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Less Is More: Is Fasting the New Performance Hack?


Nov 8, 2017 | Stephen Jackson

There’s plenty of experimentation in Silicon Valley (and beyond) dedicated to hacking the brain into higher levels of performance. But there’s another trend that’s been gaining some traction lately: fasting.

That’s right, the next big culinary trend is actually the practice of eating nothing at all. One of the biggest evangelists of the practice is Geoff Woo, CEO of HVMN, a popular San Francisco-based manufacturer of nootropic products. A facebook page celebrating HMVN’s WeFast protocol has over 7,000 members, and there’s even a Slack channel dedicated to “intermittent fasting.”

So what’s the deal? I decided to take a closer look.

Intermittent Fasting

“Intermittent fasting is a free biohack that can be implemented to manage weight, improve metabolic health/disease, and enhance cognition and potentially longevity. Contrary to popular belief, it can be easy,” says Woo, who does a weekly 36-hour fast and a 3-day fast every quarter.

It’s no surprise that Woo practices fasting — it fits perfectly in line with HVMN’s “biohacking” mission. “Biohacking is about empowering individuals with their own health,” he says. “Our mission is to help create a better society through smarter, better brains.”

Potential Benefits

The notion of fasting is far from new. It’s been practiced in some form for thousands of years by nearly every religious group in the world. However, many recent studies have pointed to the idea that fasting might be remarkably good for your body — and your mind. Research has pointed to positive effects on one’s metabolism, longevity, and immunity. In the brain, it’s been linked to increased neuron production (called neurogenesis). It’s also been shown to have an effect on the hippocampus, which is critical to learning and memory.

How to Do It

There are tons of different options when it comes to starving oneself on purpose in the name of psychological and physiological improvement. If you’re interested, I’d suggest sliding over to HVMN’s page dedicated to “hacking” one’s diet.

What appears to be the most accessible form of fasting is what’s called the “LeanGains” method, in which you fast for 16 hours every day (with the exception of drinking water or coffee). While this sounds nuts at first, all it really means is creating a “feeding window” between noon and 8 p.m., and not eating anything outside that timeframe. Again, I’m not jumping on this bandwagon anytime soon, but at least with this approach you’re ostensibly sleeping the majority of time you are fasting.

The next one, dubbed the “Monk Fast,” is a little more intense. In this case, you stop eating at 8 p.m. on Sunday night, and refrain from ingesting anything other than water, tea, coffee, or bone broth until Tuesday at 8 a.m. Then you eat normally until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and fast until 8 a.m. on Saturday. Then you do it all again Sunday.

For the die-hards out there, you can even go up to 7 days on a water-only diet, but if you’re going to go this route, you should really hit the books and make sure it’s safe for you and your health profile.

Risks

Like every hot health trend, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, and should really be examined more closely before being lauded as a panacea. One study of women found that intermittent fasting can lower glucose tolerance and interfere with metabolism.

There are also concerns that it can create eating disorders, or make worse those that are already present. Fasting does, after all, normalize an obsession with eating (or not eating, for that matter).

It’s also important to point out that you run the risk of becoming overly dependent on caffeine throughout your fasting days.

That said, some form of fasting might be for you. But if you’re interested, you should run your new diet by your doctor first.

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