How circadian rhythm affects our sleep, diabetes and obesity – and the keto diet and fasting

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All week I’ve been watching a 9 episode summit from co-hosts Naomi Whittle and Montel Williams. Naomi is a best selling author and “Wellness Explorer” and Montel, has had Multiple Sclerosis for the past 20 years. Both are into the science of metabolism, health and weight loss.

The summit largely covers the ketogenic diet and fasting. Ketogenic eating is a very high fat very low carb eating style. I do eat low carb but I could never follow a keto eating plan. Fasting, apparently, is the new hot strategy for restoring health. Not a juice fast, horror, all those carbs! A plain water fast or something called a “mimicking fast” where you get to imbibe a few things that don’t let your body know you’re not really fasting. Things like green powders, bone broth and maybe some avocado.

The theory is during a fast the body switches from burning sugar to burning fat because you aren’t feeding it, and it starts chewing up your unhealthy damaged cells and remaking healthier cells. The simplest fast is a 16 hour fast. Don’t eat from after dinner around 8 PM til lunch the next day. It’s called intermittent fasting. You can also do a one day fast or a 3-5 day fast which is supposed to regenerate stem cells. I’m not going to go into more detail here but you can find scads of information googling both ketogenic diet and fasting.

I will, however, give an overview of something we rarely pay any attention to that was also discussed on the summit – and that’s how our natural circadian rhythm significantly affects our sleep, metabolism and insulin resistance.

Dr. Felice Gersh was the expert talking on circadian rhythm. From now on I’m going to shorten circadian rhythm to CR. Dr. Gersh’s main point is every organ and cell in our body has a CR, a clock it goes by to do what it does. When we don’t live in sync with our internal clocks we mess up our hormonal system, metabolism, microbiome, brain, well  pretty much everything.

Here are a few take-aways:

• When your CR is off the body’s melatonin production that occurs naturally at 2 AM  doesn’t happen efficiently. This interferes with a good night’s sleep and prevents the brain from restoring itself. We also know by now a poor night’s sleep raises our hunger hormones the next day and we are ravenous and tend to overeat, especially carbs.

• The liver is key to our metabolic health. When you’re not in sync with your CR, your liver doesn’t function well. This plays havoc with your body’s enzymes and the liver and gut (microbiome) become inflamed. Some fallout from this is the liver starts pouring sugar and fat into the bloodstream and doesn’t signal the pancreas to produce as much insulin as the body needs. Blood sugar rises and insulin resistance increases. Triglycerides also elevate.  Insulin is a fat storage hormone and with too much of it circulating in the bloodstream it begins storing carbs as fat in our cells. Fat clusters in and around our organs. It’s unhealthy. Fat in the liver is literally called “fatty liver” which many people with type 2 diabetes have.

• Too much circulating insulin from insulin resistance puts you in a state of constant growth where your body can’t trigger fat burning or cell rejuvenation. Inflammation in a body set for chronic growth can lead to cancer, due to the overgrowth of abnormal cells. It’s also the perfect environment for chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and dementia.

Dr. Gersh points out society has set up a perfect storm for us to be out of sync with our CR. How can you disagree? How many of us sleep enough hours, eat healthfully and not too much, push away from our screens and devices hours before going to bed? How many of us spend time in nature on a regular basis, move our bodies every hour from sunup to sleep and eat all our meals on time and relaxed?

So what to do. Here are a few suggested tips. You can research further how to get back on track with your circadian rhythm:

• Go to bed between 10 and 11 pm. Sleep in a very dark room.

• Wake up on the weekends the same as during the week

• Spend more time in nature, go camping and sleep on the ground, watch the sun set

The last tip leads us back to the beginning. Dr. Gersh recommends a four day fast for resetting our inner clocks and putting the body into an overall state of rejuvenation.

As a result of the summit I’ve decided to try intermittent fasting so for the past few days I have stopped eating by 8 PM, except when I have to raise my blood sugar before bed with a prune or teaspoon of honey, and not eat again until 1 PM the next day. Days 1 and 2 were remarkably easy. The trick was keeping myself occupied in the morning.

Day 3 I was so hungry I could have eaten a cardboard box. That’s when my friend and fellow type 1, Ginger Vieira, told me it’s working! I still managed to hold off lunch til  12:30 that day, but this morning I gave in to a smaller than usual breakfast and tonight I’m going to fast again. I make no promises but I am enthralled by seeing what this experiment of fasting may do.

It makes perfect sense to me that fasting is healthy and that we overfeed ourselves. Our ancestors lived not having food much of the time, while today we are constantly eating which causes inflammation in the body which I believe is at the root of most disease.

For further reading on keto and fasting here are a few links Ginger shared with me:


2. Cheatsheet: Good fats vs. bad fats
4. Another great podcast/article on saturated fats:
I wonder who decided we should eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a pauper?

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