The easiest way to make it work is to eat less or stop eating altogether – to fast or to trick your body into thinking that you are fasting.
You can do this by switching to a very low-carb, high-fat diet – the ketogenic diet – where carbohydrate supply drops, starving the body of fuel and triggering autophagy.
Another option is actual fasting. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that you need to stop eating for a week. Just hours – it’s called intermittent fasting – is enough to trigger autophagy.
The best-known method of intermittent fasting is probably the “5:2 Diet”, made popular by TV doctor Michael Mosley a few years ago. It involves eating just 600 calories on two days a week while eating normally on the other five days (although, in later books, he upped the calorie allowance to 800).
Another way of intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating, in which you stop eating for a varying number of hours within a 24-hour period, aka 16:8 (eating only within an 8-hour window each day) or 14:10 (10-hour window).
In a 16:8 scenario, for example, you would have a late breakfast at 11am and stop eating after an early dinner, thus not eating anything from 7 pm to 11 am the next morning. In practice, this will feel like simply skipping breakfast.
Or, if for you, breakfast is the most important meal, you start and stop early. You would have a good breakfast and stop eating earlier in the afternoon. Studies found that not eating in the evening led to better weight loss results.
Why I like intermittent fasting
A lot of research has been and is being done on intermittent fasting, and the results are amazing. Not only does it promote weight loss – which is, let’s face it, what we secretly want more than anything else – it has also been found to normalise blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure and total cholesterol. At the same time, those who were well to begin with remained so. Their blood pressure, cholesterol and weight stayed the same.
Foods that trigger autophagy
But the ketogenic diet and fasting are not all that you can do to promote autophagy. It has been discovered that there are certain foods and nutrients that also trigger it.
Good news for coffee drinkers: coffee is one of them. Another is C8 oil. This is an “MCT” oil “medium-chain triglycerides”, a type of fat that occurs naturally in coconut oil, for example. As it is often used in the ketogenic diet, you can now buy it in health food shops and online.
Other foods that contain nutrients to promote autophagy are seeds, fish and shellfish, olives and olive oil, brassica (plants from the cabbage family, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli), mushrooms, blackcurrants, berries, turmeric, ginger, green tea, hibiscus, mint and bergamot (in Earl Grey tea).
Foods that block autophagy
On the other hand, there are foods that block autophagy, such as excess carbohydrates and excess protein, the latter especially from meat and dairy. Resistance exercise or strength training, too, blocks autophagy.
You’ll need to add in the right exercise
It is important, if you are going to promote autophagy, not to forget to exercise. Remember, when you scale down your carbohydrate intake or restrict calories, mTor, the protein for growth – including muscle growth – is switched off. When the body’s fuel supply is cut off, this is perceived as famine and – with the help of autophagy – proteins from muscle can be broken down to serve as fuel. Regular resistance exercise briefly switches autophagy off and mTor back on and that way helps to protect your muscles.
So, for better health, give your body a break from eating now and then. Try out intermittent fasting and see which version works best for you.
When you do eat, stick with real food as that gives you the best chance of stocking up on those vital nutrients that help autophagy work better.
If you would like some support and accountability along your own health journey, do reach out to me for a chat to explore how I can help you achieve a happier healthier mind and body.