The ancient art of fasting has been practiced for thousands of years. Christians, Muslims, Jews, monks, Buddhists all have fasting rituals and rhythms. It has been around for centuries.
At the moment, Intermittent fasting, is very popular.
There are several ways to fast. For example, you could do an 8-16, which means you eat fast for 16 hours and eat in an 8-hour window. Of course it doesn’t mean you eat everything. It is best to consume a nutritious meal twice in these 8 hours, with as many nutritious substances as possible and alternate each time.
Some people think it is crazy or bad to fast. You may have heard myths about fasting that put your life at risk, whether you gain even more fat, or that your metabolism slows down, or that skipping breakfast is the worst thing to do!
Let’s rectify this for a moment, because the benefits of fasting are amazing.
It is one of the most powerful tools in the world to reverse insulin resistance, intractable weight loss and has long-lasting protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It helps protect against liver disease, heart disease and even cancer. It helps strengthen our immune system, accelerates our metabolism and helps increase the natural secretion of growth hormone, making us more energetic and younger.
It is so wonderful. Compare that to the current state of our society.
We are too fat, sick, tired and depressed. Our obesity problem is growing, cancer rates are skyrocketing and our incidence of lifestyle-preventable diseases is off the charts. I know we can do better. We deserve better.
To do this, we have to do something else. Part of having a better life, at least in terms of health, is learning and practicing the ancient art of fasting.
Below are the top five reasons why you should fast and what it could do for your health.
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, read on…
1. Fasting promotes weight loss
People who struggle with their weight, be it the last 10 or 50 pounds, can all benefit from fasting. Temporarily limiting the food you consume has great benefits for the way our brains work, the way our hormones are balanced, and our ability to use fat stores on the body. Fasting is perhaps THE world’s most powerful weight loss tool.
By fasting your body can really tap into your fat stores in the body. Your body has two main fuel sources: sugar or fat. The trick is, it is either-or-situation. You cannot burn both fuels at the same time. As with a car, you cannot drive and reverse at the same time. You burn sugar or you burn fat.
Most of us are in sugar burning mode all the time. We never fully use our sugar shops before eating the next meal that can be easily converted into sugar. And because it’s easier to burn sugar (it’s cheap, quick, and easily available) than it is to burn fat, our bodies will choose the path of least resistance and choose to always burn sugar. Over time, this usually leads to weight gain, fluid retention, hormonal imbalance, and a super frustrated person.
If this sounds familiar, don’t be too hard on yourself. Let me be clear – there is nothing wrong with you. You have never been told how to fast or why you should fast. The opposite is probably true – you’ve probably been told that fasting is a bad idea and something you should avoid.
I mean, who is going to tell you to fast, the food industry selling your food ?!
Fasting is a simple and powerful way to correct a price increase.
When you temporarily limit calorie consumption, you use all the sugar stores in your body. Sugar is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Once this “easy” energy has been used up, your body will have to access your fat reserves which it will use for energy.
This is exactly what you want to do – lose weight by using up fat stores (which are usually unwanted) on the body.
Something cool happens when you fast. At lower insulin levels in the blood (due to a lack of food causing it to rise), your kidneys will scream:
Hurray!! We don’t need all this excess water anymore! And they drain the excess moisture you’ve been storing all this time.
(Fun fact – glycogen – the stored form of sugar – is stored with 3-4 molecules of water. So if you go down glycogen, you lose the fluid buildup that often comes with it). So we have a win-win:
Fasting causes weight loss by accessing stored fat as energy and it promotes excess fluid build-up.
2: Fasting improves insulin sensitivity
Who doesn’t know someone with type 2 diabetes these days? It is an absolute pandemic. Type 2 diabetes, in short, is a lifestyle disease caused by consuming too much sugar and adapting the body to excess sugar. Basically, when you consume foods that can be easily converted to sugar, your insulin levels increase to bring the sugar out of the blood and into the cells.
Over time, however, your cells adapt to the insulin, so the pancreas has to pump out more and more insulin to have the same effect.
Another way to describe this is that the cells become resistant to the effect of insulin over time.
It’s like listening to a new song. When you first hear a song you love, you absolutely love it and can’t listen to it professionally enough! After the hundredth time you’ve heard it, you’re less excited about it. After the thousandth time you get bored and you just want it to stop.
Your cells look at insulin the same way. There is such a thing as too much insulin for them. Until now, the medical solution traditionally has been to administer insulin to these patients. You can see the tragic flaw in this design. Over time, the same thing happens: the patient needs increasingly higher doses of insulin to achieve the desired result.
Fasting is one of the best interventions to teach people with insulin resistance, pre-diabetics (metabolic syndrome) or people with type 2 diabetes.
If you fast, whether for a short, daily fast or longer, fast of several days, your body will first use up all its sugar stores in the body (glycogen). Since you don’t eat for periods, insulin levels will slowly start to drop.
Reducing insulin in the blood through fasting gives cells a break and improves resistance to them. When this is done over time, it will dramatically improve cellular sensitivity resulting in a reduction in drug dependence.
3: Fasting improves heart health
You probably know someone with heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure? Unfortunately, there are plenty of them.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are two of the strongest predictors for heart disease, and you guessed it both can be improved with fasting. Fasting has shown to lower the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol (VLDLs) produced and has almost no effect on the ‘good’ type of cholesterol (HDL).
However, the view of good and bad cholesterol is misleading.
Cholesterol generally has a bad name, while cholesterol is super important for our body. Cholesterol is the precursor to our sex hormones, is involved in wound repair and can also be used for energy. It has been labeled a malicious, sinister villain in our bodies – usually because marketing geniuses find it easier to scare us than to teach us. Hence the fear of egg yolks, shrimp and other high cholesterol foods. But we need cholesterol. It has been mislabeled and marketed in a way for profit, and for big companies and lobby groups to get rich. It is misleading, and actually worse for your health, to buy low-fat and low-cholesterol foods.
These foods are usually full of sugar (to make up for the lack of tasty, satisfying fat) and make our stress and inflammatory response even worse.
Shall I tell you a secret? What you eat almost DOES NOT affect your cholesterol. Yes, you read that right. Why? Because more than 80% of the cholesterol in your body is made by the liver.
But what happens when you limit cholesterol in your body? Your liver is a cunning, smart little fox. She starts pumping out more cholesterol to compensate for the restriction. And if you follow a more carbohydrate diet, your liver will start producing triglycerides, which are pumped out of the liver as VLDLs – the really nasty stuff that causes arterial damage. In other words, your liver will make triglycerides in response to excessive carbohydrate consumption.
Your liver will push this into the body as VLDL, causing arterial damage and inflammation.
This substance will do the most damage to your cells and you can prepare for heart disease and blood pressure problems.
Fasting reduces the amount of carbohydrate intake, which lowers the production of triglycerides (the real culprit) in the liver. The inflammatory response will therefore decrease.
Without getting stuck in the debate about cholesterol and statins, we can say this:
4: Fasting has a preventive effect against cancer
In addition to considering cancer as a mutation of genes, it is also worth remembering that cancer can also be an endocrine (hormonal) disease.
In other words, that there is a hormonal component that is determined by how we move, eat and think.
While the exact protective effects of fasting and cancer are unknown, what we know about fasting is that it can help clean the cells through a process called autophagy.
Autophagy is in fact a spring cleaning of your cells.
Old cells, damaged cells, mutated cells or cells that do not work are identified and eliminated.
Just as that old sweater that you will never wear again takes up valuable space in your closet, we also pile up old, damaged and mutated cells.
If left unchecked, these mutated cells can multiply and turn into cancer cells. This is one of the most common theories of how cancer cells develop and form tumors.
In addition to the mutated gene theory, there are also advocates who speak of cancer as an endocrine disease. They propose that many types of cancer cells feed sugar in the early stages of growth, and the excess sugar is how they mutate, grow and grow the destructive networks. No one is sure how it happens, but what we do know is that in routine fasting, we turn on specific repair genes that will comb through cells and separate the good from the bad. The bad cells are literally eaten and voila! Just as spring cleaning gives you more closet space with just your favorite clothes, autophagy clears out the old, damaged cells.
We also give the body a break from insulin spikes and excess sugar in the bloodstream. This could potentially cut off the food supply to a growing cancer cell. It cannot thrive without a constant food source.
So yes. It is a powerful preventative tool.
5: Fasting works well for the brain
Fasting does a lot of good things for the brain.
Have you ever felt that you cannot concentrate and are foggy all day long? Has your ability to think, focus and be productive seriously impaired?
Fasting has been shown to help by increasing something called BDNF – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor – that helps with all of those cognitive-related deficiencies. BDNF is this great guy who does things as a signal for new neurons to develop, grow and mature AND prevent the death of pre-existing neurons.
It also has a positive effect on overall cognitive function. Hence the clarity, the mental breakthroughs and the sharpness of the mind when fasting.
Fasting also has the positive impact of removing damaged cells in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease have both been shown to be an accumulation of toxicity and toxic cells in the brain that cause some of the decline. These changes can be seen in patients in their early twenties!
Preventive measures such as fasting are not only super important for improving mental clarity, but also play a long role and may prevent neurodegenerative diseases and their associated degeneration from happening in the first place.
Finally, when we fast, especially for periods of more than 24-48 hours, we tap into our fat stores for energy. This means we break down fat into ketone bodies as our fuel source. This is the brain’s favorite fuel. Our brains have and expect fat to function properly.
If we get out of the highs and lows of the sugar coaster and use a more sustainable fuel, such as fat, we can be more productive for a longer period of time, without the mania and depression that often accompany sugar.
Fasting is a cure for most and it is inexpensive, convenient, always readily available and suits all types of diets.
Fasting? Give it a chance!
Dr Stephanie Estima