7 Body and Mind Benefits of Fasting
For many people, preparing and eating food is so much more than a necessity; it is an enjoyable part of the day as well. However, there are also those who willingly abstain or reduce intake of food, drink or both, for a period of time. This is also known as fasting.
Regular fasting, when done properly and healthfully, can have numerous different physical and mental benefits.
How To Fast
There are a couple of different fasting plans that have become popular in recent years. Intermittent fasting includes fasting for 14-24 hours every day. The feeding/fasting windows slightly from person to person.
The 5:2 plan involves two non-consecutive days of restricting calories to five hundred per day for women and six hundred per day for men. The other five days of the week, calories do not need to be restricted and the dieter is free to eat whatever he or she wishes, within reason.
It is thought that the regular changes in dieting routine can help keep the dieter from binge eating and that two days of restriction will be easier to follow than continuous restriction dieting.
7 Health Benefits of Fasting
1. Fasting May Delay Cognitive Decline and Reverse Early Onset Alzheimer’s
In the United States, Alzheimer’s and dementia affects millions of Americans, and millions more have a family member or loved one who is suffering from these debilitating conditions. While it is not fully understood how or why these degenerative conditions occur, there are several treatment options that have been known to work, and fasting is one of them.
Studies have also shown that fasting may be able to help those who are already afflicted by early onset Alzheimer’s by reversing some of the symptoms and delaying the full onset. (1)
2. Fasting Can Help with Calorie Restriction and Weight Management
Nearly two-thirds of American adults are considered to be obese or overweight, and one third of children now belong to these categories as well. There is no shortage of fad diets, meal replacements, and supplements that promote weight loss, but fasting may be a great tool to supplement a sound nutrition program. When executed correctly, fasting reduces the amount of calories that are consumed, and recent studies have shown that the average intermittent faster loses between three and eight percent of body fat. (2)
Dieters also report a significant reduction in waist girth, which is also beneficial as excess belly fat can lead to a host of different health problems, including heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Additionally, fasting can help regulate the hormones that send signals from the stomach to the brain to stop eating. People who are overweight or obese may be hormonally imbalanced and thus, these hormones may negatively impact weight loss or cause weight gain.
For best results, ensure your weight loss journey includes staying properly hydrated and incorporating regular, aerobic exercise into your daily routine.
3. Fasting May Help Prevent Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Type II diabetes is a condition wherein blood sugar levels or glucose levels are too high. Elevated blood sugar levels, when left untreated, can cause damage to many different major systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system, the eyes, and the kidneys and liver. Weight loss as a result of fasting can help manage diabetes, as fasting can help regulate insulin levels. (3,4)
Diabetes is a serious disease and any changes to your treatment should be discussed with your healthcare provider. Low blood sugar can occur when fasting, which can lead to dizziness and headache and other more severe side effects such as fainting and seizures.
4. Fasting Can Regenerate the Immune System
At the first sign of a cold or flu, many people reach for citrus fruits to get in an extra dose of vitamin C, which helps to boost the immune system. However, there may be a better and more effective alternative: simply rest and fast.
Recent studies have shown that fasting can increase the production of white blood cells, which help to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies. (5,6) This may be particularly important for those who have compromised immune systems from various illnesses or treatments such as chemotherapy. For those who have compromised immune systems, it is always important to talk with your doctor or dietician about any major diet changes.
5. Fasting Can Clear Up Breakouts and Treat Acne
In general, acne afflicts adolescents undergoing puberty, but it has been known to affect adults as well. Fasting with fluid therapy can be a good way to treat acne for a couple of different reasons. (7) When the digestive and urinary systems are working to eliminate toxins correctly, the toxins are not secreted through the skin. However, nutrient deficiencies from an imbalanced diet can leave the skin looking a little worse for wear.
Fasting can assist the body in eliminating toxins so that essential nutrients can reach the skin and assist in tissue repair and regeneration. Additionally, fasting can help identify any foods, such as dairy or gluten that may be causing your acne breakouts.
6. Fasting Improves Hunger in Those Looking to Gain Weight
If you’re someone who has a hard time gaining weight, fasting may help you by helping you feel hungrier. If you find yourself eating small meals every 2-3 hours, you may not be consuming enough calories to see your scale weight increase. As a result, you could just be spinning your wheels due to misguided hunger signals. This is especially true for hard-gainers or ectomorphs who are naturally predisposed to be smaller, leaner or more active as individuals. Fasting improves hunger and stimulates appetite in some, which can help in increasing caloric intake if the goal is to put on some weight.
7. Fasting Provides Structure to Those with Poor Eating Habits
People who have been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) have a hard time establishing ‘normal’ eating patters due to years of poor eating habits, work, and other priorities. Fasting helps them focus on their activities when needed, and also gives them a feeding window wherein it’s okay to eat within reason while it is within the set time.
There are health risks associated with fasting. (6) Due to the lack of water intake from food, dehydration can occur, so water intake should be closely monitored while fasting. Additionally, fasting can cause heartburn, as there is an excess of stomach acid with no food to digest.
Those who are pregnant should take care when planning a fast, as lack of essential nutrients on a fetus can cause major issues.
Those who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and sleep disorders should be wary of fasting, as it can increase stress levels and cause sleep disturbances. Those who have struggled with anorexia in the past should not fast for any reason unless under strict monitoring of a doctor. If you have any health concerns, talk to your doctor and seek advice on how best to go about a fast.
For many people throughout the entire world, food is much more than sustenance. It gives the body a break and allows it to reset, so that it can perform at a more efficient rate. It’s also a great way to manage weight and/or restrict calories, as the feeding and eating windows are highly customizable to suit the individual’s lifestyle.
If done correctly, fasting can produce a variety of different benefits for those who are looking to improve health and prevent the development of illnesses.