Fasting for everything

If you believe the premise that an occasional dietary fast is healthy, consider applying the same concept to other things.

Abstaining from food allows the body to re-equilibrate, leaving various parts of the body to attend to themselves and return to homeostasis. In the absence of incoming energy, autophagy prunes weak and damaged cells, reducing the risk that they malfunction and cascade into something more dangerous. Fasting is negative space for the body.

The National Institute on Aging (funded by the NIH) says:

A major mechanism by which fasting can protect against tissue injury and disease is by activating adaptive cellular stress responses by hormesis-based processes. For example, IF [intermittent fasting] induces the expression of protein chaperones (e.g., heat-shock protein 70 and glucose-regulated protein 78) and stimulates autophagy in many cell types (Duan and Mattson, 1999; Yu and Mattson, 1999; Alirezaei et al., 2010; Arumugam et al., 2010; Lee and Notterpek, 2013). The latter actions of IF enhance the ability of cells to eliminate damaged proteins and organelles such as mitochondria. Indeed, autophagy is required for the maintenance of muscle mass (Masiero et al., 2009), consistent with the preservation of muscle mass during IF (Harvie et al., 2010). Fasting decreases levels of circulating leptin and increases levels of adiponectin, changes associated with improved energy metabolism and cardioprotection (Wan et al., 2010; Hui et al., 2012). IF can also increase neurotrophic factor signaling in brain cells, which may contribute to its abilities to enhance hippocampal neurogenesis (Lee et al., 2002) and protect neurons against oxidative and metabolic stress in animal models of Parkinson’s disease (Duan and Mattson, 1999), Huntington’s disease (Duan et al., 2003), Alzheimer’s disease (Halagappa et al., 2007) and stroke (Yu and Mattson, 1999; Arumugam et al., 2010).

I recommend giving the full paper a read.

It appeals to my intuition that this healing-in-absentia applies to more than the health of a body. What about socialization? At the extreme, many of us would go nuts starved of company. But wouldn’t an inundation of other people provoke maladies reminiscent of too much food? Could we benefit from occasional, extended periods away from other people? Would that allow our intellectual and spiritual organelles the same kind of reprieve that mitochondria get from a fast? Our minds might move closer to the roots of who we are; the unaltered source of our personalities. Problematic extensions (that we may not even be aware of) caused by influence from others might be stripped away during the starvation of company. An exaggerated example: all your friends might be alcoholics, and might push you in a similar direction.

This might apply to information too. This is news to nobody, but in 2017 we’re avalanched by information. It’s commonplace for people to spend nearly every waking moment intaking new facts, however minute and unrelated to actionable parts of their life. It doesn’t seem out of the question that this constant digestion of information might be analogous to uninterrupted snacking on candy for most of the day. How can we maintain a cohesion strong enough to accomplish mid- to longterm work when we have a constant stream of enticing miscellany rolling in? Periodic information fasts (avoiding news sources, social media, undirected browsing) may let our focus regrow. Maybe choosing to sit and listen to a favorite album and stare at the drywall can be 100 times more meaningful than spending the same time numbly scrolling through Twitter and getting riled up about something you’ll never be able to change.

When we intake less information, don’t our minds become more sensitive, receptive to new input when it does come? Maybe in order to hang on to the things we really care about, we have to dial back input.

As the guy who quit the internet for a year found out, there are diminishing returns to a fast.

The things that we fast from probably aren’t inherently bad or good, but they have certain effects, some of which may not be obvious. Removing those effects for some period is to remove a variable, or at least hold it constant — it lets us see what those effects are more clearly. This is a potential benefit alongside any recuperation that may happen.

I think fasting is underapplied. Use it for caffeine, people, Twitter, news, hot showers, food, work, music, email, warmth. Apply to anything potent. Induce contrast.

And I’m not saying binges can’t be fun and illustrative…