Since Dr. Valter Longo published his meta-analysis on what is the optimal diet for longevity a ceaseless stream of articles has been published outlining what you should be eating. While insightful, they seem to be a simple regurgitation of the detail rather than elaborating on them.
So, instead of simply rewriting the longevity diet, as has been done many times, I will provide you with a rough outline of how you can integrate the longevity diet into your lifestyle.
The three parts of the longevity diet are:
- What to eat
- When to eat
- When to fast
What to eat
The foundation of the longevity diet is:
- Lots of legumes, whole grains and maybe some fish.
- A third of your calories come from healthy fats such as nuts and olives
- Just enough calories until you hit 65, you increase them moderately.
- Nothing processed – such as refined sugar, refined carbs, and processed meat.
- Limited meat consumption, particularly red meat.
This diet follows two rules laid out by Michal Pollan in his book: In defence of food
- Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.
- Don’t buy foods containing more than five ingredients.
Limiting your food purchases to things containing less than six ingredients will restrict the number of processed foods available to you – which is the point. But it is important not to feel restricted. Food can be delicious and healthy; it may just take more work.
The key to any significant lifestyle change is to start slow. Had I been dead set on following every step of the longevity diet from day one, I would have drowned in a pool of ice cream and chips within my first day of fasting. Every change I make to my lifestyle has to have a reason. While longevity is a great reason, it is not enough to keep me motivated to follow the challenging guidelines.
Instead, I am approaching it incrementally, and I suggest you do the same. The first step you should take is to audit your life. Look at your current lifestyle and see how you could improve your diet, mentality and fitness.
My first step was to cut sugar out of my life. Since turning thirty, I have been actively failing at avoiding sugar. My goal was to only eat things containing refined sugar once a week, but I am eating them far more often. While this is a failure relative to my original – optimistic – goal, I consider it a success. I have succeeded at being mindful when I eat it.
According to Judson Brewer’s The craving mind, the best way to fight an addiction is to become mindful of it. In this way, my goal of ditching sugar has been a resounding success. I am far more aware of how much sugar I consume, causing me to eat less of it. Although I am not yet at the once-a-week I was aiming for, I am happy with the progress.
After the self-audit, you can congratulate yourself on your habits and start planning how you will include more in your life. What you eat is easy to change relative to an exercise routine because whether healthy or not, you have to eat something. Avoid the feedback loop of bad decisions. Instead, start taking advantage of the feedback loop of motivation.
When to eat – intermittent fasting
The best time to eat or fast can be further broken down into two parts: short-term, which I will cover in this section and long-term, which I will cover in the next.
As pointed out by David Sinclair in Lifespan, the logic of intermittent fasting is that you will automatically eat less if you eat when you eat within specified hours.
You will simply be too full to eat an extra meal worth calories during those two meals. The goal is actually to eat less, so it is important not to compensate for eating less frequently by eating enormous portions during your eating window. You should never feel full; you should feel satiated.
The benefits of intermittent fasting are:
- Improved cognitive abilities
- A healthier cardiovascular system.
- Less fat without less muscle
- Reduced insulin resistance
How to fast intermittently
Remember that the goal is to continually improve, not be perfect. I am currently doing a hybrid of intermittent fasting and normal eating. Monday to Thursday, I fast between 1 pm, and 5 am. In addition, I aim to do a 23-hour fast between lunch on Tuesday and lunch on Wednesday.
Most importantly, if I am invited to dinner during the week, I don’t hesitate. I know how important it is to connect with other people, and sharing food is an excellent way to bond. Social gatherings typically occur in the evening, so I have accepted that I will occasionally have to compromise my diet.
It would be easy to consistently skip breakfast. However, since I am most active between 7 am and 5 pm and do a physically demanding job, I need the energy and focus to do it appropriately – which requires food.
This is how I have decided to start my path to periodic fasting, there are many ways to do it, and this is the one that works best for me. If your work is sedentary and you are most active in the evening, it would make more sense for you to skip breakfast to ensure you have the energy for your activities.
When to fast – periodic fasting
Long-term fasts – those lasting four to five days – should be done three to four times a year. This will be extremely difficult and dangerous, so be sure to talk to your doctor before going on a multi-day water-fast or fast-mimicking diet.
I am currently increasing my fasting time but have not yet made it past the 24-hour mark. It takes time to build up the physical and mental ability to maintain such a long fast.
Instead of starting with the full five-day fast, I suggest you start with intermittent fasting and move up to longer-term fasts when you feel ready for it.
This will not remove the hunger pains, but you will have gotten used to living with them. In his book Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty described how liberating fasting can be. When you don’t need to think about when or what you will eat for a couple of days, it gives you time to focus your mind entirely on any tasks for countless hours. This is a great time to work on your constructive habits.
As with any radical lifestyle change, building up your tolerance is better than going cold turkey. Start with a one-day fast, see how you feel, then move it up to a two-day in a few months if you feel comfortable with it. As previously mentioned, the goal is progress, not perfection. Work on building up your tolerance, and you will eventually be able to do the complete five-day fast.
As previously mentioned, I have not yet reached this stage of the longevity diet, but I am working on it. I know that it is possible and look forward to the challenge it will bring me. Until then, keep going. You’re getting there.
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