Fasting v/s Starving – Understanding the key differences

Most of our metabolic problems are due to excessive eating. Why do we eat? Again it is the way we are evolved over lakhs of years. Along with fasting and starving we have to introduce another word here, feasting.

As soon as we put on weight or feel that we are bloated we immediately go into a starving mode where we thing that eating little portions of food with help us reduce weight. This does not work in long term as the weight lost almost rebounds back immediately.

Evolution of humans

Human evolution is defined as the process of conversion from primates to homo sapiens. It is not a straight line as shown in most textbooks but more like an intense web with many missing parts. It is believed that about 50 lakh years ago, the first of the apes and gorillas began their evolution into humans. That is 50,00,000 years ago.

Evolution is defined by two distinguishing factors, walking on two feet and language. But the deciding factor is apparently intelligence especially visible in certain activities like tool making and later hunting in packs.

Stone tools began around 28 lakh years ago. That period also signifies rapid development of the brain and expansion of cranial cavity that is the skull. Later 10 lakh years ago the first species started moving out of Africa to reach Europe and Asia. 1 lakh years ago finally the dominant species evolved called as Homo Sapiens who were our early ancestors. We also had Neanderthals at that time who has a smaller brain but had social groups and tool making capabilities but eventually were replaced by modern humans.

There were rapid strides in evolution around 50,000 years ago. Modern behaviour of humans like hunting, sophisticated tools, weapons, strategy, everything came up during this period. Humans also began migration to other continents often taking long sea journeys.

Compared to the above time lines, other things are fairly recent. Agriculture came about 10,000 years ago, Urbanisation began 5,000 years ago and industrialisation around 250 years ago.

The big explosion of food industry and processed food only began 75 years ago that is in the 1950s.

What changed in the last 75 years

Due to large scale starvations and related deaths during and post WWII, the food scientists and world leaders came together to take care of the “problem” once and for all. So began the American food industry who made it their mission to conquer hunger but oversupplying us with food. But all this overeating is going to give some problems, especially if we are challenging 50 lakh years of evolution versus 75 years of changing food habits.

For the last so many lakh years, food was scarce. People either hunted or foraged, both being a dangerous activity, something that might get you killed. Humans retreated in caves post evening and stayed there for the whole night. Morning time was getting ready for the daily hunt. At times when food was scarce, there were long periods of time when there was no eating. Other times we learnt to preserve food by salting it. When there was a big game hunt, there was a feast where everyone ate their stomach full. People marked the days where they would have to look for big hunts to cater for that special feasting day. Those days became festivals.

Food is now easily available, cheap and pushed around by people. Eating food is almost an excuse as well as a ritual. We go on a date, we eat food. We meet friends, we eat food. We get together for festive occasions, there is food on the table. We even get together as a family, there is always a meal. Everyone around you forces to eat. Junk food is cheap to make and buy which is why it is mostly offered. We Indians by offering alcohol, smokes and food are actually killing each other by overeating but do not intent to stop anytime.

Eating triggers the release of insulin. Frequent eating leads to high insulin levels in our blood. Anything which is in that high quantity creates the hormonal in-balance in your body. Too much of insulin also leads to a condition called insulin resistance which is the pre cursor for diabetes. Besides this too much of carbs also increase the blood glucose level in the body ultimately leading to an increase in visceral fat.

As a counter to eating frequently, understand your evolution and plan your meals accordingly.

Feasting, fasting and starving

When there is a sufficient gap between two meals, it is considered as fasting. But the time period has to be substantial. Assuming four hours of digestion and another four of clearing the food from your body, the next few hours is a complete rest to your gut and definitive period of fat burning.

People give a gap from anything ranging to 12 hours to maybe more than 72 hours too. A morning breakfast at 8 am after the earlier dinner at 8 pm gives a 12 hour fasting period which is quite good for most cases. If you skip breakfast, this period becomes 18 hours which is phenomenal as you get both the benefits of a little bit of autophagy and a little bit of hormones like BDNF and growth hormones. You will also get a little bit of fat burning. For overweight people, the fat burning will be substantial in the first few weeks.

Real benefits of fasting start showing after 24 hours. There is a 2000% increase in growth hormone and a large boost of energy from ketones. Why it is done, because 25 lakh years back, after 24 hours, you need to get up and go out and hunt for food. So despite having no food in your stomach for the past 18 hours, you still are full of energy to go out and hunt with a capability to go out for upto 6 hours in the outdoor.

Once you choose to break the fast and eat again, the food which goes in the stomach is first processed to produce stem cells by the bone marrow. This is done so that all the repair activity can be carried out all over our body. So the first priority goes to bone marrow, next goes to the cells and tissue repairs and then it goes to liver to be stored as glycogen. If some glucose is still left then it goes to visceral fat for storage.

For all that things to be done, sufficient amount of food has to go inside the body. That is called feasting. So when a prolonged period of fast is followed by a feast, this is how the body remains healthy despite the prolonged periods of no eating.

Starving however is eating less food for extended periods of time. Maybe in the beginning it might lead to weight loss but it will also lead to unhealthy and undernourished body.

Time restricted feeding v/s Calorie restriction

Calorie restriction is starving. Many people follow this kind of diet to lose weight and keep it under check. However considering the evolution process, we might suggest time restricted feeding more suited for the human metabolism.

The better part however is that after prolonged period of fasting, you get to eat as much as you want or whatever you want, within your parameters of healthy of course.

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