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NPR Story on Intermittent Fasting

Michael R

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Minifasting: How Occasionally Skipping Meals May Boost Health
... the idea of fasting may seem completely unappealing. ... But what if the payoff for a 16-hour fast — which might involve skipping dinner, save a bowl of broth — is a boost in energy and a decreased appetite?
This is what we've experienced as we've tried out the so-called 5:2 diet. It's an intermittent fasting approach that, as we've reported, has been popularized by books by British physician and television broadcaster Michael Mosley. The diet calls for two days per week of minifasting where the aim is to go a long stretch, say 14 to 18 hours, without eating. During these two fasting days, you also eat only about 600 calories, give or take.
It sounds tough. But here's the easy part: The other five days of the week you forget about dieting and return to your normal pattern of eating. ...
The fascination is what researchers say may be the broader benefits. Scientists are looking into how fasting may help control blood sugar, improve memory and energy and perhaps boost immunity.
A study by researchers at the University of Manchester found that when overweight women followed a 5:2 approach, they lost more weight and body fat and improved their insulin resistance compared with women who followed a more traditional diet of limiting calories seven days per week. [Note: the comparison study was not simply of reducing energy intake, but centered on a low-fat diet, so in addition to being small and short-term it was of a diet known to have compliance issues -MR].
One explanation for the success of the 5-2 dieters could be that a day of minifasting can lead to a diminished appetite. [From the transcript: "one thing I [NPR reporter Allison Aubrey] can say from my own experience is that these mini-fasts really seem to cut the appetite - or at least my appetite. One of the first days I tried this, I was really hungry when I was going to sleep. And I literally fell asleep, like, dreaming of a chocolate croissant. I was even planning my trip over to Union Station in the morning to buy my chocolate croissant. But when I woke up, I did not even want it. I think I had oatmeal instead. And I left half of the oatmeal in the bowl uneaten. So scientists say this pattern of eating may help regulate appetite so we don't eat as much."]
Mark Mattson, a researcher at the National Institute of Aging, says when we go without food, the body uses up its stored glucose, the basic fuel for the body, and starts burning fat. Mattson is interested in what happens to the brain — in terms of memory and learning — when the body starts to burn fat for fuel. And he's been studying animals, mainly mice, for clues. ... And, as Eliza has reported, scientists are also studying how intermittent fasting may help boost immunity, perhaps by making cells more adaptive to stresses such as injury and disease. ...
Valter Longo, a gerontologist at the University of Southern California who studies fasting [particularly as an adjuvant for chemotherapy in cancer], notes that "it is very dangerous for people who struggle with eating disorders to fast." And he advises everyone interested in fasting to see their physician and meet with a registered dietitian.
Longo and other experts gave Eliza some of their other tips on how to do it right:

  • Fasting is easier with a buddy.
  • On a minifast, choose the food you do eat carefully. Researchers recommend high-protein, high-fiber foods. Avoid refined carbs and sugar, which will spike blood sugar and may leave you hungry late in the day. [The photo sample meal given on a previous NPR story on intermittent fasting (also by Aubrey) is of a small amount of what appears to be salmon on a bed of greens -MR]
  • To minimize temptation, stay out of the kitchen and away from food establishments. ...
  • Don't be surprised if there are some side effects, like trouble sleeping or gastrointestinal issues.

The broadcast audio and transcript are available on the NPR website. As noted, there is also a previous NPR intermittent fasting story by Aubrey.

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