Fasting: it’s a hot topic today, and one that is relatively difficult to navigate. There is a wealth of emerging research on the methods and benefits of fasting. There are also a myriad of fasting methods to incorporate into your holistic eating program.
However, the scientific perspective on holistic eating is always muddled. Some people are staunch proponents of complete water fasts. Others claim complete fasts are dangerous and opt for intermittent fasting instead. Different people recommend different macronutrient consumption for different types of fasts. It can be hard to separate diet trends from hard science, and to find what is right for your body!
To help you out, we have decided to compile a list of the benefits of fasting. In this week’s blog, we also explore some of the most popular forms of fasting. Fasting can be an excellent, life-promoting tool to incorporate into your holistic eating routine. Using our blog, your own research, and your bodily intuition, we hope you can find a way to fast that is right for you!
The Benefits of Fasting
Fasting boasts a whole myriad of benefits, including but not limited to:
Scientists claim that fasting promotes autophagy, the body’s process of eliminating old cells and generating new ones. Autophagy, or cellular restoration, also helps to facilitate detoxification. When our bodies can’t eliminate harmful toxins, they store them in bodily tissues. Fasting allows the body to eliminate these cells and thereby excrete the toxins they contain. Together, detoxification and cellular restoration improve energy levels and immunity while slowing the aging process.
Lower Levels of Inflammation
Because cellular restoration promotes the elimination of harmful toxins, it also reduces inflammation. Additionally, fasting improves the body’s ability to fight toxicity and free radical damage before it even occurs, thereby preventing inflammation-inducing toxicity. Less free radical damage, in concurrence with increased cell turnover, promotes healthier skin, immunity, and energy levels.
Lower Insulin Levels
Insulin is the hormone that regulates our body’s ability to expend energy. After we eat, and especially if we eat a lot of sugar, our body is in a “fed” state. Thus, our insulin rises, signaling the body to store excess glucose in fat cells. Lower levels of insulin direct our bodies to burn energy instead. When we eat all of the time, our insulin levels remain high, placing us in constant fat storage mode. We can even develop insulin resistance, or chronically elevated insulin levels. Because fasting lowers insulin levels, it encourages the body to use its energy stores. This process is called lipolysis, i.e. when the body uses its fat stores for energy instead of glucose. The overall result is improved insulin sensitivity and lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
When you fast, you typically consume fewer calories, and lower caloric intake leads to weight loss. But the big picture is more complicated. Fasting not only reduces caloric intake; it also improves insulin sensitivity, which prevents overeating and promotes weight loss. Additionally, fasting increases levels of human growth hormone, which encourages muscle mass preservation and fat loss.
Higher Energy Levels
When we eat consistently, or eat a diet high in carbohydrates, our insulin levels fluctuate throughout the day. When our insulin levels are low, there is plenty of energy available for use in the bloodstream. In contrast, when insulin rises, blood sugar falls and we find ourselves hungry and tired. Fasting eliminates blood sugar fluctuation, promoting consistent energy levels. When the body transitions from burning glucose in the liver to burning fat stores for energy, we feel more energetic. That’s because there is only so much glucose your liver can hold, but most people have month’s worth of energy stored in fat cells.
Types of Fasting
Most people imagine that the only way to fast is to refrain from eating for several days. But there are actually several different ways to place your body in a fasting, or fat burning, state, while maintaining your regular holistic eating pattern. What method works for you will depend upon your lifestyle, experience with fasting, and personal preference, as well as the state of your health.
Fasting is not for everyone. Those who are malnourished, underweight, pregnant, or breastfeeding should not add fasting to their holistic eating regimens. Consult your doctor if you are suffering from a health condition or taking any medications before fasting. Remember that certain types of fasting may work well for some and be unhealthy for others.
Time Restricted Feeding/Intermittent Fasting
Time restricted feeding, otherwise known as intermittent fasting, is perhaps the most practical and popular method of fasting. It is the simplest method of incorporating a fast into your normal holistic eating routine, You can perform an intermittent fast everyday and reap all of the benefits of fasting while avoiding the more unpleasant side effects, like fatigue, headaches, and low energy.
Intermittent fasting requires limiting your “feeding period” to a specific window of time. Most experts recommend fasting for a minimum of 12-16 hours per day, and only consuming food within an 8-12 hour window. Others limit their feeding period to four hours, and others to a mere hour! Beginners are encouraged to experiment with a 12-hour feeding period before adopting more drastic methods.
Intermittent fasting allows the body to rest, repair, and regenerate. While we are eating, our bodies are working to process food. Fasting gives the body a rest, allowing it to focus on detoxification and cellular restoration. It helps to regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythm of resting and repairing.
Most individuals who practice time restricted feeding choose to skip breakfast, dinner, or both, consuming their largest meal in the middle of the day. Experts recommend choosing breakfast over dinner, as eating at night raises insulin levels more than it does in the morning. It is important to focus not just on when you eat, but what you eat; holistic eating will produce more significant benefits than eating fast food.
Another fasting method involves strategic calorie restriction. Generally speaking, calorie restriction alone does not result in fasting. If you limit yourself to 1200 calories but still eat within a 16-hour window, your body doesn’t have the chance to repair.
However, some experts claim that if you limit yourself to 500 or 600 calories a day, your body will still enter a fasting state. The 5:2 method of fasting involves severely restricting calories for two days in a row every week to place the body in a state of fasting.
Those who engage in this form of fasting are encouraged to consume most of those calories in the form of protein to reduce hunger pangs. However, other experts claim that, if you are going to eat on a fast, you should opt for fats. Unlike proteins, fats do not raise insulin levels markedly.
While some speak wonders of calorie-controlled methods of fasting, there is not yet a lot of research to confirm the benefits. While the 5:2 Method may be effective for weight loss, intermittent fasting, fast-mimicking, and complete fasting are more likely to generate the expected benefits of fasting.
Fast Mimicking Diet
A fast mimicking diet is similar to the 5:2 Method, as it entails restricting calories for a period of consecutive days. However, fast-mimicking diets typically last for 3-5 days and require the consumption of 700-1,100 calories. The objective of a fast mimicking diet is to deplete the body’s cells of glycogen and stimulate ketogenesis, or the burning of body fat for fuel.
In theory, this method of fasting is more feasible than a dry or complete fast. It permits the consumption of calories and nutrients while permitting fasting to occur at the cellular level. Like other forms of fasting, a fast-mimicking diet replaces damaged cells, improves insulin resistance, and lowers disease risk.
The fast mimicking diet, like the 5:2 Method, also has its controversies. Some experts claim that the level of calorie consumption required as part of a fast-mimicking diet does not actually stimulate ketogenesis. If the body is consuming inadequate calories without going into ketogenesis, the risk of metabolic suppression increases. Furthermore, what you eat matters as well. A high fat, ketogenic diet will facilitate ketogenesis, but a diet rich in carbohydrates and protein may not, even when you restrict calories. The fast-mimicking diet has strict protocols on macronutrient consumption during fasting periods.
A dry or complete fast involves consuming absolutely nothing for a period of days or even weeks. Water fasting permits only the consumption of water. While these types of fasts have produced remarkable results for many individuals, they are not recommended for most. Generally speaking, drastic fasts are not intended for individuals who are already at a healthy weight. If you are interested in doing a complete or water fast, you absolutely must consult your doctor beforehand!