Fasting is simply choosing to go without food and/or drink for a period of time. An absolute fast, or dry fasting, is defined as going without all food and drink for a defined period. Water fasting is going without food and drink except for water, black coffee and tea. Regardless of the type of fasting, it is not the same as starvation. That is to say, the idea isn’t to starve yourself and to try not to eat at all. Rather it should be considered as a part of a balance lifestyle. Where you eat and fast during different periods.
The main reasons people choose to fast are for health or spiritual needs.
Fasting for Weight Loss
Your body is designed to transition between two different and opposing states: ‘Fed’, and ‘Fasted’. The fed state lasts for about four to six hours after your last meal. Six hours after eating you enter the fasted state.
When you eat food, the energy from the food is stored in the body. It is stored in two ways. Firstly we store energy, sugars linked into long chains called glycogen, in the liver. There is, however only so much space to store energy in this way. Once this limit has been reached, the liver turns the excess into fat. This newly created fat is stored in the liver and around the rest of the body.
The glycogen is easy for our bodies to use. However, the fat is more difficult to use. When we need energy we use the glycogen. Meaning that the fat around our bodies is only used if we have used up all the glycogen.
So if you never reach a point of feeling hungry. If you never exercise enough to use up all the easily accessible energy. Then you will never burn off any body fat. If you overeat you only store more and more fat.
When fasting the glycogen gets used up. The body still needs energy so it starts to use up the fat around your body as well.
How long do you have to go without food to fast?
The first meal of the day is called “break fast” because you are breaking your fast. Ideally everyone should already be fasting for at least 8 hours daily. Several metabolic adjustments occur during fasting. Metabolic changes of the fasting state begin after absorption of a meal (typically 3–5 hours after eating). So any period of over 6 hours without food could be considered as fasting. However, once you passed the 12 hour mark you are truly in a fasted state. After 12 hours your body will be using up stored body fat.
Exercise uses up the easily accessible glycogen even quicker. After which, you will be using up body fat. No only that but the meal after exercise will be stored more efficiently and burned quickly to help the recovery process. You may think you need food to fuel your workouts, but that isn’t necessarily true. Recently, the advice that suggests loading up on carbohydrates before exercise has been called into question. Yes, consuming carbs before exercise can increase performance in sports that use power movements, like sprinting. But it also stops the body from using stored body fat for energy, which means you are less likely to reap the reported fat burning benefits.
So, if you want to burn body fat, exercising in the morning, before breakfast, is the more effective option. With the added bonus of increasing your fasting period too. Most reports conclude that twice as many calories are used up by exercising in a fasted state then in a fed state.
Other health benefits
As well as weight loss, fasting has a number of other health benefits. These include:
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Improves metabolism
- Starves ‘bad’ bacteria in colon
- Improves hunger
- Improves mindful eating
- Improves brain function
- Promotes longevity
- Improves eating patterns
- Improves immune system
- Fights cancer cells (glucose-dependent)
- Reverses diabetes
- Improves fatty liver
- Improves neurodegenerative disorders
- Reduces infammation
- Improves cellular regeneration and repair
- Improves allergies
It’s not only the body that can benefit from fasting but the mind too. Fasting is part of many traditions and regions. Jesus Christ said, “Satan and his plagues may be cast out only by fasting and prayers”. Mahatma Gandhi said, “a genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul”. The prophet Mohammed said, “fasting brings us to the door of his palace”. Throughout history people have always voluntarily given their bodies and mind the advance of fasting.
How to fast
It’s important to check with your doctor when you plan to start fasting. Everyone should enjoy a period of sleep during which the body isn’t digesting food. Extending this fasting period is the easily way to make the most out of fasting. By eating the last meal of the day earlier and not snacking after you’re last meal of the day. And in the morning put back the time you have breakfast, or skip breakfast and eat the next meal earlier. As long as you make changes slowly and take your time you can find your own way. Start making small adjustments which you can build on at your own pace.