Why You Should Consider a Fast
Fasting. You’ve all heard about it in some form or another. Most people know about it from the religious aspect. This usually falls under the umbrella of Intermittent Fasting (The act of fasting for most of the day, usually at a 16:8 hour ratio) which many also use as part of a diet plan.
Before we begin, if you plan on performing an extended fast, you need to know how to correctly and safely execute it, so check out our other article Extended Water Fasting: How To Do It Safely.
I’m going to list the many of the benefits of a fast, and explain each one in detail. Most of these benefits can be gained through varying lengths of a fast, however, an extended fast provides them all.
This is the first benefit. While autophagy occurs 24/7 in your body, it’s been widely considered to be boosted by up to 300% through fasting. As for what autophagy is, the word is derived from an Ancient Greek term, meaning ‘Self-devouring’. It’s the act of your body eating itself, and uses the broken down parts to build new cells. You do this on a daily basis to get rid of old, worn down cells, and replacing them with fresh cells so your body runs more efficiently.
Boosting autophagy means you’ll get rid of the worn out cells much faster, and you’ll be left with fresher cells all around. Here is an article that goes into much more depth about the effects of autophagy.
Fasting has the added benefit of reducing cholesterol levels. While many believe that dietary cholesterol contributes to blood cholesterol, most recent studies show that lowering dietary cholesterol has pretty much no direct impact on blood cholesterol levels.
80% of cholesterol in the body is created by our livers, which is why dietary cholesterol doesn’t make much difference. A study on fasting and TG (Triglyceride) levels showed that 70 days of alternate daily fasting reduced TG by up to 30%, and LDL by 25%. Both percentages are very good. There are drugs that can give much better reductions, like 50%, but the fact that changing your dietary lifestyle in such a relatively minor way can have such a profound effect is amazing.
The way it reduces these levels, is due to how it burns fat cells rather than glucose for energy. As your body is oxidizing Free Fatty Acids for energy, FFA synthesis is reduced. That means that the body is burning fat now rather than making it.
Probably the most common reason for people to start fasting, an extended fast has immense effects on your body fat levels. It’s more effective the higher body fat levels you have though. That means if you are already fairly lean, you may want to consider other types of shorter term fasting.
In June 1965, a Scotsman by the name of Angus Barbieri performed an experiment under the supervision of medical specialists. This was to test the effects of fasting. Weighing in at 456lbs, he fasted for a total of 382 days, and reached his goal weight of 180lbs. That’s a loss of 276lbs. When checked up on 5 years later, he’d only gained 16 lbs back, proving that you won’t just gain it all back. Of course, that was such a long fast, it’d be difficult to do so. With a short term fast, if you pig out when breaking it, you will gain it all back.
The way fasting causes increases in fat loss is not solely due to caloric restriction. Another big factor is how you enter Ketosis. A ketogenic state is where your body has moved from utilizing glucose for energy, to fat. When you fast, your body has to get it’s energy from fat, and the only available source is your own fat cells. You burn your own fat to fuel yourself.
You can put your body into ketosis without fasting, through following a ketogenic diet. That means, high fat, medium protein, low to no carbs (<20g).
Most people that don’t know about fasting think you’ll lose all your muscle. I reckon this belief stems from the fact that a severe caloric deficit causes you to hemorrhage muscle. However, a the difference between 80% caloric deficit and 100% is immense.
When you fast, your body creates more noradrenaline and growth hormone. Both of these contribute to muscular development. Naturally though, you won’t be building much muscle fasted, than in a fed state, solely because you are not consuming any outside calories and protein. As long as you exercise regularly, you won’t lose the muscle you already have.
Reduced Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a big part of moving glucose from the bloodstream to your cells to use for fuel. When you have an increase in resistance to insulin, you store more glucose as body fat. This is due to the insulin telling your cells that energy is coming, but the cells are resistant, and do not open up. As a result, the excess glucose stays in the bloodstream, and is eventually stored as fat.
When you fast for as little as 11-12 hours, your insulin levels drop. This drop in your levels of insulin allow your body to become less resistant, and more sensitive to when insulin tells your cells to open up for the energy. With an extended fast, this effect is naturally amplified further, as your insulin levels drop even more. However, if your only goal is to increase insulin sensitivity, a regular intermittent fast will be enough. However, remember that artificial zero calorie sweeteners may cause an insulin response even without any calories.
Besides what has already been listed, there are other benefits of an extended fast.
- A boost in your immune system – Studies have shown that fasting for 48 hours can boost your immune system. It does this the same way it helps you lose fat. remove old worn out cells and create fresh new ones. An immune system made up of healthy cells will be much more efficient than one made up of old cells.
- Improve mental clarity – Most people report after a period of fasting, they gain a lot more mental clarity and concentration. Think about it. When you’re hungry, and you eat a big meal, do you feel sharp and clear, or do you feel like your mind is clouded? Most likely it’s the latter. The reason we gain clarity when fasting is because if you’re not getting any food, your body begins to run more efficiently, including your brain, to allow you to find food. Studies on aging rats found that mental clarity improved after periods of fasting.
- Preventation of Alzheimers and some cancers – Through increased autophagy and growth hormone levels, an extended fast has the ability to slow down or prevent many health problems. When your body is performing autophagy, it can destroy your cancer cells and replace them with healthy ones.
That covers most of the benefits to a fast, and enough detail. If you want to read more about how each one works, I’ve linked studies in most of the paragraphs.
Now, naturally there aren’t only benefits to fasting, there are downsides. So I’m going to list the most common side effects of a prolonged fast. If you want to know how to combat most of these, you can take a look at our other article mentioned at the top of the page.
- Hunger – This is by far the most obvious effect of fasting. If you’re not eating, you will get hungry. However, many people report that after 3-4 days of an extended fast, the hunger response reduces a lot. It comes back every now and then, but as long as you stay hydrated and keep sipping water, you can ride it out. You will gain the sense of real and fake hunger. You’ll know when you should stop your fast when you feel real hunger. It’s when your hunger comes back full force and kicks you in the goolies. If you fast for long enough for this to happen, prepare food, and eat little and slowly. If you just eat tons of food, not only may you gain it all back, but you put yourself at risk of refeeding syndrome.
- Headaches, Dizziness, Nausea – This is most commonly caused by a simple lack of electrolytes, causing you to become dehydrated among other things, even though you drink plenty of water. To combat this, simply supplement with electrolytes.
- Lack of Energy – Naturally, with a lack of calories, comes with it a lack of energy. You get this usually between days 2-4 of your extended fast, as your body begins the change from using glucose, to using fat for fuel. Once it does, most people receive a boost of energy, although if you don’t have much body fat, the effect will not be as pronounced. You can also drink coffee to get a boost of energy from caffeine. Just make sure you drink it black, with no sweetner, or you may break your fast.
- Gallstones – With any rapid weight loss program, comes the risk of gallstones. Fasting is no exception, unfortunately. It is due to the simple fact that not eating enough causes bile to build up in the gall bladder, and that causes gallstones to form. However, it’s been reported that Apple Cider Vinegar not only alleviates the pain of gallstones, but can actually dissolve them. Luckily, ACV does not break your fast, and has other benefits, with it’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Generally, ACV with the mother is considered the best. You can buy some Apple Cider Vinegar here. It’s important to note that you should not drink it straight. If you want a recipe for an ACV cocktail for fasting, check out Thomas DeLauers video on the subject here:
I’d also recommend watching his other videos on the subject matter, as he gives plenty of good advice.
There you have it! If you weren’t sold on the idea of a fast, be it IF, ADF, or extended fasting before, you’re probably more inclined now. With so many health benefits, and the incredible fat loss potential, it’s almost a miracle diet.
However, as mentioned before, you should always consult with your doctor to make sure you are in a position to have such a drastic dietary change. In general, if you are under 18, pregnant, breastfeeding, or have medical conditions such as Malnutrition, Gout, Type 1/2 Diabetes, Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or are taking any medication, you should definitely make sure you consult with your doctor. For being under 18, it can affect your growth. For pregnant or breastfeeding women, you will not be able to provide your baby with enough nutrients. With the medical conditions, there can be severe, or even fatal side effects.
Make sure to stay safe, and don’t get discouraged if you can’t fast as much, or as long as you’d like. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it.