Therapeutic fasting can be one of the most potent natural healing remedy for humans, if done the right way.
In the natural world, food is not readily available to any species. It wasn’t for humans, either, until roughly 10,000 years ago when agriculture was first developed. Before that we had to hunt and forage for food, not knowing when our next meal would be. Our bodies are made for fasting, whether it’s voluntary or not, because we store fat as energy to use in times of scarcity.
Only in the last 75 years in America have we experienced the proliferation of packed and processed foods created by companies with enormous marketing budgets. In modern days, we have gone to the extremes of food consumption. We’re being prescribed three to six meals a day and diets based on pseudoscience. These recommendations are working for those who profit from selling food but they are detrimental to long-term human health.
Currently, more than 100 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, 66 percent of pregnant mothers are obese, and cardiovascular disease kills a person every 38 seconds. Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, and most of the world’s population lives in countries where obesity kills more people than starvation.
Health isn’t only about what you eat. It’s about how much and when you eat. Just because it’s organic does not mean that you can eat as much as you want. I tried this! I thought I was eating healthy and getting the right calories to gain muscle while exercising enough to stay lean. However, I became more fatigued day-over-day and was losing muscle. I realized consistent caloric consumption was not improving my health. Instead I focused on optimizing nutrient absorption and improving metabolic health.
Fasting has been an integral part of every culture for health and spiritual purposes throughout history. Great philosophers and leaders across time have known the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of fasting. Plato fasted for “greater mental and physical efficiency.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “A genuine fast cleanses the body and mind and soul.” And, Benjamin Franklin attested that “The best of all medicines are resting and fasting.”
WHAT IS FASTING?
Therapeutic fasting is the controlled abstinence of food. Physiologically speaking, being in a fasted state is the metabolic status of a person after avoiding food or drinks for a certain time period.
In order to digest food, the body concentrates blood flow and energy to your digestive system. After approximately three to six hours, the body enters a post-absorptive state, and after roughly eight to 12 hours your body will enter a fasted state.
Fasting does not mean starving yourself. In contrast, you’ll be giving your body a chance to heal and repair, which it can’t do while you’re processing food.
Our bodies are dynamic and complicated organisms. I encourage you to listen to your body and make adjustments that will benefit you long term. Short-term stimulants and “quick fixes” will only exacerbate mental, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and social fatigue.
What Are the Benefits of Fasting?
Therapeutic fasting helps you burn fat, increase energy, improve cognitive performance, and more. It lowers insulin, the fat-storing hormone that causes diabetes, and increases BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a key hormone for creating new brain cells. It also increases HGH (Human Growth Hormone), which does everything from increasing your muscle density to helping you live longer.
Fasting triggers autophagy, an evolutionary self-preservation mechanism through which the body can remove the dysfunctional cells in your body and recycle parts of them toward cellular repair and cleaning, according to board-certified cardiologist Dr. Luiza Petre. She explains that the purpose of autophagy is to remove debris and self-regulate back to optimal smooth function.
“It is recycling and cleaning at the same time, just like hitting a reset button to your body. Plus, it promotes survival and adaptation as a response to various stressors and toxins accumulated in our cells.” – Dr. Luiza Petre
Fasting helps the body release Catecholamines: hormones secreted by the adrenal glands that regulate neurotransmitters (adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine) allowing for a more stable hormonal balance. They regulate physiological functions such as heartbeat and breathing rate, directly affecting mental and physical health.
Your metabolism will function more efficiently. The Journal of Endocrinology notes that when meal frequency increases (less time between meals; snacking), it slows down the metabolism. This tells the body to store more fat whereas longer periods between meals have been shown to increase your metabolism, improving your energy production system in the body.
HOW DO YOU START A FAST?
Eating loads of carbohydrates then trying to fast is setting yourself up for failure. You’ll feel hungry faster because your body is using glycogen for energy instead of fat that is readily available in the body. Ease into it by reducing the amount of carbohydrates (bread, flour, pasta, grains, etc.) from your meals.
Choose meals with fiber and healthy fats as they will improve satiation and help curb your hunger. Adding protein will also make you feel full but without the bloating that comes with carbohydrates. Unless you’re doing a dry fast, make sure to stay hydrated.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU FAST?
There are different fasting techniques that each have their own timeframes and benefits. There is intermittent fasting, which has become popular recently, prolonged fasting, and a liquid or dry fast.
Common intermittent fasting time ratios include 16:8 and 20:4. This means 16 hours being in a fasted state with an eight-hour eating window, and 20 hours in a fasted state with a four-hour eating window. After 16 hours is when autophagy and the other physiological benefits manifest. For example, in the first scenario, you can do this by eating between 9 am and 5 pm. In the second, you could eat between 12 pm and 4 pm. Of course, you can adjust the time windows to what works for your daily schedule.
A prolonged fast is 24 to 72 hours. The longer you fast, the more ketones are produced. This puts you into ketosis, burning fat as fuel. The benefits of a prolonged fast include higher levels of HGH, a sharper mental state, and compounding physiological advantages. After the first 48 hours, hunger will begin to subside and you may feel like you could go even longer than 72 hours.
You probably guessed it. A liquid fast or dry fast requires zero consumption of food or water. Your body actually does something fascinating when you restrict it from water. Your body pulls hydrogen from your fat cells to create molecular water in your body. This is not something you want to do for an extended period of time.
After a considerable amount of testing out what works best for my body, my preferred fasting method is 23 hours of no food with a one-hour eating window. I eat one meal a day when practicing fasting, giving my body a period of cellular regeneration. I find it easiest to go from dinner to dinner, skipping breakfast and lunch. I also try to eat early, at least four hours before going to bed. Sleeping well is harder when your body is working to digest food. Once a quarter I will do a more prolonged fast, 72+ hours, depending on the rest and recovery my body requires.
WHAT CAN I CONSUME DURING A FAST?
You cannot consume anything that has a caloric value. During a fast, your body is incredibly receptive to anything you ingest so be mindful of what you’re putting in it. Your body is sure to absorb as much of it as possible. This is why drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can cause you to feel the effects with more significance.
Black coffee and tea are okay to drink during a fast. Coffee will accelerate autophagy, the process of cell regeneration. Just remember that you can’t have sweeteners and creamers. Note: it’s not necessarily good to drink coffee while fasting. Your body is incredibly sensitive during this time and you may experience heightened anxiety, nervousness, and hyperactivity.
SHOULD I WORK OUT DURING MY FAST?
If your body tells you it’s up for it, then go for it! You will experience better physical output and mental clarity while simultaneously increasing the burning of Intramyocellular lipids. Intramyocellular lipids refers to the fat that is stored in the muscle. Because you are not digesting food, more blood is flowing to your muscles instead of being concentrated in your digestive system.
IS FASTING SAFE FOR WOMEN?
Yes, it is completely safe for women to fast. Women are actually better designed biologically to adapt to longer periods without food in order to protect their reproductive health and the health of their baby in the event they are carrying a child. Benefits of fasting for women include increased reduction in abdominal fat, reduce pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders, improved sleep and mental health, reduced blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, and more.
According to a 2016 study, “Fasting has shown to improve reproductive and mental health. It also prevents as well as ameliorates cancers and musculoskeletal disorders which are common in middle-aged and elderly women.”
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the imbalance of reproductive hormones, is the most common endocrine disorder in women. It can lead to unpredictable or absent periods, acne and unwanted facial hair, or raise the risk of other health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure. A study on women with PCOS showed that fasting can reduce the chronic sympathetic overactivity in PCOS, which reduces stress neurohormone levels and improves physical and mental health.
HOW SHOULD I BREAK MY FAST?
Your digestive system is the most sensitive while in a fasted state. This means blood sugar can spike drastically if you eat sugary foods (including fruit!) and carbohydrates, which can cause more damage than the good you just did with your fast.
Start by breaking your fast with bone broth, which is packed with great nutrients and is easy to digest. It will help restore the mucosal lining in the GI tract, improving digestion and protecting it. After you have broken your fast, we recommend eating slow-cooked or steamed meats and vegetables as they will be easier for the body to break down and convert into energy and muscle tissue. Just remember that you won’t need to eat as much as before you fasted because your body is now better able to convert nutrients.
Whatever you do, do not combine fats with carbohydrates. For example, not even chicken with rice. Carbohydrates will cause an insulin spike, making cells receptive to what you have just eaten. Fat will enter the cell and it will get stored in this process. This principle remains true at all times, but with your body being especially sensitive after a fast it is critical to avoid the combination.
Fasting is a fantastic tool to help understand the nutrient transfers from food to your body. During this phase, it is imperative to learn to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Be mindful of what it needs and distinguish between cravings and healthy nourishment.
While not fasting, if you’re eating something and it’s not making you feel good after, try not eating it. If you’re getting tired after eating a meal with carbohydrates, take note of it. Make the appropriate adjustments to improve your wellbeing so you can get the most out of life.
Please keep us updated on your journey and what you are learning!