Have you been thinking about dipping a toe into the wide world of fasting but don’t know where to start? In this two-part series, we’re going deep on fasting - exactly what it is and what it means to fast, the science behind it, the major benefits (there are a lot!) and how to fast safely and effectively.
While fasting as a religious or cultural practice dates back for centuries, it’s only recently begun gaining steam in the health and wellness world as an effective way to ward of disease, lose weight and live longer (hi, officially count us IN!). If you think fasting has to be a complicated process, or are completely overwhelmed by the breadth of information available on the topic, sit back, relax, and join us on this “Fasting 101” journey!
What Is Fasting?
Put simply, fasting is any period of time you go without food. “There’s actually infinite variability [when it comes to fasting]...anytime that you don’t eat - that’s fasting. It’s the flip side of eating,” says Dr Jason Fung, fasting expert and author.
Not so tricky, right? But before jumping on the fasting bandwagon, let’s get something straight - fasting does not mean starving! Fasting refers to a strategic window of time that you designate for eating vs. fasting or restricting calories. For example, you could fast between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and eat your meals between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., which would put you at a 12-hour fasting/calorie restriction period. The optimal fasting period varies from person to person, so stick around for Part 2 of this series to learn more about the different types of fasting and which may be right for you.
What Happens When You Fast?
According to medical innovator and author Dr Steven Gundry, the practice of fasting allows your body the break it needs from digesting food (which takes up a lot of energy!) to focus on repairing other parts of the body.
When you fast, your body reaches a state of what is called autophagy. During this process, your body essentially cleans house by recycling, repairing and renewing weak or damaged cells and proteins and ridding the body of unwanted toxins, harmful bacteria or nasty viruses. Have you ever noticed a loss of appetite after catching a cold of the flu? That’s your body’s natural response to fighting off the virus by entering a state of autophagy!
Some studies suggest regular fasting is a natural way to “hack” the ageing process by boosting nitric oxide (the molecule that helps to detoxify) and anti-inflammatory antioxidants within the body. And health journalist and best-selling author, Michael Pollan, reports fasting “has repeatedly been shown to slow ageing in animals, and many researchers believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention.”
Those health benefits alone are pretty compelling. But wait, there’s more! From weight loss to better brain function to anti-ageing and immunity-boosting properties, fasting may be the key to warding off disease and living longer. Read on to learn more about the proven health benefits fasting has to offer.
While weight loss isn’t the only goal of fasting, it’s certainly a side effect. Fasting improves the flexibility of metabolism, allowing the body to burn more fat over time. By restricting food at a certain period of time, the body transitions from burning sugar to burning fat for energy. Fasting can be especially helpful when weight loss plateaus.
One study showed fasting to be an effective method of fat loss and weight management without sacrificing muscle mass. And another study found that fasting positively affects body composition, showing an average of 9% reduction in body weight and a significant reduction in body fat over a 12-24 week period.
Brain Function & Memory
Fasting has a powerful effect on healthy brain function and memory. It lowers the risk for degenerative brain diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s by ridding the brain of damaged cells and generating new, healthy cells.
Fasting is also thought to change the chemistry of the brain by increasing a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This increase in BDNF allows the brain to form and maintain more synapses (connecting points between your brain cells), resulting in enhanced memory and learning abilities.
Longevity & Ageing
Many studies show fasting can ease inflammation in the body and reset the immune system, helping to protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as cancer.
Another study on fasting and mitochondria (the “power generators” in the cells) showed that fasting increased the strength and power of mitochondria networks within the body, a crucial factor in healthy ageing and longevity.
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Tune in next week of Part 2 of our Fasting 101 series, where we’ll discuss the various types of fasting and how to decide which might be right for you!