There’s been a lot of research in the past decade or so on the health benefits of periodic fasting. The science shows it’s about much more than simple weight loss. It can help with cellular rejuvenation, prevention of diabetes, reduction of systemic inflammation, and much more. I’ve always been a fad dieter, so when my buddy and partner in crime suggested we try the Prolon fast mimicking diet, I was totally on board (this is the one Gwyneth Paltrow is a big fan of, in case you care). A few years ago, I had successfully completed a 7 day fast in which I could only drink bone broth and tea. And I’ve been a periodic intermittent faster for some time. What I liked about the fast mimicking diet is you do actually get to eat some solid food, however paltry.
The Science: Dr. Jason Fung is probably the most well known advocate of periodic fasting for overall health. He has many books, but the Complete Guide to Fasting is probably a good start for the overall concept of fasting, though he advocates total fasting. The Prolon diet came out of an academic medical center’s research and has perhaps the most independent validation behind it. It was developed by biologist Dr. Valter Lungo in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute. The idea is you eat just enough to trick your body into thinking it’s actually fasting. But the supplements include vitamins and electrolytes to help you maintain basic nutrition.
Impressions: The food was all pre-packaged and idiot-proof. It’s all gluten and lactose free, so has a bit of an anti-allergen benefit as well. The taste of the stuff was moderately enjoyable though I couldn’t stomach some of the soups by the end of it. It was annoying some of the soups had to be stove-prepared and I didn’t love some of the flavors (though apparently there are new options online). Many of the items contained inulin, a fiber which my tummy took time pain to adjust to. One of the components is taking algal oil and I have to say it felt like burping up the sea at times. It’s absurdly expensive ($250 per 5 day kit), but fortunately my buddy is a bargain hunter and found it half priced on Ebay (I didn’t know Ebay still existed). Apparently many people buy several boxes and then decide they can’t hang. While the sticker price was still shocking, I think I actually came out ahead based on the total absence of groceries/alcohol/restaurants/delivery this week. Doing it with a friend was also super useful. It was great to have someone who you could text “I realized I still have another cracker today” and she would actually give a damn. She also called me when at the edge of cheating and we sanctioned small departures for each other for legit health issues like dizziness (or an ounce of bourbon for sanity, whoops)!
Results: I lost 6.4 lbs and my skinnier pal lost 4.8 by the morning of the 5th day. My wife noticed my waist looked smaller and the buddy felt her thighs were less full. But we really didn’t do this to lose weight, we’re smart enough to know that’s usually short lived. I think we both appreciated the reset in terms of how to manage cravings and eat better portions. I’m planning to do it again right after both Thanksgiving and Christmas to help get back on track. But in the meantime, I think I’ll be generally eating a bit less than usual. Fasting is also supposed to make your brain sharper. I definitely did the Monday NYT crossword in record time this week and did the Wednesday without any help, which was probably a first. I felt clear-headed and focused at work, and generally solid on energy (whereas the prior 7 day fast had me half-dead). My skin also seemed a bit more glowing than usual and by the end, my tummy troubles gave way to some ideal bowel patterns.
Chinese Medicine Perspective: My acupuncturist wasn’t super thrilled when I told her I’d be doing this. I already had weak spleen pulses and some digestive fragility from being a celiac. In general, she had been encouraging my to eat more warming foods (soups, teas, etc.). Her theory about my chubbiness was that I had a low metabolic fire and that my very cold food and drinks lifestyle was contributing to a sluggish metabolism (typical day- iced coffee, protein shake, cold La Croix x 12, a million other cold things). During the fast, she urged me to add a bit of rice and sweet potato to the fast if I felt like I couldn’t hang. I did eat some rice in lieu of the soup on day 4 when I couldn’t look at soup anymore that day, and it seemed to have no bad effect. I also started drinking my usual cold drinks more room temperature and now can hang with a warm La Croix like a psychopath. We’ll see on the long-term benefits of sticking to a warmer food diet, but I do find my usual need for a space heater and heated blanket at work is subsiding a bit.
Final precaution- the Prolon plan says to eat light/sensibly as you come off it and we probably overdid it a bit with both celebratory food and alcohol. That turned into some serious GI troubles the next day. So don’t overdo it like we did!
*We have no financial relationship with Prolon, this is an independent review.