Fasting is an age-old tradition that is often carried out for spiritual reasons. But these days, when people have become more concerned about their weight, fasting is more often practiced to lose weight, than for religious reasons. During fasting, people eat less to no food. It is correct that fasting results in weight loss but there are also some negative effects for the same.
Fasting for a day or two is not critical, but it can harm the people suffering from chronic diseases. It also harms children and pregnant women. There is also medical fast that is supervised by physicians. These fasts are absolutely safe for everyone. The regime for fasting also differs, but the basic fast usually allows only fresh juice, any specific concoction or water. There are also some fasting regimes that involve the consumption of a few solid foods that provide few or low calories.
What Is Fasting?
Fasting is described as an act of refraining from or decrease in food, drink or both, for a specified period. A fast can be an absolute or intermittent fast. An absolute fast is a complete denial from all food and liquid for a specified period, such as a single day or some days. Intermittent fasts are only partly restrictive as they limit the consumption of particular foods or substances. Apart from being a religious activity, fasting offers several health benefits. In fact, it is an efficient way of consolidating healthy changes in your lifestyle.
Types Of Fasts
Most of the fasting, particularly in India, is of a spiritual nature. But it can also be practiced for other reasons such as cleansing and detoxifying the body, weight loss, treatment of a medical condition, etc. There are several forms of fasting. Proper care should be taken in case of any medical condition before starting a fast.
1. Juice Fast
Juice fasting includes the consumption of juices of fruits and vegetables during the fasting period. No solid foods are consumed during this period which can last for a day to 2 weeks. This type of fasting requires thoughtful planning. One needs to get adequate minerals and vitamins from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. This fast is meant for detoxification and weight loss.
2. Cleansing Fast
Cleansing fast is meant to cleanse the colon of concentrated food and toxins. It normally includes a liquid drink comprising lemon juice, some form of simple sugar for calories and Cayenne pepper or any other spice. This liquid is taken 6 to 12 times daily, and the fast can last from 1 to 14 days. A more intensive cleansing fast involves the consumption of a laxative tea twice daily, once in the morning and evening. However, you should be conscious of its negative effects before resorting to this fast.
3. Water Fast
As the name suggests, water fast involves the consumption of only water for the duration of the fast. Your body goes through various changes when it is deprived of water. This fast should be resorted to only after proper discussion with your physician. Medically supervised water fasts have proven to be advantageous in normalizing blood pressure.
4. Liquid Protein Fast
Liquid protein fast is proposed to cause weight loss in obese patients. It involves a liquid protein diet to enable people to lose weight between 10 to 100 lb. This kind of fasting needs proper medical supervision.
5. Diagnostic Fast
Several medical tests and procedures require you to refrain from eating or drinking anything except water for 8 to 12 hours prior to testing. For example, a diagnostic fast may want you to take the fasting glucose tolerance test. This is meant to estimate blood glucose levels to diagnose diabetes or hypoglycemia.
6. Religious Fast
Most religions use fasting as a means of religious purification and showing commitment to God. Different faiths prescribe different forms of fasts. For example, in the Catholic faith, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday are obligatory fast days. In Hinduism, fasting is done on specific days such as “karvachauth”. Likewise, Islam employs fasting in the month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset which involves fasting from food, drink, sex and smoking during the 30-day fast.
7. Partial Fast
These fasts primarily limit a particular type of food such as rice, wheat, or meats. It involves solid food but restricts the amount of food to less than 1 to 3 whole meals.
How To Perform It Right?
Though fasting provides many health benefits, it also connected with unfavorable effects like dehydration, electrolyte imbalance starvation, etc. Thus, fasting in the right manner is certainly essential to minimize the negative effects and get maximum benefits from your fast. The tips given below can considerably help in making your fasting more effective.
- Prepare yourself mentally and physically.
- Keep it short.
- Keep yourself hydrated.
- Have a pre-fast meal.
- Avoid strenuous exercise while fasting.
- Avoid operating heavy machinery.
- Avoid overeating after the fast.
- Do not compromise your health.
- Begin with a partial fast by incorporating any of the following food items:
- Raw food comprising of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts
- A single food diet such as a fruit or rice gruel
- Mineral-rich bone or vegetable broths
- Green smoothies
- Freshly pressed vegetable or fruit juices
- Maintain proper nutritional intake.
Benefits Of Fasting
1. Promotes Weight Loss
Weight loss is one of the biggest benefits of fasting. This is because when you fast, your body is bound to use the stored fats for getting energy. Lipolysis rises and insulin lowers during fasting. Eating less food decreases your metabolism to conserve energy. Fasting also increases catecholamines. These catecholamines help in producing some energy while burning fat in our body during fasting. Professionally supervised fasts are helpful for controlling serious obesity as they offer both medical and psychological support during the process of fasting, eventually leading you towards healthy eating habits.
2. Promotes Detoxification
Fasting detoxifies your body. Processed foods carry a lot of additives which become toxins in the body. Some of them cause the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Most of the toxins are collected in fats which are burnt during extended fasting. This results in the release of toxins. When you do not eat or drink during the day, your body starts feeding into fat reserves to create energy. This helps in burning away unhealthy toxins present in fat deposits. The liver, kidneys and other organs of the body get involved in this detoxification.
3. Rests your Digestive System
Fasting gives rest to your digestive organs although the normal functions such as the production of digestive secretions continue at decreased rates. This helps in supporting the balance of fluids in the body. Breakdown of food takes place at a constant rate. Energy is also released in a progressive pattern. The production of acids in the stomach, however, continues uninterrupted during fasting.
4. Lowers Cholesterol
One of the positive effects of fasting is the lowering of cholesterol in the blood. This results in the improvement of cardiovascular health and lower risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. This lower cholesterol level can be controlled by following a healthy diet after the fast is over.
5. Helps To Overcome Addictions
Fasting is of great help in overcoming the cravings for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods. Fasting can help the addicts to master their addictions. It develops a desire for natural foods such as fruits and water. In this way, it promotes a healthy lifestyle.
6. Decreases Appetite
Fasting is a safer option than certain fad diets where you end up gaining back all the weight you lost. This is because the reduction in the food eaten throughout fasting causes your stomach to shrink steadily. This requires you to eat lesser food to feel full. Fasting is, hence, an excellent option to get into the habit of healthy eating. When your fast is over, your appetite is less than before, and you are less likely to indulge in overeating.
7. Reduction In Blood Sugar
As stated earlier, fasting induces the breakdown of glucose to produce energy for the body. This decreases the production of insulin and rests the pancreas. Glucagon is produced to cause the breakdown of glucose, thus resulting in the reduction of blood sugar.
8. Improves Immunity
Following a balanced diet in between fasts can increase immunity, reduce toxins and reduce fat storage. Breaking your fast with fruits causes a rise in the body’s store of essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A and E are good antioxidants which help to boost immunity.
9. Normalizes Blood Pressure
Fasting is a powerful non-drug method of reducing blood pressure. Hence, it decreases the risk of atherosclerosis, clogging of arteries by fat particles. Fasting causes the body to use up the glucose and later fat stores for producing energy. During fasting, metabolic rate, as well as fear hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline, are reduced. This keeps your metabolism constant and within limits, resulting in the reduction of blood pressure.
10. Mental And Emotional Benefits
Fasting improves mental clarity and focus, thus providing you with greater freedom, flexibility, and energy for the day to day activities of life.
Dangers Of Fasting For Weight Loss
- Fasting, no doubt decreases calorie intake. Though this is good for weight loss, it can also cause some health problems like muscle loss.
- During a fast, your body goes into a protection mode which means, calories are burned more slowly and steadily.
- Usually, the initial weight that is lost is ‘water weight’ or essentially fluid. This means no fat is lost. So at times, this weight loss trick is short and any lost weight usually returns on going back to your regular diet.
- The weight reacquired is usually fat because the slower metabolism makes it easier to gain the lost weight.
- Some other side effects of fasting include headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, low blood sugar, muscle aches, dizziness, and weakness.
- Fasting for a long term may lead to anemia, irregular heartbeat, a weakened immune system, and liver or kidney problems.
- Fasting to lose weight can also result in mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and when your body becomes lacking in various important vitamin and minerals, it tends to fall sick and may face other health problems and diseases.
Extended fasting is strictly not advised. Fasting for a period of two days is safe. It is advised that you intake sufficient quantities of water, juices, and fruits so that the body doesn’t fall deficient of any mineral or vitamin. If you are thinking of fasting in order to lose weight, then it is advised that you consult a physician. This will reduce the risk of getting affected by the harmful effects of fasting for weight loss.