Welcome to part six in my series on longevity. If you missed the first five parts, you can read them on our site. In a nutshell, they were: (1) Live for now and love life (2) Work, stretch, and relax every part of yourself (body and mind) on a regular basis (3) Dance (4) Reduce media consumption (5) Pay attention to your breathing. Let’s continue.
#6: Eat Less
I probably fooled some of you when I entitled the fourth newsletter “Fasting for Longevity” and then writing about media fasting. Less food consumption – including occasional fasting – is also a good idea. There are two main reasons to eat less: (1) to avoid the negative health impacts of overeating (2) to attain the unique benefits of undereating.
First, overeating. Overeating is bad for us. It stretches out the stomach, requiring us to continue to overeat in order to feel full. It hinders good digestion. It can cause heartburn / acid reflux, nausea, hiccups, bloating, and fatigue. It promotes weight gain (there are not many obese centenarians). It may cause our cells to wear out faster. It’s taxing to the digestive organs. It may disrupt the hormones involved in reward and hunger signaling, leading to compulsive eating. It necessarily entails “tuning out” and ignoring the body.
Second, undereating. By undereating, I actually mean various practices that might better be called “measured eating.” Undereating appears to make cells live longer. It promotes enhanced regeneration of our tissues. We feel lighter and more energetic, and are likely to be physically lighter. It supports normalization of reward hormones, mood, and appetite. We get less cancer and tumors may grow more slowly. We’re less likely to experience heartburn / acid reflux, fatigue, bloating, and nausea. Numerous rodent studies have shown that when animals are routinely underfed, they live much longer than normal.
Now let’s look at the specifics of undereating. First there are various forms of fasting. Fasting can mean the total absence of food, reduced food intake, the specific avoidance of certain foods (such as no sugars, no flour, no processed foods, no alcohol, no cooked food, etc.), or the consumption of a specific meal replacement (such as juice, kitchari, rice, or broth). Fasting is often done for a set period of time (1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 10 days, etc.), usually with a simultaneous “fast” from work and regular daily activities, and sometimes for a spiritual purpose. Many of these options have their merits, but it’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the nuances of all of them.
The simplification of one’s food intake – whether as a water fast, broth fast, or whole-clean-food fast – gives the body a break and tends to enhance detoxification and regenerative processes while promoting certain epigenetic benefits (“turning off” certain genes that code for disease or others associated with longevity).1,2 Fasting increases production of human growth hormone (HGH), which has numerous anti-aging effects.3,4
Recent research indicates that intermittent fasting provides many of the benefits that total fasts offer, but in a format that’s less daunting for most people. Intermittent fasting means cycling between restricted and unrestricted food intake. There are numerous ways to do this. The most common format is fasting (water only) for 16 hours of every day – meaning, all of one’s calories are consumed in an 8 hour window (10 AM to 6 PM for instance). I know people who have achieved their optimal weight through this method after struggling with diets for decades. Another form of intermittent fasting entails fasting for 24 hours on 1 or 2 non-consecutive days out of every week. A third common form involves reduced caloric intake (typically 25% of normal, or 500-600 calories) every other day or on 2 non-consecutive days of each week. Besides promoting longevity, these methods reduce incidence of type 2 diabetes.
Even if you aren’t interested in any sort of fasting, you can help yourself quite a bit in four simple ways. (1) Never overeat. Don’t let a feeling of being full be your indicator to stop eating. Instead just eat enough food to not feel hungry. In Okinawa (one of the longest-lived cultures in the world) there’s a tradition of eating to what feels like 80% of one’s stomach capacity. (2) Let your upper digestive tract empty completely between meals. That is, don’t snack. (3) Let yourself feel hungry. Many of us eat so incessantly that we barely know whether we’re hungry or not. We eat because it’s meal time, or because we like the taste, but not always because we actually feel hunger. (4) Stay conscious during the act of eating. Don’t eat mindlessly or while engaged in other things. Enjoy your food and give your attention and reverence to the act of nourishing yourself.