Health benefits of calorie restriction and fasting

Proponents of calorie restriction say that reducing calories by even 5 percent is beneficial.

by Kimberly Kingsley — 

Most people would be thrilled to lose a few pounds, but these days there is a new trend of counting calories for a different reason altogether. Calorie restriction (CR) is quickly proving to be more than a path to weight loss.

It all started in the 1930s when Dr. Clive McKay discovered that calorie restriction significantly extended the lives of mice. Since then, there have been many studies to determine just why and how this works.

According to the book, The CR Way, by Paul McGlothin and Meredith Averill, intelligent calorie restriction offers the following benefits:

  • Lowers circulating glucose and insulin levels
  • Reduces body fat
  • Lowers levels of growth stimulators
  • Prevents cell loss
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Creates a more youthful physiology

The youthful physiology is almost enough to convince one to go the CR route, but another highly compelling benefit is that eating less decreases growth stimulators. The problem with growth stimulators is that once a person is grown, these same processes that turn a child into an adult continue to push us along the maturity continuum, causing the body to age more quickly than necessary.

Beyond healthy childhood development, our growth regulators can work against us, not only leading to premature aging but also to the growth of cancerous cells. According to McGlothin and Averill, “The regulators our bodies need to grow do not necessarily distinguish between healthy growth and unhealthy — or cancerous — growth.”

More youth, more health … this is getting interesting.

Getting started

How does one go about decreasing calorie intake sensibly?

Proponents of CR say that reducing calories by even 5 percent is beneficial. This can be done by eliminating 100 to 150 calories per day for an average size man or woman. This means skipping something like a snack or dessert each day — which seems pretty reasonable. In addition to calorie reduction, it is important to choose nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, while limiting empty calories such as white flour and sugary treats.

For those who wish to dive into CR a little more vigorously, calories can be reduced by 10, 15 or even 20 percent. Whichever way, it is recommended that a person start out slowly, introducing this new way of life over the course of six months to a year. There are risks associated with CR — especially when reducing calories too quickly — that should be researched thoroughly, in addition to talking with one’s doctor about any specific concerns. A lot of good information about CR can be found on the Web site:

Intermittent fasting

Low levels of glucose and insulin in the blood are said to be a key factor in slowing the aging process and preventing disease. If you eat dinner relatively early, your glucose and insulin levels will drop at night while you sleep, which is desirable according to CR research. Intermittent fasting is another way to extend the amount of time that glucose and insulin are lowered in the bloodstream.

Periodically fasting for one day allows a person to realize the benefits of CR, along with extending the amount of time that glucose and insulin levels are down. One fast that is tremendously popular is The Master Cleanser or Lemonade Diet. While it is formally recommended for 10 days, many people choose to do a mini-master cleanse for one to three days.

During the Master Cleanser diet, you drink a mixture of fresh lemon juice, grade B maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper mixed into your water, which allows you to remain relatively comfortable throughout the day. In terms of CR, even if a person consumes 800 calories in lemonade during a day of fasting, they are eliminating 1,200 to 1,400 calories. Therefore, doing the Master Cleanser for only one day every two weeks would result in a 5 percent calorie reduction for most people.

I have been doing one-day lemonade fasts for several years now. The best evidence I have to its efficacy is a phone call from my doctor with results from my latest physical. The highly eccentric and entertaining doctor opened the conversation saying, “You must be sitting around eating seeds and berries all day because every test we did came back perfect.”

Although I will always strive to increase the ratio of nutrient-dense foods to junk food in my diet, I am not willing to give up wine, chocolate or an enjoyable Mexican meal out with friends ever once in a while. So for now I will continue fasting one day every couple of weeks and let my good doctor believe that I am sitting around eating seeds and berries.

The Master Cleanser Recipe

  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed organic lemon juice (not packaged or bottled)
  • 2 tablespoons organic, grade B maple syrup (not maple-flavored sugar syrup) •
  • 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste (at least 1/10 teaspoon)
  • 10 ounces of warm to medium-hot spring or purified water


Kimberly Kingsley is an energy coach and author of The Energy Cure: How to Recharge Your Life 30 Seconds at a Time.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 2, Apr/May 2010.

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