By Tina Paymaster, PHASE IV Functional Nutrition & Health Specialist
The word Fast is defined as “abstaining from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.”
Fasting was a huge buzz word in 2017 and continues to be popular going into 2018. However, it’s actually an ancient healing practice that has been practiced by virtually all cultures and religions for thousands of years!
The most common uses of fasting are for religious observances or health. The ancient Greeks that fasting was the ideal natural way to heal. Just like animals don’t eat when they are sick, humans shouldn’t either. Think of the last time you were sick with a cold or the flu. The last thing you probably wanted to do was eat a ton of food. This is your body’s natural way of healing you. On a more spiritual level, fasting has been seen as a cleansing or purification tool.
At the end of the day, whether one fasts to get better or more spiritually connected, the benefits to the body and mind remain the same:
Some of the most common benefits include:
- Weight loss through ketosis
- Improved concentration/brain function
- Prolonged life
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Prevention of insulin resistance
- Decreased blood sugar
- Improved heart health
- Improves digestion
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol profile
- Boosted immune response
- Decreased inflammation
Many of benefits of fasting are the result of the body getting a break from trying to digest food. Poor diet, high stress and impaired digestive function can all contribute to a myriad of heath conditions. When you support digestion – where 85% of your immune system lies – you support overall health. In addition, when the body gets a severe reduction in carbohydrates and calories in general, as we discussed with the ketogenic diet last week, it begins using fat as its main source of fuel, which not only supports weight loss, but also detoxification as toxins are stored in fat cells. Good bye brain fog and inflammation!
Not so fast though! Not all fasting approaches are the same. It’s important to do your research and speak to a doctor or health professional if you are considering going on one.
Under this category, the two most popular liquid fasts are juice fasts and water fasts. With a juice fast you drink anywhere from 3-6 fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juices a day. These fasts can be as short as one day or as long as twenty one days. A water fast is exactly what it sounds like. You only drink water for 24-72 hours. This type of fast is on the more extreme side and should definitely be run by a medical professional if you’ve never done one.
In this popular fast, you consume a mixture of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for 10 days straight. Nothing more. It’s purported benefits include weight loss and shedding excess body fat, however, make sure to check out the potential dangers to fasting below before loading up on lemons.
In a partial fast, you restrict certain foods or food categories. There are many variations of partial fasts such as the Daniel Fast, the mono-diet apple fast or the kitchari cleanse (popular in Ayurvedic healing)
Going for extended periods without any food at all is the crux of intermittent fasting and I’ve had a ton of clients come in asking me if they should try it. It’s important to remember that we all do intermittent fasting every day – when we sleep and in between meals. The intermittent fasting most people have come to know today though is one that includes extended periods of complete fasting. There are several different variations of this practice. There is the 16/8 method where you fast for 16 hours of the day and eat during the remaining 8 hours. That would look like finishing dinner at 6pm and not eating again until the next day at 10am. A slightly modified version of this is fasting for 12 hours overnight. The 5/2 method means eating normally for 5 days and then restricting daily food consumption for 2 days to 500-600 calories. Then there is alternate day fasting where you either completely fast or eat around 500 calories every other day. Lastly, there is once-a-week fasting, where you fast once or twice a week.
The ketogenic diet is a “fasting-mimicking” diet, which means that you eat food, however the body goes into a ketosis because of restriction of carbohydrates. Read more on the pros and cons of the ketogenic diet here.
Sure there are many more fasts, but you get the point.
Potential dangers of fasting
While there are numerous benefits to some type of fasting, each approach needs to be evaluated on an individual level, based on the person’s health, needs and goals. Prolonged fasting can lead to serious health issues. Dehydration is a common one because when we eat less, we typically drink less water too. Making sure you are consuming adequate fluids is extremely important in supporting your body in flushing out waste and toxins. For many people, the constant increase and decrease in calorie consumption as well as needing to stick to the fasts 100% can cause a tremendous amount of stress.
Research has also shown that restricting calories for long periods of time can slow down your metabolism and it can take anywhere from 8-12 (or even more) weeks to reset it. In addition to this, not feeding your body enough food can cause loss of muscle mass because your body will begin to tap into whatever stores it can to make energy.
All of this stress on the body can lead to poor sleep and fatigue. Low energy is also caused by your body not getting enough food to fuel your daily activities. In addition, when the body is not getting enough food, it will turn down the production of stomach acid, which can cause nasuea, vomiting and other digestive issues. When you start eating again, it can go the complete opposite way, causing heartburn.
Fasting can certainly be a great tool to use if approached in the right way. If you’re overwhelmed by what dietary approach may be right for you, come speak with me. Book a complementary 30-minute consultation by calling us at 310-582-8212 or email me directly at email@example.com