As I write this article I’m half way through a five day fast, and boy, I am hungry. Extremely hungry. Like, eat-a-horse hungry.
I am doing the fasting mimicking (FMD) or Prolon diet. It’s a scientifically-developed diet that provides the foods you need for five days to help get your body into ketosis and a fasting state.
The research by Dr Valter Longo and his colleagues found FMD assists in maintaining healthy blood sugars and cholesterol. It also helps your body clean up ageing and damaged cells and it should get you feeling more focused and energised. After reading the very convincing evidence I knew I had to give it a go.
So, the science is good, but the hunger is ... profound. Give me a bag of chips and I would happily eat the bag as well.
Toward the end of each day my energy is not great, but nor should it be on 700 calories a day (I'd usually eat 2100 a day). I'm hoping the energy kick comes at the completion of the diet and hangs around!
All this non-eating got me thinking about the volume of food I eat the rest of the time. As I looked on longingly as my family ate lasagna for dinner, I realised that I take our full fridge and pantry for granted.
Have I been overeating? At times, yes, but mostly I eat good food and not too much of it. Unfortunately this is something we as a worldwide community struggle with. Many of us eat too much and eat too much of the wrong food and that's why we are getting sicker.
Here are some things that we know are helpful to have in our mental database of food knowledge, and can enable better decisions.
We eat too much
We have become a society of people who engage in uncontrolled eating of high energy foods every day of the week. Many people struggle with portion control. Overeating makes you fat over time. By 2030 more than one billion people will be considered obese. Eating a bit less at meal times won't kill you. It may in fact save you.
We don’t eat the foods we used to eat
Food has changed over the last 70 years. The supermarkets are packed with mostly processed and ultra-processed foods. Many of us choose to regularly eat foods that were made in a factory and not on the farm.
The foods we do eat are devoid of nutrients
Those processed foods are missing important nutrients like fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Most people eat too many carbohydrates (think bread, pasta, crackers, potatoes, cakes, biscuits, lollies) and not enough good quality protein and healthy fats which help blood sugar regulation, growth, energy production, focus, clarity and healthy hormone production. Let’s not forget the importance of eating lots of vegetables daily.
When you add a lack of exercise you end up with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
What can you do
I am not encouraging everybody to go off and do five day fasts. However, there are some really simple things you can do.
Rethinking portion sizes at meal and snack times is a good first step. Ensuring you are choosing real food, i.e. vegetables, fruit, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, red meat, fresh seafood and poultry will take you a long way. We want to aim for seven serves to get the fibre, roughage, minerals and vitamins we need to fuel our body and keep our gut happy.
Walk around the outer edges of the supermarket aisles if you shop there. Avoid the middle ones - that's where all the processed food is going to tempt you.
Eat in a 12 hour window to give your body time to process what you have eaten overnight. It encourages your body to get rod of aging and damaged cells it no longer needs and helps you create fresh, new cells to keep you younger for longer.
It is very achievable, as I am learning while eating four flaxseed crackers, two small bowls of vegetarian soup and a bucket load of herbal tea each day.
Here's another thing I've learned about fasting. When you are super hungry, fasting is not fast. My fast-breaking moment is taking forever to arrive.