Whatever your opinion on his politics, when it comes to food, the Prime Minister’s self-discipline is remarkable. Apparently, Rishi Sunak starts his week – every week – with a 36-hour fast: he stops eating at 5pm on a Sunday and only consumes black tea, coffee or water until 5am on a Tuesday. .
Even though I’m a faster veteran, I’m impressed. Not so much because he embraces fasting; There’s plenty of research to show that if you’re otherwise healthy, there’s a lot to gain by giving your body a long break from food, and many people now do this.
But few of us have the willpower to deny ourselves food for as long as he does.
I’ve tried just about every type of fast and found that going more than 24 hours without eating is difficult. (I’m also not sure it’s the best way to get the benefits of fasting, but more on that later.)
A few years ago, I did a four-day fast for a television documentary. It only involved water, unsweetened black tea and coffee, and a measly 25-calorie cup of soup a day.
I’ve tried just about every type of fast and found that going more than 24 hours without eating is difficult.
Fasting helps improve blood sugar control and can reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Rishi Sunak begins his week by abstaining from food for thirty-six hours, consuming only black tea, coffee or water between 5pm on Sunday and 5am on Tuesday.
It was tough, but effective from a health point of view: after four days I lost 3 pounds of weight, a significant portion of which was fat. My blood sugar levels also dropped substantially, as did other biomarkers, such as the cancer-related insulin-like growth factor 1.
Despite the benefits, I’m in no rush to go back to prolonged fasting. I wasn’t as hungry as I expected and I didn’t feel weak, but I was distracted by feeling uncomfortable and out of place. So I take my hat off to Rishi for undergoing a big fast every week.
In fact, one could be forgiven for saying Mondays are not the best day to ask Rishi to make crucial decisions about running the country if there is a chance he is worried about hunger pangs.
But there is evidence that, when you get used to it, fasting can improve concentration. Professor Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in New York, told me that our ancestors had to endure periods without food, during which time they would have needed to be very focused on the best way to get the next meal.
The theory that the fasted state triggers a higher level of concentration is one of the reasons it really took off in the tech world a few years ago. That may be one of the reasons why Rishi does it.
People have been fasting for centuries for religious reasons, but more and more research supports the health benefits, showing that the metabolic changes that occur when you give your body a break from food can be beneficial.
A study conducted by Harvard Medical School in 2020 found that it can improve the body’s defenses against oxidative stress (damage caused to cells by factors such as smoking and pollution).
Fasting also helps improve blood sugar control and can reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
It may also help brain function, and some studies suggest that it stimulates the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory. Most impressively, it reduces chronic inflammation, which is not only linked to conditions like arthritis, but also many other diseases of aging, such as heart disease and dementia.
Last week, a study from the University of Cambridge showed that when volunteers were restricted from eating 500 calories a day for two consecutive days, blood levels of arachidonic acid increased, which in turn helped reduce the inflammation.
In addition to reducing inflammation, another benefit of fasting is that it gives the digestive system a break from food; This causes your body to begin the important cellular “housecleaning” process, where cells are broken down and recycled.
Last but not least, fasting encourages your body to switch from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel, which is great news if you want to lose excess weight. A review of studies, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews in 2015, found that a one-day fast, once a week, for 12 to 24 weeks, reduced body weight by up to 9 percent.
But most research on fasting has been done on alternate-day fasting, intermittent fasting (like my 5:2 regimen), or time-restricted eating (TRE), where you eat within a set window. ; For example, you can start with a 14-day “fast” of about an hour, and eat only in a ten-hour window, then gradually extend it to a 16-hour fast, and then perhaps to 18 hours.
And when it comes to fasting, you can have too much of a good thing. Rishi’s 36-hour fast is too hard for most people. It is certainly not suitable if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, under 18, have a chronic illness or a history of eating disorders, and if you have diabetes, consult a GP first.
Eminent aging expert Professor Valter Longo once told me: ‘Prolonged fasting is an extreme intervention. If done right, it can be very powerful in your favor. If done incorrectly, it can be very powerful against you.
Of course, there are many different ways to fast.
Go to a fasting clinic in Germany and you will probably be fed about 200 calories a day in a comfortable environment. In Russia there is nothing but water, cold showers and exercise. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult to be effective.
If you are otherwise in good health, some form of fasting is a very good idea. And it’s great to know that you don’t need to go full Rishi to achieve the benefits.
We must be brave enough to call out bad behavior.
Earlier this week I was standing in a very long queue, waiting patiently, along with hundreds of others, to get through passport control and enter France.
At one point I saw a couple of young men burst directly to the front of the line. Some people complained, but only one woman was brave enough to harangue them. But they ignored her and got their way.
Michael Moseley was waiting at passport control to enter France when some young people pushed their way through the queue.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. I was too far away to join, but I’d like to think I would have supported that woman. And that, according to a recent study from the University of Bath, is important, because if we don’t speak up to support the lone voices of people facing bad behaviour, it leads to bad behavior becoming normalised.
Published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, the research involved showing volunteers scenes of antisocial behavior; in some cases, people who misbehaved were confronted and this was supported by other bystanders; in other cases, the opponent gained no support. The volunteers were then asked what they thought: When there was no support for the confronter, they assumed that meant the behavior they had just witnessed wasn’t that bad.
As researcher and behavioral scientist Anna Tirion noted, “If no one says anything, it undermines the social norms that protect being kind and doing no harm.” Over time, people start to think that a particular (antisocial) behavior doesn’t matter.’ It takes courage to stand up to bad behavior, but she suggests ways to do it safely and how to support those who are ready to stand up and stand out.
“It depends on the situation,” says Anna Tirion. ‘If your face is visible to everyone, like on the Zoom call we simulated in one of our studies, simply nodding might be enough to send that signal of support. Otherwise, a supportive verbal expression like “Yes, you’re right” should suffice.”
He adds: “If you are physically some distance away from the confrontation, you may want to go and stand next to the person confronting you before you say anything so that your entire body language expresses that support, if you feel safe doing so.”