The first prerequisite of control is knowledge, followed by direction and action. Your health and wellbeing are no exception to this. And while changing our habits takes determination, time and effort, having knowledge and support will accelerate your endeavour. Changing your sleeping habits or using your breathing to regulate your emotional state can be highly beneficial, and none of the flow-on health effects will cost you anything. The same applies to fasting or just changing your eating window. This article is dedicated to the health benefits of fasting, achieving high immunity, and ageing in a healthier way.
One of the reasons why I keep educating myself on wellbeing, healthy ageing and leading a balanced lifestyle, and why I like to take a holistic approach in my coaching sessions, is that since 2018 I have experienced first-hand the effect an autoimmune disorder can have on your life.
My autoimmune disorder materialised as a skin condition. The first doctor told me ‘It’s nothing – just ignore it, nobody can see it’. However, I started to make changes as a preventative measure. I sought treatment to eliminate any health issues that might be linked; for example, I had a tooth extracted to reduce inflammation risk and had a colonoscopy to check my gut health. I also eliminated chemicals wherever possible (e.g. I switched to organic detergents and shampoo soap bars), ate a predominantly organic and vegan diet, regularly went for blood tests and set stricter personal boundaries around working hours, sleep schedules, my social life, etc. I effectively eliminated or reduced everything that challenged my new healthy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, nothing really helped. Different doctors kept confirming that my body was entirely healthy, yet the spots on my skin were getting worse in size and appearing in new locations.
Over the next few years, I saw several dermatologists, was referred to the hospital to see a team of immunology specialists, had three skin samples taken and spent lots of money, all of which ultimately left me feeling like I was part of a medical research project. The diagnosis kept coming back the same; I had developed an autoimmune disorder called granuloma annulare.
The exact cause and treatment for granuloma annulare is unknown. Numerous theories exist, linking the cause to trauma, sun exposure, thyroid disease, tuberculosis and various viral infections. How was that possible? My body was confirmed to be entirely healthy, clear of the above afflictions.
Despite all my preventative measures and dedication to living a calm and healthy life, the granuloma annulare kept expanding and at times my skin was severely inflamed across my body.
Perseverance started to pay off for the first time in 2020, when I trialled a five-day water fast and saw a short-term improvement. Then finally, after 3.5 years of researching and adjustments I found what I believe was a major factor – if not the trigger! A blood test revealed that I had elevated levels of lead in my body ‘leading to a health risk’. I understand now that lead can live in our bones and can be released as we age, or if changes occur in our hormones. This can cause inflammation and pain in our joints. Plus, I have lived in some exotic places, like China and Senegal, where lead consumption could have been higher.
I felt almost relieved and started a successful exit therapy mid-2021. Once that was done, I could finally start my healing and detoxification process. As you can imagine, over the years I was prescribed lots of different medication (tablets, creams and ointments), which probably poisoned my body even more. Having previously had some success with fasting and the detoxification that comes with it, special fasts to reset body processes and an intermittent fasting schedule were just what I needed.
Fasting to reduce inflammation and improve your health and wellbeing
Fasting generally refers to the reduction of certain foods, drinks or other stimulants. Intermittent fasting is about restricting the time when food is consumed during the day. For example, the 16:8 plan is 16 hours of fasting and only eating in an 8-hour window.
What does it take to switch to intermittent fasting? You must be mentally and physically healthy and be willing to change your habits and stay committed, especially over the first 30 days. It might help you to get support. I recommend that in addition to the information in this article, you educate yourself further to see what suits your needs and lifestyle the best, and to try out different fasting eating windows (16:8 up to 20:4).
When you start, expect puzzled looks or comments from people that think you just want to lose weight. While this might be a welcome side effect, intermittent fasting can offer so much more. My purpose in writing about it is to maximise and sustain the wellbeing and performance of individuals, promote a healthy lifestyle, and give you an overview on how you can reduce or heal your body of potential chronic inflammation.
According to Dr Steven Gundry, MD, ‘Inflammation is the root cause of most diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases and dementia. If you have any of these pre-existing diseases – or high blood pressure, fatigue, acne, rashes or joint pain – then you have inflammation.’ The cause might be heavy metals, years of processed food or chemicals in your surroundings, like synthetic fertilizers, contaminated drinking water, seafood or table salt.
Nutrition and the health benefits of fasting to enjoy a long, active life.
Dr Valter Longo writes in his book The Longevity Diet that ‘ageing is the central risk for all major
diseases’. He concludes that it is much more effective to intervene with ageing itself than to prevent or treat disease, and how, with a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD), his lab was able to reduce the number of autoimmune cells while also activating regeneration of damaged tissues in mice.
Ageing is accelerated by sugar and too much animal protein. The average person needs just 0.31–0.36 grams of protein per day for each pound of body weight. You can calculate your daily
protein by multiplying your weight in pounds by the protein amount in grams. For example: 116
pounds x 0.33 grams = 38.28 grams of protein per day.
Several publications (by the well-respected magazine Nature, for example) prove that for the average person, a fasting-mimicking diet (intermittent fasting) slows ageing, fights disease and helps manage weight. It’s also something to consider if you belong to the 4% of the world's population affected by an autoimmune disease (23.5 million Americans alone, and nearly 80 percent of those are women).
I have now learned that many known autoimmune diseases are triggered by heavy metal poisoning. The cause can be an accumulation of certain metals in the body from exposure through food, water, industrial chemicals or other sources. While your body needs small amounts of some heavy metals to function normally – such as zinc, copper, chromium, iron and manganese – high levels are toxic and harmful. Lead poisoning, for example, can come from old lead pipes, or pipes that are fitted with lead-based solders, or, per my doctor, old lead-leaking kettles.
Since most of us who live in developed countries have access to many different diet options, preferences or restrictions, I will not comment further on a specific diet, but introduce you to Dr Campbell’s conclusion over many years of research. He writes in his book The China Study that people who eat a predominantly wholefood, vegan diet – avoiding animal products as a source of nutrition and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates – will escape, reduce, or reverse the development of cancer and they will have the lowest incidences of heart diseases, obesity and many other western illnesses. His advice is to try and eliminate all animal-based products from our diet, but not obsess over it.
Intermittent fasting can be a wonderful and uncomplicated adjustment to your individual diet, not just to prevent disease, but also to try and reverse damage from unhealthy levels of sugar, bad hidden fats (e.g. canola oil on fries, potato chips or hidden in processed food) and a high animal-protein based diet.
Different fasting methods available to you.
During a fasting mimicking diet/intermittent fasting, you stop food intake for a certain time. But drinking liquids, such as water, tea or black coffee, are allowed.* Additionally, there is the option of an extended fast (e.g. water, dry fasting, etc.). You can do these during the year to reset your health.
The interesting part of fasting is that each one of these fasts starts another process in your body. Overall, fasting can help you lose weight, reset your gut microbiome, regenerate old and injured tissues, give you a massive influx of stem cells and help your brain grow new neurons.
According to Dr Mark P. Mattson (neuroscientist at the National Institute on Ageing and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), after meals our liver stores and uses glucose for energy, while fat is stored in fat tissue. With intermittent fasting, we slowly burn through the approximate 700 calories of glucose stored in our liver, which takes about 10–12 hours. The process is called metabolic switching. In his study ‘Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Ageing, and Disease’, Mattson observes:
I Intermittent fasting elicits evolutionarily conserved, adaptive cellular responses that are integrated between and within organs in a manner that improves glucose regulation, increases stress resistance, and suppresses inflammation. During fasting, cells activate pathways that enhance intrinsic defences against oxidative and metabolic stress and those that remove or repair damaged molecules. During the feeding period, cells engage in tissue specific processes of growth and plasticity. However, most people consume three meals a day plus snacks, so intermittent fasting does not occur. (Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., and Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D., New England Journal, February 2020)
Dr Mattson cautioned that intermittent dieters should ‘eat healthy foods, including whole grains, healthy fats and protein, while limiting saturated fats and avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates’. The World Economic Form adds to that and recommends avoiding butter, red meat, fast or fried food, pastries and sweets, and full-fat cheese to optimise your brain health.
Most people who are trying to lose weight strive for 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating (16:8). I choose 17 and sometimes 20 calorie-free hours to optimise my body’s healing process. It’s not an easy change to make. Many will experience hunger, irritability and a reduced ability to concentrate during periods of food restrictions. However, these side effects usually disappear within a month, and first results kick in within 3 – 4 months. The long-term effect of intermittent fasting is resilience, that is, disease resistance.
17:7 – Intermittent fasting to trigger autophagy.
17 hours of fasting and 7 hours of eating will allow you to start eating around lunch (~12pm) and stop eating after dinner (~7pm). This intermittent fasting rhythm has great benefits, such as cellular repair and detoxification, creation of new healthy cells, anti-ageing, immune boosting effects and cancer prevention (Dr. Longo).
Plus, it fits the lifestyle of most people. It’s social, as you can still share your lunch break with others (family, colleagues), and you can eat during social dinner events.
You can also eat your breakfast at 8am and your last meal at 3pm. In fact, Dr Huberman mentions a study that was published in July 2021 by Cell Report that found eating protein early in the day (before 10am) supports muscle tissue maintenance and/or growth. He also promotes not eating in the first hour of waking and sticking to your chosen window (12:8, 17:7 or 20:4) for at least 30 days. If you struggle with aspects of this plan (e.g. skipping your breakfast) you can adjust your feeding window over a transition period of several days by delaying your normal meal by around 1 hour once per day, until you reach your ideal new eating time that better suits your lifestyle and goals.
Key health benefits of different time windows in intermittent fasting:
autophagy – the body's way of cleaning out damaged and potentially toxic cells to regenerate new healthy cells, according to Priya Khorana, PhD, nutrition education at Columbia University
the stabilisation of electrolytes – sodium, potassium and others are critical in allowing cells to generate energy, maintain the stability of their walls and to function in general
a 20% increase of vasopressin – vasopressin is being studied as a treatment for dementia. It also plays a role in regulating the circadian rhythm (periods of sleepiness and wakefulness in a 24‑hour cycle) and can increase the blood flow to your heart and brain
the stabilisation of blood sugar levels and suppression of inflammation
a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol levels
improved brain health and memory
How to break your daily intermittent fasting
When breaking your fast each day, make sure you start with high-quality and organic food, if possible.
Before I move on to my 7-hour eating window, I like to break my daily fast with a bit of avocado topped with raw sauerkraut (or kimchi) and hemp seeds – it tastes yummy and gives you healthy fats, probiotics and protein!
Extended water fasting to accelerate detoxification, deep healing and to boost immunity.
I like to water fast 2–3 times per year. The first time, I checked my bloodwork before and after my fast and was supported by my doctor, which I strongly recommend for you too.**
During the 3–5 days of fasting, it’s recommended to consume 2–3 litres of plain water each day. Some literature suggests you can ‘cheat’ and add black coffee, tea or bone broth.
The only supplement I like to add to my filtered water is 2–4 grams of organic sea salt per day. This helps to keep electrolytes in balance and overall makes me feel better. Key benefits of water fasting:
peak autophagy – old parts of cells are broken down and recycled
deep repair, reduced inflammation and healing of the body
stem cell (repair) – production starts after 3 days of fasting (Dr Longo)
regeneration and protection of the immune system
a decrease in high blood pressure – this should be medically supervised
increased insulin sensitivity, increased HRV, improved lipid metabolism
a reset for healthy gut microbiota
Please see ‘How to break your extended water or dry fast’ below.
Dry fasting to reset your body by avoiding all liquids and food.
Dry fasting is probably the closest method to the restricted, sunrise-to-sunset, 30-day fasting that is followed by around 1.6 billion Muslims during Ramadan. So, this is not something new. While living for three months with a family in Senegal, I was able to witness and participate in fasting every Friday during Ramadan.
One of the most important benefits of dry fasting is that inflammation levels in your body significantly drop. Dr Minday Pelz promotes dry fasting as safe between 12–16 hours. Over the years, I’ve done several 24-hour dry fasts, or I start with one day of dry fasting and then move into my 3–5 days of water fasting.
Dry fasting can also assist or offset one day of heavy eating, if that is your target. But you need to be cautious! Dry fasting can be tough on you, and I strongly recommend listening to your body and maybe starting slowly with 12 hours, then gradually increasing. It’s not recommended for anyone with major health conditions, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for anyone under the age of 18.**
Key health benefits of dry fasting:
the strengthening and resetting of the body’s immune system by recycling and removing damaged cells
allowing your body to regenerate new cells
the chance to balance cholesterol levels and lower blood sugar levels
a greater mental clarity and protection against degeneration of brain cells
a reduction in inflammation levels in your skin or joints
How to break your extended water or dry fast. Once your fasting period comes to an end, you should resist the urge to eat a big meal. Break your prolonged fast with miso soup or bone broth and a probiotic drink (e.g. sauerkraut juice). After your light liquid starter, wait at least one hour, then start with a light meal (e.g. steamed green vegetables, healthy carbs like sweet potato, and some protein).
My top tips for your intermittent or extended fasting.
I strongly recommended first discussing your fasting plans with your doctor.**
Plan your fast and hydrate your body well before you start a longer fast.
Be aware that the first 2–3 days are the hardest, and overall, you need to feel healthy before you start several days of fasting
Find a time without any major events like a birthday. I like to start my dry fast on a Friday after lunch or plan my fast during a holiday. Try to avoid busy periods or stressful times (e.g. after loss, breakup or health scare).
Empty your fridge before you start your fast as it can be very tempting! Especially during the first 2–3 days when you are hungry.
Avoid intense exercise during the first 2–3 days but allow for gentle walks or spoil yourself with delicious stretching or Yin yoga.
Expect headaches, especially during dry fasting or early water fasting days when your body is still trying to adjust or is experiencing caffeine withdrawal. You will probably feel a bit down and struggle to focus on the first 2–3 days.
Some people may get a rash or spots on their skin during the first days of detoxing. I recommend trying an infrared, low-temperature sauna or dry brushing your skin, which helps to accelerate your detox.
Common errors during intermittent fasting.
Choosing the wrong method: There are so many different types of fasting and options depending on your needs, so please speak to your doctor about what might benefit you and try different fasting methods until you find the one that you can easily integrate into everyday life.
Having the wrong expectations and being impatient: Don't give up too soon! Sometimes it takes a while for your body and metabolism to adapt to new conditions. It can take up to four weeks for you to get used to longer meal breaks. And don’t get discouraged by other people’s comments.
Feast without restraint after your fasting window: If you choose to integrate a fast-free day (e.g. Sunday), moderation should also prevail. This is the only way not to overwhelm your body & mind.
Eating too little and switching to ‘low-battery mode’: Often the motivation is very high when one also wants to lose weight during intermittent fasting. But this has several disadvantages. If you eat too little, you shut down your metabolism and thus lower your energy expenditure. There is also a risk of a yo-yo effect, which often occurs after extreme dieting. In addition, radical diets ensure that hunger and dissatisfaction become constant companions that impact your overall wellbeing.
Not enough exercise: Anyone who does not move enough signals supply bottlenecks to the body – this is what makes it particularly happy to store the calories. Gentle movement during fasting can also be the perfect distraction!
Too little sleep: Sleep is important! Overtired people can eat more than they actually need. Read more on the importance of getting enough sleep.
Too much ongoing stress: If you find yourself in ongoing stressful situations, you need to be aware that your body produces the hormone cortisol, which increases your blood sugar levels. This hormone also favours the storage of absorbed energy in fat deposits. If you provide balance with yoga or progressive muscle relaxation, you can prevent stress. You can read more on how to manage it here.
Finally, fasting is not just for people that already have health issues. It’s also for those that like to intervene on ageing itself. Over the years, our cells lose their regenerative capacity to some extent, and more defective cell particles accumulate. These can cause or promote various diseases, such as cancer, or neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. You can, however, interfere by setting healthy boundaries, ensuring you get sufficient sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet during restricted windows that allows your body to heal and regenerate.
As an experienced coach, and someone who is living with an autoimmune disorder, I can truly say that unless you disrupt yourself, someone or something else will. If I had just accepted my diagnosis without further research, tests and self-education, I probably still wouldn’t know I was suffering from the effects of toxic levels of lead in my body.
Ultimately, you know when something isn’t right, so trust your instincts and persevere. If you would like support or to have a discussion, please feel free contact me.
Iris - Your Transformational Coach
I-YTC is about maximizing and sustaining the wellbeing and performance of individuals and organizations in harmony with their environment.
* Some add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of heavy cream, butter or coconut oil to their coffee. It is allowed if it doesn’t significantly alter your blood sugar levels. It’s best to educate yourself further around this topic because our bodies are all different and have different needs. **IMPORTANT: Fasting is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women; if you experience adrenal fatigue (body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems); if you are underweight; if you are under the age of 18 or over the age of 70; for people with Hashimoto, kidney and other severe health diseases; or, if you are a woman, it is not to be done the week before your monthly cycle.
ALSO, if you struggle with mental health, an extended fasting period is not the right strategy for you.