Fat Tuesday and the Phenomenon of Fasting

in Natural Medicine3 months ago (edited)


Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day in the dark northern European country where I live. Traditionally the day that Anglo-Saxons were shriven of their sins, it was also a day of feasting when eggs, butter (fats) and milk were used up before the start of Lent and forty days of sacrifice, penitence and reflection before Easter.

Fasting, or sacrifice, was synonymous with Lent, apparently to reflect the 40 days of sacrifice and temptation endured by Jesus in the desert. I think this may have been another appropriation by the ancient Christian Church of a period of the year that was happening anyway.

After the heady midwinter and start of Spring feasts, this would have been a pretty grim time in the Anglo-Saxon calendar with not much growing and not much left in store other than roots - ancient versions of carrots, swede and turnips - and field beans.

Thank goodness the Romans had popped by a few centuries earlier and introduced cabbages - sturdy vegetables able to stand up to the cold winds and survive frosts when left in the fields. Cabbages grow well in England.

I remember Lent as a child. I grew up in an inner city area of London, one that had been a separate village at one time with its own parish church, church school, and parish hall, built in the 19th century for worship by the common orders (too many by then to fit into the church on Sunday).

Although my parents were secularists, the church and its Sunday School and other activities provided a welcome respite from managing six small children. During Lent, every Tuesday evening I went with the Brownies to a special workshop held in the Church.

Each year there was a duplicated book with pictures to colour in and activities to complete. There was talking and prayers, kneeling down on the embroidered hassocks, so tiny we were hidden by the pews, and much fidgeting and shushing and giggling.

The church was dim and musty, only the first few pews lit up, the altar and nave in darkness. But it was all part of the year, marked out by festivals and events like the Sunday School picnic, Brownie Revels, Christmas Bazaar and Summer Garden Party; and Lent, cold and dreary with some vague promise of a future, much like it must have been for the Anglo-Saxons.

I've just finished reading The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung. Dr Fung is a nephrologist, specialising in treating kidney disease of people with diabetes, who are also often obese. His book tackles the problem that the treatment (increased insulin) for diabetes Type 2 makes people sicker.

On the way to exploring an alternative approach, he addresses the flaws in the calorie-deficit (Eat Less, Move More) model, takes a swipe at Big Food creating new markets for snacks and breakfast and introducing fake foods like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Trans Fats, and at the science, including "nutritionism" as Michael Pollan calls it.

For example:

The evidence on a link between dietary fat and obesity is consistent: there is no association whatsoever ...
Even the National Cholesterol Education Program admits, 'The percentage of total fat in the diet, independent of caloric intake, has not been documented to be related to body weight.' Translation: despite fifty years of trying to prove that dietary fat causes obesity, we still cannot find any evidence. This data is hard to find because it never existed. Source p.204

'has not been documented ...' - How weasel-y can you get?

Dr Fung's premise is that the body is designed for both feasting and fasting. When food is available, we feast and our body has automatic systems, controlled by hormones, which uses food energy that is needed and stores excess food energy as fat.

When no food is available, our body switches systems to one that retrieves stored fat and converts it to food energy, available for the body to use. There's a short-term intermediate system where the body retrieves food energy which has been stored in the liver as glycogen.

There is some opposition to Dr Fung's ideas but, on the whole, they made sense to me. The framework that he suggests is not complete, because there are still many things that we do not know about how the body works - I liked that admission, too.

Dr Fung proposes using the body's natural capacity for fasting to re-adjust the body's "set weight"; in particular, using intermittent fasting to help with weight loss. He has lots of videos on YouTube, both on his own channel and as a guest on other channels, where he develops his ideas.

The thing that interested me, though, as a person who could do with losing a few pounds but isn't chronically overweight or diabetic, is the idea that it is natural to fast - our bodies are designed to be able to do that as well as to be able to digest and metabolise energy from food.

I wondered, then, whether not only are we able to do it, but actually whether it is health promoting to do it. We would have developed the capacity to cope with times when food was not available, but would we also have developed inter-related systems (feasting/fasting) that, together, provided optimum health?

Dr Fung says we've always fasted - as a cultural, spiritual, religious practice. But I wonder if, like I'm suggesting about Lent, some of us have adopted fasting as a cultural practice because it was already an inherent part of our lives in times of food scarcity?


Interesting read Shani, and a subject that I know all too well having experimented with so many food modalities to try and find an answer to healing my gut.

introducing fake foods like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Trans Fats.

This is a key point, possibly more relevant for chronically ill than the obese. I've read in many different alternative healing books about how 'fake foods' place a burden on the body. They are essentially foods that we're not biologically supposed to digest. Healthy digestive systems can digest them, but with strain and difficulty.

Doctors and scientists are quick to shout hokum over these types of claim, with very little basis for their skepticism beyond dogmatic belief that the scientific principle of experimentation must be followed before any conclusion is reached. I don't think any scientific experimentation has been done on this theory, mainly because scientific studies are often funded by companies/governments with agendas. Who is going to pay to prove that wheat is hard to digest and contributes to chronic illness? 😂

There is one constant in pretty much all of the more extreme dietary protocols suggested by alternative practitioners for pathological chronic illnesses, and that is to remove all processed foods. Strict meat keto dieters eat pretty much nothing but meat, claiming they get all necessary minerals/vitamins from organ meats, particularly liver. Raw wholefood plant based diets nearly always cut out wheat, dairy, eggs etc... all highly processed foods that were either not present in that form in nature, or have been massively effected through the modern processing as with dairy.

I've tried intermittent fasting for over a year with little effect. But I know it helps many people with energy issues and stabilizing proper weight when the digestive system is functioning correctly, even when partly damaged. Also, when I do fast for more than 16 hours the extreme 'pregnant' bloat in my abdomen dies down a lot 😂 Which is kind of a kick in the teeth if I'm honest because I'd love to be free of this 'crazy frog' look, but none of the other fatigue/pain/cognitive issues improve with a long fast, or with consistent intermittent (12-14 hr overnight fasts with 4 hours between meals). Gotta eat eventually and then I blow up like a balloon within an hour of eating.

It is interesting what you highlight at the end of this blog about the possibility of our ancestors fasting as a habit. I'm am convinced this was the case. Both for practical reasons, and as a medicinal practice. And this could be the origin of where religious fasts came from. I honestly think that regular yearly fasts in healthy humans allows the digestive system time to rest and the microbiome to balance.

Ha ha, but these are just my crack pot theories based on logical progression.

Nice to see you writing again Shani 🙂

scientific studies are often funded by companies/governments with agendas

I know, right? 🤷‍♀ ! Some parts of the book are hilarious, with widespread cognitive dissonance going on among different authorities including the American Heart Association. The problem with this, though, is the average person who is not feeling very well and just wants to feel better, is not getting a very good deal. I had a health review recently, and I couldn't help myself, when told "to eat a healthy diet", asking "what's that then?" to see what the GP would say. He knew it was a trap and skirted round it lol!

I know I'm speaking as a person with an excellent digestive system that only ever lets me down in my best interests, so I appreciate my experiences may bear no relation to your situation. So disclaimer out of the way: one of the surprising things to me about not eating refined grains, even before I lost any weight, was how my shape changed. In a matter of days my waist measurement started decreasing, even though other body measurements remained the same. I keep wondering where that extra girth went!

One time when we're at leisure and in company, I'd be very interested to hear the story about your digestion. I've read parts in your posts, but I'm quite interested to hear the whole story. Meanwhile, I hope you're feeling better 🙂

I had a health review recently, and I couldn't help myself, when told "to eat a healthy diet", asking "what's that then?" to see what the GP would say. He knew it was a trap and skirted round it lol!

😂 Yes, I've experienced that before. Last time I was at the gastroenterologist I asked him why they hadn't tested/assessed my gall bladder. He wouldn't answer me. Subject changes and misdirection comes as standard with that arrogant douchebag. Lol, I'm not his biggest fan, and I don't think he is mine to be fair. I've now requested a referral to a different hospital but it is put off until covid has calmed down.

one of the surprising things to me about not eating refined grains, even before I lost any weight, was how my shape changed. In a matter of days my waist measurement started decreasing,

This is a common story. Grains and gluten all cause low level inflammation of the cells according to what I've read. Yet another thing that my GI specialist tells me isn't true, then shows me an MRI saying 'look you have no inflammation' and I'm like 'ok explain why I blow up like a balloon, but the hydrogen breath test says their are no abnormal level of gases anymore.'

It is a whole massive pain in the ass to even deal with them anymore as they never have any productive answers, and from what I've researched now, the antibiotics and antispasmodics I was given three years ago might have made things worse.

I'm gonna try a new alternative protocol in around 2 months after I've had my second covid vaccination jab. One thing at a time and all that 😂

arrogant douchebag.

I hear you. Having said that, I have always had excellent and timely care in Leicester.

Good luck with the new protocol when you get there.

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I know a lot of folks have done well by partaking of intermittent fasting. I have yet to try it, but it sounds reasonable to me.

Hello @old-guy-photos, good to see you.
A lot of people do seem to be benefiting from the idea.
There was an interesting tips vlog yesterday about how to build up to it gradually.
I'm gradually moving to a consistent 16:8 routine (sixteen hours fasting, eight eating).

I'm not particularly skinny, and not exceptionally overweight either. The funny thing is though on paper I do everything diet wise wrong, I never eat breakfast - which is the worse sin in the world to many. Pretty much every day I'll start off at 7am, be drinking coffee in the morning with the odd water, have lunch around 1pm a sandwhich - first food of the day. Drink tea or water in the afternoon. Evening meal can be as late as 9pm. This should all make me a medical disaster, yet I have not seen a doctor in the last 28 years - so either I have some amazing genetic power make up that makes me invincible - or something in my unusual eating habits makes up for it. And given I technically can be fasting for 16 hours every single day - maybe your Dr Fung has a good point.

the worse sin in the world to many

Mainly breakfast cereal manufacturers 😜

It sounds like your lifestyle is working for you, 28 years is a good record!

We tend to forget where these traditions come from. I went to Sunday school as a kid, but had little to do with religion since then. These days most of us have more than enough to eat. It is so tempting to over-indulge. There are so many different diets people recommend it's hard to know what the best course is. I just try to eat fairly healthily and not worry about it too much. I gave up meat about 30 years ago.

Hope you are well.

I was interested in the human biology and nutrition aspect of Jason Fung's book. It's a good collection of the evidence, which is useful, but it was the findings about how hormones work in digestion that was fascinating, and that our bodies are infinitely adaptable to a wide variety of environmental conditions. "Diets" tend to be like social media - full of drama. But poverty plays its part, too. It's not an accident that obesity and type 2 diabetes have greater prevalence amongst poorer and deprived communities.

I'm very well, hope you are, too 🙂.

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I’ve been playing around with fasting for the last few months as I try to lose weight. I’m always looking for new content. Thanks for sharing this it was super good to read

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it 🙂.
Hope you find something that suits you.

Nutrition advice is always changing, but the more recent things that I've read have agreed with the premise that not only is fat fine to eat, but also cholesterol, and that the whole demonization of fat was to give people something else to be angry at instead of sugar, at the time when sugar started inundating all the processed foods at the grocery store (often in the form of HFCS). If you notice, a lot of "diet," "fat free" foods, especially from the start of that being a thing in the 80s or so, make up for the taste loss from losing fat by ADDING SUGAR, and people have only averaged heavier weights since then. In fact, one book or another that I read flat out advised "eat fat to lose fat." So you know - I realize that, again, advice is always changing and different from different people, but I am wholly on board with the "fat is fine" camp.
Honestly, I just think that moderation is the best advice. I'm not wholly anti-anything anymore (except allergens... ). I eat some sugar. I eat some fat. I eat some carbs. I eat lots more protein than I used to because I drink a daily (or two) protein shake now and it keeps my blood sugar happy. Man, if someone could have told hypoglycemic 25 year old me to make friends with a blender and have a shake every day, that would have saved me a LOT of grief, low blood sugar sucks!

Hi there, good to see you 🙂
I love Dr Fung's book because he says things like "It's what Moms everywhere know" and "Your Grandma was right". He's straightforward and down to earth and, even better, he includes all the references so you can check the science and the research yourself.
I remember that post you did about the availability of yoghurt in different neighbourhoods, it was very illuminating. I try and buy specific brands that I know are unadulterated, but I have the financial resources (and the transport) to go where I can get what I want.
I'd like our dairy and meat industries to be better than they are, for the planet and for health. I think that may be a long time coming, especially as nearly a third (and growing) of our families live in poverty. Until they get better economic circumstances there is going to a demand for cheap food. I think we've just messed up our fishing industry with Brexit .
It sounds like your diet is fairly stable these days? That's good 🙂.
I haven't been around much, but I must check to see whether you have done any kitty-talk posts. That sounded so much fun!

I'd like our dairy and meat industries to be better than they are, for the planet and for health.

Yeah, I am literally watching a John Oliver episode where he's talking about how factory farms and state fairs and such contribute to pandemic risk. One might hope that there might be some silver lining from corona where we take steps to prevent this from happening again by doing things like ban factory farming and stop deforestation (another factor), but I doubt it, because profit for rich people, and all. Sigh.

Right now in the States we have massive food lines where there are food banks. Was just watching video of one stretching like half a mile in Texas, in the snow (people standing on the sidewalk, not in cars). In the 80s, the fearmongering was always, "communism = bread lines!" and it's like ...um yeah kids we have that now? With capitalism? Greed. Greed and corruption causes bread lines.

I just don't understand how people can look at current trends - depression era levels of unemployment, pandemic, global warming, automation and AI taking over more jobs, etc. ...and not realize that we need to change how the system works. I don't pretend to know what the perfect "system" is, but what we have isn't working. Meanwhile, a privileged few are actively thwarting any experiments and change because they can get an extra zero in their Swiss bank account.

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway. I'm ranting. Sorry. LOL

No kitty talk posts yet, as they haven't yet pushed a button. Yuan's isn't really in play since it's been so freezing, we haven't been having any balcony time. Maggie watches me press hers though and so far I think she thinks I'm just a weird hooman. ;)

current trends - depression era levels of unemployment, pandemic, global warming, automation and AI taking over more jobs, etc

Powerful lobbies in your country as in ours.

True facts.
Funny side note! Almost right after I said no button press yet, Maggie didn't press the button, but she proved that she knows what it means.
She was sitting next to the bed meowing at me, which means she wants either up or food. So I stood up and she didn't run to her bowl - what she does for food - but she didn't stand up so I could lift her, either. I asked, "Do you want up?" Then I pressed the button.
And she stood up so I could pick her up. :D

Halfway there 😁.
You'll have to have the camera permenently "on" 😂

A lot of the people on the forums set up a webcam of some kind so that they can document every time.

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