FYI: Only an idiot would take the following as solid medical advice.
The uncertainty of food
To prepare for my next adventure, I am studying the mediterranean food culture. I often come across ancient diets and recipes influenced by uncertainty and famine periods.
In the past people had to suffer the consequences of hails, pests and merciless weather. More often than not those elements brought entire regions to their knees.
I interviewed people born in the 50s about their childhood dietary habits. It became clear that the constant supply food we have nowadays became a thing only a generation ago.
Research shows that the daily intake of meals we experience in the West makes little sense.
According to Dr.Valter Longo, biogerontologist and director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, intermittent fasting helps decrease risk biomarkers (such as IGF-1 and insuline) for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer without major adverse effects.
Ketosis and medicine
When you fast, cells switch to a stay-fit-keep-the-bullet-clean mode. This is a process that can also be seen in 40yo single moms joining CrossFit gyms.
By resticting calories you lower glucose and elevate ketones.
After 3/4 days of fasting, ketosis kicks in and the body scavenges through the pile of available internal resources.
The liver and aminoacids start to build glucose from storage fat, a process called gluconeogenesis.
Depending on base weight, humans can survive without food long stretches of time.
Dr. George Cahill has proven that obese humans can survive for up to 6 months.
A famous study about 382 days of therapeutic starvation has been conducted on a man that weighted 207kg by Dr. Laura W. Fleming and W. K. Stewart.
The patient lost more than 120kg during this controlled fast. He was then able to mantain his normal weight and suffered no ill-effects.
Ketosis and medicine
There is plenty of russian and romanian literature on the subject of therapeutic fasting.
Little can be found translated to english, but examples include the over 6000 patients cured through fasting since 1972 by Dr. Yuri Nikolaev, director of the fasting clinic of the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry and co-author of the book Голодание ради здоровья ("Fasting for Health", ISBN 5-268-00434-4).
Information in english on his research be found in this Controlled Fasting Treatment for Schizophrenia article written by Dr. Allan Cott.
Ketosis and cancer
Studies by Dr. Thomas Seyfried, Professor of Biology at the Boston College, have proven that ketogenic diets are effective in the management of seizures and cancer.
Just as there are many remote causes of plague, heat, insects, rats, but only one common cause, the plague bacillus, there are a great many remote causes of cancer-tar, rays, arsenic, pressure, urethane- but there is only one common cause into which all other causes of cancer merge, the irreversible injuring of respiration.
If the cells in your body cannot breathe, they need to switch to another form of energy in order to stay alive.
They start to ferment, a way to produce energy that has been used by organisms even before oxygen became an available resource on Earth.
What fuels the fermentation process is glucose, and that is why ketogenic diets can be effective in the management of cancer and make it curable without aggressive medicine.
These new scientific results helped shaping multiple approaches to what is now known as intermittent fasting. Most of these diets advocate eating a <500kcal meal 2/3 days a week, and binge-eating for the rest of the week.
A supporter of this approach is mathematician and author Nassim Taleb.
A solid part of his book Antifragile, and apparently his whole personal and professional philosophy, is about how randomness and reaction to unforeseable risk relate to good health in organic beings.
Taleb suggests randomizing when the no-food days happen: adding randomness to the lists of stressors is supposed to catch our organism unprepared and put the turbo on it's recycling process.
Nico Appel and Chris Kirkland developed a two dice system to help estabilish on which day to fast during a given week:
Throw two dices
Sum the two results
That is the amount of days you have to wait before fasting again.
For example: today is , if your lucky numbers are and the next time you will starve is in days,
If you don't want to carry two dices with you, you can ask to the search engine that does not sell your personal data; otherwise ask Google, Siri, Cortana or the nearby Dungeons & Dragons basement-dweller to throw 2 dices for you.
In Taleb's Fasting, Relative Frequencies paper is illustrated a way to imitate naturally-occurring famine periods following a better (non-gaussian) mathematical model, on a week but also months and years base.
During my Lisbon to Istanbul bicycle tour I will collect mediterranean recipes and bits of culture.
I would like to use the collected data to write a book about peasant food and publish videos about the ingredients and recipes that made this area prosper so much in the past.
- What did poor people eat?
- How did they manage to survive long winters with little provisions?
- How do you cook wild plants?
- Now that most produce is sold by shops run by foreigners, how did traditional recipes change?
- And, most importantly, how do you avoid being stung by nettles when you try to cook risotto alle ortiche
This and many other questions will be answered while I incinerate myself under the Mediterranean sun.
Fasting and physical exercise
The most recent example of amateur research on marathon that I could find comes from the blog of Xavi Vives, he managed to run a 50km marathon in 7:45 after 82 hours of fasting.
I highly suggest following his lab page, where he posts detailed updates about his fasting experiments.
While I was walking for two months across the Iberic peninsula most of my daily diet consisted of:
- Roadside food (berries, apples and walnuts)
- A bag of lentils
- A can of tomatoes
- A bottle of red wine
- A gigantic loaf of bread
- Leftover cured meat
- One onion
- Salt, pepper, spices
- Plenty of water (4lt or more)
I have no idea of how much much weight I lost during that trip, but comparing of the few pictures I took I can see how my body changed:
The changes that I have noticed were mainly:
- faster distances covered
- increased stamina
- loss of fat tissue
- bigger muscles in the tights and leg area
- numbness in the joints of the hand (swollend hands because constantly pointing down as I walked, fixed by using a walking stick)
- small dents in my fingernails (lack of calcium or other minerals, fixed by drinking yogurt)
- more focused and relaxed mind
- better sex
- solid sleeping pattern that follows daylight cycles, to the point that it almost fixed my inverted circadian rythm
- less or no hunger in-between meals, hungry like a wolf at the table
Starving yourself makes you fat
Modern age brought people to depend on a defined set of patterns that regulate income, time to dedicate to one's leisure and personal growth, meals, energy needs.
In the West we currently take 3 daily meals + snacks as granted, but as a species we have been able to survive well before the work/produce/consume/die cycle was ingrained in our society.
Even if we are advancing as a civilization and food is always available, our body and the primitive part of our brain still reason in terms of randomness and scaricity of resources.
This is why, I believe, you tend to get fatter after a period of starvation:
- the brain notices you are ignoring hunger waves
- it assumes you are experiencing lack of available preys or fruit trees in your area
- body system goes in stand-by mode to save resources and deal with excess materials
- as soon as you ingest something the brain commands you to eat more and pack up fat, wondering if you're ever going to find another prey or berry bush
- you become a fat catlady
So, don't be stupid, if you want to lose weight start eating smart and often.
Too much of too good stuff is going to kill you and that's probably why we have diabetes, cancer and other kind of illness. Most ancient religions advocate weekly or monthly fasting, along with keeping the population humble it helped keeping it in good health.
From this collection of articles and my personal experience I can conclude that our body can survive long periods of little or no provisions, as long as you listen to what your body tells you and adapt as you go.
AND THEN YOU DIE.