Autophagy for the people

If you read my last column, you will know that I’m moving: from a two-bedroom flat, into a room in a shared house. Don’t ask me why. I have my reasons.

What this means is that I’ve been forced to downsize. My life at the moment is entirely taken up by a process of sorting and selecting, sifting and filtering, going through all the accumulated material of the last ten years and making increasingly hard decisions about what I want to keep, and what I can afford to lose.

On an more fundamental level, I have two large boxes of notebooks containing extensive writings going back fifty years or more: interviews, notes, poems, articles, columns, sketches, unfinished novels, short-stories and incoherent accounts of adventures long past. Much of it is indecipherable rubbish, but there may be some hidden gems in there.

This is where the process really starts to get serious: having to read through all these half-remembered scrawls, in order to select out what might be useful at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, and entirely coincidentally, I am on a diet. This is because I have finally admitted that I am overweight. I’ve spent the last eighteen years denying it, even as the evidence of my ballooning midriff has been contradicting me.

“Look,” I’d say, whenever anyone commented upon my size: “no fat.” And I’d pinch the flesh on my arm, where there is, indeed, no fat. What I didn’t know then is that there is such a thing as visceral fat: that is, fat that forms around the internal organs.

That’s the worst kind of fat. Hidden fat. Dangerous fat. Fat that could kill me.

So I’ve decided to do something about it. The method I’ve chosen is intermittent fasting.

It’s not easy, but it is simple. No counting calories. No tasteless, fat-free, sugar-free food. No Weight Watchers, visits to the gym or obsessive use of weight machines: just moderate exercise and two days a week without food.

I’m choosing to do 36 hour fasts: that is, I eat dinner the evening of the first day, stay off food the next day, and don’t eat till breakfast on the third day. I’ve been doing it for several weeks now.

I’ve also been reading up on the subject. Now here’s the interesting bit.

In fact we are designed to fast. As hunter-gatherers – which is how we lived the first several hundred thousand years of our existence on this planet – there were many lean periods. That’s why we store food up as fat. It’s so we can use it when no food is available.

What’s more, fasting brings on a process called autophagy. That literally means: “to eat yourself”. When you are in fasting mode, your body scours itself for sustenance. It sucks up all the old, dead cells, and the discarded cells, and the rubbish you have stored throughout your body, hoovering it away and making your whole system clean and more efficient.

It’s only in our modern age that our bodies have not had to do this, and it’s one of the reasons we are so unhealthy as a society.

Your body needs to fast, just as a diesel engine needs to run flat-out on the motorway occasionally, in order to burn off the grime.

So there are parallel processes taking place in three areas of my life at the moment. I’m clearing out the cellular rubbish from my body, the physical junk from my home, and the spiritual clutter from my brain, all at the same time.

As to where all this might lead: I’ll let you know.


From The Whitstable Gazette 25/10/18

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  1. Chris, I know how difficult it can be going through years of accumulated writings, notes, etc because I have done this each time I have moved and, this year, in my father’s house. Sometimes I find valuable but forgotten writings. For example, I found the lyrics of a song entitled Usually and it is dated 1980. It is now being recorded for my next album and is a great ‘new’ song!


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