In 1921, Rollin Turner Woodyatt reviewed the research on diet and diabetes. He reported that three water-soluble compounds, β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone (known collectively as ketone bodies), were produced by the liver in otherwise healthy people when they were starved or if they consumed a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. Dr. Russell Morse Wilder, at the Mayo Clinic, built on this research and coined the term "ketogenic diet" to describe a diet that produced a high level of ketone bodies in the blood (ketonemia) through an excess of fat and lack of carbohydrate. Wilder hoped to obtain the benefits of fasting in a dietary therapy that could be maintained indefinitely. His trial on a few epilepsy patients in 1921 was the first use of the ketogenic diet as a treatment for epilepsy.
The modified Atkins diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in 43% of patients who try it and by more than 90% in 27% of patients. Few adverse effects have been reported, though cholesterol is increased and the diet has not been studied long term. Although based on a smaller data set (126 adults and children from 11 studies over five centres), these results from 2009 compare favourably with the traditional ketogenic diet.
The fasting periods were often called ‘cleanses’, ‘detoxifications’, or ‘purifications’, but the idea is similar – e.g. to abstain from eating food for a certain period of time, often for health reasons. People imagined that this period of abstinence from food would clear their bodies’ systems of toxins and rejuvenate them. They may have been more correct than they knew.
Early studies reported high success rates; in one study in 1925, 60% of patients became seizure-free, and another 35% of patients had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency. These studies generally examined a cohort of patients recently treated by the physician (a retrospective study) and selected patients who had successfully maintained the dietary restrictions. However, these studies are difficult to compare to modern trials. One reason is that these older trials suffered from selection bias, as they excluded patients who were unable to start or maintain the diet and thereby selected from patients who would generate better results. In an attempt to control for this bias, modern study design prefers a prospective cohort (the patients in the study are chosen before therapy begins) in which the results are presented for all patients regardless of whether they started or completed the treatment (known as intent-to-treat analysis).
There are a lot of food myths I used to eat up, but it turns out breakfast isn't the most important meal of the day (no data actually proves that it makes you healthier or thinner), eating frequently doesn't necessarily boost your metabolism (with a constant supply of carbs circulating through your system, your body can't burn fat) and, contrary to popular opinion, hunger pangs don't automatically lead to overeating. I used to answer the call of cravings like I spring to the ding of a text—often and with urgency—but fasting taught me how to be comfortable with the discomfort of hunger. Now I think of pangs like I think of my mother: Sometimes overbearing, always opinionated, but their alarm bell advice isn't always right or even warranted. What helped? Coffee, tea, keeping a schedule (see above) and knowing that hunger is just a sensation that comes and goes. Just make sure you don't take it too far, because intermittent fasting doesn't mean you should be starving yourself.
What time period works best? Keeping your eating window earlier—say, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.—seems to be the most beneficial. The body’s biological clock is primed to eat earlier in the day, explains Courtney Peterson, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “In most people, blood sugar control is best in the morning and gets worse as the day progresses. You also digest food faster in the morning. So there’s a metabolic advantage to eating earlier in the daytime,” she says.
Note: Because you'll be excluding some major food groups on the keto diet (grains, many fruits) you should definitely think about taking a multivitamin—especially one that contains folic acid, which helps your body make new cells and is often found in enriched breads, cereals, and other grain products, says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health.
Third, you've probably already fasted many times, even though you don't know it. Have you ever slept in late on the weekends and then had a late brunch? Some people do this every weekend. In situations like these, we often eat dinner the night before and then don't eat until 11am or noon or even later. There's your 16–hour fast and you didn't even think about it.
To help you make better food choices and avoid binge eating, Mirkin recommends sticking to a 12-hour eating window instead of an 8-hour one. "This allows adequate sleep and prevents late-night munching. It also allows you to fuel evenly throughout the day so that a person is able to meet their nutritional needs without watching the clock so closely," Mirkin explains.
Conklin's fasting therapy was adopted by neurologists in mainstream practice. In 1916, a Dr McMurray wrote to the New York Medical Journal claiming to have successfully treated epilepsy patients with a fast, followed by a starch- and sugar-free diet, since 1912. In 1921, prominent endocrinologist Henry Rawle Geyelin reported his experiences to the American Medical Association convention. He had seen Conklin's success first-hand and had attempted to reproduce the results in 36 of his own patients. He achieved similar results despite only having studied the patients for a short time. Further studies in the 1920s indicated that seizures generally returned after the fast. Charles P. Howland, the parent of one of Conklin's successful patients and a wealthy New York corporate lawyer, gave his brother John Elias Howland a gift of $5,000 to study "the ketosis of starvation". As professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, John E. Howland used the money to fund research undertaken by neurologist Stanley Cobb and his assistant William G. Lennox.
It usually takes three to four days for your body to go into ketosis because you have to use up your body's stores of glucose, i.e., sugar first, Keatley says. Any major diet change can give you some, uh, issues, and Keatley says he often sees patients who complain of IBS-like symptoms and feeling wiped out at the beginning of the diet. (The tiredness happens because you have less access to carbs, which give you quick energy, he explains.)
I never exercise on an empty stomach. As a rule, I put something in the tank 2 hours before a hike or yoga class to make sure I don't peter out...or pass out. But it turns out that exercising in a fasted state worked for me. Instead of feeling light-headed, I had more grit and go. I marched up that mountain on a mission and planked with more purpose. Major perks: Science shows that exercising in a fasted state can supercharge your body's fat-burning potential.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is the official diet developed by Mayo Clinic, based on research and clinical experience. It focuses on eating healthy foods that taste great and increasing physical activity. It emphasizes that the best way to keep weight off for good is to change your lifestyle and adopt new health habits. This diet can be tailored to your own individual needs and health history — it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.