FebFast is upon us. It started in 2007 to raise funds for troubled youth by encouraging us to have a break from health depleting food or drink. For example, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, coffee, etc. It could also include behaviours such as gambling, drugs, and overeating. I would like to add other behaviours like having a break from self-defeating thoughts, overworking, not exercising, taking life too seriously, perfectionism, and so forth.
FebFast has become a recognisable month for putting into action the resolutions we made on January 1st. (see post for hints on how Focus = Results).
So, how good is fasting for us and, in particular, how beneficial is it for brain health?
Fasting is emerging as the new black over the last few years. I first became interested in it when Dr. Michael Mosley’s fasting books were published. He is the well-known British television presenter who has educated us on many a health topic since forever it seems. Some of you might know him for his 5:2 diet or his most recent 800 calories a day fasting book.
Dr. Mosley reminded us that humans have been fasting for millennia given that in our hunter gather days we didn’t have supermarkets to buy our food, we had to hunt and gather it; therefore, there were times when there was very little if any food. Over time, fasting was assimilated into human society through our culture, religious practices and for detoxing purposes.
It seems that the body has learnt to make the most of these fasting times by reaping some health benefits. For example, in his The Fast Diet book (2014), Mosley says that during fasting, a hormone, the Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), decreases. This mechanism apparently has been shown to significantly increase lifespan, reduce ageing related diseases, and switch on genes that repair damage in the body.
The benefits on the brain are just as extraordinary.
- It creates autophagy; a process that cleans waste in brain cells so the brain functions better. This improves concentration, focus, and attention span.
- A protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is increased, which prevents stressed nerve cells from dying. This helps the brain grow more resilient to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, alzheimers, and other cognitive disorders. The BDNF helps the brain adapt to change, increase our energy levels by creating new mitochondria in the cells, and improve our memory, mood, and learning.
- Fasting also helps new brain cells grow through neurogenesis, which establishes new connections in the brain and improves cognitive abilities.
Fasting apparently also causes brain cells to get a bit stressed. Although this sounds unpleasant because, let’s face it, we’ve got enough stress in our lives, it actually helps to keep the brain strong, similar to how exercise keeps the muscles robust.
There are many ways you can fast.
There are too many to discuss here. Typically people believe they need to fast for days or weeks on end but the research says intermittent fasting can be beneficial too. That means fasting here and there.
So, if you are thinking about getting on the fasting bandwagon and supporting FebFast – or at any other time – don’t think of it as giving up something – think of it as having a break.
You could have a break from a health-depleting food, drink, or behaviour you do regularly by choosing to change it for a few days at a time, e.g., during the week but not on the weekends. Or only on certain days of the month. Or reduce something from day to day, e.g., one cup of coffee instead of four.
Ultimately, any change is better for health than no change. The alternative could be that you add a health-promoting behaviour, e.g., 15min daily exercise or meditation. This is not really fasting, but it’s still in the FebFast spirit to be healthy.
My personal program.
To reap the health benefits associated with fasting, I intend to have a break from sugar and alcohol. To give me that little extra inspiration, each day that I am sugar and alcohol free, I will donate to the FebFast “pause for a cause” fundraiser by putting a dollar or two in a money box. I will leave our pinky bank on reception for any of you who want to join me. I will let you know on how I go on our FB page. So far so good after engaging in a hobby to ignore the initial urges during the first weekend.
Of course, despite there is good science and history behind fasting and or detoxing, always consult your health professional before starting a fast. It is not recommended for people who are unwell, have a chronic condition, are pregnant, children, and for other specific medical conditions.
Whether or not you want to do FebFast, if you are feeling challenged shifting a pesky health-depleting behaviour, please call the Clinic to book a session. We can identify what self-limiting beliefs are getting in the way, work on your motivation to change, and devise a plan to move you forward.
Berg, E. (2018) Fasting: Miracle-Gro For Your Brain > YouTube clip
Jockers, D. (2017) Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Health. > YouTube clip
Mattson, M. (2014) Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power > YouTube clip of TED Talk
Salcido, B. (2017). 6 Surprising Brain Power Benefits of Intermittent Fasting (blog post)
Manzanero ,S., Erion, J.R., Santro, T., Steyn, F.J., Chen, C., Arumugam, T.V., & Stranahan, A.M. (2014) Intermittent Fasting Attenuate Increases in Neurogenesis after Ischia and Repercussion and Improves Recovery. Journal of Cerebal Blood Flow & Metabolism, 34, 897-905. > Article
Mosley, M. (2013) How Diet Affects the Brain – Eat, Fast, Live Longer > YouTube clip
Mosley, M. & Spencer, M. (2014) The Fast Diet CPI Group (UK) Ltd: Croydon.
Zyrowski, N. (2018) How Fasting Benefits Your Brain > YouTube clip