“Breakfast” is a word whose etymology I had long known, and yet it is only recently I am pondering it with any meaningful consideration.
Yes, you are ending the “fasting” you did through the night without second thought, but did you really break it? That sounds awfully harsh.
For the past month-and-a-half, I have engaged in intermittent fasting. Though the first eight or so hours comes easy—unless you’re not getting enough sleep!—intermittent fasting is intentionally going at the bare minimum twelve hours, ideally at least a few more, in hopes of inducing autophagy. This seems to be the source of most of its health benefits, with one study finding it “overwhelmingly suggesting that autophagy is induced in a wide variety of tissues and organs in response to food deprivation.”
Within each of your cells, there are a number of components called “organelles.” If this sounds kind of like “organs,” that’s not an accident—the idea is they are cute mini organs! Over time, these get damaged, but your body is capable of repairing and replacing them. This is typically slow and limited—with damage slowly accumulating over time. Autophagy, however, kicks this process into overdrive. One study described it as enabling the lysosome—the cell’s “janitor”—to be the“undercover boss.”
We often talk about our “metabolism” as some kind of concrete thing.
It’s more of a whole body process—but people with a “fast metabolism” have healthy mitochondria. These are the power plants of your cells that enable them to function. Yes, they are organelles—and yes, they are helped by autophagy.
Though this process kicks in at around twelve hours since you last consumed anything caloric— unsweetened tea, black coﬀee, and, of course, water are all fine—it ramps up in intensity, so many people strive to make it at least sixteen hours. Thus you have the “16:8 Diet,” where sixteen hours a day, you fast, and the other eight, you “feast.”
Some may choose to still count and limit calories, though there is clinical evidence 16:8 alone will help many lose weight “without intentional calorie counting”—something that held true in practice. Though I started oﬀ doing a lax 14:10 at first, 16:8 became my baseline and I lost about ten pounds from those alone—though more recently I’ve done eighteen hour fasts instead. Though your fasting window can be any time you wish, many opt to time it so they can still eat lunch and dinner with loved ones.
Some more extreme fasters push the clock past a full day or do what is aﬀectionately called “OMAD” or “one meal a day,” immediately beginning the fasting process once they have had their one giant feast.
However, the more extreme the fasting you do, the more you need to be mindful of making sure you are getting proper nutrition and hydration—and you should never fast for more than a couple of days without a proper meal. It’s dangerous, and the harms at that point outweighs any benefits.
But the potential benefits are substantial and go far beyond just weight loss.
Autophagy works to rebuild your cells from the inside out all across your body. Increased insulin sensitivity helps prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, and animal models show a slowed progression of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. For those who are facing cancer, one study found fasting, “increased the eﬀectiveness of [chemotherapy] drugs against melanoma, glioma, and breast cancer cells”and another suggested it is a “a simple and feasible strategy to reduce breast cancer recurrence.”
Many eﬀects benefit your mental state and focus as well, like owing to the fact autophagy also acts upon the brain. One study in mice found that fasting for a day “reduced anxiety-like behavior… and increased novel object and object location recognition.”
Adjusting to it proved a little tricky for me at first—especially those last few hours before you get to eat. But it quickly became normal and it was far easier than resisting the cravings that often came with other diets. Relying on myself to not cave to a sweet tooth proved far less reliably than simply letting myself fulfill those cravings—as soon as the clock ran out. Though I’ve eaten plenty of healthy meals, many were the terrible fantasies of my hungry mind. My ability to enjoy food does not feel impacted.
Just a month-and-a-half later, not only am I down eighteen pounds, but I feel far more alert and energetic.
It’s as if a weight I didn’t know was there was lifted—and, I suppose, one that was there. Though I turned thirty this year, physically, I feel more like I’m in my early twenties again. While mostof the aging process cannot be reversed by intermittent fasting, much of what I chocked up to aging is quickly reversing.
Maybe what was most broken was our understanding of what we were really breaking with our breakfast. While easy to dismiss as some fairly meaningless clock—or, if you’re like me, you thought eating small, frequent meals was the ideal—what we are breaking is a gift to ourselves, to our bodies. What started as an interesting experiment has turned into something I could never get up and feels fairly eﬀortless. Fighting against my cravings felt impossible at times, but if I can hit the snooze button on my alarm a few too many times before finally getting up, I can with my stomach too!