Destroying the propaganda
This is the first part of an article series about fasting that I will work on whenever I have time and energy during my recovery and healing from my nano/Morgellons disease. My goal, and hope, with these articles is to inspire, encourage, and help people to try out fasting for improved health, and/or fat loss, and to heal themselves to the best of their abilities.
If you’re indoctrinated with the bro-science of the fitness industry, the brainwashing propaganda from the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and parts of the “health care”-system, the following blog-post might be controversial for you – and your programming will probably fight it. But try to stay with me. Absorb the information and do your own research.
Those of us who actually have worked with thousands of clients for 25+ years and study health, longevity, nutrition and everything in between on a daily basis (and read studies, both new and especially older studies, that are not financially backed by the previous mentioned industries), know that the following information is tried and true.
Don’t be a slave or a shill to the food- and pharmaceutical industry! Drop the chains that are choking your brain and seek out the truth!
Let’s start with the most common misbeliefs regarding fasting. These are:
- Fasting slows metabolism and puts you in “starvation mode”
- Fasting makes you burn muscle mass
- Fasting causes low blood sugar
- Fasting deprives the body of nutrients
The funny thing about the common misinformed opinions about fasting is that if someone is fasting because of religious beliefs or is doing a 2-day fast before undergoing surgery or a colonoscopy, no one bats an eye. The response is usually, “good for you, two days is not that hard. You can do it!”
But if you say you’re doing a 2-day fast to feel better and/or cut some body fat, everyone is screaming, “oooh maah gawd, you’re going to starve! You’ll lose all your muscle and die.”
Funny how that works, right?
Misbelief #1: slowdown of metabolism
Oh noes. Iz so tired. My metabolism has stopped. Damn you fasting.
Let us approach this logically and with baby steps. Although our ‘known’ written history is sketchy at best, we do know that the human race has survived a lot of hardships. We are designed to be hunters and gatherers, which requires you to be successful in finding food if you want to eat. There are still tribes today that are hunters and gatherers, and they do quite well. And even when the majority of our civilization learned how to farm, disasters struck from time to time and all crops were lost. So, consider the survival situation as the seasons turn and food availability varies greatly. If short-term fasting would lower our metabolism and cause us to lose precious functional muscle, humans as a species would not likely have survived.
In fact, metabolism speed up during fasting. This makes perfect sense from a survival standpoint. If we do not eat, our bodies use our stored energy as fuel to keep us alert and energetic so we can successfully hunt, collect, and search for more food.
This is the whole point of us being able to store body fat in the first place – so we have something to tap into if there’s no food available.
Studies demonstrate this phenomenon clearly. In one, fasting every other day for twenty-two days resulted in no measurable decrease in Basal Metabolic rate (BMR.) There was no “starvation mode.”
Fat oxidation (fat burning) increased 58 percent, from 64 g/day to 101 g/day. Carbohydrate oxidation decreased 53 percent, from 175 g/day to 81 g/day. This means that the body has started to switch over from burning sugar to burning fat, with no overall drop in energy production.
In another study, four days of continuous fasting increased BMR by 12 percent. Levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which prepares the body for action, increased by 117 percent, keeping energy levels high. Fatty acids in the bloodstream increased over 370 percent as the body switched over from burning food to burning stored fats.
Misbelief #2: rapid muscle loss
I’m so triggered! You must eat at least 10 times a day or you’ll lose all your gains!!1!1!
The next persistent myth of fasting – especially in the fitness industry – is the belief that fasting will ‘eat up’ muscle. That our body, if we’re not eating, will immediately start using our precious muscle mass as an energy source. This belief illustrates both a lack of logical thinking and a lack of fundamental understanding of physiology.
This misbelief probably comes from the “reasoning” that if a severe calorie restriction diet makes you lose muscle mass, fasting (as in not eating at all), will make you lose even more. Again, believing this is faulty reasoning and displays a lack of research on the topic.
Sure, if you’re used to eating every third hour and consume a lot of carbohydrates – so that your fat-storage hormone insulin is elevated most of the day – your body doesn’t really know how to use body fat for fuel. In this scenario, you will lose a little muscle mass if you throw yourself into a fast without any prior preparation. It would probably take 2 to 3 days before you enter ketosis and start to feel a little bit better. And it would take another 2 to 3 weeks before you get properly ‘fat adapted’ and start to really tap into fat as an energy source (once you enter ketosis, you will start to use fat as fuel, but not as efficiently as someone who are used to it). This is why I always recommend to start with a ketogenic diet for 2 to 3 weeks before transitioning into a fasting lifestyle; so you can re-learn how to burn fat efficiently. Read my previous blog posts for more information about this.
Let’s get back to the topic. The human body is designed to survive periods of fasting (as in being fasted from lack of food sources.) We store our “food energy” as body fat and use this as fuel when food is not available. Muscle, on the other hand, is extremely valuable and is therefore preserved until body fat becomes so low that the body has no choice but to turn to muscle for sustaining bodily functions. This will only happen when total body fat is at less than 4 percent.
If we did not preserve muscle when no food was available, we would not have survived very long as a species. Almost all mammals have this same ability.
Real-world studies on fasting show that this hold true. Alternate-day fasting over seventy days decreased body weight by 6 percent, but fat mass decreased by 11.4 percent and lean mass (muscle and bone) did not change at all.
As you start fasting, carbohydrate oxidation will increase for the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, until your body runs out of glycogen (as stored in the liver and muscle cells.) With no more sugar to burn, the body switches to burning fat. Fat oxidation increases as carbohydrate oxidation decreases toward zero.
At the same time, protein oxidation, such as muscle, for fuel actually decreases. The normal protein breakdown of around seventy-five grams per day falls to fifteen to twenty grams per day during fasting. Rather than burning muscle during fasting, we start preserving muscle. Much of the amino acids that are broken down during regular turnover of cells are reabsorbed into new proteins.
This is called autophagy – where the body breaks down damaged cells and cells/protein that is not needed. This is why people who lost a lot of weight can lose all their excess skin from utilizing long-term fasting, as the now useless skin is broken down and recycled as amino acids for energy and repair.
This is not possible on a calorie-reduced diet, as you need to be fasting to activate autophagy. Also, as long as you are on a calorie-reduced diet, no matter the number of calories, your daily protein breakdown will still be at around 75 grams a day. But if you’re fasting, it’s five times lower!
Also, consider other stress-factors, overuse of low-intensity exercise, and so on. This is why people tend to lose more muscle mass and damage their metabolism on stupid very-low-calorie-diets (VLCD) than when doing a more sensible diet and alternating days, or several days, of fasting. We will explore this in more depth in following parts of this article series.
From my fasting and ketogenic diet experiment in mid-2016. Actually gained muscle mass.
Once again, apply some logic. Why would your body store excess energy as fat if it would start to burn muscle protein as soon as food would become unavailable? Muscles, tendons, and other proteins are functional tissues and are very important to our chances of survival. They are not designed to function as energy reserves. To burn muscle for energy would be like storing firewood for the winter and as soon as cold weather and snow hits, you’d start chopping up your furniture and throwing it into the fireplace.
In all seriousness, fasting is actually one of the most potent stimuli for growth hormone secretion; and increased growth hormone helps maintain lean body mass (as well as a young and healthy skin and joints.) In studies that used drugs to suppress growth hormone in fasted subjects, there was a 50 percent increase in protein oxidation (muscle loss).
Also, gaining muscle mass (or losing muscle mass) is mostly a function of exercise. Stuffing your face with food and drinking weight gainers does not build muscle mass. That’s wishful thinking. Carefully planned pre- and post-workout nutrition might help to maximize your efforts. But it’s still intense exercise, such as weight training, where you keep challenging your body, that actually stimulate muscle growth. Muscle is mainly about exercise, and body fat is mainly about diet.
If you’re worried about muscle loss, do more of the exercise that built your muscle in the first place, and do less of exercise that raises muscle wasting cortisol such as low intensity cardiovascular exercise.
And for the record, don’t confuse long-term diets with a 7-day, 14-day or even a 21-day fast. When fasting, your body will do everything in its power to stay as strong and healthy for as long as possible. Only your pre-nutritional status, your level of fat adaption, and the amount of body fat you can burn will limit how long you can fast without ill-effects. Remember, once your body fat goes below a total of 4 percent, you will risk starvation because there is not enough fat to be released as energy on a continuous basis to keep the body going. But until then, if you’re fat adapted, muscle loss will be minimal.
On a long-term calorie-reduced diet on the other hand, you still get calories and some nutrients. Your body will simply perceive it as starvation and there will be no protective hormonal response (as with fasting). This is why it’s so important to get enough nutrients to support hormone production, enzyme production, vitamin- and mineral status, maintain a proper electrolyte balance, and so on, while on a long-term diet aimed at fat loss. If you lose muscle mass on a fat loss diet, it’s because you do too much harmful exercise, too little muscle building exercise or simply do not get enough nutrients (usually not enough fats and minerals). In other words, if you get help from a coach or a personal trainer and you lose muscle mass, that person lacks knowledge and understanding of the body, and you should turn to someone else.
If they say that muscle loss is unavoidable on a ‘fat loss’ diet, simply reply with, “good bye”.
To be continued in the next part where we will look at blood sugar and deprivation of nutrients. Until then, take care and stay healthy!