Weight Loss Side Effects of the #3DayCancerPreventionFast

In a comment on LinkedIn this morning, Janet Kennedy asked:

I’m glad she asked, because it highlights an important positive side effect of the #3DayCancerPreventionFast.

You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about weight loss in my previous posts about this experiment, because that wasn’t the main goal.

The goal of our fast was getting to a high enough level of therapeutic ketosis that it would stimulate autophagy (recycling of damaged or inefficient cell organelles, especially mitochondria) and put any cancer or precancerous cells under enough stress that they would trigger apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

Another major benefit of extended fasting is a recharged and rejuvenated immune system, so if apoptosis doesn’t cause the cancer cells to commit suicide, maybe they’ll be weakened enough for our natural immune defenses to kill them.

And there’s this virus going around, perhaps you’ve heard of it, that seems to generally cause more severe consequences in older people than it does in children and young adults.

A rejuvenated (literally “made young again”) immune system would seem to come in handy for that, too.

Although weight loss wasn’t the main goal of our #3DayCancerPreventionFast, it was a beneficial side effect. A nice bonus.

As Dr. Jason Fung says, the basic logic of fasting is simple: “If you don’t eat, you will lose weight.”

Here’s what we found:

  • Lisa and I each lost six pounds from our Sunday morning weigh-in, before starting the fast, to our low point post-fast on Thursday morning, after we had concluded the fast on Wednesday.
  • My weight went up a little on Monday morning because I had two meals on Sunday, beginning my fast at 4:30 p.m., so the loss from my high point was 8.8 pounds.
  • The high point of our weights early in the month correspond to the visit of my daughter Ruthie and her husband and daughter. They’re missionaries in Bulgaria, and were back in the country around the holidays, staying with us from Jan. 3-8. That was a feasting time, and we could revel in it without fear or guilt because we balance it with fasting.

I call that a balanced diet – balancing feasting and fasting – not seeking some kind of equal partitioning of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

We enjoyed having Trevin, Ruthie and Noa Hoot home with us to start the New Year with a feast.

To answer Janet’s second question, as you can see in the graphs above we’ve reached our weight goals, and had been there before the holidays. Now as we head into February with no major feasts on the schedule, we will settle into a more normal rhythm, gradually eating a little more toward the end of the month, so that after our next fast we’ll be again about at this level.

In future posts I’ll do a deeper exploration of how our fast affected blood sugar and ketone levels, workout capacity and sleep, as well as some overall reflections and our plans for February and March fasts.

And if you, like Janet, have other questions about, please ask them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them.

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Check out My Health Journey for the full story of our health improvements, and my #BodyBabySteps for an approach to how I would do it if I were starting today, based on what I’ve learned.

Why do a three-day fast?

I’m not suggesting you should do an extended fast. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it until you have:

  1. Become fat-adapted through at least four weeks of a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, and
  2. Become comfortable with time-restricted feeding, with several weeks of maintaining fasting windows of 18-24 hours.

Doing #1 makes #2 much easier, but don’t rush it. Focus on eating your satisfying low-carb meals when you feel hungry, and start by avoiding post-dinner snacks.

Your goal is to achieve metabolic health, not to demonstrate willpower.

But once you feel established in a ketogenic eating pattern and have done some alternate-day fasting, extended fasts can create some impressive metabolic health benefits by unleashing autophagy.

Autophagy literally means “self-eating.” When nutrients are scarce, your body goes into this clean-up mode in which it digests and recycles cellular parts that are weak or defective, and replaces them with newly generated ones. See an excellent explanation of autophagy by one of my Health Sherpas, Dr. Jason Fung.

For a compelling overview of the benefits of autophagy, here’s a helpful video from another of my Sherpas, Dr. Sten Ekberg:

If you didn’t watch the video, the benefits Dr. Ekberg cited included:

  • Anti-aging – caloric restriction has been shown to improve lifespan, and many of these same benefits are thought to result from periodic extended fasting.
  • Detoxification as damaged proteins are recycled
  • Immune system enhancement
  • Improved tissue quality
  • Lowered insulin levels and increases in growth hormone
  • Reducing skin sag with weight loss, as the extra skin is broken down and recycled.
  • Brain-related benefits ranging from traumatic brain injury recovery to symptom improvement in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Even a relatively brief period of fasting triggers autophagy at some level, but to significantly activate it likely takes a couple of days or more. But unlike ketosis, which can be detected with a simple breath or finger-stick blood test, demonstrating autophagy requires a muscle biopsy.

Still, I think the framework Dr. Ekberg suggests is likely accurate: if you’re eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), you’ll likely take 72 hours or so for meaningful autophagy, but if you’re already fat-adapted it happens much sooner.

So I think given the eating pattern Lisa and I have been observing for more than a year, we’re likely getting a dose of autophagy with our 18-24 hour fasts.

One of the most compelling implications of autophagy is in cancer prevention, but no one really knows yet how large the dose needs to be.

This has been an topic of significant research interest and speculation that I will discuss in my next post.

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Check out My Health Journey for the full story of our health improvements, and my #BodyBabySteps for an approach to how I would do it if I were starting today, based on what I’ve learned.