If you've been following me for a while, this concept won't be new to you. Diet variation has nothing to do with eating a variety of different foods, but rather how much food you're consuming; more specifically, it's engaging in feast-famine cycles.
This concept isn't new, bodybuilders have discovered it as a way to break through fat loss/ muscle gain plateaus, using cheat days. I honestly discovered it out of desperation while trying to help a client who was insulin resistant and had very damaged hormones. We were trying to get her into ketosis, but it just wasn't working, and she had previously been on my Cellular Healing Diet, which didn't work for her either—she was weight-loss-resistant. Something magic started to happen though when I switched her back to the (higher carb) Cellular Healing Diet: all of a sudden; she began to lose weight. Her hormone sensitivity went up, and then when I got her back on a ketogenic diet, she started making ketones and actually got into ketosis. It was an AHA moment for me, realizing that:
The key wasn't in the either-or diet; it was in a combination of the two.
Diet variation is rooted in the way of life of our ancestors, who regularly went through periods of feast followed by periods of fasting (in between hunts). It's this dance between both spectrums of eating that allows our hormones to optimize, our body to heal, healthy weight loss, and so much more. The problem we're trying to break free from here is stagnation, which manifests itself on both ends of the spectrum: being stuck in feast or fast mode.
Stuck in Feast Mode
It's no surprise that in the last century, the drastic change in lifestyle has made food so accessible that we no longer have to think twice about getting it. Supermarkets and mini markets are always within arms reach, open 24/7. We live in a culture that revolves around meals (not to mention all the marketing). Food has become the centerpiece of our society.
Famine used to be built into life because a hunt would go badly—or war would make food scarce. Today, there is no mechanism forcing us to go without, and so most of the population is living in constant feast mode. This constant fed state drives inflammation because the body is either in rest and repair mode or growth mode. A steady influx of food means the body is always digesting and never really focusing on repairing itself. The cellular consequences are an increase in the risk of disease.
The Body Is Smart, It Will Adapt To Fast Mode Too
Although the majority of the American population is no doubt stuck in feast mode, I would be willing to bet that many of the people reading this are stuck in “fast mode.” “Fast mode” doesn't necessarily mean you're only fasting, but it also applies to a ketogenic diet (essentially, whenever the body is running on ketones). You can only take your carbs so low, for so long, before negative consequences begin to creep up.
When I first discovered keto, it worked for me in the beginning. When it stopped working, I lowered my carbs— and lowered them more, until I no longer could. It was at that point that my progress stalled and even started reversing itself: I was gaining belly fat on a practically zero carb diet. Not only that, but my insulin started rising!
What's going on here? Well, the body is incredibly smart, and when it gets used to running on ketones (fat) instead of glucose (sugar) for a long time, it will begin to store fat for future use. It thinks, “Okay, this is my fuel source, better stock up in case I need it in the future.” Being stuck in ketone-burning mode will also upregulate the gluconeogenesis function, whereby your body will start pumping out more insulin than if you were consuming carbs. I've seen it time and time again: someone on strict keto for too long will consume a carb refeed, and their insulin will actually drop. Not only that, but a sustained low carb diet blunts the insulin receptors, and we have begun to see insulin resistance happening as a result—on low carb diets!
Why Does It Work?
It has to do with adaptation. I've interviewed many scientists and experts on Cellular Healing TV, and one of these scientists is Krista Varady, Ph.D., and author of The Alternate Day Fasting has spent her career researching feast-famine cycling. Her studies demonstrate the power that alternate-day fasting (capped at 500 calories per day) has on hormones, weight loss, brain function, and disease reduction. Dr. Valter Longo saw the same benefits in his five-day fasting-mimicking diet. He noticed a generation of new stem cells, a decrease in excess body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, and maintenance of healthy levels of blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
When we vary the diet, hormonal changes take place as a result of forcing adaptation on the body. Similarly to exercise, if we stick to one same diet or training program for an extended period, the body will adapt and hit a plateau. We've seen the same adaptation success in the study of weight loss resistant mice, who were exposed to hot and cold therapy. The adaptation forced on the body by being exposed to cyclically hot to cold temperatures (like sauna and cold showers) enabled these mice to lose body fat finally.
When one style of eating is maintained for a long time, we begin to see imbalances that are not conducive to health and longevity. It can cause deficiencies (like a vegetarian diet) or can drive up inflammation (like a high protein paleo diet). Still, when we find balance and swing between high carb (feast) and low carb (fast) days, the body is continually adapting and becoming more resilient.
People are debating on what diet is best…. But what I'm saying is: they're all okay. The magic is in the change, forcing adaptation. That's the key.
Benefits of Diet Variation Include:
- Loss of body fat
- Increase of lean muscle mass
- Improved cognitive function
- Fights cancer
- Fights diabetes
- Fights cardiovascular disease
- Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation
Are All Carbs The Same?
Look, the studies show that feast-famine cycles work even if you don't change your diet whatsoever. The alternate-day fasting study that Dr. Krista Varady did had people going back to their standard American diet on the non-fasting days, but I can't help but wonder how much better their results would have been if they opted for a healthy diet on feast days. The same goes for Dr. Valter Longo's fasting-mimicking study: apart from the five days of partial fasting, the patients could eat whatever they wanted. I always tell my clients to opt for the healthier types of carbs. Healthier being unrefined, preferably organic foods like yams, wild rice, squash, pumpkin, carrots, and fruit. If the only way you're going to implement these fast cycles into your life is by still being able to have pizza on the weekends, then start there. Still, over time you should try to clean up the diet because although the feasting is an essential aspect of the protocol, there are harmful effects that ensue when consuming GMOs, refined oils, flours, and sugars, hybridized foods, and pesticides/ herbicides.
You have to factor in your current state of health, allergies, and intolerances. If your hormones are damaged or your insulin resistant, stay away from the junk. If you're already in optimal health, you can get away with more junk, but if you care about living a long (and healthy to the end) life, you'll opt for healthy carbs too.
Types of Diet Variation: How to Implement It
There are three main ways you can implement diet variation in your life. Best choose the one that you can see yourself sustaining in the long run.
1. Seasonal Variation
Seasonal diet variation is a very natural process when you think of following a seasonal ancestral diet. There weren't many plants growing in the winter so that winters would be very ketogenic (animal protein and fats), and summers would be more abundant in vegetables and fruit, which is the higher carb cycle. So in the winter you can restrict your carbs and consume a moderate amount of protein and high fat to stay relatively keto, and in the summer consume those berries, yams, pumpkin, wild rice, and whatever else carbs you enjoy.
2. Monthly Variation
The monthly variation has been studied and is referred to as the “fasting-mimicking diet” spearheaded by Dr. Valter Longo. Participants were restricted to 500 calories (mostly from fat) for five days a month, and for the rest of the month, they could eat whatever they wanted. The results were astounding: weight management and metabolic health, autophagy, and stem-cell rejuvenation.
Another way of incorporating a monthly variation might resonate with the women out there, who feel a wave of carbohydrate/ chocolate cravings take over when they're nearing their menstrual cycle. We've had this conversation many times in my household, and how beneficial it can be actually to listen to your body's cravings! Keeping with a ketogenic diet the rest of the month, you can indulge in all those carbs one week a month and get all those diet variation benefits plus ease the symptoms you may be having during the massive hormonal shift that occurs when you menstruate.
3. Weekly Variation
Weekly variation is great because it's easy to incorporate into your life. Cycling seasonally can be difficult because you get used to one style of eating; I know personally when I've played around with seasonal shifts, it feels very odd to make the switch to a daily higher carb diet. With weekly variation, you hop around between keto, fasting, and a carbohydrate reefed(s), and can tailor the days to suit your schedule. I like to keep my higher carb days for a Saturday or Sunday, and then depending on your goals and your current state of health; you can include one, two, or even three days of fasting on busier days (you won't even realize you aren't eating!).
There are so many options here, but these are three of the most typical weekly diet variation combinations I teach my patients:
5-1-1: five days keto, one-day fasting, one-day feasting.
4-2-1: four days keto, two days are fasting, one-day feasting.
3-2-2: three days keto, two days fasting, two days feasting.
Find a balance that works for you. If you're sick or healing from adrenal issues, be mindful of that and include more feast days. You might be the type of person who always wants to maximize benefits but trust me: easing into it will maximize the benefits. If you're a seasoned intermittent faster and have completed prolonged water fast, try for the 3-2-2 or the 4-2-1. Listen to your body, and find a method to vary your diet that can realistically fit into your lifestyle.
Learn more here>>>> https://healthhuntersradio.com/episodes/hunters/episode-9-what-is-diet-variation
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