Would you be willing to make a bold shift in how you think and act about something if it meant you could live a longer, healthier and more peaceful life?
I’m talking about food and the quantity and quality of it we eat. This is a touchy subject for most of us. We like our food, and for many people, eating is an art form.
It’s also a sensual experience that involves the anticipation, planning and preparation before the big act. Eating is a huge part of family and tradition and comfort. In America, convenient fast food eating is part of the new normal for dining, as it supports our in-a-hurry, on-the-go lifestyles.
We’ve known for some time now that our choices about what we eat impact our health. There are huge health benefits to cutting fat and sugar, eating less red meat, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and cutting back on processed foods.
But did you know there’s a much more profound and advantageous eating change you can adopt? Consume fewer calories.
Calorie restriction is proving to slow the aging process and extend our lifespans.
In a long-term study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, calorie restriction seemed to extend the lives of human-like rhesus monkeys. The hungrier monkeys fell victim to diabetes, heart and brain disease and cancer much less frequently than their well-fed counterparts did. Now researchers at Tufts University in Boston are conducting a two-year study to determine if eating less has the same impact on people.
By putting people on a carefully reduced diet (a 25% calorie cut) for two years, investigators hope to learn the biological mechanism that connects eating less to living longer. (They will also explore whether such a strict diet is even realistic in the overweight U.S.)
One theory suggest that continuous slight hunger creates a subtle but constant stress that makes an organism stronger and more resistant to the ills of aging.
Eating fewer calories also slows metabolism, and some data indicate that humans with a slower metabolism live longer.
In the Tufts University study, participants tend toward low-calorie, high-satiety diets rather than smaller portions.
- They eat lots of fruits, vegetables and fiber that help suppress hunger.
- These dieters lose weight almost immediately, usually reducing their body mass about 15% in the first year.
- Their cholesterol and blood pressure drop precipitously.
It has been estimated that every calorie you drop adds about 30 seconds to your lifespan.
However, many dieters can attest that even modest calorie restriction can be hard to sustain. Mark Mattson, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland, believes similar benefits may be achieved through intermittent fasting instead. Intermittent fasting means skipping meals or not eating every other day or every few days.
Mattson is not so interested in just extending life span. Instead, he wants to improve what he calls the human “healthspan”—the period of a person’s life in which a they enjoy good health, even into the eighties or nineties.
After age 65 it can be dangerous to decrease calorie intake or loose too much weight when one is already losing muscle and lean tissue, but most people would still benefit enormously from even moderate calorie restriction.
“All the vitality and energy I have comes to me because my body is purified by fasting.” ~Gandhi
Like calorie restriction, intermittent fasting may slow down the aging process by reducing free radicals in the cells.
These highly reactive molecules can damage cells, and as we age, the cells become less capable at eliminating the free radicals.
Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting offer not only physical benefits. There are profound spiritual benefits as well.
- Fasting allows the autonomic systems of the body to function at a relaxed baseline level, free from the erratic and disruptive influences of the nervous system and hormones.
- Fasting and meditation provide similar mind/body influences on the brain and nervous system, perhaps healing psychosomatic disorders and providing optimal health and well-being by a single common mechanism.
- During calorie restriction and intermittent fasting, cell membrane fluidity increases, increasing the availability of receptors for hormones and neurotransmitters.
Metabolism improves and cells can detoxify themselves properly so there are less stored poisons.
The fewer calories one eats and the higher the nutrition of those calories, then the easier it is for the body to run through all its cycles with full efficiency. If we start up the digestive process several times a day, every day of our lives, the body doesn’t have time for cleansing, repair, and regeneration.
Our body becomes so preoccupied with digestion that it doesn’t have the energy, enzymes and immunity for higher functions such as building the “spiritual body,” and for the higher thinking that supports our psychic, subtle and spiritual capacities.
It is vital to refine our diet so that we are only eating the most vital, nutritious food, specific to the real needs of our body. This system focuses foremost on efficiency, getting the digestive process “out of the way” so that higher life processes and experiences can be explored.
Spiritual fasting, even if it is intermittent fasting, allows you to follow in the footsteps of humanity’s greatest spiritual teachers who practiced and taught fasting as a means of spiritual rebirth and illumination.
Without the non-stop addition of food into the system, the body has a lighter, less dense, feeling which creates a subtle separation from ordinary physical reality and allows you begin to sense the presence and power of things beyond this world.
“I often observe in fasting participants that.. . concentration seems to improve, creative thinking expands, depression lifts, insomnia stops, anxieties fade, the mind becomes more tranquil, and a natural joy begins to appear. It is my hypothesis that when the physical toxins are cleared from the brain cells, mind-brain function automatically and significantly improves, and spiritual capacities expand.” ~Gabriel Cousens, M.D.
So what can you take away from this information? Lengthy fasting is not for everyone, and even calorie restriction takes self-discipline and willingness to shift beliefs and let go of attachments around food.
Here’s how you can apply the benefits of calorie restriction and/or intermittent fasting to your everyday life:
- Cut your portions back by one quarter of what you would normally eat.
- Eat several small meals a day rather than three large ones.
- Select high density fruits and vegetables and lean protein to help keep you full.
- Cut out or cut back on alcohol consumption.
- Avoid fast food if possible.
- Drink 8-10 eight ounce glasses of water daily. Drink water between meals when you feel hungry.
- Consider fasting once a week to give your system a rest.
- Support your spiritual practice with a day of fasting.
If you would like to read more about longevity and calorie restriction, you might want to read The Longevity Diet by Brian Delaney and Lisa Walford. Also for more information about calorie restriction, visit the CR Society International web site. If you would like to read more about fasting, check out Fasting and Eating for Health by Joel Fuhrman.