An interview with nutritional consultant Jo Dash, with extensive years of research experience in the science of melanin and food.  Bidii explores, with Jo, the practice of intermittent fasting, including its effectiveness for helping people in a variety of ways.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a structured calorie restricted diet. It is about balancing a window of eating period, with hours of rest. So, for example, the 12 to 8 pm method would be the most popular one. So, you would have a 12pm, midday, to 8pm eating window. Not to eat throughout the window but just a period where you can have a meal – followed by 16 hours of fasting, where you don’t have any calorific drink or food. You can have herbal tea or water, but nothing that is calorie based. Because when you don’t eat, and you fast, the body responds to it as stress. But not stress as you know it, but biological stress. So that means it forces the body to go into self-preservation mode and self-detoxification. So intermittent fasting is saying I have a designated time to feed myself, followed by a long period of abstinence of food, or any sugary food or calorific food. That is what intermittent fasting is really about.

What are the health benefits people can achieve with intermittent fasting?

There are so many benefits. Too much to list. But the key thing is to say it is holistic. When you do intermittent fasting, of course, weight loss is the number one thing. You will drop the weight because you have less insulin in the body. The second thing is you go through this thing called autophagy, which slows down the process of ageing. It revitalises the body by renewing cells and clearing debris in the cytoplasm of the cell, which is great because the accumulation of waste in the cell is what ages you. So autophagy allows cell repair and growth, and creates a more harmonious environment for the body.

Obviously, you increase human growth hormones, which is important for development and cognitive function. You create what they call Brain Derived Neural Factors, which is great because the Black community (especially people of Caribbean descent) have a high level of Dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease and this is due to melanin in the brain dying. So, intermittent fasting can help restructure the brain properly so less foggy memory, more cognitive function, and slows down the brain’s ageing order. It increases immune response, so it builds immunity very very well. If you fast for a longer period of time, you can create stem cells – which is very important because if you are producing stem cells for someone who has cancer, or something like that, [intermittent fasting] can be very powerful because stem cells can become anything. They can really remove inflammation from the body.

Intermittent fasting has multiple benefits: improved learning and memory, improved muscle action and bone health. If your bones are clicking all the time, and your joints aren’t working properly, intermittent fasting can be a phenomenal thing for that, and that’s because the food we consume in the West is very poisonous. We are consuming poison on a daily basis and we are so addicted to the poison that we will defend it, rationalise it, crave it, and emotionally attach ourselves to it. So, a lot of us are not understanding what selfcare means.

So, intermittent fasting is a great way to provide structure too. That’s another massive benefit – it provides structure, so you are not impulsively eating all the time. And that’s why in the Black community we have distinguishable differences in our health. For example, prostate [cancer], 1 in 4 Black men is the statistic, I believe. When it comes to women, a lot of Black women have fibroids or are overweight. And the average weight of a Black woman is way more than the average weight in every other race. And all of that stuff is how we occupy our traumas with food. We are trauma eating for the most part. And that’s not just due to racial trauma, but upbringing.

Things that we thought were normal in the black community, are actually abusive and we did not know that as children. So, as we grow older, food becomes a comfort mechanism and a coping mechanism.  Just like how drugs, alcohol or cigarettes would do.  That’s causing mass, mass, mass level of overweight amongst black people, and so that is why black people are more likely to die of covid as well, because being overweight makes you more susceptible to more severe symptoms of covid. 

So, things of that nature; vitamin D deficiency for black people is a problem. It slows down the immune response time, which is a problem because you need to produce these antigens as quickly as possible. Those B cells need to be more reactive to that memory, but if you are overweight, if you are stressed all the time (which is the majority of black men and women), then it’s a problem.  But intermittent fasting can help structure these things, and put the body back in harmonious rhythm, and keep you healthy, and provide structure and control.

What is the link between rhythm of the body and digestion?

To a large degree yes. You have your circadian rhythm that is everybody’s rhythm, whether you are Black, White, Asian, whatever. Everyone has a Circadian rhythm: it exists in nature, animals have it, plants have it. And that is your internal body clock that kind of monitors how the body shifts throughout the day.

The food you eat will influence how your body moves; food influences thought. So, the food you eat influences your thoughts, your mood, your behavioural patterns, your interactions with yourself, self-identity, all of those things – food can have influence over. When it comes to rhythm and the gut specifically, your gut is your second brain and it has a direct connection to the brain through the vagus nerve; that is how you influence your thoughts through your food. Serotonin is your mood hormone. 97% of serotonin is in the gut. So if you put crap in the gut, you are going to feel like crap; that’s just how it is.

So, when it comes to the rhythm and the gut, your body is always in need of homeostasis. That is the fundamental thing. It doesn’t care for alkaline, it cares for balance. So, when it comes to the rhythm and the gut, your body is always in need of homeostasis.  That is the fundamental thing.  It doesn’t care for alkaline, it cares for balance.  So when it comes to rhythm, if you know you have a harmonious rhythm, the simple question: Am I exercising enough? Am I sleeping well? Am I stress free? Am I eating quality food? Am I drinking enough water?  Because that is the harmonious activities you do. But if you don’t, because you don’t have time, because we have traded in our own self care for £20 an hour or £30 an hour, we can’t blame anyone apart from ourselves at that point.  So in terms of having a rhythm, it’s about lifestyle.  It is about how you live that affects your biology.  So if you don’t live correctly, you suffer your own karma. 

People can be 12 to 8 pm and stay there, and it’s the easiest thing to start on. Obviously the longer you fast, the more benefits you get; that’s just how it goes. But 12 to 8 pm provides two basic fundamental things that I think are important: which is control, which is the first thing, and structure. So, if you are producing structure and control, you can monitor your weight more your whole physiology. The problem is we have no structure, and we have no control. So, 12 to 8 pm is brilliant because let’s look at the body in terms of in the morning, your body wants to eliminate stuff. It’s been breaking down things all night and wants to get rid of stuff, and pump energy into your body. That is why cortisol levels are high in the morning. Cortisol is the stress hormone. It pushes sugar in the blood, allowing you to have energy to get up in the morning. So exercise in the morning is really good, so if you want to exercise, exercise in the morning and drink lots of water.

The problem is straight after they workout.  If you are on weight loss, you can’t eat straight after the workout because you need to push the body into a space where it starts to burn fat over sugar.  And every time you put food in, it is focusing on sugar.  That is why the Keto diet became so popular, but this is something we have known for years. 

12 to 8 pm is just a great place to start. In the evening, the body doesn’t really receive food. Your metabolism is slowing down. Insulin levels need to drop, so human growth hormones can be produced. And human growth hormones can help you burn fat in your sleep.  Who doesn’t want to burn fat in their sleep right?  It helps you with development: nervous system, your muscles, and everything like that.  Human growth hormones are important.  That is why children need structured bedtimes.  You can’t let the child go to bed at any time.  That’s messing up their growth and development, because if they do not have enough human growth hormones and you’re giving them hot chocolate at 10 pm and toast at 11 pm, that is messing up their development.  But it is just a lack of education, and that is why we have to focus on these dark areas and educate people, with compassion and sincerity, so they can have the tools they need to do the right thing on their time. 

Many people have been diagnosed with diabetes, HBP etc.  For people with these illnesses is IF safe?

Absolutely! I’ve helped a lot of people with hypertension come off medication.  I have helped a lot of diabetics come off medication and reduce their HBA1C levels.  The reality of intermittent fasting for HBP, for example, is the first question I ask my clients (before I take them on) : ‘Are you willing to stop the things that are making you sick?’  Otherwise, it is a waste of both of our time.  Because if you are still going to eat that chocolate because you can’t help yourself, then, this is a waste of time.  Go get counselling. Go get therapy. But if you still want the crap, there is no shortcut.  It is just real work, and you have to tackle that reality no matter how you spin it.  You know people don’t want to do the work, and start hiding behind these different tags and names, and things of this nature.  But actually, they are just suffering themselves.  When it comes to hypertension specifically, you have to reduce your cholesterol, foods high in salt and fatty foods and all that kind of stuff like that. You got to reduce your LDL levels, which is your Low Density Lipoproteins and increase your HDL, which is High Density Lipoproteins from avocados and walnuts, healthy oils that are not industrial. Industrial oils are vegetable oils, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil—are all poison.  Once you add a flame to that it changes its whole biochemical connection.  It hardens and thickens the walls of your arteries.  You don’t want that!   

Of course, when it comes to hypertension, how you start to bring it down is you got to remove the LDL levels in the body.  Drop that to a minimum and start introducing foods that are very nutritionally dense. Every condition is linked to nutritional deficiency. So you don’t have enough Zinc, and with intermittent fasting you can really spark the contraction level.  So when your blood vessels contracts, that’s your blood pressure. To help the vessels expand and contract correctly, intermittent fasting triggers the proteins that do that.  That is why intermittent fasting is so powerful. And if you add greens, zinc (for example) that controls the values in your body, as well as immune response and things of that nature; then, you would have better blood flow in the body.  So when it comes to hypertension, that’s just how simple it can be.  I think the medication they give people with hypertension is to help the values expand more, to let more blood through, but it is not stopping the LDL that is causing the problem.  It’s managing the effect, but not managing the cause.

When it comes to diabetes, it’s the same thing: you become insulin resistant, it is not getting inside the cells.  So that sugar is going straight to the muscle and that’s a problem.  So to reduce that insulin resistance, you need to bring that insulin down. And to bring it down, you need to eat less carbohydrates, and move from a High Glycemic Index, which is, from foods that raise high glucose levels, so high, in your body.  So when I have diabetic patients, I remove them from carbohydrates, white carbohydrates, starchy carbohydrates, refined carbohydrates.  There are good carbs in veg and whole grains as well.  But I remove them off the rice, off the pasta, off the potatoes.  I remove them off all of that.  I will introduce water, exercise to increase blood flow.  Because they are taking off arms and limbs, every minute, off diabetic people.  So, it’s like how much food can you eat to get rid of your limbs? Why would you want to do that and then complain that life is not fair?  What’s harder than being healthy, is being sick.

Weight loss, same thing.  Insulin is the reason people put on too much weight, period.  Too much insulin and eating this and that.  In fact, when it comes to women specifically, women are the highest level of unconscious eaters.  Most women do not know how many calories they are taking in, until you break it down to them and follow them for a 24 hours. They are completely unaware of the amount of calories they are taking in.  Because they will graze, but that is too many calories at the end of the day.  It is better to have proper meals. Sit down, focus on the food, so you eat just enough.  Starchy carbohydrates do not trigger the brain to feel full.  Only protein and fibre do that.  So the selection on your plate is important, and of course you have cultural implications as well.  If you grew up in the Caribbean, there are certain foods that you identify with.  Food is an extension of your identity.  So, when I am asking people to transform in 30 days, I’m asking them to change who they are in 30 days, which is a harder task.  But we also live in a world where if you are overweight, to obese levels, it affects everything and your position in society.  There have been massive conversations about people not being hired because they are obese, etc. 

We have to help ourselves, which we do not.  I think when it comes to high blood pressure, diabetes and all these things, a lot of it is self-inflicted.  So, we have to make a decision and one of the best ways to deal with that is intermittent fasting.  It is one of the most powerful ways to do that.  To gain control.  And it is about self-care.  We also do not know how to look after ourselves. People think looking after themselves is pleasure.  To find as much pleasure as they can and if I feel better, then, I am looking after myself.  A drug addict will say cocaine makes him feel great, and they are looking after themselves. But are they?  No, they are not!  And just because you are eating at a restaurant every night, might make you feel you are living your best life, but you aren’t.

So, changing the mindset is key.  I have heard clients say they want to lose a little weight, before going to the gym; that makes no sense.  You go to the gym to lose weight.  It is built for you, but they are intimidated by other people and you are creating your own hell. 

Does intermittent fasting have to be daily?

I do it daily. Intermittent Fasting can be done 5 days a week, 3 days a week, at the weekends. You can structure it into your life just to gain a bit of control, so you are not just always eating. People eat constantly. The average person eats every hour and a half. Something is in their mouth every hour and a half unless they are distracted by work, when they can’t physically do it. But if you leave them alone with no task, they will eat every hour and a half. The body needs 3 to 4 hours space to digest food properly, so imagine how many calories are taken in.