I don’t know if there’s something in the water, or it’s simply the circles I’m running in right now, but biological clocks have been ticking all around me these past few weeks. It’s a wonderful thing to witness: a person deeply in tune with their all-consuming desire to use their life to create life. It’s truly beautiful.
I’m also running into lots of people doing something rather curious these days. They’re typically fairly vital people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, but especially so in the younger half of this mix. What they’re doing is not-eating. They call it intermittent fasting.
There are various intermittent-fasting protocols, all characterized by some form of extended not-eating. A common approach is to limit oneself to an eight-hour eating window each day. That is, the person allows themselves to eat during a certain eight hours of the day and they fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Others limit themselves to one meal per day, effectively fasting for 23 hours at a time. Others eat as they like on some days and fast on other days, refraining from eating, despite their hunger, for entire days, sometimes multiple days in a row.
Although the science of intermittent fasting is not without evidence of benefits (all of this evidence is found in very short-term studies mind you), there’s a very important scientific study you need to know about if you, or your potential co-parent, happens to be interested in both making a baby and intermittent fasting.
Researchers put a group of rats (rats are used in scientific studies because their behavioral, biological, and genetic characteristics are similar to those of people), both male and female, on a common intermittent-fasting protocol and took measures of the levels of key reproductive hormones in the rats (1). What did they find?
Intermittent fasting Is birth control.
In the words of the researchers:
“Significant changes in body weight, blood glucose, estrous cyclicity and serum estradiol, testosterone and LH [luteinizing hormone] level indicated the negative role of IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen on reproduction in these young animals.”
“Together these data suggest that IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen negatively influences reproduction in young animals due to its adverse effects on complete hypothalamus-hypophysial-gonadal axis and may explain underlying mechanism(s) to understand the clinical basis of nutritional infertility.”
“The current data suggests that IF-DR [intermittent fasting dietary restriction] regimen adversely affects reproduction in young adult rats by disrupting estrous cycle in female rats as well as altering serum concentration of estradiol, testosterone and LH [luteinizing hormone] in both male and female animals.”
We’ve come to a crossroads. Many of the methods our culture is putting forth in the name of “wellness” are actual preventing new life from being created; that’s how far off the mark they are.
It’s clear where this comes from. We’re a people living with tremendous insecurity and so much of that is based on our looks. So much, too much, of many people’s identity revolves around how they look. As such, we have millions and millions of men and women of mating age doing every and all biohacking protocol then can find on Instagram in the name of making their thighs slimmer or getting their abs to really show. And to make this even more twisted, our culture has come to worship extreme leanness so much that many people go for it at all costs. Far too many, sadly, equate their ability to enter into a loving relationship with another with their body-fat percentage. The irony, of course, is that this biohacking often done to make oneself more attractive to a mate is making one incapable, of, um, mating.
Nature is a fierce truth-teller.
Let’s call a spade a spade: For many people, intermittent fasting is a socially acceptable eating disorder: “I’m not starving myself, I’m intermittent fasting,” they say. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.
And whether you’re a pig or a rat or a human, you gotta eat to procreate.
You can’t make sperm or eggs, nor can you make the hormones required for reproduction, from air and water. You won’t do very well trying to make them out of brotein shakes and princess potions designed to sculpt your shoulders or slim your hips either.
Food, glorious food, enough to satisfy your hunger, is what’s needed to maintain robust vitality.
And we’re talking about more than just reproductive ability here. If intermittent fasting can stop you from reproducing, rest assured there are other problems occurring in your body, in you, when you’re participating in extended not-eating, voluntary or not. And it’s not only intermittent-fasting protocols that get people to not not-eat. It’s dieting. Cleansing. Detoxing. These are all structured not-eating protocols. They’re all about excluding and/or restricting certain foods or all food. These starvation protocols, often very well-intentioned, but just as often very misguided and very misinformed suck the life right out of you as this study reveals. When you’re hungry and you don’t eat, whether there’s not enough food available, someone keeps food from you, or you keep food from yourself, it’s starvation. No more, no less.
I have an invitation for you to a different devastatingly logical approach to eating well that in my vast experience as a wellness coach I’ve witnessed work really well for a whole lot better than glorified starvation for a whole lot of people, as well as for myself:
- Eat real food.
- Eat when you’re hungry.
- Stop when you’re full.
Let that sink in for a moment and see if you can find even the glimmer of a hole in the logic of it. It makes sense.
Hunger serves a very important role in our existence. It doesn’t exist to be ignored and suppressed. How does it make sense to disregard and neglect my hunger? Should I also ignore my fatigue and not-rest and not-sleep. Should I also ignore and suppress my loneliness and non-connect? Is there value in denying my experience? If there is, I don’t see it.
But when I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, wow, it feels very powerful. I’m in harmony with myself. And, frankly, that’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life so far. What would our world be like if we were all a bit more in harmony with ourselves? How does it sound to you?
Is your relationship with food a harmonious one? Or have you jumped on and off diets, cleanses, detoxes, and fasts more times than you can count? How would it feel to opt out of these zero-sum games (they really are games) and come into this simple, straightforward, absolutely liberating approach? Chew on that for a bit.
This isn’t my first rodeo of witnessing a booming fad diet. Putting my Nostradamus pants on, I’ll tell you this: Five years from now, no one will be talking about intermittent fasting.
Five years ago, everyone in diet circles, from nutritionists to bodybuilders, from physicians to that aunt everyone has who knows everything about nutrition despite riding the diet carousel for decades and having a bachelor’s degree in history, was boldly proclaiming that they have the answer. The answer to obesity, the answer to chronic-disease, the answer to all of the world’s ills, they all swore with all their hearts was to eat six small meals per day. Like the intermittent-fasting fadists, they could show you lots of scientific studies (all short-term as well) to prove their point.
If you see with clear eyes, you’ll see that some of the very people who passionately told you that eating six small meals per day was the way to go are the very same people telling you today that intermittent fasting will save your life. That’s how fadists operate. When something is trendy, nothing can convince them that it isn’t effective. As soon as it’s not trendy, they’re the first to tell you how stupid that approach was.
People who go on diets always talk about how stupid the last one they did was, unaware that it won’t be long before they’re saying that about their new crush.
Let’s pause for a moment and integrate what we’ve mined so far today. Rigid and ridiculous diets can make you infertile, and if they can make you infertile, they’re clearly disturbing the optimal function of your body, of you. Rigid and ridiculous diets always have and always will come and go as fads. In their boom cycle, they’ll always seems so smart. In their bust cycle, it’ll always be clear how stupid they are.
On that note, if you’ve had enough heavy lifting for today, class is dismissed. Really, if you walk away from this article solid in that wisdom, I feel really good about the work we’ve done together today. But, if you want to go really deep, if you want to mine a real gem, spend a few more minutes with me and we’ll get to the heart of the matter.
Control. Control is the heart of the matter.
At a fundamental level, life is hard. We all live knowing that one day we’ll die. We all live knowing that everyone we have an intimate relationship with will one day die.
That’s just the fundamental difficulty. We also live in a society with rampant abuse (including neglect, a wretched form of abuse), addiction, and apathy to name a few of our biggest ills. Most of us were raised in families and communities in which abuse-addiction-apathy was simply the norm that they tried to cover up by having someone’s mom bring orange slices to the soccer game.
The result today is a rat race of epic proportions. The tangible realities for many are empty relationships and empty jobs, seasoned with a great deal of stress and coped with via various escape vices.
It can all seem really out of hand. Trust me, I get it. And when one’s life is clearly a slow-motion train wreck in process, one seeks control. It’s natural to want to take the wheel of the ship. But when one gets there and sees the rough waters, sees what really needs to be done to courageously move into fulfilling relationships and fulfilling work, sees what really needs to be done to courageously move into harmony with themselves, many people say something like, “Starting Monday, I’m going gluten-free.” Or low-carb. Or low-fat. Or low-whatever or whatever-free.
It’s simply something to control.
It’s a lot easier to make harsh food rules for oneself than it is to rescue one’s heart from the brink of extinction. It’s a lot easer to make harsh food rules for oneself than it is to fight tooth and nail for the inner joy and peace that’s our birthright. It’s a lot easier to make harsh food rules for oneself that it is to enter the wild world of one’s real desires for one’s one life that’s ending one day at a time.
For those who’ve stayed after class, and want more from our work together today than an understanding of how diets are harmful, I have some important questions for you. I’m confident that if you answer these questions with all of your heart, you’ll never feel any pull toward an insane diet again. You’ll be free to eat well and really enjoy it. And you’ll be on your way to getting much, much more from your precious life.
- When that trendy new diet or cleanse or detox or cleanse is calling to you, what do you think it’s going to give you? What is it a replacement for?
- What do you REALLY want? Deep in your bones, what do you REALLY want? What have you ALWAYS really wanted?
- Can you take one, just one, courageous step today into what you have really always wanted?
Let me be real clear that I know this first-hand. I get this like few people get it. Why do you think I was swimming, cycling, and running 35 hours per week in the Colorado mountains when I was in graduate school and a graduate teaching assistant? At the time, it felt a lot easier to ride my bike in the pouring rain to get my workout in than it did to face and deal with the nagging, not-going-away realities of my life to that point which included some pretty horrible shit. It felt like having a maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) of 80.something (crazy high!) and a body-fat percentage of 4.something (crazy low!) would solve my problems. I get extreme exercising, eating, and body manipulation. I get it well. I don’t talk about or write about anything I don’t know about deep in my core. I love science and I love digging into scientific studies, but this wellness coaching stuff, this bringing the new-paradigm in well-being to the world, isn’t academic for me. This is deeply personal.
I couldn’t solve my problems by exercising like a maniac and you can’t solve your problems with intermittent fasting or any other extreme approach to exercise or eating. A “perfect body” isn’t the answer either. You’ve got to face yourself head on and sort yourself out.
You can solve your real problems and you can have your real desires. It can be done and it’ll be one of the richest experiences you ever have in your life. It might sound daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t do it alone. There are an abundance of counselors/therapists, coaches, and others who can walk the path with you into the you you’ve always wanted to be and the life you’ve always wanted to live. Friends, true friends, are invaluable in the process too. Absolutely invaluable. A spiritual practice that nourishes you can be a tremendous support. Reach out for all the help you need. YOU REALLY CAN DO THIS AND YOU’RE SO WORTH IT.
I hope at least a few are on your way to mining a real gem today.
It turns out, that unsubscribing from the crazy diets, cleanses, detoxes, and fasts won’t only help you bring new life into the world if that’s something you want to do, but it’ll also be an important step in bringing new life, renewed life, back into you.
(1) Intermittent Fasting Dietary Restriction Regimen Negatively Influences Reproduction in Young Rats: A Study of Hypothalamo-Hypophysial-Gonadal Axis. PLOS ONE, 2013, 8(1), 1-15.