holiday food table

Do you struggle to control your eating during the holidays? Do you tell yourself that you’re only going to have one helping and then find that you’re helping yourself to thirds and dessert and grazing on the leftovers? If so, rest assured that you are not alone! You see, there’s a reason in part that New Year’s Resolutions are so popular, particularly in America. The problem really begins with Halloween, in which children and adults raid the candy shelves at the grocery stores and have enough candy collected to last a year yet devour in a few days. Not one month later, we have Thanksgiving, where we might help ourselves to seconds and thirds and then chase our main course down with various desserts. One month after this, we find ourselves at Christmas time doing exactly what we did at Thanksgiving. The intent of this blog isn’t to shame anybody for partaking in the festivities. Rather, I’d like to point out some strategies to consider to help one manage their caloric intake and avoid putting on the “Freshman 15” leading into the New Year. As such, it is appropriate to introduce the art of fasting.

A Brief History of Fasting

Before diving into the different strategies and types of fasting, let’s take a look into a brief history on fasting. Up until about the 20th century, fasting was a way of life for most of mankind. Not because it was the latest fad or because people were trying to lose weight or manage their caloric intake, but rather it was simply the way life was. There was no overabundance of food, let alone processed food ready to go instantly. We live in unprecedented times where we have such immediate access to food. Whereas in early human history, if you wanted to eat, you needed to hunt or know someone who did know how to hunt. Even subsequently, for most of human history, society and the workplace was dominated by agricultural work, and people did not have a local Wal-Mart they could run to or a fast food restaurant to hit up when they were on the go. What’s more, the societal and familial aspect of eating has been greatly lost, particularly in America. This could be due, in part, to the fact that eating quickly is ingrained in us from our childhood, where kids at school might have a 20-30 minute lunch break so that they can get a quick recess in and then get back to class. This isn’t to blame anybody or one group in particular; rather, I am merely pointing out the fact that from a young age we are subconsciously taught to eat quickly. The same is true as we age; college? Eat on the go. Adulthood? What is lunch? Of course, there are exceptions to these rules; nonetheless, this rings true for a lot of folks.

The Purpose of Fasting

So, what exactly is the point of fasting? Does it really work? What if one really likes a particular food? Does one have to give up certain foods? How long should one fast? Like anything nutrition-related in the age of information, there is plenty of misinformation and tribalism. When it comes to fasting, it’s not for everybody. Of course, some people have medical conditions where fasting would not be appropriate, and as such, one should talk with their physician or health care provider before embarking on a fast to make sure it is in fact right for you. With that said, when it comes to fasting and its effectiveness, it really depends on what your goals are. It is my belief that the number one benefit of fasting for most people in an age where we can eat anything we want, whenever we want, is discipline. Discipline to not eat every time you think you’re even a little bit hungry. In several different faiths and religions, fasting was employed to control the passions of the mind and body. It’s not about what you give up for fasting necessarily as about what the desired outcome is, in this case, increased discipline and self-control. Another benefit is that fasting can be helpful for one to manage their caloric intake effectively, especially as it relates to life’s schedule, work schedules, school schedule, etc., but more on that towards the end of this blog. Thirdly and lastly, another benefit of fasting is that it stimulates a process known as Autophagy. Autophagy is a big buzzword in nutritional and fitness circles, and truth be told, it’s blown out of proportion by many people. In layman’s terms, Autophagy is basically the body’s cellular recycling system. According to an article regarding fasting and Autophagy on Cleveland Clinic’s website, “Autophagy (pronounced “ah-TAH-fah-gee”) is your body’s process of reusing old and damaged cell parts. Cells are the basic building blocks of every tissue and organ in your body. Each cell contains multiple parts that keep it functioning. Over time, these parts can become defective or stop working. They become litter, or junk, inside an otherwise healthy cell. Autophagy is your body’s cellular recycling system. It allows a cell to disassemble its junk parts and repurpose the salvageable bits and pieces into new, usable cell parts. A cell can discard the parts it doesn’t need (1).” Practically speaking, here are some potential ways that the body can benefit from fasting:

  • Improved cognitive function and mental clarity
  • Improved cardiovascular health: maintaining healthy blood pressure levels
  • Improved fitness performance: fat loss while maintaining muscle
  • In Type 2 Diabetics, Intermittent Fasting has been shown to perhaps be a way to manage blood sugar and lose weight
  • Decrease the risk of Metabolic Syndrome
holiday food

Ways to Practice Fasting

There are different ways that one can practice fasting. There’s intermittent fasting in which there is a set time for fasting and a set time frame for eating. There’s fasting or abstaining from certain foods or drinks, and then there’s complete fasting, in which one abstains from any kind of caloric intake for a certain period of time. For the intents and purposes of our discussion, intermittent fasting is what I typically recommend to patients, especially around the holidays. The most common breakdown or split of intermittent fasting is as follows: fast for 16 hours from any form of caloric intake (food, drink, and gum), then have an 8-hour feeding window (e.g., feeding window from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and then the fasting window would be from 8 p.m. until 12 p.m. the following day). It is important to know that this isn’t set in stone; you can modify the fasting and feeding window however you’d like. It is also just as important to note that just because you’ll be hungry by the time that you get to your feeding window that you do not go “all out” so to speak and eat everything in sight during the feeding window. This is the most common pitfall people have with intermittent fasting. Lastly, whether you fast or not, my biggest challenge to you this holiday season is this; slow down, take your time, and enjoy your family, friends, and loved ones. Don’t shovel food down your face but instead, be present, engage in conversation, and count your blessings. We live in an age where our culture and society are so divided and quick to anger. So, enjoy your time with your friends and loved ones during this holiday season because we are not promised tomorrow.

So, if you are interested in fasting or intermittent fasting, then it is important that you work with a physician, health provider, or coach who’s competent and qualified to help you put a plan in place so that you can glean all of the benefits of fasting and not shoot yourself in the foot by eating too much in the feeding window. With that said, with the fasting and feeding window, you can begin to see how this could be an effective strategy to go into the holidays with a plan to not overdo it yet still enjoy yourself amongst your friends and loved ones during the holidays. Again, by no means is fasting and Autophagy the end all, be all; it is simply a strategy one might employ to help exercise control and discipline, manage caloric intake, and give the body a chance to thoroughly digest, absorb, and assimilate nutrients before moving onto the next meal.

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in learning more about fasting and seeing if fasting is the right option for you, or if you just have questions, then please contact our clinic at (316) 837-1273 and schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me so that we can work together, get a solid plan in place, and help you enjoy the holidays and come out unscathed so you can start off the new year strong!

Dr. Luke Moore, DC