What is Fasting?
It is the abstinence of food. In different religious fasts, it is about eliminating a certain type of food - from drinks (ex. alcohol) or macronutrients (ex. carbohydrates and proteins) to animal sources (ex. eggs, animal meat, and dairy).
Types of Fasting
16/8: Fast for 16 hours a day.
5/2 Diet: Fast for 2 days per week.
The Eat-Stop-Eat meals, twice a week.
Alternate-Day Fasting: Fast every other day.
The warrior Diet: Fast during the day, eat a huge meal at night.
Spontaneous Eating: Skip meals with convenient.
In addition, many spiritual practices include fasting as part of their rituals, which can be long-term (Orthodox fasting or some forms of fasting as Buddhism) or intermittent (ex. Ramadan and Daniel fasting).
Inflammation: Decreased inflammatory markers and reduced inflammation damage have been measured.
Weight Loss: Body weight loss may occur - be it muscle mass, glycogen storages or more. The loss in weight can be associated with the reduction in calorie intake, age, duration of fasting, baseline body mass index, and country of residence - along with a mix of dehydration, changes in diet, physical activity, and sleeping duration. For example, in one study, it appeared that only people who were overweight and obese lost weight; in another one only men, not women, loss weight.
Insulin levels: Improved insulin sensitivity and insulin/IGF-1 have been demonstrated.
Cellular repair: Upregulation of autophagy, which may help protect against infection, malignancy, and neurodegenerative diseases, has been shown.
- Muscle Loss
- Nutrient deficiencies or the exacerbation of them
- Difficulty in concentration
- Worse Mood
- Negative Relationship with food
- REM sleep may be impacted
- Low T3
When fasting, it is important to intake enough of the following nutrients:
Sodium and chloride
Calcium and magnesium
According to Paul Jaminet, in The Perfect Health Diet, the benefits of fasting are primarily from the elimination of carbs and proteins. Meaning, you can still eat herbs, fiber-rich plants like leafy greens, spices, bone broth, and fat like coconut oil. The fiber-rich greens you eat will be food for your microbiome and be turned into butyrate by your gut bacteria — a beneficial short chain fatty acid.
A green leafy salad with chives tossed in lemon juice, sea salt, and olive oil;
Bone broth with seaweed, green onions, herbs, and sea salt;
According to Paul Jaminet, if you want to focus more on a ketogenic based fast, you may want to eat coconut oil. Everybody has a different tolerance for fats, so feel free to experiment and respond accordingly.
If you are fasting to lose weight for a sport (ex. wrestling), it is recommended to not do it near the date of your competition, because it could negatively impact your athletic performance.
Caveats To Fasting
Based on some studies, intermittent fasting appears to for some people who are obese or overweight not to trigger binge eating in people without previous binge eating disorder. Intermittent fasting for normal weight women may trigger "feelings of hunger, worse mood, heightened irritability, difficulty in concentrating, increase fatigue, eating related thoughts, fear of loss of control and overeating during non-restricted days." If you already have a stressful relationship with eating, I would seek help from an eating psychologist or appropriate practitioner to work with if you want to explore fasting.
If you already live a stressful and on-the-go life, you may want to wait to do fasting when you are more relaxed (ex. retreat, vacation, or supervised by medical professionals) and have time to set yourself up for a successful fast. There is actually a medically supervised retreat center, called TrueNorth Health Center, for people looking for a retreat center with medically supervised fasting. Fasting is a stress to the body. And from my observation with clients and friends who tend to be overachievers with type A personalities and demanding jobs, it is very easy to fast without enough downtime and adequate stress management - reinforcing or creating other types of problems (ex. HPA dysfunction, creating or reinforcing an unhealthy relationship with food, and increasing social isolation that is already prevalent in our modern life).
Remember Fasting is a Form of Stress...
Because fasting is a form of stress, I am not surprised that many spiritual practices also include downtime and group prayer or meditation while fasting. Some spiritual practices, such as Ramadan, allow exceptions for children and other people who are ill, traveling, menstruating, and breastfeeding.
A change in your nutrition can also bring about unexpected mental, energy, mood, social, and emotional changes. And it is why I recommend an integrative approach to fasting so that you can have a better and safer experience. If you find yourself not feeling well when fasting, I recommend asking for help.
If you have more questions, I offer in private sessions in San Francisco and online. For a free consultation, please email me.
Jaminet, P. The Perfect Health Diet. (3/18/17). http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2012/03/food-for-a-fast/
Jaminet, P. The Perfect Health Diet. (3/18/17). Retrieved from http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2010/12/neo-agutak/
Aloui, A., Chtourou, H., Briki, W., Tabben, M., Chaouachi, A., Souissi, N., … Chamari, K. (2016). Rapid weight loss in the context of Ramadan observance: recommendations for judokas. Biology of Sport, 33(4), 407–413. http://doi.org/10.5604/20831862.1224098
Harvie, M.; Howell, A. Potential Benefits and Harms of Intermittent Energy Restriction and Intermittent Fasting Amongst Obese, Overweight and Normal Weight Subjects—A Narrative Review of Human and Animal Evidence. Behav. Sci. 2017, 7, 4.
Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702–710. http://doi.org/10.4161/auto.6.6.12376
Gunnars, K. 6 Popular Ways To Do Intermittent Fasting. (3/18/17) Retrieved from https://authoritynutrition.com/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting/
Qasrawi, S. Pandi-Perumai, S. BahHammam, A. (February 11, 2017) The effect of intermittent fasting during Ramadan on sleep, sleepiness, cognitive function, and circadian rhythm. Sleep Breath doi: 10.1007/s11325-017-1473-x.
3/18/17 Retrieved from https://static.pexels.com/photos/298719/pexels-photo-298719.jpeg