Paleo. Vegan. Vegetarian. Keto. Pegan. Low-carb. Sugar-free. So many diet options, but which one is right—or are they all wrong? Confusion around what to eat, how much and how often is rife, with every diet type seemingly attached to an expert who tells you their way is THE way.
When there are so many dietary gurus touting the latest and best way to eat, yet so many recommendations differ from nutritionist to dietician, how do we really know what our body needs to not only live, but thrive?
The key may lie with our ancestors and the ancients; people who somehow intuitively knew what made their body feel good and work well. Yet, it’s also to be found in today’s scientific findings—proof in the pudding if you will—of what works, showing up from the inside out.
Healthy fats, wholefoods advocate and bestselling co-author of What the Fat? Dr Caryn Zinn says it’s time to forget what you think you know (that is, what you’ve been told) and get back to basics: eat wholefoods, choose the right fats, minimise carbs (aka breads, pastas etc) and fast regularly.
Super-fasting on Mondays and Tuesdays helps that by allowing you to get closer to, or deeper into a state of nutritional ketosis and a state where your brain is using ketones as fuel and at its peak mental clarity.
While simple in words, there are specifics to incorporating all four, explained in depth in Caryn’s latest book, What the Fast!—a collaboration between Caryn, who is also a New Zealand registered dietician and an Auckland University of Technology professor, the “Fat Professor” Grant Schofield and Michelin-trained chef, Craig Rodger.
Since incorporating these principles into her practice, and in her own life, Caryn has helped her clients achieve success with their overall health, but also weight-loss.
“I work with a lot of women who are either entering, going through or have passed menopause. Achieving success with these people has been very satisfying because by the time they come to see me, they’ve tried it all and are despondent and ready to give up,” Caryn says.
I caught up with the passionate advocate for fats and fasting to get a deeper understanding into her work and to find out why fasting is an integral part of the human diet—if we want to be truly healthy and live a long and happy life.
Congratulations on What the Fast! What are your hopes for the book?
Thank you. Our hopes for the book are that we get a good message to the masses about the health benefits of the combination of eating whole unprocessed foods with intermittent fasting.
People think that fasting is dangerous and that it will result in low energy levels and hunger. The exact opposite is true and we want to communicate the details of how to incorporate fasting into your life in a way that is safe and sustainable and that will help you achieve your health goals, whatever they may be.
When did you have your aha moment around fasting, low carb and healthy fats?
My shift in nutrition approaches to low carb, healthy fat (LCHF) came about around six years ago. At this time, it really threw my professional world into a spin. The possibility that the basis of what I was taught at university about nutrition and everything that I practised with my clients since was incorrect was a scary thought.
Since then, my thoughts and nutrition philosophies around LCHF nutrition have only strengthened as a result of growing evidence and great clinical practice outcomes. As for fasting, it really just arrived on the scene by default. When you eat LCHF, you’re not particularly hungry, and this lends itself to missing a meal here and there, which essentially is a form of intermittent fasting. As far as the formalities around fasting go, around two to three years ago, I started reading the science around fasting, which is very provocative and makes a lot of sense, and that’s when I started implementing it in my practice.
The science still has a way to go, particularly in human studies, but it seems to be going from strength-to-strength.
What changes did you personally experience?
For me, when I changed to LCHF, I didn’t feel a whole lot different because I’m one of those lucky individuals that didn’t have any health issues beforehand. Admittedly I didn’t eat a diet high in junk food, but was certainly a high carb, low fat advocate.
Now, on LCHF, I certainly feel a sense of calm, I eat less often and that freedom of being able to miss a meal and not starve is totally freeing. I enjoy eating when I’m hungry and not eating when I’m not hungry. For me, the fasting is about staving off chronic diseases and its longevity benefits, so I like to do a three-day fast a couple times a year to achieve this and then I fast circumstantially (i.e. miss a meal every now and again based on my circumstances) rather than in a structured way. I feel that works for me.
Why just fasting on Monday and Tuesday? Are there any benefits to doing additional days?
We’ve come up with our Super-Fasting protocol for a reason. We suggest Monday and Tuesday as this is the start of the week and generally a time when people like “hitting the ground running” so-to-speak with their work, and starting the week off in a productive manner.
Super-fasting on Mondays and Tuesdays helps that by allowing you to get closer to, or deeper into a state of nutritional ketosis (normal natural fat-burning state for your body to be in) and a state where your brain is using ketones as fuel and at its peak mental clarity. This makes the start of the week as productive as possible. Then by eating LCHF food for the rest of the week, this helps to extend that mental clarity and hopefully, productivity, into the rest of the week.
There is no right way as to whether it should only be two days or more days, the key is to work out what works for you and then go with it in a sustainable manner. Some people like fasting more days, some less, depending on their goals, lifestyle and individual tolerances.
Why are men and women different when it comes to how they lose weight?
In my opinion it comes down to hormones and personality.
Females are constantly is a state of cycling hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) which, depending on their stage in the cycle or your age and total amount of hormones you have in your body, can create challenges. These hormone challenges can impact sleep, mood, and cravings, which can then have a flow on effect on fat storage and ability to keep to the plan, so to speak. These issues can and do impact on the weight loss process.
Males are a bit more straight forward in the hormone department as they don’t tend to have such cycles or craving episodes. Also personalities differ. Females tend to be “married” to food a lot more than males, and are constantly looking for variety and are in food-based situations, which creates more of a challenge. When it comes to weight loss, many males can successfully go with a “tell me what to eat and I’ll eat it” strategy, which (generalising) tends to work for many. That’s not to say that they always have success around weight loss, but rather can just be a bit more straight forward in their outlook.
The spiritual side of fasting may be one that isn’t talked about regularly. Can you talk a little bit about it from your perspective?
The spiritual side of fasting has been around since the beginning of time, literally and is mentioned countless times in the bible for spiritual reasons. Most religions have a period of fasting or a strategy of giving up something which is linked to cleansing not only the body but also the mind (i.e. Ramadan (Muslim), lent (Catholic), Yom Kippur (Jewish). Even if you’re not religious you only have to fast for a period (at least 24 hours) to realise that not eating can be very spiritual.
What are your thoughts on the “clean eating” movement?
My thoughts on “clean eating” is that it is just a way to describe eating in such a way that advocates eliminating processed food and embraces whole, unprocessed foods, which is great. I think it’s a good thing and if anything it can help spread the message that people want to eat in the most natural way possible, that’s got to be good for health long term. Of course within every type of eating pattern, there are those who go to the extreme end of it. In general, I think it’s a whole lot better to be focussed on clean eating than not be focussed on healthy eating at all.
Can people experience detox symptoms when they begin the program you recommend? If so, what is typical?
When people start LCHF / Super-fasting (and come off a high carbohydrate diet), it’s not so much detox symptoms they experience but rather the result of altered fluid and electrolytes for the first week. It’s important to increase your salt intake to help prevent this from happening. If you don’t increase your salt you can feel lightheaded or headachey for a bit. Then when you start to add some fasting, it’s not a problem at all, and you shouldn’t feel bad, in fact quite the opposite, you should feel good.
Is the Blood Type Diet one we should factor into our lifestyle?
I’m unaware of any really good science behind this type of diet, but also know that it does work for some people, so if that’s the case then great. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we should factor it into our life, but if it works for some, then it works.
In history, did humans only fast when sick, or was it a way of life?
I would imagine in history people didn’t really have a choice when they fasted and when they ate, as food was not nearly as accessible as it is today. So, it was likely circumstantial. In modern times, we need to prioritise “not eating” as food is cheap and ever-present. Plus, the food industry has convinced us that we need to eat every 2-3 hours for varying reasons. This is simply not true and has been the cause of much of our chronic disease problems.
Anything you would like to add?
Super-fasting is the system that we’ve come up with using science as a base. It works with your biology and not against it. We encourage people to try our Super-fasting framework for a month and then after that work out what works for them and what they want from it long term. We also want to make sure people do it safely, that’s why we’ve written the detailed What The Fast! as a guide.
Find out more about Caryn and What the Fast! at www.carynzinn.co.nz