In the last couple of months I’ve been practising a diet based on calorie restriction. The idea is simple –and have been demonstrated in several species from worms to primates: if you give 75% of the normal daily intake of calories to an individual, you essentially expand its lifespan. There are a couple of underlying biological processes that we know of that explain this phenomenon –one of them is the process of autophagy. This means the starving cells essentially consume their own organelles to survive; and the theory is they start with the damaged ones. Now, a mitochondrion is quite an unstable organelle; a damaged one is doubly so. By getting rid of these the cells essentially can expand their own lives –after all, they will lessen the risk of damage by a damaged hand grenade going off inside of them. (Oxygen is not good news for the insides of your cells- oxidative damage can seriously hinder the function of a cell.)
This is but one of the proposed mechanism of this phenomenon. The fact that many religions, many cultures promote fasting is actually quite interesting in this perspective, too.
Nevertheless, I never actually considered going on this “starvation diet” no matter how much I want to live longer- it seems pretty nuts to live like that. I love food. I love eating. I love eating a lot. (Fortunately it does not show.)
However, there’s a loophole. Apparently similar results can be achieved by limiting the calorie intake to 600 calories a day for two days a week –the so-called 5/2 diet.
Now, this is something that’s more realistic to do, and now I’ve been doing it for quite a while.
Am I living longer?
I have no idea. Ask me in 70 years. But I did shed a couple of kilos from my belly area (a result of my new civil servant lifestyle and also the disc hernia which made me stop running). This is a welcome side-effect of the diet. I also learned a couple of interesting lessons.
Lesson number one: it’s possible to go on feeling hungry. Seriously. I realised how privileged my life is since I do not actually have to go hungry. And I have not for a long while; I could access food any time I wanted to. Now for two days a week I feel what a (mild) hunger feels like.
Lesson number two: you do feel a bit grumpy when you are hungry. Yeah. My co-workers are joking about it a lot, even though I do work hard on the temper. It is a running joke with my Muslim colleagues that I respect how calm and peaceful they are during Ramadan, while I’m feeling homicidal during my own days of fasting.
Lesson number three: I appreciate food much better. It’s something you savour since you know soon enough you’ll be eating boiled broccoli and raw cucumber.
Lesson number four: fasting does not have to be starving. There’s a surprising amount of food you can eat and still stay within 600 calories.
Lesson number five: even though there’s a temptation for overcompensating, I’ve actually decreased my overall food intake even on days I’m not fasting.
Lesson number six: eating almost nothing for two days a week will show on your weekly food expenditure as well. It should not have come as a surprise, but it did.
Lesson number seven: I actually like the fasting days. Sure, I’d love to have a burger or a Nutella filled donut (I’m fasting today), but on the other hand I light and, well, I feel good. I can finally understand when people claim they become more one with God, or more spiritual on their days of fasting; previously I thought they could not hear anything but their stomach grumbling.