Just the other day I was watching my 2 1/2-year-old play with such abandon. No stress, no anxiety about the future or remorse about the past. It got me thinking about all the differences between kids and adults. Ironically, kids want to be adults and adults want to be as energetic and look as vivacious and youthful as kids!
I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the world studying the specific practices, diets, and mindsets of cultures that seem to age with integrity. Based on what I’ve seen it appears that our drive to emulate our children is a healthy act of self-preservation. But what is it precisely about children that makes their youth so attractive to us as adults? I don’t know about you, but I love their energy, their general good health, their resilient metabolism that maintains an appropriate weight, their ability to sleep peacefully through the night (okay, most nights!) and that soft, luscious, wrinkle-free skin. Oh, that skin!
A body that plays all day and wakes up the next morning completely refreshed and ready to do it all over again? Yes, please! I’ve always been fascinated with understanding how to empower my body from the inside out so that it can function just as it has been designed to – just like when I was a kid. One of the most important things I’ve discovered to help my body thrive with that child-like youthfulness is a practice called “intermittent fasting protein cycling” or, IFPC for short.
Believe it or not, there is a way to reclaim your youth simply by making small tweaks in the way you eat. And while nutritionists and doctors typically focus on what to eat to preserve health, it’s actually equally important to think of how you eat and the timing of your eating as well. The practice of IFPC helps you take into account both the what and when to eat.
IF stands for Intermittent Fasting and PC stands for Protein Cycling. It’s a long name for something quite simple in practice. Together, IF and PC help activate a cellular detox process called autophagy. (This is the focus of my New York Times bestselling book –Glow15). You want more of autophagy occurring in your cells because of its role in rejuvenating the parts of your cell that keep you healthy and cleansing the cellular waste that doesn’t. With muted autophagy comes accelerated aging and disease. Activating autophagy is like getting rid of the gunk that makes getting older feel like you’re perpetually engaged in an uphill battle against time. While growing older is inevitable, aging, as we know it, is not!
IFPC activates autophagy within your cells to help you get more of that child-like vitality. Just like children go through periods of growth versus maintenance periods, your autophagy also fluctuates between active periods and maintenance as well. And just like children’s normal growth and development depend on these cycles so, too, does your body’s autophagy!
IF is the practice of shifting between periods of unrestricted eating and restricted eating which provides a restful time for your body to repair and heal. During the “fasting” time, your cells enter a phase where they literally digest themselves to recycle the good and discard the bad. As discussed above autophagy (“self-eating”) is responsible for this. Think about it: if you’re constantly eating—which is the case for many of us as we graze throughout the day—it doesn’t give your cells a chance to repair and clean up the waste and toxins they have accumulated. Short periods of fasting give them the time to take care of those tasks.
I admire how effortlessly my 2 1/2-year-old finishes his dinner, sleeps through the night and wakes up to eagerly play with his toys. I wanted that feeling of harmony so badly, and it propelled me to seek out simple ways to get my biology back on track so I could balance the hormones and neurotransmitters that were ruling my energy, cravings, weight, sleep, and health. I learned that the hormones glucagon and insulin were the two most critical hormones I needed to get control over. Without their coordinated dance, my hormones would continue to be all over the place, and I would continue to experience accelerated aging.
Intermittent fasting works because it activates the hormone glucagon, which works opposite of insulin to keep your blood glucose levels balanced. To visualize this, picture a seesaw. Immediately my two sons come to mind, and I’m sure you have a visual as well. When one child goes up, the other goes down. In your body, if insulin goes up, glucagon goes down, and vice versa. When you give your body food, insulin automatically rises, and glucagon starts to decrease. But the opposite happens when you don’t eat—insulin goes down, and glucagon rises.
When glucagon rises, this also triggers autophagy. This is why temporarily denying your body nutrients through the safe practice of intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to boost the integrity of your cells. Aside from maintaining your cell’s youth, research has shown that IF promotes greater energy, increased fat-burning and decreased the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease all due to its ability to activate autophagy.
With all of this positive information supporting safe autophagy fasting practices, I started experimenting – slowly at first. As my body adapted, it became easier to make it longer stretches without food. If you are curious how your body will respond to fasting, here is what I recommend:
Start with a simple goal to finish eating at 8 pm. No bedtime snacks or munching in the middle of the night.
If that’s easy for you, your next goal is to fast for 12 hours. Stop eating at 8 pm and don’t eat breakfast until 8 am the next morning.
If that feels comfortable, challenge yourself to stretch your fast for 14 hours. Hold it here for a few days. If you are comfortable, then stretch it out for 16 hours and break your fast at noon.
Science shows that there is no need for women to fast longer than 16 hours. And it’s also not necessary to fast every day. Make it a gentle cycle for your body and fast on nonconsecutive days – perhaps Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. But you can choose what works best for your lifestyle. And that goes for the time period you fast. If you prefer, you can begin your fast after breakfast and then skip dinner. The timing isn’t important – but the amount and cyclical nature of the timing is.
The next piece of reclaiming your youth is the protein cycling or PC part. PC is the practice of alternating between periods of low protein consumption and normal to high protein consumption. The reason you want to under-eat protein on some days of the week is similar to why you want to start intermittent fasting – it comes back to the dance between glucagon and insulin. Lowered protein intake means lowered insulin levels and higher glucagon. And recall that higher glucagon means autophagy is active. Since your body can’t make its own protein, if you don’t eat it (or eat enough of it) then it’s forced into recycling its existing proteins. This recycling activity is a fundamental task of the autophagy process.
You don’t need to be in a constant state of protein deprivation or caloric restriction to get results. In fact not only can consistently under-eating protein be detrimental to your health, but studies also show that the best outcomes happen when you eat a nutrient-rich diet infused with moderate fasts as described above. The way I translated all this complicated science into my lifestyle is to call some days “high” and others, “low.” A high day is when I eat normal whole foods – based diet and a low day is when I restrict protein intake and skip breakfast. I try to aim for three low days and 4 high days a week.
Now that you know the science and you see what I do, how do you think you’ll transfer this knowledge into your daily life? I hope you are motivated to try IFPC and see how it restores whatever it is that you miss most about your youth.
In Glow15, I provide a step-by-step program to help you experiment with activating your own autophagy. So whether you’re interested in easier weight management, increased strength, radiant skin, exuberant energy, sound sleep, or just improved overall health, this program is something I’d love for you to try!