Sanchez: Feastings and fasting

Nature Speaks

WHOEVER heard of fasting in this season of gorging? The Yule season is known for pigging out, notwithstanding the warning signs of the African Swine Flu.

Even before December 15, when the Simbang Gabi, that devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Filipino Catholics and Aglipayans in anticipation of Christmas, I already had my fill of parties.

Not that I’m a party-goer. I have been skipping lunches the year round. I looked at my friends and colleagues my age. I lost my pot-belly, especially I came back to the Philippines from the USA.

Now, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for intermittent fasting — a term that can encompass everything from skipping a meal each day to fasting a few days a week. It’s not an invite to do a Karen Carpenter when she starved herself to death. No, it’s good for our health.

I have to try this approach though — simply limit my daily eating window to 10 hours. This means that if I take my first bite of food at 8 a.m., I need to consume my last calorie of the day by 6 p.m.

A new study published in cell metabolism offers some evidence that the approach can be beneficial. American researchers tracked a group of overweight participants who followed this approach for about three months.

“Typically, people would go for an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. eating window,” explains Dr. Pam Taub, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine, and an author of the study.

During the fasting period, participants were encouraged to stay hydrated with water. Each day, they logged the timing of their meals and their sleep in an app.

“We saw a three percent reduction in their weight and a four percent reduction in abdominal visceral fat,” says Taub.

“We didn’t ask them to change what they eat,” she explains, though participants consumed about 8.6 percent fewer calories — likely as a result of the limited eating window.

In addition to the weight loss, “...we saw that cholesterol levels improved and blood pressure [levels] also improved,” Taub explains.

There was also some reported improvement in sleep quality, and many of the participants reported more energy.

“We are surprised that this small change in eating time would give them such a huge benefit,” says Satchidananda Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and a co-author of the study. Panda and Taub have some theories that may help explain the reduction in belly fat and weight loss.

“When you go into a fasting state, you start to deplete the glucose stores in your body and you start to use fat as your energy source,” Taub explains.

“You can enter a low-grade state of ketosis.”

And once stored fat is fueling your body, “that can lead to a good amount of weight loss,” Panda says.

So there. Let’s enjoy our Christmas feasts but balance it with our Christmas feasts.


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