Fasting is the willing reduction or abstinence from some amount of or all food, drink, or both, for a particular period of time. Although it’s viewed as unhealthy practice sometimes, or reserved for religious reasons but short-term fasting can offer excellent health benefits. Fasting is becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate means of managing weight and preventing disease. At the same time, it is important that fasting is done by following proper and healthy ways.
TYPES OF FASTING
TIME RESTRICTED FEEDING
This is the process of limiting your calorie intake to a specific timeframe that aligns with our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is often referred to as our “body clock”, it’s the natural cycle that tells our body when to sleep, rise, eat, etc. Having your meals only during an 8 to 12 hour period each day while you’re fasting, for example between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is an example of aligning with your circadian rhythm. Our body systems work better when synchronized with one another, midnight snacking when our body usually sleeps throws our natural repair system out of sync. In addition, giving our bodies more time to heal is beneficial for our health.
INTERMITTENT CALORIE RESTRICTION
The practice of reducing the number of calories consumed per day. Research has focused on a two-day diet where calories are reduced in half and carbohydrates are limited for two consecutive days in a week. This approach of fasting puts the body through short and intensive therapy. The intermittent calorie restriction approach also tells us that we do not need to keep consuming constantly. But when we do consume, we should choose wisely and continue normal activities and exercise with reduced fuel or food intake.
PERIODIC FASTING WITH FASTING MIMICKING DIET
In this calorie intake is limited for three to five days, making the cells to deplete glycogen stores and begin ketosis. Though, this can be done without eating food, but it isn’t considered the safest option. So, a specific five-day calorie-limited diet (around 1,000 calories per day) is sufficient to mimic fasting without depleting nutrients. This method is considered superior to the two-day fast, allowing the body to enter ketosis and begin a true cleansing.
BENEFITS OF FASTING
HELPS YOU LOOSE WEIGHT
Individuals looking to lose some weight, fasting is one of the quickest and safest ways to get there. Normally, when we eat, our body burns the food we eat to provide fuel to the body.
Any extra food that is not used up as fuel, is converted into fats and stored within the body for future use. This is what leads to weight gain.
But when we start fasting, there is less food to convert into energy, therefore, our body is forced to start converting the stored fats into energy or fuel. This process is known as lipolysis.
One of the greatest advantages of fasting for losing weight is that it is more effective in burning fat cells as compared to regular dieting.
Fasting burns fat cells without affecting your muscle tissue, that’s why many athletes use fasting as a means to achieve low body fat percentages prior to competitions.
There are several studies on fasting which has found it one of the most effective and most reliable long term solutions for weight loss and weight maintenance.
This might seem a little bit farfetched, fasting do help you live longer. There are a lot of reasons how and why fasting can help us live a longer life.
- The first one has to do with metabolism. With the age our body’s metabolism starts slowing down, which leads to the gradual loss of muscle tissue through a process known as sarcopenia Fortunately, fasting is there to help us, it speed up our metabolism and therefore prevents these degenerative changes and loss of muscle tissue.
- Secondly, with age, our body cells also grow older and their overall performance decreases. There occurs an accumulation of old cellular material within the cell. This decreased performance of old cells and the accumulation of old cellular debris within the cell is the cause which leads to aging.
- The deprivation of nutrients that occurs during fasting activates the process of autophagy. This is the process through which the old cellular material within the cells are identified and broken down. It also allows the cells to recycle themselves and rejuvenates the mitochondria, allowing the cells to perform normally once again.
- Fasting also stimulates the release of growth hormone, which leads to increased bone strength, increased muscle mass and better protein synthesis.
All the above mentioned effects slow down the process of aging, both internally and in your physical appearance.
Detoxification of the body is another impressive benefit of fasting.
- The processed foods we eat today contain lots of additives, some of which are toxic to our bodies. As this processed food is digested and absorbed into the body, these additives are also absorbed into the body and stored in fat deposits around the body.
- During fasting, our brain treats the nutritional deprivation as a threat and it activates adaptive stress responses and starts contemplating how to provide the body with energy in the absence of food.
- To ensure our metabolism keeps running, our brain initiates the conversion of glycogen stored within the liver into energy or fuel. But glycogen is not a very good source of energy and after about 12 hours, the glycogen deposits are depleted.
- So, at this point, the body needs to find an alternative source of energy, therefore, it turns to the fat stored within various parts of the body. As the fat deposits are burnt to provide energy, the toxins stored within the fat cells are released.
- After this these toxins are removed from the body by the liver, kidneys and other organs, leaving our body free of accumulated toxins.
Having a weak digestive system affects your ability to metabolize food and burn fat. But fasting to the rescue, it helps in boosting our metabolism.
- When we fast intermittently, we provide time for our digestive system to get some rest.
- When we eat next after our digestive system has gotten the proper rest, our metabolism receives a boost, which means our body burns calories more efficiently and gets more energy from the food you eat.
- This is one of the reasons why fasting is a contributor in safe weight loss.
- Intermittent fasting also greatly encourages healthy bowel function.
IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTIONING
It turns out fasting is not only great for your body, it is good for your brain too!
It improves your brain function in a number of ways.
- First, it boosts the production of a brain hormone known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Release of BDNF activates stem cells within the brain and converts them into neurons.
- BDNF also triggers the release of several other chemicals that are good for your brain’s health.
- Increased production of BDNF protect the brain cells from the degenerative changes that are associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and low levels of BDNF have been associated with anxiety, worry, depression and several other brain problems.
- Apart from the production of BDNF, fasting also improves brain function by reducing over-activity in the brain. Because sometimes, the energy from the type of food you have eaten, can result in our brain going into a bit of an overdrive. In this state, there is too much firing off in the brain, which isn’t a good thing generally. It causes difficulty in focusing.
- During fasting, brain goes into survival mode, it leads to increased ability to focus on the tasks at hand.
- Fasting is also associated with reduction in oxidative stress, reduced blood sugar levels, reduced insulin resistance, as well as reduced inflammation, all of these are good for the health of the brain.
BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM
Have you ever noticed that when an animal falls sick, he/she stops eating? Have you ever wondered why they do it?
- It’s their natural instinct through which the animals try to reduce the stress on their internal systems and they focus their energy on battling the infection troubling their body. Therefore, next time when you fall sick, you need to resist the temptation to look for food and instead focus on fasting.
- As we now know, fasting triggers the regeneration of old cells within the body. This also includes cells that are part of our immune system. This rejuvenation of the body cells leads to improved immune function.
- There was this one study which showed a three day fast can lead to the regeneration of the entire immune system and therefore production of totally brand new white blood cells which have a stronger ability to fight against the diseases.
- Breaking the fast with fruits can boost our immune system even further, as it provides you’re the body with a source of essential vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamins A and E which are great antioxidants.
IMPROVES SKIN HEALTH AND PREVENTS ACNE
If you are the type of person who is tired of trying cream after cream to make your skin look better, you might as well try fasting, you’d be surprised to see the results.
How does this happen?
Fasting has a number of effects that help improve your skin.
- First and foremost, fasting gives our body a break from digestion, allowing it to expend more energy on regulating and improving the function of others organs such as the liver, the kidneys, and the skin.
- Fasting also helps the body to get rid of toxins that might be contributing to skin conditions by the means of autophagy. It happens to all the cells in the body, including our skin cells.
- When we fast, our body regenerates the cells that make up our skin and eliminates the accumulated dead cell debris, thus contributing to a better looking, younger looking healthier skin.
- This regeneration even contributes to faster healing of scars.
- Fasting helps reduce inflammation, which is one of the causative agents behind some skin conditions like acne. In addition to skin, fasting also contributes to healthy and strong hair and nails and whitens our eyes.
So, all in all, we can happily say fasting not only improves how you feel, it also improves how you look.
IMPROVES INSULIN SENSTIVITY
Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common in last 2 decades.
This condition is characterized by reduced insulin sensitivity, which leads to increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
- When you eat, normally, the food leads to an increase in the levels of sugar in your blood. In response to this the pancreas produces insulin, which initiates the absorption of glucose (sugar in the blood) from the blood by fat and muscle cells of the body, this glucose is used for energy then. This is how insulin keeps blood sugar levels in check.
- However, in some cases, the body’s sensitivity to insulin may reduce and body needs more and more insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels.
- The cells of the pancreas which responsible for insulin production become overworked and they start wearing out. Therefore, eventually, it becomes impossible for our body to produce enough insulin to keep the sugar levels in check, leading to spike in blood sugar levels and development of type 2 DM.
- But through intermittent fasting, people with insulin resistance can increase their sensitivity to insulin.
- When we fast, the body uses up the glucose in the blood and the liver since it has no other source of energy, therefore, helps to lower the blood sugar levels.
In addition to this, insulin becomes more effective at triggering the absorption of glucose by the muscle and fat cells after we break our fast, as some of the excess glucose stored in your body is already used up.
PREVENTS THE RISK OF CANCER
I know, I know this might sound too good to be true but, fasting actually can help reduce the growth of tumors and the spread of cancer in the body. It can stop the unwanted, uncontrolled growth of cells.
We earlier saw that fasting helps the body to eliminate some toxins from the cells. The absence of toxic substances within the cells reduces the risk of formation of cancer within the cells.
Fasting is also quite helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy. It helps to suppress the many side effects associated with chemotherapy as it boosts immunity.
HELPS PREVENT HEART DISEASES
Now as we already know that fasting can help in lowering the risk of developing type 2 DM, So, this is important to know because people who suffer from diabetes have an increased risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
During fasting, the body also burns up some of the LSD cholesterol in the body to provide fuel.
This is good thing because LSD cholesterol is a major contributor to decreased insulin sensitivity and diabetes, and it also contributes to increase in blood pressure, both of these are risk factors for developing heart disease.
Fasting also reduces several other risk factors which can lead to heart diseases, such as blood sugar levels, inflammatory markers and blood triglycerides.