There is certainly nothing new about fasting – crack open a Bible or dig into a little history, and fasting will make an appearance. Some fasted in combination with prayer or meditation, some fasted in observance of holy days, and some even fasted involuntarily because of food scarcity.
People still fast for these reasons, and more reasons have been added to the list – weight loss being a current top-trending reason to give it a go. But it turns out that there are also some solid, research-based health reasons for fasting that should be of special interest to Pain Revealed viewers.
But before we dig into that, let’s first dismiss the notion that fasting requires extensive self-denial and is little more than starvation. There are ways to fast that leave adequate room for proper nutrition, and perhaps even a level of food freedom that you have not previously experienced – we’ll discuss those below.
We’ll show you how you can get into a healthy rhythm of intermittent fasting (IF) that does not involve undue discomfort, and may yield tremendous health and energy benefits for you.
Let’s first address the obvious: IF, when done correctly, will decrease caloric intake, and in most people, result in weight loss. This in and of itself is a health benefit, as excess weight is tied to diabetes, joint problems, and cardiovascular disease, just to name a few.
This will release a cascade of health benefits: lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, and reduced liver fat. Many people who have used IF to lose weight also report deeper, more restful sleep and increased energy.
It may seem that intermittent fasting is no more than another gimmick to get people to take in fewer calories, and just another structured diet plan that is not ultimately sustainable. The evidence shows otherwise.
First, IF causes blood levels of insulin to drop, which facilitates fat burning. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested alternate day fasting in human subjects. Vital signs and blood glucose levels were monitored throughout the process.
Fasting glucose in this group decreased by approximately 4% in the subjects tested, all lost weight, and fat oxidation increased. The only issue encountered was hunger, which led researchers to speculate that including one small meal on fasting days could alleviate this and still lead to a notable improvement in blood glucose levels.
According to Medical News Today, “Insulin levels drop when a person is not consuming food. During a period of fasting, it is possible that decreasing insulin levels causes cells to release their glucose stores as energy. Repeating this process regularly, as with intermittent fasting, may lead to weight loss.”
This drop in blood glucose levels is great news for anyone with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or who is simply trying to get the body into fat-burning mode.
Additionally, fasting can have a noted anti-inflammatory effect. In a study published in Nutrition Research, investigators tracked individuals who were fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which involves daily fasting from sunrise to sunset, and then eating at night.
Great news: “The study showed that during the fasting period, pro-inflammatory markers were lower than usual, as was blood pressure, body weight, and body fat.”
Further, numerous studies have demonstrated that IF may increase blood levels of Human Growth Hormone by as much as 5-fold. According to Healthline.com, “Higher levels of this hormone facilitate fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits.”
Additional benefits include the initiation of cellular repair processes and changes in genes relating to longevity and disease prevention. Other surprising findings include boosted brain function, enhanced stroke recovery, and a reduction of cancer risk.
The even better news is that IF is more accessible than it first may appear. The trick is to establish an eating window during the day, and fast mostly overnight as you sleep. Some people start off with the very attainable 12-12 schedule, in which the eating window is 12 hours of the day, and a water fast is practiced for the other 12 hours.
This simple step helps you to start becoming more aware and mindful of your eating. One of the big benefits of a 12-12 fast is that it sets parameters that preclude evening snacking, a downfall for many of us in terms of weight and healthy food choices.
As the 12-12 fast becomes more comfortable, start to decrease the daily eating window and lengthen the fast window. Many people aim for a 16 hour fast with an 8-hour window. Some go on to 18-6 or even 20-4, but 16-8 is sustainable and produces the benefits described above without excessive hunger.
A typical 16-8 fast might mean the eating window is 10am to 6pm, or noon to 8pm — the good news is that this is flexible and can be adjusted to fit individual preferences and circumstances. While at first, the tendency may be to binge when the eating window opens, the goal is to eat normal portions of healthy foods at regular intervals throughout the eating window.
Monique Tello, MD of the Harvard Health Blog refers to this as the circadian rhythm fasting approach, as it is tied to the day/night cycle that already comes naturally to us. She asked Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School about IF, and learned, “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,”
If you’d like to give it a try, be sure to drink plenty of water while fasting! A little pinch of mineral salt in a glass of water will help to overcome any lightheadedness encountered. Black coffee, plain tea, or unflavored herbal tea are also permitted during fasting hours.
Be sure to talk with your healthcare practitioner if you are interested in giving IF a try. IF is not recommended for brittle diabetics, people with a history of eating disorders, or women who are pregnant or nursing.