Prolon Fasting Mimicking Diet: Pre fasting guidelines:
- Have a regular eating schedule
- Have a developed good relationship with food appreciating the balance between eating to live and living to eat
- Understand and consume on a daily basis nutrition that is specifically derived from plants and also animals
- Be able to cope with occasionally missing a meal without severe symptoms (brain fog, headaches, nausea, low mood, change in bowel habits)
- Have a disciplined approach to food, supplementation and exercise
When it comes to improving health, changing habits is one of the top challenges. Others include figuring out the right strategies, being motivated and committed, understanding how to push your bodies physiology to change and the work required. Specific challenges include the health of the adrenal glands to produce hormones to cope with stress and the strength and function of the liver to help package up and help eliminate all the gunk or toxins we store and struggle to deal with on a daily basis are two other key areas to be aware of.
When the body loses function from struggling to cope with all that’s thrown at it from financial, emotional and physical stress to food sensitivities and digestive infections as as well as genes that bring into the mix the potential for varying levels of efficiencies in how our bodies function, you just can’t throw any old approach at it.
In my experience just cutting out the bad (although that’s also a debate) food and cutting calories along with adding exercise (and we can again debate the best type) is seldom enough. It can often help, but the longer you have been unhealthy and the greater degree of imbalances and loss of function you find you need to dig deeper.
Having experience with over 20 years of working with clients and using specific lab tests to have a sneaky peak under the bonnet you really get to see the barriers to success, the reasons diet and exercise might not be enough.
I have generally found that the more unhealthy and out of balance someone is the more nutritional deficiencies they have. Therefore the more they need to focus on getting the right food and going on a kind of eat up phase. To get the good nutrients in to their system spending more of your focus on what good food to eat is a priority. Missing meals and deliberately fasting wouldn’t be the best advice for this initial step towards rebuilding health. This is especially true if maybe through how your typical working day goes you pretty much skip breakfast, lunch is a bit of joke (sandwich and coffee at your desk or on the go) and dinner is the “healthy” meal for the day. It’s a form of Intermittent Fasting but not the potentially healthy, structured, good food, planned and monitored variety that is all the rage currently in dieting land.
For the majority of people some level of starvation isn’t a bad thing, always having food to hand can clearly be an issue. Assuming good sleep, regular exercise, proper real food and supplementation to plug the gaps it can then be wise to pal periods of not eating. I am also a fan of making sure the advice you provide being less stressful than the discomfort they already have.
When someone is in a better place and feeling more robust I like to push things further on with planned days of fasting. Our omnivorous genetic and evolutionary requirements make it essential for good health to consume plant based carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in synergy with animal derived proteins, fats and fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). However with specific regards to healing the body it has long been recognised it requires greater digestive capacity to consume animal foods and in contrast a period of solely plant based foods can rest the digestive system to allow the body to upregulate the metabolism. When there is more energy available than just for mental and physical tasks the body goes in to more of a repair phase. The repair phase is the focus and therefore the intended benefit to fasting.
The stronger your adrenal glands alongside balanced stimulation from your brain and efficient liver the smoother the fast will go, the longer you can fast and the less stress on the system. Stress on the system slowing metabolism and reducing fasting benefits.
If the first half of the day is focussed on using energy to get stuff done in your life partly driven and managed by your hormones, the second half of the day is for repair using lower energy and focussing on detoxification, digestion and immune system function.
When you are not ready to fast even for one day then your perception of stress and stress response grows. An excessive increase in stress hormones is definitely what you don’t want. An increase in stress hormones can increase inflammation and slow metabolism. When you fast you are hoping for the reverse effect.
I don’t like setting clients up for failure so if we have ran a hormone test and can see more balanced and strong hormone levels then there is a case to cope and maximise the benefits of a fast.
Train yourself up to successfully use fasting as a health and diet management tool, can you answer yes to the following?
- Sweat comfortably daily,
- Perform daily 15-20 minutes of increased breathing through exercise or abdominal breathing,
- Have regular, predicable daily bowel movements and it’s safe for someone to go starting the toilet after you,
- Sleep by 10-11pm and wake up rested
Yes to each? Then go for it with a fast!
A fast should still provide nutrition and be plant based to alleviate digestive work whilst keeping the body ticking over. So vegetable soups and fruit and vegetable juices form the cornerstone.
An intermittent fast on the other hand is more of a time management for food intake diet. A window to eat your diary food is agreed typically 10am to 4 or 6pm. In this fasting scenario normal plant and animal based food would be consumed. An ever more popular form of this diet would be to have a ketogenic or higher fat, low carb diet. If you get the balance right your body preferentially burns fat (known as ketones) as a fuel source. This is gaining popularity not just for weight loss but as a therapeutic diet for needing brain function support as in Alzheimer’s and more recently Diabetes management.
So having a healthy relationship with food, being generally highly motivated once I have the bit between my teeth and having the peace of mind I know from testing how my hormone, digestive, detoxification and immune systems function, I went for a fast for me that was different, the 5 day Fasting Mimicking Diet, known as ProLon.
I have done several fasts over the years mostly soup or juice based, have involved mugs of olive oil and coffee enemas and back when I was boxing outright starvation with two and three workouts a day. I even tried sucking on ice cubes to fool my brain and body into thinking fuel wasn’t far away.
I never lasted a fast longer than two days. I have always been super sensitive to dropping blood sugar. If I don’t get to eat when at work I get irritable in part due to the physiological response but also knowing I am missing out on nutrition I had told myself was coming. The only times I seem to cope better are when I find myself wrapped up, and focused on making a deadline to get a project completed. I find myself deliberately choosing not to eat until I get to a point I can relax, the job is done and can then focus without distraction on eating.
It was this ability to block out hunger signs when I had the motivation I was hoping to tap into with the ProLon diet. I also needed to attach a reason, strong enough to gain the focus, commitment and discipline to stick with it. In the absence of a desire to lose weight or reduce a symptom I chose to see if I could experience for myself the increase in energy that a few of my peers were reporting they had gotten themselves. I also made a point of telling several of my most regular clients. Failing in front of a client is not an option, the hypocrisy would be too much to bear and I would never show my face again. I also forgot there would be a certain level of camaraderie when several clients decided to embark on the same journey at the same time. So many times I advise clients on different tips and techniques from personal experience and backed up by having seen them work with many other clients. This time was different. There was no way I could be seen to fail, my ego wouldn’t allow it!
The idea of sustaining a modified, drastically restricted diet for 5 days was the difference. Having all 5 days food and accompanying supplements was going to be a big help. No big pots of veg to chop up and leave to cook. The thinking of what, when and how much to eat was to be the saving grace and reduce a whole chunk of stress.
The aim of this diet designed over 25 years of research by Prof Valter Longo at UCLA in California was to fool the body into being on a water fast but with enough nutrition of the right type that the body goes into “protection mode”.
In protection mode your body accesses survival functions to keep you alive in the absence of food. In order to stay alive your body then stimulates stem cells, dormant cells, sitting ready to differentiate or become the type of cells the body needs. This new found extra capacity regenerates the immune system allowing the body to become more efficient at supporting the body as it ages, as a result its anti-aging.
If you see weight loss as a symptom of the body not functioning correctly then if you restore function in the underlying systems of hormones, digestion, detoxification and immune then you increase the likelihood of losing weight.
I chose to assess my success and coping by keeping tabs daily and across the day on blood sugar levels. A very simple prick of the finger helped me to stay sane and rational that I wasn’t eating my muscles, depleting my liver of its vital energy stores and my brain wasn’t even though at times it felt it was, running on fumes. A bit of hard science helped me stay on track. I wasn’t prepared to go on willpower alone. I have always believed willpower is about managing a stress, the stress in this case of not having my usual energy intake and still having to perform my usual mental and physical tasks and that this was ok, it wasn’t detrimental to my health. That inbuilt preference to choose survival over self-destruct is supported when I know my biology is ok with it. Stress is about managing resources and the nutrition in the foods; soups, bars, crackers, olives and supported with vitamin and mineral supplements, were actually sufficient to keep me within the bounds of normal function. It didn’t feel like it in the first two days, being totally honest, but by day 3 onwards as energy disproportionately grew relative to the fuel intake, I started to feel it and believe it!
I do like shiny new toys and can definitely fall for slick branding such as with the ProLon diet and its packaging, even though I thought the tomato soup as nice as it tasted (I think I might be alone in that thought, certainly amongst my clients) looked like the most expensive cup a soup I had ever tasted. In the UK Cupasoup hasn’t got much of a healthy following! When it comes to health, slick branding can do the opposite and turn me off switching on my sceptic and cynic buttons in equal measures. After 6 years at university and being all about the science, I cant let that guard down. In the case of ProLon not only was it a fast that I am at a foundational level opposed to when the foundations are not in place, it was a one size fits all off the shelf all there all you will ever need in one sexy, heavy branded box.
There are scientific arguments for and against this particular fast even though the overall body of research on the benefits of fasting is growing. I can see the conflicts of interest and can always see the challenges with a one size fits all approach to health. However I now see that for the right person in the right place at the right time this ProLon fast could be the kickstart needed to drive you on to an ever greater focus on personalising your health where the more established long term research show long term benefits. This is the first one size fits all diet, supplement, workout, stress reduction technique that you have to buy that I can think of that I have openly supported.
Without the peer recognition or involvement I wouldn’t have gone for it or stuck with it. Most of all though the proof is always in the pudding and in this case lack of pudding:
Day 3 – By day 3 I was still hallucinating about beautiful fillet steaks coming my way in precisely X number of minutes, but my energy beyond that was becoming more and more evident. It was a stark contrast to the level of hunger that I also felt I could do more and more.
Day 4 – By day 4 I was happy to exercise and do tasks beyond those required to work or walk or run to work and in fact performed two demanding if but short strength workouts and could have done more. Bizarre!
Day 5 – At bedtime day 5 I was very aware I no longer felt hungry. I slept like a baby, had been going to the toilet as normal in line with less bulk and change in dietary fibre but all was fine, and had slid into a definite coping, this is ok I can do this phase. I checked my weight pre and post as you can’t ignore that, and was a clear 6lbs lighter.
Over one week later and the scales showed I hadn’t put it all back on. Water loss in part of course, but the big change was the awareness of portion control and a diminished desire to just eat something whilst a meal was on its way. I never do much un-mindful eating but I do do it. These were big pluses and ones I was keen to share with clients.
Good blood sugars during the fast is testament to my physiology going in to the diet and the nutritional content of the diet. I intend to complete at least 3 cycles, one 5 day fast each month for three consecutive months and then run a stress hormone (DUTCH) test on myself to see changes in hormone function and balance, is there any shift in detoxification capacity or inflammation status. For now though I am more than happy with the boost to my usual sense of health and focus on the good things, food, exercise, supplements and rest.