There are many ideas with which we’ve been conditioned since birth in Western countries. So many of our traditional behaviours are accepted as ‘just the way it is’ and assumed to be perfectly natural.

The way we eat is no exception. We have been programmed mentally, and we subsequently program our bodies to require three meals a day; but what if this was merely habit? Our stomachs have become used to this level of input and it’s so thoroughly ingrained into our culture that lunch appointments, breaks from work etc. are all organised at roughly the same times each day. This need for three meals per day then perpetuates, and on the whole we rarely question the necessity of this pattern.

Add into the equation the fact that supermarkets, restaurants and the food industry in general have a vested interest in your consistent hunger, and this further highlights the question of what is really necessary for human health. The foods marketed to us are generally not the healthiest, with a large percentage of what is on offer being made up of nutritionally devoid, synthetic ingredients and chemical additives. When you think about it, it stands to reason that the established eating pattern should be investigated more carefully.

What if eating three meals per day is not actually good for you at all?

There has been a lot more talk floating around the ether about fasting over the last few years, but it is now gaining more popularity than ever before. People are trying it, and they’re appreciating the significant health benefits they’re experiencing.

Intermittent fasting is almost a ‘buzz phrase’ among health fanatics, and with good reason. When combined with well-timed and balanced exercise, the health results can be phenomenal.

When you’re fasting, you’re reducing your calorie intake. This much may be obvious, but what is less obvious to the public is the profound effects that a structured way of doing this can have on a human body; especially a sick one.

Fasting has been shown to offer many benefits

There is now evidence that indicates that a bi-weekly fast has a strong impact on the development of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Epileptic children have experienced fewer seizures when their calorie intake has been restricted, or they’ve been put on a fast. Diseases of the cardiovascular system, diabetes and chronic illnesses like cancer have shown huge improvement with fasting.

Lots of studies on the effects of a low calorie diet have concluded that they expand life expectancy and promote a stronger immunity against disease. Cognitive functions are also improved; learning and memory are positively affected by fasting.

When we fast, our brains are actually benefiting from neurochemical changes. This is why we experienced improved cognitive function, resistance to stress and an overall reduction in inflammation. Regular exercise sparks similar brain chemistry changes; this means that more proteins are produced, synapses are strengthened and more neurons grow – with stronger connections to each other. Fasting intermittently aids in reparation of our DNA by enhancing the capabilities of our nerve cells.

It isn’t just humans that experience these benefits either. Out in wild nature, animals eat when they can eat; this can mean extended periods without food, followed by a large meal of sometimes huge proportions. Yet not so many animals starve to death and there is little to no disease. It was the same for primitive man; our ancestors didn’t eat for extended periods.

Fasting boosts your immune system

Fasting for more extensive periods has also triggered stem cells to move from dormancy into a self-renewing state. This benefits the immune system in a big way. Fasting speeds up the regeneration of cells, while aiding the body in removing dead and damaged ones.

This happens because your body is attempting to save energy, which prompts it to recycle unnecessary or dysfunctional immune cells.

Fasting can be quite a daunting prospect at first; hunger pangs can feel quite unpleasant when you’re not used to them, but they soon subside and fasting gets a lot easier as it progresses; the more often you do it, the easier it is. The stomach soon gets the message from the brain that food isn’t coming, at which point the above-mentioned processes can start up.

What type of fast should you do?

There are many different ways to fast. It is wise to educate yourself fully on what options are available and which would suit your routine and lifestyle best. At first you’ll need to take it easy and work your way up to more extensive periods of fasting. You’ll need to take hydration seriously and with some types of fast (and according to the demands of your lifestyle) perhaps consider quality supplementation to aid your body in getting enough nutrients.

Some types of fasts you might do are: a twenty-four hour fast once per week, a daily fast where you eat only one evening meal per day containing all the calories you need, a three day fast on pure water only, or a five day one on just juices, to name a few options.

Then there is the 5:2 plan; with this method, for two days of the week you would reduce your calorie intake down to about a quarter on days in which you fast. This could be around five hundred for women and six hundred for men. For the other five days you would eat as normal.

What is clear from the state of what is on offer on supermarket shelves, as well as the cultural norms about diet and meal times, is that we don’t think enough about what we are putting into our bodies and why. If we were to explore this area more thoroughly to find out what we actually need, rather than what we are addicted to or what tastes the best, we could drastically improve our quality of life and life expectancy too.

pH health advocate a responsible, healthy diet whether you are fasting or not. Knowledge of what your food is doing to your body is the first step to true health, and every step from that point onward is progress.