Fasting is a practice that gives rest to the digestive system. It is one of the cheapest modes of treatment. It cleans, repairs, accelerates healing, and purifies the mind and body. Continue reading to discover how to fast and fasting benefits.
Hippocrates, "To eat when you're sick is to fuel your illness."
I just came off 90 hours of fasting as I write this. I'm so proud of myself for going through it without straining.
I received questions through social media asking how long and often, how I fast, and why I fast. While these questions are personal, I'll try in this post to help you with information on how to fast, why, and the health benefits of fasting.
What is fasting?
Fasting has become a buzz in the past few years. Unfortunately, one can be easily misled by lots of information surrounding fasting!
Fasting can be defined as any time you are not consuming any food or drinks. While you are sleeping, for example, you are fasting. That's why the 1st meal of the day is known as breakfast; it breaks the fast.
However, people perform longer fasting beyond one night and for different reasons. People fast for health, rituals, religion, or ethical purposes. If you've ever been very sick or mourning, you might have found yourself going naturally into a fast due to Loss of appetite.
For centuries, fasting has been used therapeutically. Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) introduced fasting to patients who were very sick. Today, in the health field, fasting is used by many (me included) to reduce inflammation, accelerate healing, lose weight, and halt aging.
There are many fasting benefits, as you'll discover below.
Types of fasting
Fasting & starvation are two different terms commonly confused with each other.
Starvation means not eating or drinking altogether and can be influenced by natural phenomenon while fasting is a personal choice and can be broken anytime.
There are different types of fasting with different ways to perform them;
- Dry fast: This type of fasting consists of completely avoiding food and drink. A good example is Ramadan, where people don't eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. This type of fasting should be done with caution if it exceeds a day. Otherwise, it can be dangerous!
- Water fast: This is where you avoid eating or drinking anything else but water. However, you can drink herbal tea, plain coffee, or tea. Make sure they don't contain any sugar. I practice water fast several times a year.
- Juice fast: It's much easier to do juice fasting compared to water fasting! Juice fasting can be prolonged for a longer time. It's a great way to nourish the cells. Juice fasting is perfect for someone who's very ill and can't eat any solid food. However, you can't get into ketones or autophagy like in water fast.
- A meal a day (OMAD): As the name indicates, you only eat one meal a day, then fast for 23 hours. Of course, you've to drink a lot during the fasting hours. For better results, stick to water or plain herbal tea.
- IF (Intermittent Fasting): This has become a buzz on the internet! IF consists of having a window where you eat whatever you want and fast the day's remaining hours. Let's imagine your eating window is from 11 am to 2 pm; during this period, you eat, and then at 2 pm, you stop eating till 11 am the next day. Some people do consider eating 3 meals a day and not snacking in between as a type of IF.
- Ayurveda fasting: It doesn't necessarily mean going without food, but rather choosing to eat clean and light food, thus avoiding any food that can cause harm to the body.
Why should you consider fasting?
Fasting has a lot of health benefits, whether you want to drop some pounds or seek healing.
If you have been struggling with a disease like diabetes, pain, allergies, or autoimmune health issues, fasting (if done correctly) will help restore your body. It doesn't mean you'll be healed within 3 days! But it is a starting point where you give your body a break and time to repair itself.
Ben Franklin, "The best of all medicines is rest & fasting."
How long should you fast?
It really depends on you. If you've never gone a day without food, start with an ayurvedic fast, then you can do IF before doing a water fast.
How to prepare for a water fast.
Some people like going cold turkey on things. I used to go on fast with a tap of my fingers! It's not a good way to enter fasting because the body and brain aren't prepared, and you might experience negative signs that can make you hate fasting.
- Plan ahead, be mindful, and talk with your family about it. Eat a high-protein meal that will take you hours as you prepare yourself mentally that you'll not be eating for a while.
- Refrain from fasting while working on a project demanding mental work, effort, or while traveling.
- If you've got a family and are the only one who can cook, do meal prep.
- Ensure you do not have tempting foods, like cakes, fresh fruits, pizza, etc., that you can quickly grab when hunger pangs start knocking.
- I like drinking hot water instead of cold water. I feel filled up and less hungry. (Try it out and let me know your observations).
How do you break water fast?
If you do a 3 or more days water fast, you'll need to refeed your body slowly because it has stayed for some time without digesting anything.
Ideally, break your water fast with liquid foods like a light smoothie, broth, soup, or compote.
Avoid empty carbohydrates and highly sugary foods at all costs. Proteins require much time to be digested, so you should avoid them to break the fast.
18 Health benefits of fasting
After 3 days of fasting, it's incredible how you can feel strong and not hungry! The body and mind work together, releasing hormones to enhance and support you during this period.
The following is a list of benefits you can achieve if you do a proper water fast for at least 3 days;
- Increase of BDNT (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor): It's a protein found in the brain and promotes the growth of neurons, among others.
- Autophagy: It's a process of self-consumption. The cell cleans itself up, reusing the old protein and nonessential components for energy. In other words, the cell rejuvenates itself. Autophagy kicks in after 24 hours of fasting.
- Repair: With autophagy, the body starts healing by repairing itself. You'll notice this first with your skin becoming smooth. (In some cases, you can have skin break out. It's normal. It's a sign that your body is detoxifying).
- Mitophagy: It's the process of removing damaged mitochondria through autophagy.
- Increase of Insulin Sensitivity: If you have diabetes, fasting for 3 or more days decreases circulating insulin and glucose since there's no sugar coming in.
- Reduced inflammation: Fasting has an anti-inflammatory effect, and since most of the inflammation is protein-related, you'll experience an anti-inflammatory effect. (This has often helped me reduce Rheumatoid Arthritis and allergy flares).
- Regeneration of the immune system: Longer fasting can stimulate the production of new white blood cells.
- Benefits the gut microbiome: This can happen when the pathogenic microbes are starved to death.
- DNA repair: Autophagy promotes DNA repair.
- Higher Stem cell count: A study on mice concluded that fasting stimulates and regenerates stem cells.
- Weight loss: Since you've no food coming in, your body will transform stored fat to glucose for energy, making you lose some pounds.
- Reduction of anxiety and depression: Fasting helps elevate moods and has anti-depressant effects.
- Detoxifying: Fasting is considered as a form of detoxification.
- Anti-aging: Fasting activates autophagy, which helps to slow down the aging process and has a positive impact on cell renewal
- Creates an Inner feeling of well-being: This sensation is mainly felt on day 3 of fasting, like the adage "after the storm comes the calm." You'll feel calm, at peace, and energetic without hunger pangs!
- Reduce fatty liver disease: When fasting, the liver transforms stored fat into energy (gluconeogenesis). It starts with the fat already available in the liver.
- Think clearly: Fasting increases awareness, memory, and alertness.
Fasting and detoxification.
When fasting, especially water fasting, your body cleans and repairs itself, which is considered a form of detoxification.
To ensure that your body is expelling everything, like heavy metals and harmful pathogens, ensure your detoxifying organs are working optimally.
Your detoxifying organs are the kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, digestive tract, and lymphatic system.
What do you do during the fasting period?
Generally, the 1st day will pass well, especially if you practice IF. Things start getting rough on the 2nd day.
- Make sure to keep your brain busy. Otherwise, it will be hooting hunger every other minute, even when you are not really hungry.
- This could be a great time to read that amazing book you've left on the shelf for months! Or it's time to tend to your plants/garden. What about knitting, painting, or drawing? You can journal your experience.
- Drink a lot of water and herbal tea without adding any sweeteners.
- Take supplements. Only minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes if you are fasting for longer than 3 days.
"A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors." Mark Twain.
Things not to do when water fasting
While fasting will be easy when you get used to it, starting off can be very challenging!
- Definitely, this isn't the time to visit or invite family and friends.
- Even if you love cooking, it's not time to bake or cook cakes and biscuits. Avoid tempting foods like pasta, rice, or pizzas.
- Avoid going or passing in front of bakery shops, restaurants, and pizza huts!
- If you have to do shopping, avoid groceries, and if you have to go there, have a list of things to buy and stick to it. Leave your bank card at home and, whenever possible, only carry the exact amount of money for groceries.
- Avoid watching TV or food-related channels. There's no need to subject yourself to such temptations.
Disclaimer: This article is ONLY informative! You're at best to judge if you can do fasting or not. You should NEVER go on fast if you're pregnant, on medication, malnourished, or have anorexia. If you've diabetes, seek a health practitioner to help you on your fasting journey.
I do offer 1:1 nutrition coaching. Email me if you'd like to take your health to the next level.
Remember, you've got the power to heal yourself, Githu.