Have you ever tried a fast? Maybe you want to, but are unsure where to start? Is it even worth it? So many questions! From types of fasting to its effects, we’re looking at this time-honored technique of internal house cleaning.
Everyday our bodies are bombarded by the unseen — in the air we breathe, the chemicals and toxins in our food and water, and the commercial products we use. Some experts believe our bodies, and primarily our livers, are not equipped to handle this overload, not to mention the stress and pressure in our everyday lives.
Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean no food at all. It means giving your body time to digest and process, while still making sure it receives the nutrients you need. To explore this topic in detail, we asked Clinical Nutritionist Liliana Partida from the Center for New Medicine to dive in and provide some background. Here’s what she had to share.
Please remember: fasts are meant to help you feel your personal best — they may not be right for everyone and we suggest first consulting with your physician.
To get straight to the point: I’m a big advocate of fasting. In my opinion it’s a good idea to do a seasonal detox as part of a mindful healthy lifestyle. One of the most effective ways to internally clean the body and give the digestive system a good break is to practice fasting.
I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t go without food! I won’t be able to think! I’ll be hungry all the time and I don’t want to feel hangry!” Many people already participate in fasts for religious or ceremonial purposes, or for medical reasons, like tests or procedures. Whatever your reason for fasting, there are many ways to fast and make it as easy on your body as possible, both before, during, and after.
So what exactly is fasting and how does it work? Fasting is a method of restricting food intake and has been practiced for thousands of years. It’s defined as the abstinence from all or some foods or drinks for a set period of time. Health benefits can include blood sugar control, fighting inflammation, improving blood pressure, improving triglycerides and cholesterol levels, boosting brain function and aiding in weight loss.
There are a number of ways to begin fasting, including intermittent fasting, circadian rhythm fasting, alternate-day fasting (or "The Every-Other-Day Diet"), and ProLon Fasting. So what’s the difference? Here’s a quick breakdown.
Intermittent fasting as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flour and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells, as fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down, and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off fat.
For additional information on IF visit healthline.com.
We have evolved to be in sync with the day/night cycle, i.e.: a circadian rhythm. Our metabolism has adapted to daytime food, nighttime sleep. Nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of obesity, as well as diabetes. Researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.). Both groups maintained their weight, but after five weeks the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving!
Just changing the timing of meals, by eating earlier in the day and extending the overnight fast, significantly increased metabolism even in people who didn’t lose a single pound.
For additional information on circadian rhythm fasting visit ndtv.com..
Alternate-day fasting is also known as "The Every-Other-Day Diet" by Dr. Krista Varady. With this method, people cycle between days of fasting and normal eating. The most popular version is modified to allow for about 500 calories (20-25% of your required energy) on fasting days. ADF can be beneficial because it stimulates autophagy, a process that helps your body break down and recycle old parts of the cells. Studies also indicate autophagy may slow down aging and help prevent serious health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. In addition, ADF may reduce waist circumference, decrease blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol and decrease blood triglycerides.
For additional information on ADF visit healthline.com.
ProLon is the first Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) developed to provide the beneficial effects of fasting, including stem cell-based rejuvenation, maintenance of healthy metabolic markers, and quick abdominal fat loss, without actually going without food. ProLon is a program that nourishes your body while promoting regenerative and rejuvenating changes, including effects on a wide range of markers that are associated with aging, such as cholesterol, inflammation, and fasting glucose. ProLon combines plant-based soups, bars, crackers, olives, drinks, and supplements into a proprietary 5-day dietary program. You may be asking, can I eat other foods during the five days? No. For the fasting diet to work effectively, it’s vital to consume only what’s provided. It’s scientifically designed to trick the body into believing it’s fasting.
A word of caution! If any side effects occur other than slight weakness, tiredness, or headache, you should contact your doctor. Drink a small quantity of fruit juice for immediate relief. Keep an eye on your temperature to ensure you're not overheating and avoid saunas, or fainting could occur.
For additional information on ProLon FMD visit prolonfmd.com.
Though these options may sound overwhelming, we hope this context helps your consideration and understanding of fasting. It’s one of the quickest ways to detox, rejuvenate the body, and reboot the metabolism to increase fat burning. Summer is often a great time to start, considering the warmer temperatures and lighter food cravings. Here’s a little more information from our team before you choose to fast and we recommend consulting your physician and listening to your body throughout the process.
Is fasting safe in seniority? While anyone, at any age, should consult a doctor before starting a serious fast, this is especially true in cases for the elderly. Fasting can be dangerous when your body is not up for the task. If you suffer from any chronic illness or other general health issue, it’s generally inadvisable.
Although it's different for each individual, certain groups of people should not fast. According to studies: those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children under 12, anyone with a history of eating disorders, shift workers, and people who take medication with food at regimented times should think twice and maintain their regular diet.
It’s between you and your doctor whether fasting is a safe and smart option, but for the elderly who seem to be in good physical health, fasting can be a great way to stay on course for overall wellness and even assist in longevity.
Those with eating disorders can have multiple symptoms including the severe restriction of food, food binges, or behaviors like vomiting and over-exercising. Common purging behaviors include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise. Around 14% of U.S. adults have admitted to using fasting as a means to control weight gain, but an unknown percent of these people have anorexia, which is compulsive fasting in order to drop weight they cannot afford to lose. They have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when severely underweight.
Although eating less a couple days a week can be beneficial for you, health experts are becoming concerned that for some people, fasting might be a rebrand of or entry to eating disorders. Get in touch with your motivations for fasting before you choose to do so and contact a doctor to discuss if it’s a mentally healthy option for you. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, stay away from fasting for now.
Harmful effects of fasting can include dizziness, headaches, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, and low blood sugar. Also, extensive fasting can lead to anemia, weakened immune system, liver or kidney issues, or irregular heartbeat. After fasting, you may experience an overwhelming urge to overeat because appetite hormones and hunger centers in your brain go into overdrive when deprived of food.
Leptin is a hormone manufactured by fat cells and fundamental when it comes to controlling your appetite. It’s an appetite-suppressing hormone that tells your brain when the body has sufficient supply of stored fat, with higher levels means more body fat. Also, leptin can vary based on when an individual last ate and how much sleep they get.
Ghrelin, another hormone, is known for its ability to increase appetite by giving the brain hunger signals. Individuals with more and often intense hunger pains are more vulnerable to overeating. Ghrelin originates in the stomach and then sends hunger signals to the brain, with lower levels means more body fat.
Other effects include vitamin or mineral deficiencies, muscle breakdown, diarrhea, and if you repeatedly go on fasts or the longer you stay on a fast, risks can be more severe and complicated. Specifically related to intermittent fasting, side effects include hunger and cravings, constipation, bloating, nausea, irritability, bad breath, dehydration, and sleep disturbances.
There are so many questions when it comes to fasting. Here are a few more FAQs to explore and guide your own research.
Q: Can I exercise while intermittent fasting?
A: In short, yes. According to Prospect Medical, hormone optimization is critical to weight loss and muscle gain which occurs from the combination of fasting and exercising. Counting those calories isn’t everything! Plus, exercising on an empty stomach boosts benefits. Wake up and go on a run or do some light weight lifting because you’ll burn stored fat rather than freshly digesting food from the day.
Q: How can I manage hunger or cravings while fasting?
A: Feeling hungry is natural when starting to fast but your body will adjust. Here are some ways Dr. Kellyann Petrucci on Dummies suggests you distract yourself but stay productive while fasting: 1) Drink a lot of water, 2) Drink coffee or tea, caffeine to help to suppress hunger, 3) Focus on chores, work, or hobbies, 4) Meditate, 5) Walk, lightly exercise, or play a game.
Q: How should I start eating again after fasting?
A: Post-fasting isn’t an excuse to eat an exorbitant amount of unhealthy foods. Don’t diminish the potential benefits and results of your fast! As you start to eat again, try these tips from The Nest as you focus on breaking your fast slowly with hard-to-digest foods. Vegetable and fruit juices and servings are best for your first post-fast days, and then you can start to introduce whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal. By the fourth day post-fast, try some nuts or beans, and the next day add back low-fat dairy and proteins.
Q: How can I make fasting more effective?
A: Here are some things to keep in mind to make your fasting more effective: 1) Create fasting goals, 2) Give yourself time to adjust, 3) Prepare healthy meals or snacks (could be post-fast), and 4) Figure out how many calories you need for each day. Also note that what makes your fast effective will vary based on the type of fast you choose.
Q: Can I drink liquids while fasting?
A: Yes. Water, coffee, tea, and any non-caloric beverages are okay to drink. Adding sugars to coffee or tea isn’t recommended, but small amounts of milk or cream may be okay depending on the way you are fasting. Coffee is particularly beneficial because, as mentioned, it can dull hunger. It’s recommended to drink water during an intermittent fast to stay hydrated. According to Healthline, other calorie-free drinks to keep you hydrated include unsweetened tea, flavored water, sparkling water, and lemon water. Bone broth may also be an option depending on the strictness of your fast.
Now that you have a better understanding of fasting, would you try it? If so, we encourage reaching out to a nutritionist for further information.
This article was originally published in the summer 2021 issue of Molly My Mag under the title “Reset, Rejuvenate, and Reboot” and has been expanded by our team here. To make an appointment, or to learn more about ProLon, contact Liliana Partida at the Center for New Medicine at 949-680-1880, centerfornewmedicine.com or lilianapartida.com.
Additional Sources: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov; sciencedirect.com; health.harvard.edu; healthline.com