Fasting: Ancient Secret of Health – Part I

I actually don’t know many people who fast regularly, or, perhaps more accurately stated,  I don’t know who I know who is fasting regularly. 

In my adult life, after my rather long years of pregnancies and nursing, I have had periods where I fasted, then gave it up for a time, and then went back to fasting.  Currently, after a discussion with my fasting-enthusiast physician, and doing some reading, I’m back in the game.

Does it sound just too weird for words to you?  I get that.  Three meals a day, sometimes with lots of snacks in between, seems to be more the norm these days in this country.  Some people are advised to eat several smaller meals a day rather than three big ones. It’s hard to know what makes for good health and what doesn’t.

I don’t plan to solve that argument here. I want to talk about fasting in general, and about the growing popular health practice of intermittent fasting. You can decide if you want to try it or not.

First, though, it’s important to note that, as beneficial as fasting of any sort might be, which remains to be seen, it is, at best, only one life-enhancing practice among many.

Good health is the result of several factors.

-Eat a wide variety of foods, in as close to their natural state as possible, and mostly things that grow out of the ground. Uncooked food, in general, is more beneficial than cooked.
-Reduce sugars and grains, especially the processed ones.
-Eat more, not less, natural fats, especially those from fruits or nuts – olive oil, coconut oil flax, hemp, and sesame seeds, etc.
-Eat fewer artificial fats, such as corn or vegetable, or the trans fats occurring in crackers and such.
-Balance feeding with fasting.

Back to Fasting.

What is Fasting?

Life is about balance. Fasting is just the flip side of eating.

Simply put, fasting, in its strictest sense, is the voluntary abstinence from all food and drink, except for water for a period of time, and reliance on the nutritional reserves of the body to sustain normal function.  While some studies on fasting have included coffee, teas, juices, and sometimes even drugs, fasting with water only is the most effective and safest way to fast.

Humans have been fasting throughout evolution. Sometimes it was done because food was not available. It has also been a part of many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. For most of history, there have not been supermarkets, refrigerators, or food that was available all year round.

How Does Fasting Work?

Fasting simply allows the body to burn off excess body fat, which is merely food energy that has been stored away. When we eat, more food energy is ingested than can immediately be used.  Some of this energy must be stored away for later use. Insulin is the key hormone involved in the storage of food energy. Throughout history fasting periods were often called “cleanses,” “detoxifications,” or purifications.  Whatever the subtitle was, to fast was to abstain from food for a period of time for health reasons.  People imagined that this period of abstinence from food would clear their bodies’ systems of toxins and rejuvenate them.  Now there is evidence to support what the ancients intuited.

What are the Benefits of Fasting?

I will discuss benefits more in depth in Part II of this article, but, for now, some of the purported physical benefits of fasting, (and there are spiritual and emotional ones to consider as well), include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Improved mental clarity and concentration
  • Weight and body fat loss
  • Lowered blood insulin and sugar levels
  • Reversal of type 2 diabetes
  • Increased energy
  • Improved fat burning
  • Increased growth hormone
  • Lowered blood cholesterol
  • Possible prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Are There Safety Issues or Side Effects Involved?

Hunger is the main side effect. Some people worry that it will build to an intolerable level.  It doesn’t.  I find it more mentally bothersome than physically.  How many times a day do I want to reach for food to satisfy some boredom, worry, or anger? When I tell myself that I am not going to starve during this fast, and that I can eat anything I want when it is over, the “hunger” becomes much more manageable. It tends to come in waves and is easily handled by some water, and/or a good walk.

Sometimes people experience some mild brain fuzziness.  It generally passes once the body adapts to the new reality.

Headaches are common, and again, tend to disappear after the first few times on fasts. Taking in a little salt may help.

If you have a medical condition, then it makes sense to consult with your doctor before fasting.  This is particularly important if you have diabetes, problems with blood sugar regulation, or low blood pressure, take medications, are underweight, or have a history of eating disorders.

Women who are trying to conceive, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, should not fast, nor should growing children. They need all the nutrients they can get.

Should I Try to Fast?

Fasting is not something than anyone needs to do.  It is just one of many lifestyle strategies that can improve your health and overall sense of well-being and confidence. Eating real food, exercising, and getting adequate rest and social interaction are still the main pillars of a healthy lifestyle.

Fasting has benefits, no doubt, and it is great for some people, not others.  I am a fan. You may not be. The best way to find out if it is helpful for you is to give it a try. It won’t be harmful, in any case.

If you feel good when fasting and find it to be helpful, then it can be a very powerful tool for losing weight, gaining energy, removing toxins, and improving overall health.

In my next blog I will talk more about the growing-in-popularity intermittent fasting –how to get started, and ways to accomplish it.  There is no one set pattern for everybody, but I’ll share some possibilities.

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