The mindset and lifestyle of most of us is one of excess. As a society, we are simply accustomed to it. Fasting, for most, seems a rather foreign concept and that’s unfortunate. There is mounting anecdotal and scientific evidence that shows a wide range of benefits to be had from intermittent fasting or being in a fasted state.
When it comes to periods of both extended and intermittent fasting, it is very likely that our ancestors practiced their fair share of it, often due to lack of choice. This might even be the most natural way to eat. Mankind evolved whilst following a cycle of having plenty and having much less. This was not due to a burning desire for leanness (although they were certainly lean and muscular) but because that is how they lived. The very nature of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle lends itself to going extended periods of time without eating. Going for long periods of time without food, is assumed to have been a typical way of life during mankind’s prehistoric hunter-gatherer phase, especially during cold seasons when food was scarce.
From a lifestyle perspective, during the day, tribes moved around from place to place, hunting and collecting food. They certainly did not sit down to eat three meals. They may have snacked periodically on plants, seeds and nuts that were gathered, but they probably did not stop every 2-3 hours to eat. It was only in the evening when, if available, they would eat a large meal which would have consisted largely of foods similar to our Paleo options today.
It follows that the human body, through evolution, would have become quite well adapted to these periods of hunger or fasting. Not only did the human body have to adapt enough to survive in times without food, but it also had to be able hunt, gather, and fight. Hunter-gatherers, when looking for food, needed to be alert and focused. In pre-history, if an individual could not hunt well while hungry they would be less likely to survive. These are strenuous activities for the well-nourished individual, much less one that may not have eaten in three or four days. From a survival point of view, evolution would have given top priority to adapting to such common and life-threatening conditions. Modern man is a direct descendant of those who could perform well when low on food.
To completely ignore the potential benefits of intermittent fasting, is to deny the very fundamentals of a Paleo lifestyle.
Benefits of Fasting
The benefits related to going without food for extended periods of time include health markers like improved cholesterol and triglycerides as well as the more physically obvious benefits like being a lean and metabolically balanced along with mentally focused.
Those are only the scientifically proven benefits. If you consider the anecdotal and etiological data pointing to the potential for fasting to down regulate insulin production thus lending itself to increased longevity, and maybe even lower rates of terminal illnesses, incorporating intermittent fasting into your lifestyle may be something to seriously consider.
Combining the principles of the Paleo diet with those of intermittent fasting will supply your body with the optimal nutrients necessary to thrive in the manner in which humankind spent the last ten thousand years or more becoming accustomed to.
Feasting, on the other hand, has its roots in human history too.
Perhaps man is meant to regulate the body by having occasional and/or seasonal bouts of eating and not eating, in similar fashion to how our ancient ancestors had to. It is interesting to note that even in the relatively recent past, traditionally people would, for example, fill up during Christmas time and fast during lent.
It might be important to note that feasting is an inherent part of history and culture. The word ‘feast’ shares common roots with words including ‘festival’ and ‘festive’. Every society throughout time has had some form of ritual feasts. One need to look no further than the feasts tied to the world’s major religions, like Ramadan, Jewish Feast Days, and Christian feasts like Epiphany and its accompanying Fat Tuesday.
There is even some scientific evidence supporting an occasional feast. Combining fasting and feasting create several benefits at a cellular and molecular level. In fact, it can change gene expression and profoundly improve the way you look, feel and function. Many of these benefits are tied directly to the fact that the hormone leptin increases with an over-intake of food.
The effects of a leptin boost due to an occasional feast include:
- Increased satiety (satisfaction) after eating a meal
- Lowered hunger levels for much longer than immediately after the feast, due to decreased ghrelin(your hunger hormone).
- Overall adherence to eating to satiety in day-to-day living.
Not only are feasts physically beneficial, there are likely psychologically helpful as well. There is immense pleasure and satisfaction derived from sitting amongst loved ones or like-minded friends, and devouring (whilst savoring) a delicious platter of Paleo-friendly foods that will nourish and strengthen both body and mind.
Feasts are often tied with celebration, merriment, and camaraderie. Not only can eating with others be great making memories, sharing a great meal along with good company also promotes mindfulness.
There are many reasons why someone may eat more when they are alone, but when sharing a feast with friends, true pleasure is derived from the food itself because it’s enriched with lovely company, too.
That fills a void food simply can’t. That cultural tie to food is no coincidence. Maybe ancient man knew about the concept of wellbeing and how it is intrinsically tied to health (and lack of illness) long before we did…
If fasting is part of your lifestyle, this is a time to implement this strategy. This does not need to be an extended fast. A skipped meal or compressed eating window might just do the trick. Wait until your body signals it needs nourishment. The next time you feel hungry, eat as much as you are hungry for. Be honest with yourself and pay attention to your needs. Trying to fill your stomach up with cucumbers, drinking coffee as an appetite suppressant or forcing yourself to fast will not be supportive of your long-term health goals.
The successes of many cultures’ rests on their traditions. Many of those focus around feasting, followed by periods of fasting. Even if there’s not much of a physiological benefit other than reducing your caloric intake to balance the overindulgence, the psychological boost you will get from not eating will stave off the potential guilt of abandoning your Paleo principles. Although I do not support or encourage guilting or shaming around any food choices, it does happen. Fasting can be powerful tool to balance that mindset.
After a period of not eating, the body is more sensitive to insulin and breaking the fast with foods that cause insulin surges can be problematic and uncomfortable. During your fast, your body was being fueled from internal sources that consisted of fat and protein. Most of the fat was palmitic acid.
It would make sense to break the fast with a similar diet, one that consists mainly of palmitic acid. This would mean eating animal fat. Once again, Paleo choice, based on whole, nutrient dense foods is the optimal and allows the body to continue to reap the benefits of the fasting period.
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A Few Considerations
When choosing to combine intermittent fasting and a little feasting with your Paleo diet there are a few things to consider:
If you are new to a Paleo lifestyle and coming from an unhealthy diet and a big, refined carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, the change might feel rather extreme. It may be better and more sustainable to do a gradual change to healthy Paleo living before thinking of adding fasting to the mix.
Occasionally it can be challenging to eat enough calories when there are fewer meals eaten and some people struggle to eat enough healthy, nutrient dense food in a limited daily period. Although a Paleo diet (and all of Pete’s Paleo meals) does focus on nutrient density, if your caloric requirements are higher, a fasting protocol may not be the optimal choice for you. Please also refer to our previous post on who should NOT fast.
If you are already enjoying the benefits of either Paleo or intermittent fasting, why not take things a step further and try both together? You might be surprised as to how effective it is to follow the ultimate natural eating pattern.