Fasting is becoming a popular dietary protocol despite it having nothing to do with eating food at all. Contrary to common believe, fasting is no novel approach. In fact, fasting has been around as long as man has and there have even been references to this practice in the bible. Ben Franklin was even quoted saying, “the best of all medicine is resting and fasting.” This is because the art of fasting can not only be healthy but also therapeutic. Let’s start from the beginning.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is the avoidance of food and in some cases liquid for a certain period of time. Typically, fasting involved only consuming water to stay hydrated however, there are other fasting protocols that exist which we will go over in greater detail later. Fasting can provide great benefit ranging from cognitive performance to body composition and many more between.
How Long Do You Fast For?
There are actually many different fasting protocols. Early studies looking at fasting were monitoring what happens when humans refrain from consuming foods for days, weeks, or in some cases even months at a time! While there are people out there who still use more extreme fasting protocols today, the majority of people take a much more modest approach which is referred to as intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the periodic restriction of food consumption. Typically, this consists of a 16-20 hour fasting and a 4-8 hour eating window. Some individuals may choose to take this approach on a daily basis while others may choose to do this several times per week.
While intermittent fasting is probably the most common fasting method we see today, there are other fasting protocols that you may find in the literature such as alternate day fasting which is one full day of fasting followed by a day of eating.
Regardless of your approach, it has been found that fasting is very beneficial to the human body. One of the reasons why this strategy is gaining so much popularity because of the many different benefits that it can provide!
What Are the Benefits of Fasting?
As mentioned previously, there are many different benefits of fasting. Different individuals may experience different benefits as well as different magnitudes of each benefit. Let’s touch now on some of the important benefits!
Fasting can allow for some degree of ketone production depending on the length of the fast. A longer fast will lead to greater ketone production than a shorter one. If you are following a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet then fasting may contribute to greater ketone production. Ketones can provide an array of benefits themselves including increased energy!
One of my personal favorite benefits of fasting is the increased cognitive focus. When a healthy individual fasts, they lower their blood glucose an increase their ketone production. Another way ketones can provide benefit is by being a fuel source for the brain. Additionally, the lowering and stabilizing of blood glucose can prevent lethargy like you may experience following a high carbohydrate breakfast.
Fasting can have a profound effect on weight loss. When we restrict our bodies from food, we have to tap into our stored energy to keep our body functioning. For the healthy individual, this is likely stored body fat. Not only are you burning body fat but you are also likely eating fewer calories. Typically, we see that if you are restricting yourself from eating for a large window, then you incidentally consume fewer calories which can further contribute to weight loss.
This benefit may seem like a big surprise since we automatically assume that fasting will lead to a huge appetite. The truth is, at first it might. But once you are used to fasting it is very common to experience satiety or fullness during the fasting period. There are many proposed mechanisms at play but one may be the stabilizing of blood sugar
Inflammation is one of the primary factors contributing to many of the chronic diseases we see today. Fasting has been shown to decrease certain markers of inflammation. This could be due in part to reduced blood glucose but also due to anti-inflammatory mechanism of ketones.
Fasting can even improve your overall heart health. Studies have found that blood markers such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides tend to lower when following a fasting routine.
One of the biggest effects fasting could have is on insulin resistance. When you fast, blood glucose lowers which in turn lowers pancreatic insulin output. This is very important since insulin resistance is caused by chronic elevated insulin and can be a major contributor to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
You may be surprised to hear that fasting can even provide benefit to the individual suffering from cancer. Research suggests that cancer can feed on glucose which means limiting it availability to the cancer cell is important. Remember, fasting can reduce blood glucose which in turn reduces the preferred fuel supply of the cancer cell. Additionally, research has found that fasting in conjunction with cancer treatments like radiation can increase the effectiveness of the treatment.
How Do I Start Fasting?
After reading the benefits of fasting, you may be on board with giving it a try!
You are likely wondering where to start.
I recommend starting small.
Start with a 14-16 hour fast every other day and see how you react.
Since fasting can require some adapting to get used to, you may find that you are having a hard time at first. However, if you stick to it you will find that it becomes much easier! Once you start getting used to fasting and experiencing some of the benefits like reduced hunger, improved cognition, and increased energy, you will be much more likely to adhere to the plan and eventually even push to more intense fasting protocols. Just remember that fasting does not have to be an everyday thing so be sure to give yourself a break when you need it!
References: Marks Daily Apple on Fasting.