Fasting isn’t a diet.
The literal definition of fasting is to abstain from food and drink from a specific period of time.
It’s been around for thousands of years, as spiritual fasting is a part of many religions. But in this context, I prefer looking at fasting as simply a change in eating patterns.
Fasting – isn’t that starvation?
No. Fasting differs from starvation in one crucial way. Control. Starvation is the involuntary absence of food. It is neither deliberate nor controlled. Fasting, on the other hand, is the voluntary withholding of food for spiritual, health, or other reasons.
Food is easily available, but you choose not to eat it. This can be for any period of time, from a few hours up to days or even weeks on end. You may begin a fast at any time of your choosing, and you may end a fast at will, too. You can start or stop a fast for any reason or no reason at all.
Fasting is nor deprivation. You’re not eating less, you’re eating less often. When you do eat, you eat delicious, healthy foods until you feel satisfied. You won’t have to fear healthy fats, grass-fed meats, organic vegetables, or strategic amounts of healthy carbs. You hold off eating to allow your body to burn its own fat, and then eat until you are full. Does that sound like starvation to you?
Fasting has no standard duration, as it is merely the absence of eating. Anytime that you are not eating, you are fasting. For example, you may fast between dinner and breakfast the next day, a period of approximately 12-14 hours. In that sense, fasting should be considered a part of everyday life. I have been practicing intermittent fasting for 6 month. Now, it is a part of my life.
How does intermittent fasting work?
At its very core, fasting simply allows the body to burn off excess body fat. It is important to realize that this is normal and humans have evolved to fast without detrimental health consequences. Body fat is merely food energy that has been stored away. If you don’t eat, your body will simply “eat” its own fat for energy.
Life is about balance. The good and the bad. The yin and the yang. The same applies to eating and fasting. Fasting, after all, is simply the flip side of eating. If you are not eating, you are fasting. Here’s how it works:
When we eat, more food energy is ingested than can immediately be used. Some of this energy must be stored away for later use. Insulin is the key hormone involved in the storage of food energy.
EAT FOOD——> INCREASE INSULIN ——> STORE SUGAR IN LIVER/PRODUCE FAT IN LIVER
Insulin rises when we eat, helping to store the excess energy in two separate ways. Sugars can be linked into long chains, called glycogen and then stored in the liver. There is, however, limited storage space; and once that is reached, the liver starts to turn the excess glucose into fat. This process is called De-Novo Lipogenesis (meaning literally Making Fat from New).
Some of this newly created fat is stored in the liver, but most of it is exported to other fat deposits in the body. While this is a more complicated process, there is no limit to the amount of fat that can be created. So, two complementary food energy storage systems exist in our bodies. One is easily accessible but with limited storage space (glycogen), and the other is more difficult to access but has unlimited storage space (body fat).
BURN STORED SUGAR/BURN FAT <—— DECREASE INSULIN <—— FASTING/NO FOOD
8 Benefits of Fasting
1. Fasting is an excellent tool for weight loss.
There have been studies that support fasting as an excellent tool for weight loss. One 2015 study found that alternate day fasting trimmed body weight by up to 7 percent and slashed body fat by up to 12 pounds.
Another study, this one out of the University of Southern California, discovered that when 71 adults were placed on a five-day fast (eating between 750 and 1,100 calories a day) once every three months, they lost an average of 6 pounds, reduced inflammation levels and their waistlines and lost total body fat without sacrificing muscle mass. If you want to lose weight and lose belly fat, fasting even irregularly could be the key.
2. Fasting promotes the secretion of human growth hormone.
Human growth hormone, or HGH, is naturally produced by the body, but remains active in the bloodstream for just a few minutes. It’s been effectively used to treat obesity and help build muscle mass, important for burning fat. HGH also helps increase muscle strength, which can help improve your workouts, too. Combine these together and you have an effective fat-burning machine on your hands.
3. Fasting may be good for athletes.
Fasting has been found to have positive effects on body mass as well as other health markers in professional athletes. This is because, as previously mentioned, fasting can effectively shed excess fat, while optimizing muscle growth, because of HGH production. Traditionally, athletes are advised to consume high-quality protein half hour after finishing their workouts (post-workout nutrition) to simultaneously build muscle and reduce fat. Fasting is advised for training days, while eating is encouraged on game days.
4. Fasting is great for normalizing insulin sensitivity.
When your body gets too many carbs and sugar, it can become insulin resistant, which often paves the way for a host of chronic diseases, including type-2 diabetes. If you don’t want to go down this route, it’s critical to keep your body sensitive to insulin. Fasting is an effective way to do this.
A study published in the World Journal of Diabetes found that intermittent fasting in adults with type-2 diabetes improved key markers for those individuals, including their body weight and glucose levels. And another study found that intermittent fasting was as effective as caloric restrictions in reducing visceral fat mass, fasting insulin and insulin resistance. If you’re struggling with pre-diabetes or insulin sensitivity, intermittent fasting can help.
5. Fasting can normalize ghrelin levels.
Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone, because it is responsible for telling your body that it is hungry. Dieting and really restrictive eating can actually increase ghrelin production, which will leave you feeling hungrier. But when you fast, though you might struggle in the first few days, you’re actually normalizing ghrelin levels.
Eventually, you won’t feel hungry just because it’s your usual meal time. Instead, your body will become more adept in discerning when it actually needs food.
6. Fasting can lower triglyceride levels.
When you consume too much bad cholesterol or too much sugar, your triglyceride levels may shoot up, increasing your risk of heart disease. Intermittent fasting actually lowers those bad cholesterol levels, decreasing triglycerides in the process. Another interesting thing to note is that fasting doesn’t affect the levels of good cholesterol in the body.
7. Fasting may slow down the aging process.
While not yet proven in humans, early studies in rats seem to link intermittent fasting with increased longevity. One study found that intermittent fasting decreased body weight and increased the life span in rats. Another found that a group of mice who fasted intermittently actually lived longer than the control group, although they were heavier than the non-fasting mice. Of course, it’s not clear that the same results would happen in humans, but the signs are encouraging.
8. Fasting increases autophagy.
Autophagy’s main roles are: Remove defective proteins and organelles, prevent abnormal protein aggregate accumulation, and remove intracellular pathogens. So, your body has a chance to clear cellular debris and abnormal cells, like cancerous cells.
Precautions Regarding Fasting.
The health benefits of fasting are extremely appealing, but fasting isn’t always for everyone.
You should not fast if you are:
- Underweight (BMI < 18.5)
- Pregnant – you need extra nutrients for your child.
- Breastfeeding – you need extra nutrients for your child.
- A child under 18 – you need extra nutrients to grow.
You can fast, but may need supervision, under these conditions:
- If you have diabetes mellitus – type 1 or type 2.
- If you take prescription medications.
- If you have gout or high uric acid.
However, for most of the population, intermittent fasting can be a really helpful tool in managing your weight and health.
Types of Fasting.
Fasting offers infinite flexibility. You can fast for as long or short as you like, but here are some popular regimens. Generally, shorter fasts are done more frequently.
Shorter fasts (<24hrs)
This involves daily fasting for 16 hours. Sometimes this is also referred to as an 8-hour eating ‘window’. You eat all your meals within an 8-hour time period and fast for the remaining 16 hours. Generally, this is done daily or almost daily.
For example, you may eat all your meals within the time period of 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. Generally, this means skipping breakfast. You generally eat two or three meals within this 8-hour period.
This involves a 4-hour eating window and a 20-hour fast. For example, you might eat between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm every day and fast for the other 20 hours. Generally, this would involve eating either one meal or two smaller meals within this period.
Longer fasts (>24 hours)
This involves fasting from dinner to dinner (or lunch to lunch). If you eat dinner on day 1, you would skip the next day’s breakfast and lunch and eat dinner again on day 2. This means that you are still eating daily, but only once during that day. This would generally be done two to three times per week.
Dr. Michael Mosley popularized this variation in his book ‘The Fast Diet’. This involves 5 regular eating days and 2 fasting days. However, on these two fasting days, it is permitted to eat 500 calories on each day. These calories can be consumed at any time during the day – either spread throughout the day, or as a single meal.
This involves fasting for the entire day. For example, if you eat dinner on day 1, you would fast for all of day 2 and not eat again until breakfast on day 3. This is generally 36 hours of fasting. This provides more powerful weight loss benefit. The other great benefit is that it avoids the temptation to overeat dinner on day 2.
You can fast almost indefinitely. Generally for fasts greater than 48 hours, I recommend a general multivitamin to avoid micronutrient deficiency. The world record for fasting is 382 days, so going 7-14 days is certainly possible.
I have been doing 3 days fasting for about 9 years and now I start extending my fast to 5 days with just water.
Ready to try a fast? Here’s how to make it easier.
1. Decide what type of fast you’re going to do.
I recommend easing in with time-restricted eating, starting with 12 hours of fasting. If that feels good after a few days, you can increase the fast to 14 hours and up to 18; I don’t recommend fasting for longer than that.
Have you fasted before? Then you might want to try a more ambitious fast, like alternate day fasting or few days fasting with a bone broth or just water.
2. Set some goals.
What do you want to accomplish by fasting? Lose weight, be healthier, feel better, have more energy? Write it down and put it in a place you’ll see frequently during your fast.
3. Make a menu and stock the fridge.
Before beginning your fast, decide when you’re eating and what you’ll be eating then. Knowing this in advance takes the pressure off, especially if you feel like you may eat everything in sight “because you can.” As you become more used to fasting, you might find it’s unnecessary to sort out meals beforehand, but I find having a range of healthy food waiting for me in the fridge makes fasting a lot easier.
4. Listen to your body.
Fasting can take some time to get used to, as your body sheds old habits and learns new ones. But listen to your body! If you’re in hour 10 of 16 hours of fasting and feel like you absolutely need a snack, then have healthy one. If your fasting time is up but you’re not hungry yet, wait until you are. There are no hard and fast rules here. You’re not “messing up.” You might find it helpful to jot down a sentence or two each day about how you felt; you might find that certain times of the month or year, different types of fasts work better for you.
Here are the ten top tips for easier fasting:
- Drink water
- Stay busy
- Drink coffee or tea (except on water fast)
- Ride out the hunger waves
- Consume 2 teaspoon of sea salt per day (mix with water) if you experience discomfort
- Don’t tell anybody who is not supportive that you are fasting
- Give yourself one month
- Follow a low-carb diet between fasting periods. This reduces hunger and makes fasting much easier. It mayalso increase the effect on weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal, etc.
- Don’t binge after fasting
If you would like to get more into the science of fasting there is a great book “The Complete Guide to Fasting” by Jason Fung.
Also, you can watch an interview with Dr. Fung.
Have you been fasting for a while and want to challenge yourself? Join me and other health enthusiasts for a 5 days fast “Fasting for a Purpose” on September 23 here.
Do you have more question about fasting? I am here to help and support you.
To your health and happiness.