Feb 01, 2021
Fasting and Brain Health: 8 great tips to include fasting in your travel plans.
It is a dilemma. I practice fasting almost every day. But, whenever I travel, making it to the Guggenheim Museum, or seeing humpback whales, or getting tickets to the latest Broadway show are my second concerns.
I first think about the food.
What am I going to eat? And what types of foods am I going to try? But which local delicacy is available? I had a partner who used to tell me: “you are always thinking two meals ahead, right?” I am.
But are you also afraid of missing that incredible traditional pastry or try the most famous Italian restaurant in town? Do feel you always you gained a pound or two (or five) when you return from a long trip? Do you sigh and think “I was doing so well” when you reach breakfast buffet at your hotel? Do you feel way too tired and not focused?
This also causes me a bit of stress however fasting helps me tackle that.
Not only fasting helps me stay focused on what I need to do, but it also has several benefits to my body, including productivity and well-being. Here is how.
How does fasting work?
Fasting allows your body to regenerate, clear toxins, and improve brain functions. You cannot fix a car while driving it, right?
It is not starvation but a voluntary, controlled, and measured abstinence of food.
When you eat, your body stores glycogen in your liver. Once depleted, your body then starts to release stored fat into the bloodstream. This fat is taken to the liver to create new energy.
Of course, if you don’t eat for a much prolonged period of time, your body starts looking for other sources of fuel. And that’s when you start losing muscle mass. But way before that, there are sweet spots where you obtain the most benefits from fasting.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician, and father of western medicine, supposedly said: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. In addition to that, Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian physician, complements the idea that we naturally and instinctively fast when needed.
Remember when you had a cold and wanted to rest? Or when you had too much to drink? Different problem, same solution.
Another by-product of fasting is a cleaner body. And one of the processes the body goes through while fasting is autophagy. It is a state where your body recycles damaged or not needed protein.
Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese physiologist, was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine in 2016 for his discoveries about autophagy in physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection.
Fasting and the smarter brain
When your body is producing energy from fat, it produces ketones, putting you in a state of ketosis. And when ketones reach your brain, they promote the creation of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factors or BDNF.
BDNF helps strengthen neural connections in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Moreover, it promotes synapses, improving focus and productivity.
Fasting is extremely popular among Silicon Valley CEOs and acolytes who work grueling hours and are on the lookout for maximized brain activity.
When you travel, restricting your food intake will give you a clearer mind to deal with environmental change. In order words, I hope it will be easier to find your hotel street in Tokyo.
Check out these two videos about BDNF and its effect on the brain.
Fasting has been part of human evolution. It has also been used in different religions, instinctively or not, to create stronger connections with the divine in pure mind and body. Now we know why.
Fasting causes changes in gene expression associated with increased life expectancy and disease prevention. There is evidence that it protects brain health and it is also responsible for a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Watch Dr. Mark Mattson, Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and former Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, also talk about what fasting does to your brain here.
Check here more information about how to boost your brain health here.
The types of fasting
One of the biggest misconceptions is that you eat less while fasting. You only concentrate the calorie intake into a small window.
If you integrate fasting into your weekly routine and do it repeatedly in cycles, you can call it intermitting fasting. And there are different types of them. But how do you find out which one is best for you?
This fasting is also known as the 16:8 method and is probably the most popular form. You fast for 16 hours and eat during an 8-hour window.
This method is the easiest to follow. It is also one of the most effective ones. If you have your last meal at 8 PM, you can skip breakfast and have your lunch from noon onwards to cover your 16 hours.
As you can easily integrate it into your daily life, it is the most common type of fasting routine.
The 5:2 Diet
This option consists of following your weekly diet for five consecutive days and restrict your calorie intake to 500-600 for two days. You will need to be mindful of your calorie intake during your non-fasting days, so you avoid spoiling the results of the fasting days.
It involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. For example, you should not be eating from dinner one day until dinner the following day. That applies to any meal like breakfast or lunch.
While the first few days of intermittent fasting may make you feel a little misty, many people report better mental clarity as you get more adapted to it. And my experience is that it gets easier the more you fast routinely. There are other fasting routines consisting of 36h, 48h, and even multiple days too.
How to incorporate fasting into my travel plans
As I said at the beginning of the article, you will always face a dilemma. You either take advantage of the opportunity of trying different things, or you stick to your routine. Honestly, you can do a mix of both but always keep in mind the benefits they bring: the instant reward or long-term longevity. If you know you are going to a client dinner, maybe skip your breakfast that day.
If you are on the road for more than 100 days a year, I would probably consider integrating fasting habits into your travel routines. Here is how:
1) Plan in advance
I know that sometimes you are asked to travel with little notice, but you need to do your homework: how long is your flight? What is the time difference at your destination from where you are? What time do you leave home? What time do you arrive at your destination? Will I have to eat till you get to your hotel? Will there be a business dinner?
You will spend 10 to 15 minutes to get this information so you can plan accordingly to avoid disruption.
2) Eat healthy the day before
Well, even if you are not traveling, you should eat healthier. By getting your nutrients right, you will have an easier time sustaining longer fasting if needed. Eating whole foods will increase your energy and nutrient absorption and make you less hungry if you need to fast longer.
3) Book/purchase a special meal.
If you are flying and suspect that the cabin service will be outside your eating window, buy a special meal. Then you will be served first and have the opportunity to finish your meal within your time-window.
4) Ask the cabin crew to delay your service.
If you are flying during your fasting window, kindly ask the cabin crew to eat later. Say it is for health purposes. They should be able to understand. So many people fast for religious reasons, so hopefully, that should not be a problem.
5) Flying eastbound
If you are flying eastbound, you are losing hours in your day. It is good to acclimatize to your location as soon as possible. You need to control what time it is on your origin and calculate the best time to eat in the new time zone.
In this case, you will have shorter eating and fasting windows to work with. You will probably need a day or two to get back on track as you will be hungry in crazy hours of the day at your new location.
6) Flying westbound
If you fly westbound, you are making your days longer. So are your fasting and eating windows. With that, you can manage the acclimatization a bit better. On the first day, you may still eat a bit more. But from the second day onwards, you will be in a much better position to manage it.
7) Take advantage of your hotel room service
Check if your hotel has 24/7 room service. That will give you the chance to have a meal to support you until the next breakfast or lunch is permitted.
8) Book meetings around your eating hours
That is a relevant tip if you have client events. It gives you an opportunity to orderly control the space between meals so you can properly acclimatize.
Scientists are still studying fasting, and I am sure that they are yet to find more benefits to the practice. Surely it has lasted so long in humankind and has taken many forms that I am confident that the scientific community will continue to keep interested in it.
With little effort and a bit of planning, you can continue your fasting practices while traveling. It may take a day or two, but you will be back on track in no-time. Here you will find some materials for you to read.
Also, check the option that DoFasting app has as they tailor a fasting program to your needs. That will help you manage your fasting routine regardless if you are a newbie or an experienced practitioner of fasting.
Don’t forget to always consult with your doctor, ok?