not both.
How easy it is to get to the fat freezer depends upon the hormone insulin. Is the freezer locked away in the basement behind steel gates, or is it located right beside the refrigerator? Insulin levels are the prime determinant. When we are not eating, insulin levels are low, allowing full access to the fat freezer—the body is able to easily get at the stored fat. With low insulin levels, you don’t even have to completely empty the glycogen refrigerator before opening the fat freezer, since it’s so easily accessible.
Think about your fridge at home. Does it have to be completely empty of everything, including that half-empty bottle of ketchup and tub of yogurt, before you open that pack of burgers from the freezer? Of course not! Similarly, with low insulin levels, the body can burn fat even if there is still some glucose around. That means that if you’re cutting calories and have low insulin levels, it’s easy for your body to compensate for the reduced food energy by getting some fat out of the freezer even if your glycogen fridge isn’t completely empty.
But the emptier your glycogen fridge, the more likely you will be to use what’s in the fat freezer, and the easier it is to get to the freezer, the more likely it is that you will use it. Not only do low insulin levels allow access to the fat freezer, they actually trigger fat-burning for energy. If insulin levels are abnormally low, then fat is continually burned.
We see this situation in type 1 diabetes, when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. As insulin falls to undetectable levels, patients, often children, burn through all their fat stores and are unable to gain weight no matter how many calories they consume. Untreated, this is a fatal disease.
Treatment with insulin injections allows them to store fat normally once again. On the other hand, high insulin levels prevent the body from accessing the fat in the freezer. It is locked away behind steel bars. Insulin inhibits lipolysis—it stops the body from burning fat. High insulin levels, which are normal after meals, signal our body to store some of the incoming energy.
Logically, therefore, we also stop burning stored fat (why bother when there’s energy from food?). This doesn’t just happen after meals, however—we also see this in diseases of too much insulin. For example, insulin injections, often used in the treatment of diabetes, commonly lead to increased fat accumulation because the body is unable to burn fat.
(That’s great for type 1 diabetics, who have too little fat to begin with, but not so great for type 2 diabetics, who usually have too much.)
Insulin resistance, sometimes called prediabetes or metabolic syndrome, is the most common situation where insulin levels are persistently kept abnormally high.
This is new territory for me, going into day#7. I’ve done 6 day fasts in the past, never 7. This coming week is going to be fascinating, to see how I manage.
If I manage…
First, the stats: I’ve dropped 0.8kgs during the past 24hrs, and my BMI has now officially dropped into the Normal Weight zone. My Body Fat though has only come down marginally. People tell me I look thinner, but I don’t think so. I think they’re humouring me!
This is not a vanity quest for me – my need for this fast goes deeper than that.
How do I feel?
Strangely, I woke up this morning feeling good. Not at all hungry, and in fact I can easily see how people could purposefully starve themselves or go on hunger strikes. It doesn’t take long for you to lose hunger pangs altogether – but more than that – I’ve noticed that I no longer desire food.
I had to go to a formal family lunch yesterday. Jennifer’s uncle, who is an amazing 99 years old, came to visit with his daughter, and all the family went over to Jennifer’s mother’s place – two houses down from where we live – to have lunch.
Lunch consisted of roast chicken – my favourite – with roast potatoes – also my favourite – and other yummy stuff. Out of courtesy and respect for Jennifer’s uncle I sat down at my usual seat at the table and watched everyone eat.
You’d think it would have been difficult for me, but actually it wasn’t. Whilst I would have loved to have hoed into the chicken and spuds, I had no real desire to. There’s a difference. Intellectually, I would’ve loved to tuck into the grub; physically and emotionally, I didn’t want to. I’ve made up my mind to do this fast, and in my mind, food is off limits. It’s as simple as that.
I stayed for a courteous amount of time, and then I left and went back home and had a cup of tea. Later, Jennifer came home with a basket of hot freshly baked scones which her sister had batched up, and I have to admit, I desired them! It was the smell of them did it.
I did my bike exercise early today – 40mins/16.3km/500cals – and at the end of it, when I got off the bike, I nearly collapsed. Fainted. I checked my blood pressure shortly after and it was low – 107/61. It returned to normal levels later, and the dizziness passed. This morning, I noticed my BP was solid – 125/74.
Now for my next excerpt from Dr Jason Fung’s excellent book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, he discusses the myth that you lose weight by eating less and moving more. This is the first part – I’ll post the second part tomorrow.
The reason “eat less, move more” doesn’t work for weight loss is that it’s based on a false idea about how our bodies use calories: the single-compartment model.
According to this model, the body reduces all foods to simple calories and stores those calories for use in what we can think of as a single compartment; then, the body accesses that compartment to use the calories for exercise and basal metabolism (remember, that refers to the body’s basic functions, such as breathing, removing toxins from the bloodstream, digesting foods, and so on—all these require energy from calories).
This model is like a bathroom sink. Calories, like water, can flow into or out of this sink. Excess calories are held in this sink and can be easily accessed if our bodies require more calories—for example, exercise would drain calories out of this sink. There is no distinction made between any of the storage forms of calories.
Whether calories are stored as glucose, which is used for immediate energy; glycogen, which is used in the intermediate time frame; or fat, which is long-term energy storage, all calories are treated equally.
However, this model is known to be a complete fabrication. It does not exist except in our imaginations. It is more accurate to use a two-compartment model, because there are two distinct ways energy is stored in the body: as glycogen in the liver and as body fat.
When we eat, our body derives energy from three main sources: glucose (carbohydrates), fat, and protein. Only two of these are stored for later use, glucose and fat—the body can’t store protein, so excess protein that can’t be used right away is converted to glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, but the liver’s capacity for storing glycogen is limited.
Once glycogen stores are full, excess calories must be stored as body fat. Dietary fat is absorbed directly into the bloodstream without passing through the liver, and what’s not used is stored as body fat. This was one of the reasons why low-fat diets were initially recommended, but the immediate destination of ingested calories is not the main determinant of weight gain. The single-compartment model of calorie storage and use.
Think of glycogen as a refrigerator. It’s designed for short-term storage of food; it’s very easy to move food in and out, but the storage space is limited. Body fat, on the other hand, is more like a basement freezer. It’s designed for long-term storage and is more difficult to access, but it has much greater capacity. Plus, you can always add more freezers to the basement if you need them.
When we buy groceries, we store food in the refrigerator first, and then when the fridge is full, we store the excess food in the freezer—that is, we store food energy first as glycogen and then, when the space for glycogen is full, as body fat. Both body fat and glycogen are used for energy in the absence of food, but they aren’t used equally or at the same time.
The body prefers to use glycogen for energy rather than body fat. This is logical because it is easier to burn glycogen—in terms of our analogy, it’s much easier to get food from the refrigerator in the kitchen than to trek all the way down to the freezer in the basement. And as long as there is food in the fridge, we won’t retrieve any from the freezer.
In other words, if you need 200 calories of energy to go for a walk, the body will get that energy from glycogen as long as it’s available—it won’t go to the trouble of accessing body fat.
Day#5 and I’ve put on some weight. 0.4kgs How did that happen?
Well, last night I had some beef broth. According to Dr Fung, beef broth is permissible on an extended fast – not that 5 days is necessarily yet an extended fast. But I batched up some broth following the recipe in his book – The Complete Guide to Fasting.
About 1kg of beef bones – I used neck bones, without any real meat on them, mainly bones and marrow. Then some celery, some carrots, an onion, and some leeks. And Himalayan salt. I boiled it down and had two cups – about 250ml each. It was broth only, no solids at all.
I had the broth not because I felt hungry, but because I am writing an original screenplay at the moment and I need absolute acuity of thought, and I found yesterday I was a bit fuzzy-minded. I was hoping the nutrients in the broth might fix that. I wasn’t expecting to put on weight!
Anyway, what’s interesting is that whilst I put on 0.4kgs of weight (when really I should have lost about 1kg of weight,) my body fat percentage has come down quite a bit – from 27.7% when I started to 25.8% today.
No broth today – only tea.
Saturday here so I mowed the lawn, which constituted my exercise for the day. Took me 1hr20mins. Felt good and strong. Listening to Eric Clapton might have helped.
I’m no longer feeling any hunger at all – I miss food now for the ritual of meals, and the companionship that comes with it.
So here’s another myth that Dr Fung busts regarding fasting: fasting makes you burn protein…
One persistent myth of fasting is that it burns muscle, that our body, if we’re not eating, will immediately start using our muscles as an energy source. This does not actually happen. The human body evolved to survive periods of fasting. We store food energy as body fat and use this as fuel when food is not available.
Muscle, on the other hand, is preserved until body fat becomes so low that the body has no choice but to turn to muscle. This will only happen when body fat is at less than 4 percent. (For comparison, elite male marathon runners carry approximately 8 percent body fat and female marathoners slightly more.)
If we did not preserve muscle and burn fat instead when no food is available, we would not have survived very long as a species. Almost all mammals have this same ability. Real-world studies of fasting show that the concern over muscle loss is largely misplaced. Alternate-day fasting over seventy days decreased body weight by 6 percent, but fat mass decreased by 11.4 percent and lean mass (muscle and bone) did not change at all.
During fasting, the body switches from burning sugar (carbohydrates) to fat for energy. Protein is spared. At baseline, eating normally, energy comes from a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. As you start fasting, the body increases carbohydrate oxidation. This is just a fancy way of saying that it is burning sugar, in the form of glycogen, for the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours after you stop eating, until it runs out of glycogen.
With no more sugar to burn, the body switches to burning fat. Fat oxidation increases as carbohydrate oxidation decreases toward zero. At the same time, protein oxidation—that is, burning protein, such as muscle, for fuel—actually decreases. The normal protein breakdown of around seventy-five grams per day falls to fifteen to twenty grams per day during fasting. Rather than burning muscle during fasting, we start conserving muscle. Much of the amino acids that are broken down during regular turnover of cells are reabsorbed into new proteins.
So the weight loss is slowing, as expected. I lost only 1.0kg over the past 24hr period, and I put that down to: 1) most of the “easy” calories have now dropped off, and 2) I didn’t do my exercise yesterday. I have one, sometimes two days off a week. According to the monitor on the bike, I use around 550-650 cals per 40mins bike session – not sure how accurate that is.
That said, I’ve now dropped 4kgs in 3 days.
I woke up early – 5:30am, and started working by 6am. Had my two double espressos. I didn’t feel hungry, however if Jennifer had put some thick buttered toast with vegemite in front of me, I would have found it hard to resist!
Other than feeling a bit weary from not enough sleep (5hrs44mins), I’m actually doing ok. I wrote till about midday, then did my exercise – 40 mins on the bike, 17.4km, 584cals. I found the 2nd 20 mins really tough going. A week ago, before I began the fast, I did 40mins, 19.1kms, 673cals. Today I just didn’t have the energy to push myself.
Interestingly though, I did the whole session averaging a heart rate of 126bpm, which is 82% of my Maximum Heart Rate. I hit a high of 142bpm, which is 93% of my MHR. So I was well and truly into my aerobic zone.
It’s interesting how my fast is affecting the rest of the family, and the family’s routine. By rest of the family, I mean Jennifer and our eldest son Henry, who’s currently staying with us. Both Henry and Jennifer are good cooks – but more than that, they enjoy cooking. For them it’s a creative endeavour, but it’s also an expression of love.
I’m very fortunate!
Without me eating though, the routine of meals has been shattered. So too the routine of cooking. I never realised how important this was to the dynamic of family life. Of an evening we would all sit around the dinner table and talk – about all sorts of things. Politics. What’s happened in the news that day. Books we’re reading, or have read, or want to read. Shows we’ve seen. What we liked, what we didn’t. We’d discuss the mechanics of storytelling.
Henry would bring us up to date with the latest stuff on Reddit that’s caught his attention. Or detail story points from highly cerebral sci-fi or fantasy novels that he’s read. Our dinner conversations are invariably wide ranging and intense at times! An important part of the day, when we come together as a family unit.
That’s not happening while I fast. Nor is that time in the afternoon when Jennifer, and Henry, prepare the meals for dinner. That used to be a time of activity and creativity and fun. That’s dead time now. I never realised how important the socialisation of eating really is to me. Now Jennifer walks around the house with Autobiography of a Yogi or one of the I Am Presence books playing loudly on Audible on her iPad.
Here now is another extract from Dr Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. Here he busts a myth that fasting puts you into “starvation mode.”
“Starvation mode” is the mysterious bogeyman always raised to scare us away from missing even a single meal. Why is it so bad to skip a meal? Let’s get some perspective here. Assuming we eat three meals per day, over one year, that’s a little over a thousand meals. To think that fasting for one day, skipping three meals of the one thousand, will somehow cause irreparable harm is simply absurd.
The idea of “starvation mode” refers to the notion that our metabolism decreases severely and our bodies “shut down” in response to fasting. We can test this notion by looking at the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which measures the amount of energy that our body burns in order to function normally—to keep the lungs breathing, brain functioning, heart pumping, kidneys, liver, and digestive system all working, and so on. Most of the calories we spend each day are not used for exercise but for these basic functions.
The BMR is not a fixed number but actually increases or decreases up to 40 percent in response to many variables. For example, I never seemed to get cold as a teenager. Even skiing in -22°F weather, I stayed warm. My BMR was high—I was burning a lot of calories to keep my body temperature up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I no longer endure the cold so well. I also eat far less than I did as a teenager. My BMR has gotten lower, so I no longer burn as many calories on basic body functions.
This is what most people mean when they say that metabolism slows down with age, and it contributes to the well-known tendency of older “snowbirds” from the Northeast and Canada to retire in warm places like Florida and Arizona. Daily caloric reduction has been well documented to cause a dramatic reduction in BMR.
In studies with a baseline daily calorie consumption of approximately 2500 calories per day, reducing calories consumed to approximately 1500 calories a day for a long stretch of time will result in a 25 to 30 percent reduction in BMR. On the other hand, overfeeding studies, where subjects are asked to deliberately eat more than they normally do, causes an increase in BMR. Reduced metabolism makes us generally cold, tired, hungry, and less energetic—our bodies are essentially conserving energy by not burning calories to keep us warm and moving.
From a weight standpoint, reduced metabolism is a double curse. First, we feel lousy while dieting. Even worse, because we’re burning fewer calories per day, it’s both harder to lose weight and much easier to gain weight back after we’ve lost it. This is the main problem with most caloric-reduction diets.
Suppose you normally eat 2000 calories a day and cut back to only 1500. Your body cannot run a deficit indefinitely—it will eventually run out of fat to burn—so it plans ahead and decreases your energy expenditure. The end result is a decreased BMR. This has been proven repeatedly by experiments over the last century. Because of this well-known “starvation mode” effect of daily caloric restriction, many people assume that fasting will result in a similar but more severe decrease in BMR.
Luckily, this does not happen. If short-term fasting dropped our metabolism, humans as a species would not likely have survived. Consider the situation of repeated feast/famine cycles. During long winters back in the Paleolithic era, there were many days where no food was available. After the first episode, you would be severely weakened as your metabolism falls. After several repeated episodes, you would be so weak that you would be unable to hunt or gather food, making you even weaker.
This is a vicious cycle that the human species would not have survived. Our bodies do not shut down in response to short-term fasting. In fact, metabolism revs up, not down, during fasting. This makes sense from a survival standpoint. If we do not eat, our bodies use our stored energy as fuel so that we can find more food.
Humans have not evolved to require three meals a day, every day. When food intake goes to zero (fasting), our body obviously cannot take BMR down to zero—we have to burn some calories just to stay alive. Instead, hormones allow the body to switch energy sources from food to body fat. After all, that is precisely why we carry body fat—to be used for food when no food is available. It’s not there for looks. By “feeding” on our own fat, we significantly increase the availability of “food,” and this is matched by an increase in energy expenditure.
I’ve decided to only post once a day – at the end of my day. I figure you don’t need to get two of these posts a day. Given the quality of my writing and my deteriorating mind and manners, one post a day is more than sufficient.
I’ve now lost exactly 3kgs in two days. That’s about on par for me, based on previous fasts I’ve done. I usually drop off that much in the first couple of days. It’ll slow up soon.
More importantly my BMI (25.6 this morning) is edging closer from Overweight (BMI above 25) to Normal weight(below 25). The way I’m going I should be below 25 by the end of the week. Interestingly, my blood pressure has come down quite a bit. It was high yesterday – it’s normal today. As I say, I have a pre-disposition to high blood pressure.
Even though according to the sleep app I had more than 7hrs sleep last night, I felt tired this morning on waking. I know the sleep app registers you’re “sleeping” when you’re just lying still in bed. I did a lot of that in the middle of the night last night.
I’m writing a new screenplay at the moment, and night time is my most fertile time for creative thinking. I stayed awake for several hours last night figuring out the next section of my story. I probably had about 4½ – 5hrs sleep.
But now I’ve had my two double espressos so I’m okay!
3PM – Now towards the afternoon of day#3, the hunger is starting to diminish. I’m feeling a bit light-headed but that could be because of the disrupted sleep. A few hours ago I had to go food shopping for Jennifer. I boldly and gallantly walked passed all those yummy foodstuffs that ordinarily I would have grabbed for a big nosh-up later.
Here is the next section of Dr Fung’s book – The Complete Guide to Fasting – that I want to share with you: The five stages of fasting…
The transition from the fed state to the fasted state occurs in several stages, as classically described by George Cahill, one of the leading experts in fasting physiology:
1. Feeding: Blood sugar levels rise as we absorb the incoming food, and insulin levels rise in response to move glucose into cells, which use it for energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver or converted to fat.
2. The postabsorptive phase (six to twenty-four hours after beginning fasting): At this point, blood sugar and insulin levels begin to fall. To supply energy, the liver starts to break down glycogen, releasing glucose. Glycogen stores last for approximately twenty-four to thirty-six hours.
3. Gluconeogenesis (twenty-four hours to two days after beginning fasting): At this point, glycogen stores have run out. The liver manufactures new glucose from amino acids in a process called gluconeogenesis (literally, “making new glucose”). In nondiabetic persons, glucose levels fall but stay within the normal range.
4. Ketosis (two to three days after beginning fasting): Low insulin levels stimulate lipolysis, the breakdown of fat for energy. Triglycerides, the form of fat used for storage, are broken into the glycerol backbone and three fatty acid chains. The glycerol is used for gluconeogenesis, so the amino acids formerly used can be reserved for protein synthesis. The fatty acids are used directly for energy by most tissues of the body, though not the brain.
The body uses fatty acids to produce ketone bodies, which are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and are used by the brain for energy. After four days of fasting, approximately 75 percent of the energy used by the brain is provided by ketones. The two major types of ketones produced are beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate, which can increase over seventyfold during fasting.
5. The protein conservation phase (five days after beginning fasting): High levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissues. The energy for basic metabolism is almost entirely supplied by fatty acids and ketones. Blood glucose is maintained by gluconeogenesis using glycerol. Increased norepinephrine (adrenaline) levels prevent any decrease in metabolic rate. There is a normal amount of protein turnover, but it is not being used for energy. In essence, what we are describing here is the process of switching from burning glucose to burning fat.
Fat is simply the body’s stored food energy. In times of low food availability, stored food is naturally released to fill the void. The body does not “burn muscle” in an effort to feed itself until all the fat stores are used up. One critical point to underscore is that these mechanisms are entirely natural and entirely normal. Periods of low food availability have always been a natural part of human history, and our body evolved mechanisms to adapt to this fact of Paleolithic life. Otherwise, we would not have survived as a species.
There are no adverse health consequences to activating these protocols, except in the case of malnourishment (you should not fast if you’re malnourished, of course, and extreme fasting can cause malnourishment, too). The body is not “shutting down”; it’s merely changing fuel sources, from food to our own fat. It does this with the help of several hormonal adaptations to fasting.
I mean, yes right now I’d love to sit down to a good feed, but that’s not gonna happen so I might as well just get over myself.
Here’s how my day has gone so far:
5am – first double espresso.
6am – second double espresso
9 am – Jennifer has a home-made muffin with her coffee, and I desire it. Unconditionally.
10am – I have a cup of Darjeerling tea. The highlight of my morning so far.
11am – I open the fridge, gaze inside, close the fridge.
11:15am – I open the fridge, gaze inside, close the fridge.
11:30am – I resist the urge to open the fridge. I note this as a form of spiritual growth.
12pm – I hear a thunderstorm coming but realise it’s only my stomach…
6pm – I exercise on my bike. 40mins/18.0kms/582cals
7pm – I have another cup of Darjeerling tea. The highlight of my evening so far.
Continuing citing Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, here is what he has to say about the spirituality of fasting…
Fasting is widely practiced for spiritual purposes and remains part of virtually every major religion in the world. Three of the most influential men in the history of the world, Jesus Christ, Buddha, and the Prophet Muhammad all shared a common belief in the healing power of fasting. In spiritual terms, it is often called cleansing or purification, but practically, it amounts to the same thing.
The practice of fasting developed independently among different religions and cultures, not as something that was harmful but as something that was deeply, intrinsically beneficial to the human body and spirit. Fasting is not so much a treatment for illness but a treatment for wellness.
The regular application of fasting helps protect people from illness and keeps them feeling well. In the story of Adam and Eve, the only act that is prohibited in the Garden of Eden is to eat the fruit of one tree, and Eve is tempted by the serpent to betray this trust.
Fasting is thus an act of turning away from temptation and back toward God. In the Bible, Matthew 4:2 states, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
(I’ll mention here the interesting point that hunger often disappears during extended fasts, which has been noted throughout history.)
In the Christian tradition, fasting and prayer are often methods of cleansing and renewing the soul. Symbolically, believers empty their souls so that they may be ready to receive God. Fasting is not so much about self-denial but about a reaching for spirituality and being able to commune with God and hear his voice.
By fasting, you put your body under submission to the Holy Spirit, humble your soul before the presence of God, and prepare yourself to hear the voice of God.
Buddhist monks are known to abstain from eating after noon, fasting until the next morning. In addition, there may be water-only fasts for days or weeks on end. They fast to quench their human desires, which helps them rise above all desires in order to achieve nirvana and end all suffering. This fits with their core beliefs in moderation and austerity.
Hinduism embraces fasting in the belief that our sins lessen as the body suffers. It is also seen as a method of cultivating control over desires and guiding the mind toward peace: the physical needs of the body are denied for spiritual gains. Certain days of the week are designated for fasting in Hinduism, as are certain days of the month. Fasting is also common at festivals.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine also ascribes the cause of many illnesses to the accumulation of toxins in the body and prescribes fasting to cleanse these toxins. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. According to the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad said, “The month of Ramadan is a blessed month, a month in which Allah has made fasting obligatory.”
The Prophet Muhammad also encouraged fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. Ramadan is the best studied of the fasting periods, but it differs from many fasting protocols in that fluids are forbidden, which results in a period of mild dehydration.