Fasting is nothing but a forgotten art!
Fasting has been practised for centuries in different religions for spiritual reasons, but did you know it has massive health benefits as well?
Constantly eating throughout the day is now a cultural norm, so much so, that it’s shocking to suggest there is value in doing the absolute opposite!
The idea of eating little and often is a ‘good thing’ has partially been driven by food manufacturers, but it also has support from the medical establishment. The argument is that it is better to eat a lot of small meals, because that way we are less likely to get hungry and gorge on high-fat junk food. The flaw in this theory is that people simply end up eating more, losing track of what they have eaten (when did you last do a food diary?). Unfortunately, in the real world that’s exactly what happens all too often. Isn’t it?
In a recent study it was found that compared to 30 years ago, we now eat around 180 calories a day extra in snacks and fizzy drinks. We also eat more when it comes to our regular meals. In other words, snacking doesn’t seem to mean that we eat less at the meal times, it just wets the appetite!
What is fasting?
The word fasting means ‘act of willing abstinence or reduction from food or drinks for a period of time’. So why do we end up eating every two to three hours? We know why! Because the food is around every corner!
Our ancestors were the biggest followers of the fasting. They ate when they caught the animal, fasted on berries and seeds in between and then ate properly when an animal was caught again. Also, what scientists have found is that periods while fasting allowed our ancestors to clear their brains and increase their metabolic rate. This in turn helped them to figure out when and where to catch the next prey. Fasting really is in our DNA, but we are failing to harness it!
So what is a fasting diet?
There are a number of different fasting diets which are becoming increasingly popular (I’m sure you know already someone who is doing it) including the 5:2 fasting diet practised by the rich and famous; Philip Schofield, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ actor Richard Wilson etc. Fasting is becoming an essential tool in losing excess weight and most importantly keeping it off. Once practised, it becomes a way of life and not a diet anymore.
All the fasting techniques use intermittent fasting (on/off) fasting. When we are fasting the body has time to burn all the fat and carbohydrates from foods we consumed and switches to burning our fat stores. This is when the weight-loss happens! Usually the fasting period is between 12 and 24 hours, not short, but certainly not too long either.
Please note that choosing healthier food options and exercise will always have impact on your weight and health.
What are the benefits of fasting?
Often we forget that we don’t really want to lose weight as such, but excess fat. Intermittent fasting has the following benefits for the body:
It achieves gradual weight-loss and the loss is almost all fat.
Muscle tissue is preserved unlike in some other diets. It is important to preserve muscle for many reasons including muscle is metabolically active. Lean tissue (muscles) burns calories, even at rest (sleep). Interestingly, the heavier you are, the more likely it is that fasting will lead to substantial fat loss with muscle being spared.
A bonus for intermittent fasters is that it seems to lead not just to fat loss generally, but specifically to fat loss around the gut. This is important because gut fat is visceral fat and is particularly dangerous because it increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Carrying excess fat is not just a bummer on the beach, it’s bad for your health. It can knock years off your life expectancy plus make you more vulnerable to a number of diseases.
So besides sustainable weight-loss and successful maintenance, scientific research has established multiple health benefits of fasting:
Reduces blood glucose - reduces risk of type 2 diabetes.
Reduces cholesterol - reduces risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Reduces IGF1 factor (high levels are responsible for cancer development and getting old quicker).
Repairs damaged DNA – reduces risk of cancers.
Prevents/slows down onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the downsides of fasting?
Some people find that fasting can affect their concentration, so once we decide to do fasting we need to consider best days and times to do it, so it fits into our lifestyle. It helps if we can motivate ourselves to give our will power a hand. Also planning weekly meals will help.
Who should not fast?
Children under 18 years of age.
Pregnant or breast feeding woman.
People with type 1 diabetes.
If you are on prescribed medications see your doctor before embarking on any diet.
Will I starve?
James G. Scott, 22 year-old Australian who came to the Himalayas for a hiking trip, became lost in a blizzard in December 1991 and survived 43 days on melted snowballs and caterpillars!
Let’s not confuse word ‘fasting’ with word ‘starvation’ here. Lots of us think our body will switch to actual starvation mode while we are fasting and we will pile on the weight afterwards. Definitely not! Scientists have found that short bursts of calorie restrictive fasting 12-24hrs, do not put us into starvation mode but actually increases our metabolic rate which in turns help to burn more fat, especially around the middle!
For years we’ve been told, ‘You are what you eat’. Turns out we are when we eat too!
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About Angelika Cutuk-Short
Angelika Cutuk-Short is MSc. Nutritionist and NLP coach. She has been working in nutrition industry since 2006 and is a member of Federation of Nutritional Therapy Practitioners and a member of the Nutrition Society. In her practice she specialized exclusively on weight loss management by using variations of safe and researched fasting diets.