In an odd sort of way, watching the latest BBC Horizons documentary on the power of intermittent fasting titled ‘Eat, Fast Live Longer‘ was a lot like watching myself discover fasting all over again.
Dr Michael Mosley, the show’s host begins by trying to combat the ‘ravenous affects of aging’.
His solution? Fasting
But not just fasting. Intermittent Fasting.
And… Not just intermittent fasting. Eat Stop Eat style fasting…Almost.
To start the show off Dr Mosley states that traditionally exercise has always been the way to ‘stay healthy’. The more the better. In general I agree with the recommendation of exercising for overall health benefits, but with certain caveats – namely the ‘more is better’ part. As we know, chronic exhaustive exercise can lead to systemic low grade inflammation – definitely something we want to avoid. So some exercise is good, but too much can actually be detrimental to long term health. So when Dr. Mosley stated “I have never run a marathon and I have no plans to ever run a marathon” I knew I liked the guy (nothing against runners, just happy to see the show wasn’t going to end up promoting extreme forms of exercise).
With exercise being ruled out, Dr. Mosley attempts to connect health with Diet.
The first suggestion comes from a 101 year old Marathon runner “Fresh food, small servings.” Nothing I can really argue with in that statement, nor in the following “In poor countries people die of starvation, in rich countries they die of gluttony.” – An excellent and somewhat profound statement.
Dr. Mosley then went on to say that “The goal is to be mentally active and physically active – I want to stay younger, for longer.” Again, another great statement because it made it clear that the show was not about trying to ‘cheat death’ but rather to live an excellent life. I’m also happy he admitted very quickly that genes play the biggest role in how you age, but you can still do certain things to help the process…or more accurately – slow the process. Again, making it clear that the goal isn’t to reverse or stop aging all together, but to age WELL.
An interesting fact that I was not aware of is that life expectancy increased by a remarkable 6 years during the great depression, and it was with this reference that Dr. Mosley moved into the concept of calorie restriction. He then interviews Dr. Luigi Fontana – one of the Referenced researchers in Eat Stop Eat.
After the interview with Dr. Fontana the show moves to examining “Cronies”, the nickname for people who follow a calorie restricted life style. The one Cronie he interviewed was skinny, a little too skinny for my personal taste…but I have always wondered if proper weight training without any change to their diet would ‘fix’ this.
Next, and surprisingly, Dr. Mosely asked Joe the Cronie “What if it’s all wrong?” – a great question by Dr Mosley that shows he ‘gets’ the scientific theory. To test the theory he challenges John the Cronie to take some tests to see who is healthier. After all the cronie “Looks fit, but not impressively young”.
After a series of tests it’s revealed that the Cronie may not ‘look young’ but he is surprisingly younger than Dr. Mosley on the inside.
Next some VERY strong words are used to describe the health of the Cronie…pretty sure his name was Joe.
“IMPOSSIBLE for the cronie to develop Cardiovascular disease…” Like I said, strong words…the point of which being, from a medical point of view Joe the Cronie was VERY healthy.
So the result form this portion of the show is that DR. Mosley realizes that “My diet is undermining my health” and that eating less seems to be the solution. At this point I Felt for Dr. Mosley… Having your mortality made apparent is a harsh pill to swallow.
Then, Dr. Mosley came to the same conclusions as I did regarding traditional Calorie Restriction…sounds great, but I’m not going to do it.
Next, the show moved to talking about IGF-1 and its relation to cancer and various other disease. This should not be confused growth hormone, or with the variant of IGF-1, called mechano-growth factor 1, which is responsible for the muscle growth associated with contraction (muscular work). They are different, but MGF is often confused with or simply referred to as IGF-1.
This is probably the most controversial part of the show as it refers to the connection between high protein diets and high IGF-1 levels.
Again I can relate to Dr. Mosley as this is also where I get the most slack on line, for my book How Much Protein.
The basic story is that constant growth is NOT a good thing. Yet a high protein diet promotes constant anabolism, or constant growth. The section on IGF-1 reminds me a lot of the chapter on Autophagy in Eat Stop Eat, stressing that there must be time for recovery and rebuilding on a cellular level if optimal health is the goal. The protein link is there, they weren’t making this up…think about it… We all know protein is ‘anabolic’, in the documentary Dr. Mosley refers to this constant state of growth as ”go go mode”. However, the role of protein in health is the topic of a different blog post…bottom line – Health and Optimal muscle building should be viewed as two different things.
Getting back to the fasting…
After some discussion, fasting is finally revealed. However Dr. Mosley starts with a 3.5 day fast, the exact same thing I did when I started my research in 2006. And he came to the exact same conclusions that I did…that there must be an easier way. When I did my first fast I was really worried I’d feel weak and lethargic, or that I simply couldn’t do it. (Long fasts are tough, no way around it)
At this point he talks about 24 hour fasts, which obviously makes me really happy.
With 24 hour Fasting Dr, Mosley comes to the same conclusion as most people following Eat Stop Eat, 24 hours is NOT tough, especially when you divide it up in a way that fits your lifestyle…when done properly it just becomes a way of life.
While experimenting with 24 hour fasts Dr Mosley also makes the same observation that most Eat Stop Eat people make; Hunger does not continue to get worse over the course of 24 hours (ie: 24 hours later you’re not 24 times hungrier) but instead, hunger comes and goes in waves.
During this time he makes comments about ‘Repair mode’ basically speaking about autophagy without actually saying autophagy.
I also smiled when he discovered how tasty food is after a fast. The question is Can you teach yourself to maintain muscle mass on a lower protein diet (I think the answer is yes)
During this time he interviews Dr. Krista Varaday, another scientists that is referenced in Eat Stop Eat. I was surprised to see she was much younger than I expected. In this section Dr. Varaday mentions that you can eat whatever you want as long as you stay withing your Calorie goals, notice Dr. Varaday says eat WHATEVER you want, not HOW MUCH you want, big distinction, and she’s absolutely correct (John Barban would love this part of the show.)
Dr. Varaday also pointed out what we all have found: fasting tends to affect your appetite, it’s very hard to ‘compensate’ for your fasting by grossly overeating. It’s difficult but not impossible.
Next he meets with Dr. Mark Mattson (also referenced in Eat Stop Eat) who states that “sporadic bouts of hunger actually cause new braincells to grow” Very cool.
Finally, Dr. Mosley turns to what he calls the “5/2″ diet, basically Eat Stop Eat. He eats for 5 days per week, and fasts for two, he still eats a small breakfast (600 calories) on his fast day, then fasts until breakfast the next day.
His fasts were ‘scattered’ which is exactly what we recommend with Eat Stop Eat.
After fasting this way for 5 weeks he was able to make a great impact on his metabolic health. He concludes by saying that Fasting isn’t about trying to live to 140, it’s about trying to stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can, and that he “Genuinely believes if people were to take it up fasting it would radically transform the nation’s health”
So in the end, he basically converts to the Eat Stop Eat style..with one small but important exceptions…with Eat Stop Eat you should also be weight training.
Remember the Eat Stop Eat lifestyle is the combination of Intermittent fasting and weight training, and I believe that the weight training is the missing part of this whole scenario, and is what keeps you LOOKING younger and FEELING younger physically.
So if I could make only one change to the show it would have been going from ‘Eat fast and Live longer’, to ‘Eat, Fast, Weight Train, Live longer.’
All in all it was a fantastic and well done documentary that did an excellent job explaining the many benefits of this style of eating, without the sensationalism that typically comes when people talk diet.
Well done Dr. Mosley.
UPDATE – I feel it is necessary to point out two things:
1) While I feel strongly that resistance training needs to be a part of any weight loss / healthy lifestyle / anti-aging program in some form, I do realize that Dr. Mosley experienced considerable health improvements without apparently adding exercise to his program – at least they did not mention any exercise. So while I feel it’s a necessity long-term, over the short-term it does seem as though considerable improvements to health parameters can be made through diet alone.
2) Regarding the comments on protein, I can ‘relate’ to Dr. Mosley because it’s a controversial and polarizing topic, however at this time I do not agree or disagree with the statements made on the show. My expertise is not disease prevention per se, so even if the dangers of a high protein do exist, I’m not sure if simply fasting once or twice a week may remove these dangers, or if the dangers change depending on whether you are lean or obese, sedentary or active, young or old. So as I stated in my review, we do need to keep an open mind towards the idea that eating for long term health and eating for optimal muscle building aren’t necessarily the same thing, but also be willing to challenge this statement on a regular basis.