What is Fasting?
Fasting is not starvation. Fasting is merely the absence of eating.
Fasting is the restriction of caloric intake for health/spiritual purposes.
Fasting has no standard duration and you can tailor it to fit any schedule and lifestyle. If you are not eating, you are fasting it is that simple.
We fast naturally when we sleep.
This is actually the origin of the word, breakfast. When we eat in the morning we break the fast of the night.
So in a way, everyone fast daily without even realizing it. Fasting is not something abnormal or strange. Fasting is actually a part of everyday, normal, and healthy lifestyles.
Fasting is not a new concept either. People have been fasting for actual centuries. However, lately, fasting has seen a reemergence to the health and wellness scene because of its incredible effects on various diseases, obesity, and aging.
It seems so weird to most people. How does not eating actually benefit you? Well, as it turns out there are hundreds and hundreds of benefits to not eating.
Effects of Fasting
The obvious effect of fasting that most people think of is fat loss. The fat loss occurs from the body being forced to call upon the fat cells stored in the body as energy sources. Once your body has consumed the fat cells, it will let you know that it needs more fuel so it’s time to eat again.
However, the majority of people who fast do not do it for weight loss. Instead, they fast for the other million plus reasons fasting is healthy for the body. Here are a few of them.
Lowers the risk for coronary artery disease (the leading cause of death in America)
Lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol levels
Releases ketones in the body
Releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin (feel-good hormones)
Preserves muscles by using fat for energy
Detoxifies the body’s store-up of metals and toxins
Regenerates immune cells
BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) lowers
HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) levels increase (this is a good cholesterol)
Brain uses ketones instead of glucose for fuel,
Oxidative stress decreases
Limitation of oxygen free radicals
Human Growth Hormone levels increase
Gene expression leading to longevity
Reduces insulin resistance
Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes
Inflammation reduction in the body
Increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (which a deficiency can be seen in depression)
Leads to protection against strokes
Risks of Fasting
Although, it may appear that fasting is the literal cure-all for everything. Fasting does have a lot of grey areas. Although I have sourced most of those effects with scientific journals confirming their accuracy. There is still a lot of debate over the authenticity of fasting claims.
There are also a lot of risks for fasting. The body often becomes dehydrated since the consumer is no longer getting water from the foods they would’ve eaten.
The first days of fasting, especially if you have never fasted before, often cause a lot of stress for your body as it becomes accustomed to the lack of food. This usually results in a lot of headaches, moodiness, lightheadedness, and sleep disruption.
There is also this hidden feeling of anything goes now that one starts to fast. If your body is doing all the dirty work during a fast, then it is ok to eat dirty during the feeding days. This is often a major flaw of fasting for beginners. Their bodies will crave foods and beginners will cave in and gorge on unhealthy foods during cheat days knowing their body will clean it up during a fast.
Fasting is not a long-term weight-loss routine if you are not also eating healthy and exercising.
Fasting too much can cause a person to enter into a state of starvation if the person does not listen to their body. If a person is determined to enter into a long fast, but their body is not ready for one. The body will cannibalize itself and the risk of starvation is very real.
Starvation is the involuntary absence of food. When you starve, your body wants food and needs to eat, but you are either unable to eat or refuse to eat. When you fast your body naturally is not hungry, and it will let you know when it needs to eat. It is important to listen to those signs of when your body needs nutrition versus when your body is just hungry.
This risk usually only comes into play during a long fast when the body runs out of resources to use as fuel and has to start consuming muscle for protein (typically around the walls of the heart) often resulting in heart failure and starvation.
Any extreme long-term fast should always be done with the assistance of a medical physician and only for medical purposes.
As always if you have any concerns with your health always consult a doctor.
Types of Fasting
There is an almost endless supply of fasting regimens. These are the main types of fasting that affect the body and mind in a healthy way.
The first type is a complete alternate day fasting. This type of regimen involves alternating fasting days where you consume no foods and eating days where you eat normally.
The second type is a modified fasting regimen. Modified fasting is limiting the amount of food consumption to around 20-25% on fasting days. This is the root of the 5:2 diet, where you fast two days of the week and eat normally for the other 5.
The third type is a time-restricted fast. This type of regimen involves eating only during a set time window of the day. This induces a fasting period on a routine daily basis.
Lastly, we have religious fasting. I included this because it is the origin of fasting while also staying prevalent in today’s society due to the religious purposes. Some examples of this are fasting during days of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church or fasting during Ramadan in the Islamic religion.
How to Fast Safely
If you want to try fasting I would suggest two things.
First, try going a day without eating. The first day is often the hardest day. Your body is accustomed to eating and receiving energy from food instead of using the natural stores in your body. Fasting breaks the norm and forces the body to transition from it. This will result in hunger pains as your body has to adapt to using stored up fat cells for energy.
If you are unable to make it an entire day, then just work on slowly building up over a couple weeks with lots of normal eating days in between each attempt to reach a full day. This is important because it will be tempting to give up quickly as your body screams at you for not eating.
After doing a couple one-day fasts, hopefully, you will become used to the feelings of hunger and your body will be used to switching between fasting and eating regimens.
Second, try doing a simple 5:2 diet. This is where you limit your caloric intake for 2 days and eat normally for 5 days.
Once again, it is important to build up to a 2 day a week fast. If you aren’t a marathon runner, then don’t expect to run a marathon with a practicing first. If you don’t build up to the fast, then you will probably get burned out really quickly.
If the 5:2 is not working for you due to scheduling or some other reason, go ahead and try a time restriction fasting. Personally, this is the type of fasting I practice the most often.
There are a lot of different time restriction periods, I found that the 16:8 is the best one for myself, but you may need to experiment with others to find the one that fits your body and schedule the best. The 16:8 is an easy time-restriction fast to follow. You fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours each day. Most of the 16 hours can be knocked out in your sleep. The remaining hours can either be picked up by dropping a meal, typically breakfast or dinner.
I transition into time restriction fasting only after my body was well adjusted to fasting. Now my body knows exactly what to do during those 16 hours of fasting. For the other 8 hours, I am just a normal healthy conscientious consumer.
It is very important to give your body time to adjust to a type of fasting.
Also, it is very important to listen to your body during a fast and to not push yourself too hard.
These are the videos and articles that got me started with fasting. I would suggest watching/reading them if you are at all interested in fasting.