Eating once a day – Is it Possible and Are the Benefits Worth it?
In the 1950’s my friend, Bill was a very gifted engineer who made an extraordinary car. The car’s main fuel source was electricity and gasoline was to be put whenever available.
It was fine for the car to use gasoline every other day or so, but the problem was that people ran it on gasoline over 90% of the time.
This resulted in the car breaking down frequently, all the while Bill was trying to tell people, “Use it the way it was designed.”
Despite his advice, people continued to theorize about how to properly use the car. Bill went bankrupt and left the automotive industry soon after.
This is actually an imaginary friend and what he has experienced is somewhat similar to the modern health environment. When was the last time that you asked yourself, “How did eating get so complicated?”
Most of us want to feel good, look good and live a long life.
You would think by now that there would be a straightforward consensus of what our eating habits should look like, but we’re faced with countless trains of thought on the topic.
Maybe we’re supposed to be doing the ABC diet or XYZ diet or something in between?
One of the first “diets” was proposed by a man named George Cheyne in 1724. Now on Amazon, you can find over 50,000 different books on the topic.
Like Bill’s car, surely there is a simple way that we should be fuelling our bodies that are most suitable for its design.
Obviously, we are not engineered but we Homo Sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago and the majority of that time, the food environment couldn’t have been anything like today’s food environment.
Agriculture didn’t even exist for a good 190,000 years of that time. Not even the fruits and vegetables we have today would have been similar as we hadn’t cultivated them to our liking.
A banana would have looked different 700 years ago. It used to be full of seeds. What way of eating did we adapt to then?
The environment would have chosen our diet rather than us. Your choices would have been to eat what was available or be dead.
The idea that our body must have adapted to a certain ratio of micronutrients available in the environment is not novel; and recently has become quite well known due to the “Paleo Diet.”
However, what I’m getting at is our body would also have had to have adapted to how often the food was available – there should be a natural frequency of eating that promotes health and longevity.
So what is the right way for humans to eat?
Where to start? The logic would be that more nourishment, more food would make you healthier and live longer. There is a First Principles Method described by….
“It’s kind of mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than the first principles”. First Principles is kind of a Physics way of looking at the world. And what that really means is you kind of boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say ‘Okay what are we sure is true?’ and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.”
So what do we know about longevity? Other than exercise, the word “superfood” might come to mind. Maybe more Omega 3s or some red wine or making sure to take supplements and drink less alcohol will make us live longer.
There are a lot of things that contribute to longevity, but there is one method accepted by Science that you can use to consistently increase longevity. LifeExtension.com
As quoted, “If I take on the planet earth from yeast cells to spiders, insects, rabbits, dogs and I reduce the caloric intake by 30%, they live 30% longer. The only organism which has not been tested by scientists are Homo Sapiens!”
For some time, the conventional wisdom has been you need to get 3 balanced meals a day to stay healthy. It has always been said that people need to eat “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.”
This seems as natural as sleeping or going to the bathroom. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, I needed healthy lunch to focus the rest of the school day and being sent to bed without dinner was child abuse.
Did our environment choose our diets for us?
The situation is basically the same in Japan as well as the rest of the world. If we want to reduce caloric intake to increase lifespan, the only choice then is to eat less at each meal because we need 3 meals, right?
But where did this 3 meals idea come from?
Abigail Carroll suggests in her book “Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal,” eating three meals a day was basically invented due to culture when European settlers got to America, they found Native Americans were basically just eating, rather than specified times.
The Europeans took their lack of defined eating times as evidence that they were uncivilized and had them change.
In short: The 3 meals a day “A Typical Example or Pattern of Something – A Model. A Way of Thinking” is not based on our biological needs.
How our environment designed us in a Hunter-Gatherer culture it wasn’t surprising at all to feast on a big catch, then survive on very little or no food for an extended period of time until they were in need of another big source of fat and protein.
In fact, the environment up until now would suggest that if we could not do that, we probably wouldn’t be alive to be reading about dieting.
The Pirahã people, an indigenous hunter – gatherer group of the Amazon Rainforest was extensively studied by an anthropological linguist named Daniel Everett. He found that they do not eat every day or attempt to do so.
They were even aware of food storage techniques yet never used them except to barter with Brazilian traders. When questioned about why they do not store food for themselves, they explained, “I store meat in the belly of my brother.”
Until the advent of agriculture, eating 3 meals a day in some cases even eating every day was a near impossibility.
Some of you may be pointing to the fact that the life expectancy of in the Palaeolithic era was much lower than now at around 33 years, as a sign that our modern eating habits are healthier.
However, infant mortality rate is a big factor in bringing that number down. You have to understand that one of the effects of modern civilization and technology is that you can be not resourceful or made up of weak genetic material and not die.
As Doug McGuff explains about the life expectancy back then,:”It did not really have anything to do with anabolic, catabolic balance or long-term health benefits because there were older survivors and the fossil evidence of those older survivors based on ligamentous attachments and bone assessment and bone mineral density was: they were extraordinarily robust.”
Why maintaining blood sugar is unnecessary and harmful
The common misconception is that a stable blood glucose is necessary for survival, which would biologically justify 3 meals a day.
There would be a bit biochemistry that you need to know so you can understand why constantly consuming carbohydrates to main blood glucose is not only unnecessary but can be a detrimental and vicious cycle.
So after you eat some carbohydrates – bread, pasta or candy, glucose enters the bloodstream and insulin are secreted to distribute the glucose properly. LifeExtension.com
Via an insulin receptor, glucose enters the cells to produce energy. This can only happen at a certain rate, so to overload the cell with glucose or have glucose sit in the bloodstream, 70 grams can be stored in the liver and 200 grams in the muscle.
You may want to have your morning bagel and your frappe and you have already stored all of the glucose you can store so it has to go into your body fat.
As well as storing it as energy, your body puts it in your body fat because the fat cells have less complex machinery as other cells.
Too much glucose can bind to the proteins and muck up the machinery of the cells in a harmful inflammatory process called Glycation.
If you would like to know how this is, it would be similar to pouring pancake syrup into a car engine.
The problem here is that the if your energy levels start to wane, you can’t tap the energy out of your stored body fat because the hormone that does that hormone sensitive lipase is sensitive to insulin. Insulin will not allow you to tap body fat for energy.
If you have a bunch of insulin sitting in your blood from processing a bunch of glucose before and you need energy, you’re going to get ravenously hungry and will need to check your blood sugar up short term with a snack or something that you can use to raise your energy levels again.
This is why if you’re following the recommended American diet, you’re usually going to be stuck in this loop of wanting to eat every time your blood glucose drops, and 3 meals per days feel very necessary. Even medical doctor Peter Attia fell victim to this.
He states, “Despite exercising 3 to 4 hours every single day and following the food pyramid to the letter, I gained a lot of weight and developed something called, ‘Metabolic Syndrome.’
Ketosis – Our Premium Fuel Source
If you stop eating glucose for about 10 – 12 hours, your glucose stores will deplete and your body fat will start breaking down fat so that the liver can produce something called Ketone bodies.
Ketone bodies produce energy for your cells through similar pathways as glucose but are much more stable, efficient, and don’t cause complications like what was discussed earlier.
You may have heard about this “Ketosis State” as going into starvation back when you were in school but this does not mean that you are going to starve.
The term is actually easy to dislike mainly because it suggests that glucose or carbohydrates are our body’s primary fuel source, when in fact, it is possible to live entirely without carbohydrates.
One example of this is a 456 pound27-year-old man in Scotland who fasted for 382 days consuming only water and vitamin supplements.
He was able to lose 267 pounds and completed the fast with no ill effects. This has allowed him to be in what is falsely called “Starvation Mode” the whole time and his body was using his stored body fat for energy.
A quick note to remember: Ketosis and Diabetic KetoAcidosis are not the same.
Fasting and Starvation are two different things on many levels. One level that is often overlooked is that fasting is usually embarked on knowingly and for reason (religious or health), and has a positive connotation to it (purging the body of toxic excess and waste etc). Starvation, on the other hand, is not usually brought on willfully and carries the idea that it is something forced upon you through unfortunate circumstances with an inevitable fatal outlook. Biologically they are also very different. When fasting your body is still functioning as it should, all be it in a state of cleansing and purging. Starvation mode is when the body is feeding on itself in a desperate effort to stay alive, feeding on its internal organs, flesh and bone mass. Quite a different thing!”
Several years back, when low carb diets were released, I was skeptical and frankly when I heard other people trying the Atkin’s diet, I was worried her.
However, I understand the biochemistry behind it. I started the Paleo Diet. I felt great in general, I had a better physique with lot less effort and much more stable energy levels.
The downside was it got so annoying to have to plan my meals so much, so I would cheat a lot here and there.
Health Benefits of Fasting
Even after people were in environments where they could eat much more frequently, the concept of fasting for health benefits has been around for some time.
An Egyptian Pyramid inscription from around 3800 B.C. reads, “Humans live on one – quarter of what they eat. On the other three – quarters lives their doctors.”
Plato apparently fasted in order to get faster mental efficiency, the “Luther of Medicine” Philippus Paracelsus called fasting “the greatest remedy” Even Mark Twain suggested that fasting is more effective than any other medicine.
The Romans even found that they can cure people who they falsely believed were possessed by Demons by shutting them in a room without food.
To simplify an incredibly complex process, aging, in essence, is the result of cumulative damage to your DNA. Professor of Genetics, David Sinclair, and this team has found that not eating stimulates the Sirtuin proteins which are responsible for DNA repair.
Professor of Neuroscience, Mark Mattson, at John Hopkins University Neuroscience showed how fasting promotes the growth of new a specialized cell, transmitting nerve impulses; a nerve cell in the brain.
This explains why fasting has been linked to the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s.
The information I have received got me excited about intermittent fasting. With Intermittent fasting, you are not eating for 16 hours of the day which gives your body time to deplete the glycogen stores and start burning fat as well as reap the benefits discussed above.
So many sources are pointing to the key being that whether you are doing extended fasting, intermittent fasting or simply eating less, you are giving your body a chance to deplete its Glycogen stores and dip into Ketosis, leading to many health benefits.
I was keen on the fact that I could get similar effects to Paleo with more Leeway in my diet. The problem with intermittent fasting is I found myself craving for food outside the 8 hour eating period, and I still have to be somewhat strict with what I ate (although not as strict as my 3 meal a day regimen)
Upton Sinclair who was born in the late 1800s and lived to the swell age of 90 published a book in 1911 called, “The Fasting Cure.” The book was inspired by the personal accounts of 250 people who cured some ailment with extended fasting. LifeExtension.com
The ailments ranged from colds, headaches, constipation to arthritis, valvular heart disease, and cancer.
Dr. Alan Goldhamer spoke about how in 2012, a 42-year-old patient cured her cancer (stage 3 follicular lymphoma) with a 21 day fast.
My Path to One Meal A Day
All of the information mentioned above opened me up to try my first week long fast but I ended up around the 4th day even though I did not feel particularly bad.
While I missed my goal and I didn’t really feel different afterward, over the following days, I started to notice that I didn’t have that much interest in junk food.
I used to enjoy some delicious refined sugar crap while doing intermittent fasting since it was within my 8 hour eating period, but that fast had reset my eating preferences.
Around this time, I came across a book called “Kuufuku ga hito o kenkou ni suru” – by Dr. Yoshinori Nagumo.
The title means, “Hunger Makes People Healthy.” This provides an incredibly compelling argument for limiting yourself to one meal per day.
It touched upon many of the things I’ve talked about here, some things I didn’t and it dispelled my worries about malnutrition and whatnot.
( It was easy to trust him since he’s 30 years older than me and he looks younger I do.) I decided to try eating once per day for 2 weeks.
For 3 weeks prior to starting, I had been showing my little sister around Tokyo while eating basically anything and everything that looked good. I started the Yoshinori Nagumo Diet Plan the day after she left and the first three days were definitely the hardest.
When the clock hit 11 AM, I realized I wasn’t getting the joy from eating that I was used to around this time of the day and started really wanting to eat.
My stomach didn’t particularly hurt, it was the equivalent of not being able to play video games when getting home from middle school.
The next two days were slightly easier, and come on the 4th day, I realized I wasn’t looking at the clock thinking, “Only 4 more hours to go.”
A week later, I decided to put the diet to the test by doing a 50-kilometer bike ride to Atsugi from Tokyo. I hadn’t been working out all that much and a usual bike ride for me was about 3 kilometers. It was unsurprisingly difficult, but I never really felt physically weak.
I had hunger pangs earlier than normal, but I did not feel like I had the strength from a lack of food. This made me decide to stick with eating once per day.
It’s been a month since I started and I feel great in general. My energy levels are very stable, tolerate less sleep better, I feel more focused and surprisingly I have fewer problems with hunger compared to Intermittent Fasting.
It’s not until an hour or two before my usual eating time that I start thinking about food and if I’m focused on something, I might even eat an hour later than normal.
Even if I do not eat the healthiest meal, I can now feel confident that my body will have more than enough time to empty out whatever excess glucose or toxins I ingested.
(The only time when I do crave unhealthy food is when I’ve had some alcohol.) Looking back, it’s hard to imagine having to pile so much food into my stomach throughout the day.
Other than the health benefits, one reason I do this is the same reason Steve Jobs wore basically the same thing every day:
It makes choosing easier and frees up my brain to focus on other things.
At least for myself, the amount of new information I get only changes my behavior by a small factor. For example, if I increase my knowledge about the detriments of alcohol by say, 60% maybe I’ll cut my intake by 30%.
I am not expecting you to start eating one meal a day but hopefully, you can start giving your body a break and eat when you need to and not when the clock says you should.