Fasting is not a new trend. It is an ancient practice and efficient approach to wellness. And yet many of the present generation give it an eye-rolling response.
Fasting has been used as one of the efficient healing traditions for centuries. Every culture on earth uses it. Varied religious denominations fast for spiritual cleansing. Christians fast during Lent. Muslims fast during the Islam celebration of Ramadan. The Bahá’i followers fast in March. Buddhist monks and nuns observing the Vinaya Rules withhold food after the noon meal, while the lay Buddhist fast during intensive meditations. And so on.
History traces the tradition of fasting to the ancient times, using it as the most handy yet efficient approach to wellness. Renowned thinkers and notable persons even believed in fasting. Hippocrates of Kos, the Greek physician and an outstanding figure in the history of medicine, told his patients: “To eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness”. The Greek philosophers Plato and his student Aristotle were also advocates of fasting. And Plutarch, the Greek biographer and essayist wrote: “Instead of using medicine, better fast today”.
Also, Philip Paracelsus, the Swiss physician and founder of toxicology wrote: “Fasting is the greatest remedy - the physician within”. While Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States was also a believer of fasting. He once said: “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting”.
Fasting is NOT starvation
It was only about a hundred years ago when people started eating more than three times a day. Perhaps, the abundance of food and the creation of more food products may have something to do with it. The media, too - both the conventional forms and social media - are great influencers to the people’s eating habits. The present generation has become used to eating most of the day so much so that when you mentioned fasting to them, you will be met with an eye-rolling response. Some would even freak out when advised to fast. Sadly, these people equate fasting with starvation, which is not so. This being said, I find it necessary to correct that notion.
Starvation is an involuntary act. You are forced to experience hunger because there is no food available. You neither control the situation nor do it deliberately. Oftentimes, you don’t have the idea when and where to get your next meal. On the other hand, fasting is voluntary. You refrain from consuming food for purposes like religious observance, health protocol, or for other reasons. Fasting may be done for just a few hours, days, or months. And you can decide to end it at will.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting (or IF)
Contrary to what some people say that it’s unhealthy, fasting brings a whole lot of health benefits when done properly. Intermittent fasting is a pattern that involves a cycle between withholding food for a certain period and eating. It does not prohibit you from eating a particular type of food. In fact, you may eat whatever you want during the period when you are not fasting. You just have to watch the number of calories to consume.
Efficient and sure way to weight loss. This is good news to people who are trying hard to shed off excess fats. When you fast, your body is forced to abandon its dependence on glucose. You see, when you eat, insulin increases. But when you fast, insulin drops dramatically, making the burning of fat easy. Moreover, the organic chemical called norepinephrine works as a neurotransmitter. Your nervous system sends this norepinephrine to the fat cells, causing the latter to break down and convert the body fat into free fatty acids. These free fatty acids then become your source of energy.
The human growth hormone (HGH) also goes up when you’re on a fasted state. Growth hormone is a peptide hormone that can facilitate weight loss, muscle gain, and cell reproduction, among other things.
A review study made in 2004 revealed that individuals who did IF showed significant changes in their body, particularly:
- They lost around 4 - 7 percent of their waist circumference. This means they lost some belly fat.
- Intermittent fasting causes them to reduce body weight by 3 - 8 percent over a period of three to twenty-four weeks.
- IF’s rate of weight loss was about 0.55 pounds (0.25 kg) per week.
No skin folds. In intermittent fasting, you don’t have to worry about developing these features. This is because your body goes through a process called autophagy, which literally means cellular “self-eating”. In this important metabolic process, there is a recycling and clean up activity inside your body - a removal of the damaged tissues and misfolded proteins. You know, when your cells are not able to initiate autophagy, you run the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other conditions.
Better cognitive function. Dr. Joseph Mercola, an Osteopathic Physician, said that intermittent fasting improves cognitive function by providing the brain with fat instead of glucose. Likewise, Professor Mark Mattson, the head of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging and Professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, gives a similar proposition. In a TEDx Talk on the subject of fasting in relation to brain function, Mattson said that fasting causes positive neurochemical changes in the brain. These changes are said to lead to an improvement in a person’s cognitive function and resistance to stressful stimuli.
The Professor further reported that calorific restriction brings down inflammation in the brain and increases neurotrophic factors like the production and growth of neurons. These factors are essential in improving memory and learning.
IF keeps Type 2 diabetes at bay. Lifestyle changes and paying attention to your eating habits are the keys to proper management of Type 2 diabetes. An observational study conducted in Canada revealed that therapeutic fasting remarkably reversed the patients’ insulin resistance, “resulting in cessation of insulin therapy while maintaining control of their blood sugars”. The Type 2 diabetic patients in the study also demonstrated significant reduction in their body weight, waist circumference, and their glycated haemoglobin level.
Reduces your cravings for food. When you fast, both your “hunger hormone” (Ghrelin) and “satiety hormone” (leptin) are activated in this manner: your Ghrelin decreases, while your leptin increases. What does this mean? When you have less ghrelin and more leptin you feel fuller because your body’s dependence on glucose is considerably changed.
Now, the challenge is on you. To feed or to fast? Honestly, fasting can be a challenge for beginners, particularly if you’re used to constant feeding. But no matter what, lifestyle is a great influencer to health.