BENEFITS OF FASTING:
Patrick Healey, N.D.
Fasting is a timeless and ancient practice used both for religious reasons and health benefits. It is one of the only therapies that is accessible to everyone and actually saves you money when you do it! One thing to note is that fasting is NOT starving. Fasting is a state where the body supports itself with its stored reserves. The entire system focuses on elimination of excess and damaged tissue and retained waste products that it was not able to break down or eliminate during its feeding state. Starvation occurs when the abstinence of food/nutrients goes well beyond the body’s stored reserves or drops to dangerously low levels.
There are many ways of fasting – intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, water only, dry fasting (no food or drink)and liquid only fasting (bone and vegetable broths). Another method is using nutrient-rich juices only, but we typically don’t recommend this as there can be really high sugar in the juices which can counteract the benefits of a fast for certain populations.
However you choose to fast, the underlying benefits are to give your body a break from digesting food so that it can focus its energy on rejuvenating and revitalizing itself – “cleaning house” so to speak. It takes 10-30% of the body’s energy expenditure to digest and absorb food. If you are not eating, then the body can use that energy expenditure elsewhere in the body to repair and renew itself.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF FASTING
- Improved memory and concentration
- Reduced inflammation
- Enhance immune function
- Increasing healing ability
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Reduced blood pressure and lower heart-rate
- Decreased atherosclerosis
- Increased fat burning
- Improved liver function
- Improved organ function and increased longevity
WHAT TO EXPECT
Water fasting is one of the most beneficial forms of fasting, but it can also be a more intense form, especially if you are a beginner and/or are highly toxic or ill. If you are a beginner or have complex medical issues, we would advise that extended water fasting (>3 days) only be done under the care and guidance of your physician.
When you first start water fasting for 3 days or longer, you will likely be hungry the first 2-3 days as your body uses up its energy stores and gets used to not having any food or calories. By day 3 hunger usually disappears and an increase in mental clarity, energy, and improvement in your body’s detoxification systems appear. During the fast, you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms such as hunger, irritability, headaches, low energy, brain fog, insomnia, and others. Generally these are signs the body is still getting used to not having any food, as well as signs of cleansing and detoxification. During a fast the body performs autophagy (Latin for “self-eating”). Autophagy is a natural process of breaking down unneeded or damaged cellular components in order to recycle building blocks, repair the body, and get rid of old cells. This is extremely beneficial for the body and helps keep the body young, vibrant, and functioning optimally!
One of the most important factors in fasting is how you come out of the fast. This includes making sure you are eating high-quality fats or protein and not overeating too soon before your digestion is back online. This becomes extremely important for fasts lasting longer than 3 days. It is vitally important you break the fast well so you do not cause more problems for yourself. This is why it is best to work with a practitioner knowledgeable about your health history before doing any extended fasting.
Most people can safely do intermittent fasting (IF) and other types of fasting ranging from 1-3 days without a healthcare practitioner’s supervision. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who are malnourished or underweight, those under 18 years of age, those with gout, blood sugar issues (Type 1 Diabetes), those on medications, and those with serious medical conditions should not undertake a fast before checking with their healthcare provider familiar with fasting.
HOW TO GET STARTED
One of the simplest forms of fasting is known as intermittent fasting (IF), where you stop eating for at least 13-18 hours between dinner of one day and breakfast of the next day. For example, you would stop eating at 6:00PM (16:00) and not eat again until at least 7:00AM (07:00) the next day. As you get used to this, you may want to extend this fasting window to 16 or 18 hours, even if it is for only a couple days a week. This way of fasting and eating allows the body to get a break from digesting food, improve glucose metabolism, lower insulin, and increase human growth hormone to name a few potential benefits.
There are numerous benefits to fasting no matter what type you do. It is freely accessible to everyone and just about anyone can do it. Unless you fall into the special populations mentioned above, who should be cautious or avoid fasting, start your journey to optimal health today and start incorporating fasting so you can experience the benefits of flourishing without!
SUPPORTS FOR FASTING
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
- The Complete Guide to Fasting – Jason Fung, M.D.
- Fasting and Eating for Health – Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
- The Fasting Diet – Steven Bailey, N.D.