It is rather easy to summarize the world’s most effective diet that is not only works but is incredibly inexpensive to implement: fasting. Just don’t eat as much or as often and take breaks of as many hours as one can stand regularly. A 12 hour window of not eating is enough to generate some benefits but there are people all over the world who regularly go days on end without eating and they are quite healthy. Why?

To understand fasting is orders of magnitude easier than understanding eating which is an enormous puzzle made complex by the adaptive nature of humans and our cultural and economic practices that vary around the world. Fasting has a biological mechanism that is easier to understand than eating and fasting has a spiritual element in a way that sacred eating does not. It’s really just easier to not eat and understand why it’s a good idea.

It is well understood that living creates cellular damage because to light the fires of life, cells must oxidize food and oxygen to create energy. In the young, cellular damage like all manner of damage can be healed up quickly as the repair mechanism of the body is working at maximum efficiency. As time marches on, however, cellular damage accumulates and the repair mechanism begins to fall behind. The accumulated damage is aging by many theories.

Autophagy is the process of recycling damaged cells and in a fast, this process can move forward. The word itself is a Greek derivative that means “self eating” but it also refers to the process of “cellular pruning” or as is easier to understand, just plain recycling.

Clearly, modern life has solved many of humanities most vexing problems, such as starvation, predation, and death via viruses, but the solutions have brought on their own set of new problems. None are more destructive than the habits of constant eating combined with mostly sitting all day. Ancient humanity evolved in a state of constant motion combined with regular periods of food scarcity. In the periods of scarcity, the body performed a sort of clean up routine where depleted or damaged cells were recycled and the cellular materials consumed and either excreted or reused. This was autophagy. The National Institute of Health describes the process as such:

“Autophagy is a homeostatic, catabolic degradation process whereby cellular proteins and organelles are engulfed by autophagosomes, digested in lysosomes, and recycled to sustain cellular metabolism.”

I will stick with the term “clean up” and assert that in the period when a person is not eating, the body performs maintenance that it can’t do if it is constantly processing food. Digestion takes energy and sometimes that energy needs to be directed toward the activities that can only be done when we are not eating. Fasting is not eating.

Fasting runs contrary to many habits that have gotten deeply ingrained in to our ideas about food and we have ingrained those ideas deeply in children over several generations. We have been told for decades that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and the term itself means breaking a fast. We have been told that kids who are hungry cant’ learn and so if parents won’t supply breakfast, the schools will do so. We have also been sold ideas about what breakfast should be, and “part of a balanced breakfast’ is ingrained in a speech patterns by decades of (paid) advertising.

A similar social process occurred with lunch, which is a ritualized break in the middle of the day, and dinner which is often described as a critical social event, as in “family dinner.’ At some point the term “TV dinner” entered the American vocabulary and it should come as no surprise then that obesity and rampant diabetes has followed.

No meal is that important. Skipping meals is far more important and fasting works. It not only creates the conditions for autophagy, but it is a regular part of the spiritual routine of many of the world’s religions because in a fasted state, a person is said to be able to think more clearly and pray more effectively.

The dulling effect of food has been observed for millennia, and yet fasting is in no way encouraged in our culture. Eating at regular intervals is the norm, even though fasting works wonders and protects against nearly everything that degrades and kills; cancer, heart disease, diabetes and strokes. In fact, fasting may be the ONLY thing that protects the body against nearly all of modern life’s many self-inflicted fatal wounds. How much fasting and how often is the subject of many studies and practices, but any level of fasting works. Skipping just one meal is good, and going days without eating every once in a while is even better. Fasting breaks habits and clarifies and is one of the smartest and cheapest things a person can do to improve their life.

Fasting decreases cancer risk:

Fasting addresses heart disease:

Fasting inhibits the onset of dementia:

And yet this is what we do to kids and set them up for a lifetime of physical disorders:

Mrre information on how to live longer and better can be found on my aging and health blog at