Fasting has been proven to show significant health benefits, but for most people – consuming nothing but water for anywhere from 24 hours to five days (or longer) is much easier said than done. Water-only fasting may not be safe for everyone depending upon their personal health history, as well. Fortunately, there is a way to experience the positive metabolic changes in the body of true water-only fasting with what is now known as “Fasting Mimicking.” Just as the name implies, this is a protocol that involves severe calorie restriction with specific macronutrient ratios that “mimics” the same health benefits of water fasting.
What Are Those Benefits?
Prolonged water-only fasting provides health benefits such as regeneration of the immune system, reduced blood glucose and autophagy (1), which is the body’s way of cleaning house of damaged cells in the body. But again, prolonged fasting can be difficult for most people to do, both physically and mentally. Due to this difficulty, researchers have been trying to design protocols that might mimic the health benefits without the stress of prolonged fasting.
More Than One Way to “Fast”
One form of fasting that has gained in popularity is Intermittent Fasting (IF), which typically involves skipping one meal a day, restricting the eating time within a day, and/or alternate day fasting. IF is often used as a weight loss strategy with ketogenic diets or to improve health markers such as blood glucose, insulin and HgA1C (three month average of blood glucose levels). When practicing IF, one can choose to follow this strategy on a daily basis or perhaps just a few days a week.
A Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) takes a slightly different approach, as it’s a consecutive-day fast that also needs to follow very specific macronutrient guidelines to reap the health benefits. A very low-calorie and low-protein diet is needed to cause changes in markers associated with inflammation and longevity. A typical cycle of a FMD lasts from three to five days and is repeated on a monthly basis for at least three months (2) for the best benefit. It is safe to do FMD cycles monthly for an indefinite time period, and if you’re trying to greatly improve health markers, this may be more beneficial. One can also choose to just follow a FMD protocol a couple or few times a year as a boost to good health.
In between FMD cycles, it is best to eat a real food diet that is nutrient dense and limits added sugar. A Paleo/Primal or Mediterranean style of eating would be considered the healthiest templates for most people.
Patients Who Are Good Candidates for FMD
Individuals who are fighting chronic infections or trying to lose weight; those who have a weak immune system, neurological issues, type 2 diabetes, or other metabolic problems; and those who are healthy and are simply trying to optimize longevity are the perfect candidates to try FMD.
Who Shouldn’t Try FMD
Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, anyone with a history of an eating disorder, or those with severe hypocortisolism (adrenal stress) are not the best candidates. Prolonged fasting is typically not recommended for children or teens, either.
Medical Supervision is Recommended
It is best to have a discussion with your health care provider if you’re interested in trying a Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) to improve your health. Receiving the guidance of qualified professionals will ensure that you are doing it properly along with periodic blood labs.
If you’re on social media of any kind, you may have seen ads promoting a FMD kit by a company called ProLon®, which has been scientifically researched for both anti-aging (3) and improving markers for cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (4). This kit includes five days of plant-based food products to complete one five-day cycle of a FMD and is available through our office, should patients want to try that specific plan.
We also offer a FMD package that includes: a five day FMD plan involving real, whole food with specific portion sizes to keep you in the right calorie and macronutrient ranges for optimal benefit; a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) supplement to help prevent muscle loss during a very low calorie and low protein diet; and a powdered greens supplement to ensure proper nutrient intake during the FMD.
The pro’s and con’s of each option:
ProLon Pro’s: prepackaged bars, soups, olives and kale crackers clearly marked for each day’s consumption
ProLon Con’s: cost; the soups in the evening require stove top cooking; very heavily seasoned food products may not be suitable for all palates
Real Food Pro’s: less expensive (you buy your own food at your own store – we include two supplements in our package); nothing requires actual cooking, but one item requires heating in microwave or stove top
Real Food Con’s: less variety – you eat the same basic meals for five days in a row
Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with our Board Certified Health Coach or ask your medical provider if this is something that might benefit you.