Our Greenhouse

Why I'm Fasting in January

Monica WildeMonica Wilde MSc FLS
Research Herbalist

You are forgiven for being thoroughly fed-up reading about diets and detox. Come the first week of January it feels as if every single newspaper, magazine and website has nothing else to say. In fact the array of products promising to make you thin, shed the winter weight in record time, cleanse your skin, bowels and liver, is overwhelming. 

Don't get me wrong, I personally do believe in fasting (food abstinence) and detoxing (cleansing diets), but just not for the month of January! And at Napiers, we do sell our own Detox Formula and Weight Loss shake mix. However, I also believe that this whole subject has to be approached sensibly. Diets never stick unless the right motivation is there. When you understand what fasting does for the body, it is so much easier to keep on track. So here's a brief run through some of the fascinating science behind fasting and how I'm going to tackle the winter bulge! 

As a forager and plant-addict, I always look back to life in the first part of our existence as humans. In our pre-farming existence, fasting was an integral part of life. In fact, the ability of living cells to adapt to fasting conditions is billions of years old. Even after farming was invented, around 8,000 years ago, humans hung on to fasting by incorporating an annual period of fasting (Lent, Ramadan, etc.) or weekly days of abstinence into nearly every world religion. There is a lot of evidence now that, as long as fasting doesn't become starvation, it is very good for us. Fasting causes body fat to break down into glycerol which is a non-ageing carbon source. Interestingly, periods of long fasting will start to shrink all organs except the brain.

Fasting protects us from disease & ageing

There is research evidence that intermittent fasting, such as alternate day fasting especially when combined with exercise, seems to prolong our lives, helps protect us against a range of age-related diseases from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimers', helps to fight cancer tumours and far from debilitating our bodies, reduces fat, increases muscle mass and promotes mental agility. Longo & Mattson (2013) conclude that "Several major physiological responses to fasting are similar to those caused by regular aerobic exercise, including increased insulin sensitivity and cellular stress resistance, reduced resting blood pressure and heart rate, and increased heart rate variability." That's good news for me as I am definitely not a runner!

Fasting reduces inflammation which is a key symptom in a wide variety of illnesses. The following are just a few of the studies I found in a literature search of journals using the search term "intermittent fasting". Johnson et al., (2007) found that alternate day fasting improves asthma symptoms over a period of 2–4 weeks. Similarly, just 2 days of fasting a week reduces the risk of breast cancer in susceptible overweight women (Harvie et al., 2011), and elderly men who fasted reduced their body weight and body fat and improved their mood (Teng et al., 2011). Fann et al. (2014) found that intermittent fasting can modulate the inflammatory response and tissue damage following a stroke. Prolonged fasting for 2–3 days may help to protect cancer patients from a variety of chemotherapy drugs, an effect called differential stress resistance (DSR). It increases the sensitivity of various cancer cells to chemo treatment. Unlike normal body cells which can enter a 'protected state' during fasting, cancer cells are unable to adapt. Barnosky et al. (2014) tested diabetic patients by using a daily calorie restricted diet versus intermittent, alternate day fasting. Although calorie restriction resulted in quicker weight loss, interestingly the results were pretty much the same on reduced body fat and insulin factors whether you restricted calories all the time or just fasted a few days a week.

In favour of fasting

So the arguments for fasting are sound. From my perspective, if intermittent fasting can lengthen my life, protect me from the diseases of old age so that I enjoy those extra years, and help my lazy genes to control my waistline, then that's great motivation to to try it.

Of course it's not so easy to put into practice. I find it easy to fast during the day because I become so absorbed in my work that I forget to eat anyway. The trouble is that in the evening when I do eat, I suddenly find myself starving hungry, eat too fast, and then still feel hungry after the meal. So then the temptation to have a little more is irresistible.

Fasting tip - the dieter's cheat

The key to calorie restriction is portion control. Not eating too much! My tip, if you’re finding the New Year fast a challenge, is psyllium husk. This is a seed husk that comes from a plant very similar to the ribwort plantain weed that grows in our lawns. It is a fantastic source of fibre (1 teaspoon has the equivalent fibre to one serving of porridge) and it contains no calories. You add a little water to a teaspoon of psyllium to make it easy to drink, and then you drink a whole glass of water.  The husk gently swells in your stomach and makes you feel full. If you do this 20 minutes before a meal you’ll find it so much easier to eat less.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

So I'm off to get organised and put a plan in place. Having the right foods, in the right place, at the right time is critical for me. This means planning my week to shop little and often. I thrive best on a high-vegetable diet with just a little protein and at this time of year there is not much to pick wild. So shopping trips for green vegetables are key. 


Products Mentioned

Our Detox Formula helps stimulate the digestive tract and liver.

Psyllium husk

Psyllium husk, the dieter's cheat, helps you to feel fuller and keep your fibre up.

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