Intermittent Fasting and the Paleo Diet

HourglassFasting has recently been in the spotlight due to diet crazes and longevity-seekers engaging in severe calorie restriction for long periods of time.  Citing longer lives in fasting lab rats, these dieters argue that any healthy lifestyle will include some fasting.  While intermittent fasting is encouraged by paleo front-runners, it does require some special considerations.

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In the Stone Age, our Paleolithic ancestors periodically found themselves unable to find food.  These cavemen and women fasted, but it was out of necessity and poor luck rather than personal choice.  Making the choice to fast intermittently is often associated with a desire to make your lifestyle more like those of cavemen, a desire for mental toughness, discipline, detoxification, religion, or even a longing to know the suffering of those living in constant hunger.

Intermittent fasting that goes along with a paleo lifestyle can look different for different people.  Some simply miss a meal here or there, usually choosing a meal to skip that is already difficult to fit into the day, such as missing lunch in order to make it to a work meeting on time or skipping breakfast for that extra hour of precious sleep.  This type of fasting is a modern version of a true Paleolithic fasting, as it is less a choice and more a necessity.

Others fast by blocking off their eating hours during the day.  One may, for example, only eat between 8 am and 5 pm, allowing for a 15 hour fasting window between dinner and breakfast.  In the same vein, some dieters choose to alternate fasting days.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they might fast during lunch.  Still others find that choosing a set day or week to fast helpful and refrain from eating for 24 or 48 hours.

No matter what your fasting schedule looks like, you may notice significant mental and physical health benefits.  According to Mark Sisson, a paleo expert and intermittent faster, fasting can have significant benefits in overall weight loss and longevity.  Krista A. Varady and Marc K. Hellerstein published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that reveals a link between intermittent fasting and chronic disease prevention.  They found that alternating fasting days could prevent type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers.  Indeed, other research shows that intermittent fasting may even allow for insulin sensitivity in the body and initiate the repair of cells in the body.

Fasting can provide a type of mental discipline that can get you through even the toughest of circumstances.  When you prove to yourself that your body can function without food, you simultaneously prove to yourself that you can make it through other types of pain – both physical and emotional.  For some, this type of fasting can be motivated by spirituality; by a desire to be fed spiritually while relying on a higher power, rather than food, to sustain life.

Many paleo enthusiasts believe that intermittent fasting is important in adopting a truly Paleolithic lifestyle, since Stone Age dwellers would have fasted often.  In a world that runs off of factory farms and fast food, it can be difficult to incorporate what would otherwise be a natural part of life into our dieting.  But, the research shows that some intermittent fasting can be an excellent tool for those in pursuit of optimal health.

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