Why is intermittent fasting trending right now? Should we embrace it? Is it in keeping with ancestral eating patterns? What are its benefits? And how do we get started with it?
Marisa Moon, Intermittent Fasting (IF) Instructor and Certified Primal Health Coach, addresses all of the above. She is convinced that IF is very much aligned with how our ancestors ate and she explains why it’s a good idea to incorporate the practice into our lives. In our conversation, she covers how fasting stimulates autophagy (a cellular clean-up process), restores metabolic balance, triggers longevity pathways, and stimulates brain cell growth and connectivity. She gives practical ideas for how to get started with IF and explains why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all fasting model.
Listen to the episode here:
Our guest is Marisa Moon. Marisa is a certified Primal Health Coach, an intermittent fasting instructor, and a long-time proponent of the wise tradition’s way of eating. We discuss not eating. The topic is intermittent fasting to be exact. Marisa covers its benefits, including reducing systemic inflammation, restoring metabolic balance, and stimulating brain cell growth and connectivity. This last bit was especially important for Marisa. She started exploring the idea of intermittent fasting to help her deal with her ADHD. What I love about Marisa’s approach to fasting is that she’s not big on a bunch of rules. She gives us tips for how to fast intuitively. In other words, to eat when we need to and take a break without focusing too much on calorie restriction. It’s about fasting in a way that’s in keeping with an ancestral eating pattern. I love it, and I hope you do too. Welcome, Marissa.
It’s great to be back here and on the other side.
Guys, in case you don’t remember, Marisa interviewed me for the 200th episode. We turned the tables. She was so comfortable and easy to speak with. She’s an expert in this health and wellness field. We wanted to have her back. Thank you, Marissa.
I’m a long-time reader of the show. This is cool that I get to have this opportunity.
We know that you follow the Wise Tradition’s principles, a big-time foodie, and you love eating. It surprised me when I heard you were into intermittent fasting. Why don’t you tell our readers and me what brought it into your life in the first place?
It surprised me too. I did not see that becoming a part of my life because food is my life. It’s the way I was raised, but also my creative flow state when I’m cooking. I love connecting with the people who create my food or grow it. All of the principles of Western aid prices are a huge inspiration for me. I never thought I’d want to skip a meal. Why would I skip a meal on purpose? It sounded so crazy. Even though ancestral health was a big part of my education and my passion, I understood the intermittent fasting concept.
I believed in it, but that didn’t mean that I’m emotionally connected with it or wanted to try it. It didn’t sound like me, but it came to a point in my adult life where I discovered I had ADHD, the inattentive type, and I was always looking for natural ways to boost my brainpower because of that. If you have big goals to achieve, or you are set out to do something during the day at your job, but your brain is holding you back, that can be exceedingly frustrating. That’s where I got the courage to finally try intermittent fasting because I learned about all of the things it does for your brainpower. I instantly fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe it but I did.
I want to ask you a specific about that. What were some of the things that were holding you back with your brainpower? How was the ADHD presenting itself in your life?
In all cases of ADHD, even though they’re all very different, we suffer from a lack of executive functions and self-management. That includes everything day-to-day, that includes organizing, prioritizing, changing your attention and your emotional regulation, filtering out distractions, and all those of the things we do unconsciously. When you’re driving a car, for instance, you don’t have to think about checking the mirror, talking to your friend who’s in the passenger seat, remembering to push the brake pedal, and push the ignition. You don’t have to think about these things so much. It’s automatic.
You can consider for the ADHD person all of those things are not automatic. Not in the case of driving, but it’s a great way for you to imagine how many things in our daily life are automatic. Imagine if you had to try a lot harder to work with all of those moving parts, that’s what it’s like for the ADD brain. When I learned how much intermittent fasting could help me grow new connections between my brain cells, helped me grow new brain cells, help them become stronger and more resilient. I was like, “How could I not give this a try?”
You’ve persuaded me and a lot of the readers, this sounds like a potential help for our health and our brain function and some other things as well. Talk to us about what approach you took on. Define intermittent fasting for us.
Intermittent fasting is when each day you purposely take a break from eating and you continue eating on the same day. That’s how it differs from fasting as we know it, which usually sustain over a longer period of time. When you take these intermittent breaks from eating, you’re giving the digestive system a break. You’re giving yourself time to renew. You have all these remarkable regenerative processes happening in the body, and you’re triggering longevity pathways. Taking a break from eating is ancestral. When we look back on all the times before modern convenience and civilization, we didn’t have food readily available for us.
We didn’t have refrigerators, preservatives, food manufacturers, and farms. There would be times where we’d be going through food deprivation. We couldn’t find anything to gather or hunt and the body adapts to that to make us stronger and smarter so that we can find food. To me, that’s fascinating because conventionally we’ve been taught without food you are going to slow down your metabolism. You’re going to be more tired and you’re going to not be able to think clearly, but it’s quite different than that. The body’s like, “All I care about is your survival. I’m going to make you smarter. I’m going to make you stronger. I want to make you faster so that you can find that food.” That’s the beauty of intermittent fasting. It’s these brief breaks from eating that mimic our ancestral patterns and that makes our genes happy.
Do you happen to know who came up with this, “We should eat three meals a day,” philosophy?
The three meals a day is something created by food marketers and even the phrase, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” that was from John Kellogg, the famous cereal brand. I don’t know if it was in the 1800s or early 1900s, he decided, “I want to sell these breakfast cereals that I’m making.” Nobody heard of breakfast cereals before. He decided to make the slogan. We’ve bought it ever since. The three meals a day even is something made up by food manufacturers. Breakfast was the only meal that had a name to it. We’re talking about the middle ages, medieval times. The word breakfast came from the word dinner or disner, which meant the principal meal of the day in old French. Over time, this idea or ideology started to become part of a culture where they believed that someone who ate early in the morning meant that they were wretched or weak because a strong person would not be eating so early in the day. They would eat midday. That’s where they came up with the word breakfast because it means to break your fast. It was a sign of weakness to break your fast in the morning.
Where did you do your research? Where did you turn when you decided, “I want to try this intermittent fasting?” What were some of the resources you would recommend to our readers?
It’s been so long, probably about several years. I’ve been doing research ever since. The Primal Blueprint, that’s a big part of where my education comes from is that philosophy. Intermittent fasting is discussed greatly in The Primal Blueprint. It’s mentioned in Genius Foods by Max Lugavere and Head Strong by Dave Asprey. There’s plenty of resources out there that stress the importance of giving your body this type of break that your genes expect from you.
Why do you think this is trending at this particular time?
It’s trending for a lot of reasons. For some of us, it’s trending because it makes complete sense. We’re like, “I can’t believe we didn’t realize this sooner.” It’s what your body needs from you. For so long, we’ve been confused because of what the dieting industry made us believe our body needed. For instance, eating every 2 to 3 hours or taking snacks between your meals. We believed them because it was popular advice, but it’s also trending because our diet is messed up except for the Wise Traditions audience. Most people are eating a lot of processed foods and there’s tons of inflammation. There are lots of toxins in our environment. All of these things are tough to compensate for in the body at the rate that we are living and intermittent fasting is an incredible solution for all of those things, including weight loss, which is the biggest market for businesses as well. They’re picking up on the intermittent fasting, everybody is, all across the board. Even physicians and researchers are getting on board because the science is there. It makes complete sense evolutionarily.
Let’s go into that science. Give us some specifics about what intermittent fasting does for our bodies. What are some of the benefits? You’ve mentioned weight loss, better focus, and benefits for the cells. Tell us some more Marisa.
When you’re fasting and you’re taking a break from food, you’re not requiring digestion. In turn, you’re not producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that your body will create to shuttle sugar or carbohydrates from your bloodstream and even a little bit in response to the protein that you eat. Insulin is inflammatory. It also stores body fat and stops you from burning body fat. If we aren’t digesting food and we’re not producing insulin, then the body has time to do other things. One of the most amazing benefits of intermittent fasting is called autophagy. Autophagy is your body’s cellular cleanup process. It gets rid of junky cells that aren’t functioning properly. It takes from those cells whenever nutrients, enzymes, and raw materials that can to feed other cells and create new cells to make you stronger and better.
Autophagy is important and everything. It fights disease in the body, which we all need tremendously. It also increases all of these beneficial, adaptive hormones we get when we are exercising like norepinephrine and also human growth hormone. It increases blood flow and BDNF, which is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. That means new brain cell growth, stronger brain cells making them last longer, and improving the connections between your brain cells. When you have healthier myelin and healthier brain cell production, we’re talking about messages in your brain transmitting up to a hundred times faster. You’re also getting your body into a state of ketosis without eating a keto diet.
One of the most amazing things about intermittent fasting is that it allows you to enter a state of ketosis because your body uses up the stored glycogen and carbohydrates in your body used for quick energy. It has to use ketones. When you’re using ketones, you can get 20% to 30% more brain energy. Your mitochondria prefer ketones as energy. They’re powering ourselves and everything about our health depends on our mitochondria. There’s a quadrillion of them in our body. They produce energy which makes all cellular processes happen. If we can give our mitochondria their preferred fuel, we can eat an ancestral diet in an ancestral eating pattern, it’s a no brainer. This is what we’ve been destined to honor in the modern age.
You’ve made a great case for it and I can’t help but see how well aligned it is with wise traditions. This is not something that’s trendy, but it is something that goes back a way for improved health. I imagine our ancestors live this way out of necessity. They weren’t like, “I guess I’ll try intermittent fasting because I’ll be stronger and healthier.” Rather it was part and parcel of their lifestyle just like getting sunshine every day was or movement. It is a wise tradition that we can embrace. We might need to be more intentional about it than they were because we’re surrounded by food 24/7.
Even in the old days of Hippocrates, fasting has been used as medicine. In some ways, they did do it on purpose, but that’s because they learned from humans that live before them, from circumstances that came, and from fasting they understood. A lot of times our body gives us signals that we’re not hungry like when we’re fighting illness. That’s a great example. When we’re stressed. I don’t know if it’s our compassionate nature, but a lot of us think, “You have to eat something. It’s terrible. You haven’t eaten.” That’s your instincts telling you, this is not a good time to demand digestive processes because your body is putting out other fires, and dealing with other emergencies. You want all of your resources to go there. Trusting our instincts is an important thing that most of the intermittent fasting experts are not mentioning.
One of the things that I would like to suggest is that anyone considering trying intermittent fasting, I invite you to be flexible and intuitive. It makes sense to start intermittent fasting with a routine or a protocol that you learn about. For instance, a lot of people do a 16/8 fast. That means that they’re fasting for sixteen hours a day, and then they’re eating the rest of their food in eight hours a day. If you start with that, you’re probably going to feel hungry during those sixteen hours and you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to say, “Intermittent fasting doesn’t work for me.” If we all started with twelve hours, that’s already a remarkable improvement compared to the way that we’ve been living. It gives our body and brain time to detoxify and regenerate. It allows you to have a normal life and social life.
If you can, especially, if you care about your health span, beating the chronic disease, or helping you lose weight, you want to slowly extend that fasting window a little by little and depending on your circumstances. There’s a lot of people that prefer fasting at night. That’s good for your insulin sensitivity because our insulin response is a lot higher in the evening. This type of fasting is called time-restricted eating. If that works for you to skip dinner, that’s great. This takes us back to that old saying, “Breakfast like a king. Lunch like a prince. Dinner like a pauper.” There is some merit to that, but although I don’t believe we need three meals a day, I do believe that, if you can eat your smallest meal at the end of the day, that would be rewarding to your body.
Cultural circumstances have put us in a scenario over and over where that’s the only time we have with our family. That’s the only time that we have to make a homemade meal. I personally and most of my followers skip breakfast. For a lot of people, that works because our hunger hormones are the lowest at 8:00 AM. We naturally have to get out of the door. We have a lot going on. The last thing we want to do is make some food from scratch or we haven’t prepared in advance. It’s a tough time. The breakfast food industry has left us with convenience food that I don’t think is proper for our diet, like frozen waffles and cereals. If you can put off that first meal of the day and you change it up every once in a while, then you’re more mimicking the ways of our ancient ancestors. I call it intuitive fasting. That’s one of the most important things because it keeps your metabolism flexible and adaptive. That’s a big longevity characteristic right there.
If you have metabolic efficiency, like your body’s like, “I can process carbs with no problem. I can press these fats with no problem. I can use fats for energy. I can use carbs for energy. I’m flexible,” that’s what you want your metabolism to do. If you are adopting a strict routine and you’re doing one of those intermittent fasting protocols that super strict like you can’t put anything in your coffee and you shouldn’t have anything at all except water. You have to go twenty hours a day to fast and you have to do it at the same time every day. In my opinion, you’re missing the point. Here you go down another path of this unrealistic diet and lifestyle that is not going to last. In the end, is it benefiting you if it’s something that you don’t enjoy?
I like this approach, this intuitive fasting. Is this unique to you? Is this something floating around in the intermittent fasting world?
I would love to think it’s unique to me, but I’m sure there are others doing it. I know Mark Sisson has talked a lot about this. From Mark’s Daily Apple, his thriving blog, he gets lots of questions from his thousands and millions of readers. They’re constantly asking, “Should I fast like this? Should I be doing it like this? Should I be doing it like that?” He came out with it like, “It’s not about all those rules. It’s not about that. That’s not how I live my life just so you know. If I want to eat, I eat. If I’m at the airport and there’s nothing good to eat, I don’t eat. If I’m having a workout and if I’m not hungry after the workout, I don’t eat.” It taught me that it wasn’t just my ADD wanting to not stick to a routine. It was making a lot of sense because Mark talks about metabolic efficiency all the time.
Once you understand how the metabolism was designed or what it expects from us on a genetic level, then you can see, we don’t want to speed up our metabolism. That means more chances of cancer growth and aging. We’re not slowing down our metabolism when we’re fasting like people believe. It’s not a chronic caloric restriction. That means a low-calorie diet that you keep doing, like that show, The Biggest Loser. Over the long run and those you’re slowing down your metabolism so much, it can have permanent damage. Your body’s scared. It’s not going to get enough calories. Your body’s like, “I’m going to slow things down. I’m not going to give you enough energy so that you just lay down and don’t do anything.” We’re going to try and pack on the pounds because we need them for our survival. When you’re fasting, the body doesn’t do that.
Let’s picture a caveman in the middle of the winter. He hasn’t eaten for a few days. What if his metabolism slowed down because he’s been fasting? What if he got too tired, he couldn’t even climb the mountain and look for food? What if his brain slowed down? He started getting fog brained and delirious. He would never be able to catch food. Our species never would have survived through all of the harsh conditions in our past. The remarkable difference between fasting and chronic caloric restriction is that the body adapts to fasting and it makes you stronger and your metabolism adapts. That’s what you want. You want to optimize your insulin production, which we are already achieving, many of us, by eating wise traditions diet. Some of our favorite things like homemade sourdough, for instance, if we have the time or the real convenience to have that regularly, we could be in a chronic state of insulin production and inflammation.
I like to remind people when I teach them how to start intermittent fasting is that the first stage is to bring your carbohydrates down to a level that’s more natural for the human body. That’s usually under 150 grams of carbohydrates a day. It’s nowhere near ketosis or low carb dieting. It’s getting realistic. We’re not having carb-heavy meals three times a day and snacks in between or sugar in between. When you do that, you start to teach the metabolism to use an alternate fuel source, which is your own body fat. That’s where metabolic efficiency starts to occur. Once you achieve that and your body starts to learn to use your body fat, which I teach under 130 grams carbohydrates because it’s easier to lower you bring your carbs, then intermittent fasting feels so natural to you.
You don’t get hangry between meals. It’s so freeing to finally feel like you have control of your appetite, or you don’t even need control of your appetite because it doesn’t control you. I can’t tell you how much my appetite controlled me and my whole life. For someone who loves food like watching food on TV, reading food magazines, that kind of food love, I was always thinking about it. I felt like I couldn’t stop eating ever. It’s not a good feeling, especially the older you get, or if it’s getting in the way of things that you want for your body and your health. We should all want that freedom to say, “It’s okay if I don’t eat, I’ll be fine. I’m not starving at all.”
You’ve mentioned many important points and I want to start with the intuitive. If we listen to our bodies, we might not even eat as much as we do at one sitting. It’s important to listen to our bodies. The other thing is, and we recommend this all the time to people who are following the show is do what works for you. People are like, “You say we should include dairy, but I’m lactose-intolerant.” We’re not saying this works for every single person. We’re giving principles to guide people as they make decisions for what works for them. Some people have a leaky gut. They need to remove certain things from their diet and promote some healing with a more restrictive diet before they can jump into some of the things that we recommend. You’ve brought many good things to the table, no food pun intended.
After I teach people to start reducing their carbs, the way that they progress in that direction is by eating nourishing foods. That is the second phase that is often happening at the same time. It’s important because if you’re not eating nutrient-dense foods and you try fasting, then you’re taking one step forward and one step back. It’s like your fasting is cleaning up the mess you made. You’re also undernourished. It’s unsustainable. You’re going to find yourself hungrier sooner. You’re going to find yourself crabby, more irritable. If you’re not giving your cells the nutrients that they need, your mitochondria get weaker.
Nutrient density is needed for all facets of life no matter what kind of diet you do. Even though intermittent fasting seems like magic. It’s like, “What are you trying to achieve here?” Is it just fat loss? Because it was just fat loss, you can do the intermittent fasting ways that everybody else is doing out there. You can follow those strict protocols and eat all your meals for only four hours a day. You can still go through the drive-through and eat pizza. The Wise Traditions readers and anyone that knows me cares about their health span. They’re starting to get curious, like, “What am I doing to influence my health in a way that’s positive? What am I teaching my family?” Nutrient density is important. If you optimize your nutrient density and fast twelve hours a day, you’re already light years away from the rest of the population.
This is great because you’re giving us some tips for how we might get started and this kind of intuitive and intermittent fasting approach. Start with fasting twelve hours a day, which might even be overnight from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Lower the intake of carbs that their thing is up to your nutrient density. You’re getting the most bang for your buck when you do eat. What other tips would you suggest for those who want to embark on this approach to living and eating?
There are a few things to keep in mind. When we think about who this is ideal for. At our core it’s ideal for every human, but since we have modern troubles like we’re chronically stressed, chronically underslept or a lot of women deal with excessive PMs symptoms. All these can be a great factor in how intermittent fasting is going to work for you. Women need to be intuitive with their fasting. When it’s around my cycle, I’m usually like, “There aren’t as many rules anymore.” If I want a chocolate bar at 11:00 AM. I have it. It’s not a big deal because my body’s telling me I need something in particular or that I should eat now.
I understand that our hormones affect our hunger in a big way. That’s where a lot of our instincts come from but many of us aren’t in touch with them. Women who are in their reproductive years, remember that all your body cares about is your survival and your ability to produce offspring. Even if you don’t want to have children, your body cares about that first. If intermittent fasting changes your cycle and things start to show up in that way, it’s a sign that you’re moving too hard, too fast. You’ll also see that in people who are chronically stressed. If you have chronic stress day-to-day, that means you’re also underslept. Those go hand in hand. Since this is a type of stressor, just like exercise, you’re going to be taxing the body when it’s already running on empty. You will know, as soon as you try it, if it makes you feel better or not, because there are times of stress where I go, “I don’t feel like eating,” That is my instincts.
There are very few people who don’t take intermittent fasting when they’re eating a nutrient-dense diet. It’s the examples I gave and people who are under 6% body fat, extremely lean, or already underweight. There’s so much to learn there. If you take it slow and slowly extend your fasting window. In the morning, you say you’re going twelve hours and it’s easy, to see if the next week or the next day, try and go for another hour and see what it’s like. If you can make it up to 16 to 18 hours a day and you do that many days a week, then you’re already tapping into so many longevity pathways and optimizing your body to work more efficiently so that it pays off. That’s why when you’re on vacation, “It doesn’t matter. Don’t fast.”
If you want to have a glass of wine at night and it breaks your fast, who cares because you are already in this intuitive rhythm where you’re enjoying life and you’re also doing what’s best for you. That is so many levels. It’s not just about the diet that you’re eating. You have to love it and you have to be happy.
You’ve made me hungry for more. I heard you’re doing an intermittent fasting summit soon. Is that right?
Yes. It’s called the Fasting Reset Summit. It’s in January, so many amazing names on there including Dr. Mercola and JJ Virgin. I’m excited about that.
This has already been informative. Thank you so much, Marisa. I want to ask you the question I often pose at the end, if the readers could do one thing to improve their health and to get going on intermittent fasting, what would you recommend?
I know your readers are doing a lot of the things that I would normally say and that is to get rid of all of the processed flour-based foods and inflammatory oils. Assuming that your readers are already eating a more whole-food, nutrient-dense diet, this twelve-hour break from eating on a day-to-day basis is smart. It gives your body time to detoxify, repair, and regenerate. You’ll find yourself with more energy, concentration, and contentment. That’s something everyone should achieve four and twelve hours is not much. We’ve lost that because many people taught us we need to eat so often, but we don’t.
Sometimes we’re eating out of habit. I’ve noticed when I get up in the morning, I’ll be like, “I’m not even hungry, but I think it’s breakfast time.”
You’re going to have natural triggers. We have hunger hormones that are triggered by our habits. If it’s a time that you eat in the beginning, you’re going to still feel that hunger, but you’ll see the hunger wave passes immediately in 30 minutes. After a couple of days of breaking that cycle, it’s no longer there. There are things that are going to trigger your hunger, like your favorite place to eat. Don’t let that deter you because it’s only natural.
This has been an awesome conversation. Thank you so much.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks, Hilda.
Check out her website at MarisaMoon.com. Thank you for reading everybody. When you get a chance, please share this podcast with people that you know and love. It would mean the world to us. It’s another way to support the work of the foundation. I’ll talk to you soon.