Wellness Wednesday – 8/11/21
Last week, my brother told me about the five-day fasting diet that he was completing. He is a football coach and a fitness enthusiast, so I was quite surprised. Why would someone so healthy to begin with even consider fasting? Is it truly healthy to refrain from eating for long periods of time? Interestingly, some studies have found benefits of fasting that surpass losing weight or shrinking one’s appetite. However, fasting can also take extreme tolls on the body and those looking to fast should always consult with a physician beforehand.
In essence, fasting — also known as intermittent fasting — is a regimented eating plan that switches between fasting and eating. There are many of different ways to do this, but clinical studies have shown positive results. It may seem strange to go longer periods of time without eating, however, our ancestors thrived on it. According to Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, who has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years:
“… our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours, or even several days or longer. In prehistoric times, before humans learned to farm, they were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive — and thrive — for long periods without eating. They had to: It took a lot of time and energy to hunt game and gather nuts and berries.”
According to the Johns Hopkins article, when you fast, you are “prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal,” and your body begins to exhaust its sugar stores and burn fat.
In addition to burning fat, some experts believe that fasting can also detoxify the body. According to this article from Boulder Medical Center, “fasting cleanses our body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present … Because our bodies conserve energy during fasting, our basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy our bodies burn while resting) becomes more efficient, thereby lowering our heart rate and blood pressure.”
The mild stress that fasting places on your body can potentially strengthen your cells and their ability to adapt. The article also notes that fasting may lead to increased cognitive performance, reduced inflammation, improved fitness, and decreased risk of metabolic diseases.
How to Fast
If you’re considering trying a short-term fasting plan to help kickstart your wellness journey, the first thing everyone should do is consult with their doctor or a nutritionist. Fasting can come as a shock to your body and have many detrimental effects, especially those unprepared for it. Speaking to a professional is necessary to ensuring a safe, beneficial experience.
There are many different types of fasting programs that one can choose from depending on lifestyle. For a detailed outside resource, Medical News Today describes seven ways to do intermittent fasting along with helpful tips to maintain your fasting program. Here is a summary of some of the most popular intermittent fasting routines with helpful links to get you started:
12 Hour Fasting. This fasting method is as simple as it sounds: stick to to a 12-hour fasting window each day. This one seems the most adaptable to the average lifestyle because one can align the fasting period with their sleep schedule. For example, scheduling the fast from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. may feel shorter if one is sleeping for 6-8 hours overnight.
16:8 Method. This increases the 12 hour fast to 16 (14 hours is recommended for women) decreasing the eating time to eight.
5:2 Day Method. This type of fasting focuses on days rather than hours. For this method, one would consume a typical amount of food for five days a week, and for two days a week they would limit their calorie intake to about 600 for men and 500 for women.
Meal Skipping. According to the Medical News Today article, this method is a “flexible approach to intermittent fasting [that] may be good for beginners,” and simply involves skipping meals. Participants can decide which meals to skip based on their hunger levels and daily schedules, which might feel more natural than the stricter methods.
One important thing to note is that fasting is for solid foods only. One should always consume plenty of liquids —namely water — throughout the day, especially when fasting. Use your fasting time to boost your water intake, which might even help you feel full.
Fast(ing) Facts: The Risks
Despite some of the researched benefits, fasting is an extreme form of dieting that can take a toll on the body that is used to functioning on multiple meals a day. It is still not a universally agreed upon form of weight loss (many of the studies have been performed on animals,) and those looking to try it should be open to both the benefits and the risks of performing these methods.
According to this article from Healthline, the side effects of intermittent fasting include headaches, lightheadedness, digestive issues, irritability and other mood changes, fatigue, poor sleeping, dehydration and bad breath.
Another article by eating disorder specialists at the Center for Discovery identifies groups of individuals who should avoid fasting: those with high caloric needs or at high risk for eating disorders. The article also adds that two common side effects of fasting are overeating and binge eating, which could hinder the progress you are making.
Medical News Today also notes that one may experience increased heart burn when fasting because “lack of food leads to a reduction in stomach acid, which digests food and destroys bacteria.” Moreover, health professionals who disagree with fasting articulate that fasting “may steer people away from healthy eating recommendations, such as eating five portions of fruits and vegetables a day … [and] may also trigger eating disorders or binge eating.”
As always, it is important to understand both the benefits and risks associated when it comes to trying something new. Check in with a health professional first, and regardless of whatever diet you choose, make sure to up your water intake!
Extreme Diets. While they can be very effective in assisting weight loss, diets can take some extreme tolls on your body. Check out this article from U.S. News on what happens to your body when you’re on a diet, and remember, always consult with a health professional before starting something new.
Pandemic Changes. Do you feel as if something in you changed during the global pandemic? You’re not alone. According to this interesting article, the pandemic actually made us all “more radically honest” with one another.
Making Friends. One of the most frightening things about moving somewhere new is figuring out how to make friends in your new home. This article offers advice on how to meet and bond with new people after changing your zip code.