Living Naturally: Part One

We don’t, you know.

Let’s set the arbitrary standard for natural: to eat, breathe, sleep and move in the ways our ancestors of hunter-gatherers did in 10,000 BC (which is not that many generations ago.)

There were not a lot of fatties in those days, don’t you imagine. Meals came sporadically, people moved as their food did. Diets were all local and fresh–if possible; rancid and rotten and eaten anyway if not. A missed meal–maybe even a day or a few days without eating– was the usual.

And our bodies adapted to that pattern over the millenia, crafting the hormones and nerve transmitters and hence, our ideas and habits and gut-reflexes related to food so that we would at least survive in the lean times when leftovers were eaten by the toothy carnivores.

Today, for most of us–even in burgeoning cities of the globese developing countries–there is often no shortage of highly caloric foods at hand. Food has become a varitable toxin as obesity becomes the new normal.

And this thought got me thinking: is there anything to the notion that fasting serves to “detox” our bodies of excesses or unnecessary or poisonous food-related sludge our modern bodies take in, residues that our standard, “natural” inherited metabolism we can’t effectively deal with?

We are certainly not designed by our species past to eat three heaping meals a day, plus pre-desert snacks and sugar-water drinks as we barely move our ample bodies in space.

We have a famine metabolism in a time of incredible excess of food. We are programmed to gain and not to lose because “naturally” we did without more often than we had enough. How the world has changed while our metabolism stays the same.

I’m genetically thin. But a couple of years ago, my belt shrunk. I am too cheap to buy new pants, so I set out to lose back those excess pounds.

I cut some elements of my “usual” breakfast (no more toast after cereal) and in so doing last year lost 5 pounds. dropping back to my target 175, which for my height is good. But now, I’m gaining some of that back.

But then, I’m not so interested in lunch as I once was. Can I do a “partial fast” several days a week and intentionally skip lunch altogether? And might there be benefits beyond weight loss to fasting, as so many of our sages have advised over the ages?

Consider these thoughts from a recent NPR spot on the topic:

In fasting “you re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you’re less fond of taking,” Neufeld says.

Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without, including free radicals.

“These free radicals will attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells,” Mattson says. “They can damage all those different molecules in cells.”

Mattson thinks partial fasting has numerous benefits, from improving glucose regulation, which can protect against diabetes, to also lowering blood pressure. Some animal studies have also shown that partial fasting has very beneficial effects on the brain, protecting against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

Partial fasting may even extend lifespan because eating less sends a message to the cells of the body that they should conserve and use energy more efficiently.

Anybody have any experience with fasting beyond the calorie-reduction kind? Might this simple measure, done wisely and in addition to getting more physical activity, help us return to a better balance between diet and weight, to live more naturally?

“Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” Egyptian pyramid inscription, 3800 B.C.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Fasting isn’t good for everyone. I did some in my twenties and it created in me a cycle of binging that followed. I do see how people like it and some get anorexia by way of it because after awhile you can feel powerful and almost euphoric (you also can feel the opposite of that). But I do think the body benefits from a rest from digesting food. When I need to cut back I don’t eat at night after supper and then break my fast the next morning. I also think we could all benefit from stopping eating before we are actually full.

  2. i fast on occasion when i feel my body is starting to get sluggish from eating the wrong kinds of foods….say when we’ve been traveling or really busy, times when we eat out more or eat more processed food. the easiest way for me, is to fast after lunch, until lunch the next day b/c you sleep through most of it. 🙂 i’ve never been successful at a morning until next morning. then i break the fast with something light, like fruit and yogurt. i tend to feel better afterwards.

    i have a lot of friends who fast, also… but more for the ‘spiritual’ aspect of it, as in fasting and praying.

  3. I’ve always wondered how you can send a message to your body without your mind being involved. The fasting causes chemical changes in the body, sure, but if you know there isn’t a famine can you still “fool” your body into conserving and using wisely?

    I’m not so sure.


  4. I don’t believe fasting works in the long run…….One should eat sensibly and also exercise on a regular basis. I rarely eat at the fast food joints. My problem is, since I live alone & hate to cook, I buy the prepared foods in the grocery stores express site. But I usually buy their chicken & veggy items – I have asked the stores dietician about the calories, fats & carbs in their prepared foods & it is not excessive, so hopefully I am not “over-indulging”! I never drink sodas, always water throughout the day. My only weakness is a glass of wine with dinner. I also exrcise 4-5 times a week at Curves – I have not lost much weight but I have lost inches, as I believe I am converting fat to muscle. I am so committed to exercising!

  5. I like your photographs.

    I’m here by way of Whiskey River. Interesting to read:

    “In fasting ‘you re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar . . .”

    For almost 20 years I ate absolutely no sugar, except in fruit, and drank no alcohol, practicing what might be called a sort of long-term “partial fast.” My reason for doing this was that I was an out-of-control binge eater (also, at times, anorexic and bulimic) and that the only thing that gave me relief from binge-eating was not to eat sugar, except in fruit, and to refrain from drinking alcohol.

    No one told me to do this. I just observed that many alcoholics find relief from alcoholism by refraining from drinking alcohol and that I used sugar in the way alcoholics used alcohol. I found that when I refrained from eating sugar and drinking alcohol, my binge-eating stopped and my weight stabilized for the first time in my life.

    I did complete fasts during the years when I suffered from eating disorders, once fasting for 10 days. Fasting only triggered binges for me. Fasting may not be a good idea for those of us with eating disorders.

    Recently I have begun eating small amounts of sugar again, without returning to binge-eating. However, I still refrain from drinking alcohol, as I believe that was the main trigger for my binge-eating. At 58 years old, my health is quite good and I have not had to worry about my weight, anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating for 20 years now.

    Everyone is different, of course, but I just wanted to mention my long-term experience with freedom from worries about my weight.