I find it so inspiring that throughout the world, fasting is practiced for spiritual and religious purposes as a way to refocus the mind and body, at times fasting for 24 hours or more. But for many of us who only think of fasting right before a lab test or procedure, the thought of depriving the body of food may be a challenge we’re unwilling to take.
I was once like that too, so if you are also on the fence about voluntarily fasting, perhaps the research will persuade you.
Simply put, fasting is nature’s ultimate (and fastest) reset button, according to a growing body of research. Abstaining from eating or drinking (water is okay) for an extended period of time can have a dramatic, positive effect on health. It may help you live longer, increase skin’s natural radiance, improve gut health, boost brainpower, and calm inflammation.
Scientists are now offering powerful reasons why you should consider giving fasting a try. One such scientist happens to be my long-time dear friend Dr. Michael C Hoaglin, MD, Clinical Director for Ubiome, a biotechnology company dedicated to helping patients and clinicians understand how gut health impacts the body’s ability to ward off inflammatory conditions and disease.
After watching the The Real Skinny on Fat docu-series, which explores the science behind why fat is vital to good health, and why fasting can cleanse the body in ways not previously understood, Dr. Hoaglin was inspired to do his own 5-day water fast to see the impact on his energy level and mental acuity, from a clinical perspective.
“When you fast, you starve down bad bacteria in the gut that live on the diet that you eat,” Dr. Hoaglin says.
Furthermore, Dr. Valter Longo of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, a leading expert in the study of the “fasting mimicking diet” (FMD), conducted research that ties together well-designed studies in cellular biology with animal studies and human trials to provide an explanation for the numerous benefits of fasting.
There are critical processes that only happen during periods of fasting, which can improve digestion, skin, immune health, and even activate stem cells to support longevity.
If your body is constantly working to digest food, your cells spend more time building and growing than they do repairing and eliminating waste and toxins that have accumulated within them. It is this repair – mode that is responsible for the benefits of fasting.
What ‘grazing’ does to your body
Since the 1990’s, Americans have been given the unfortunate advice to eat less more often—every 3-4 hours up to an alarming six times a day—to stave off hunger and keep blood sugar steady. It’s no wonder why many people may feel as though they’re “starving” if they don’t snack between meals.
Perhaps there is some basis to this approach for managing certain conditions; however, the biology behind autophagy, the process of cellular repair by which every cell in the body is cleansed of toxic buildup, offers a different viewpoint.
The circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep/wake cycle also has the important responsibility of coordinating certain cellular activities based on when you eat or fast. In the same way that you cannot be at two places at once to perform multiple activities equally well, the body requires defined times to perform each function fully and efficiently without interference from other physical processes.
Grazing throughout the day does not give cells sufficient time for repair and to clean-up waste and toxins that have accumulated as a result of aging, external toxins, and even natural, healthy functions, such as digestion.
Want to hear the good news? Research suggests that just 16 hours of not eating can create the caloric restriction that happens during fasting and gives your cells time for self-care and cleansing.
What happens in the body during fasting?
When you go extended periods without food, your body becomes stressed in a positive way, which triggers cellular detoxification through autophagy. Your ability to reduce your chances of chronic diseases and metabolic disorders, and live a longer, active life depends on factors such as autophagy.
Hormones play a critical role in activating autophagy. Glucagon is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to low blood glucose, whereas the hormone insulin works in opposition to glucagon to reduce blood glucose levels. When you fast intermittently, insulin levels go down and glucagon goes up, which is like the “on” switch for autophagy and has been shown to have benefits including increasing metabolism, providing more energy, improving mood, and jumpstarting weight loss.
Benefits of fasting can include increase in the diversity of bacteria in your gut, which is important for your immune system and overall health. In fact, researchers have linked daily fasting to activation of the gene that strengthens the gut barrier to protect the body from harmful microbes, toxins, and other substances that can trigger immune reactions.
In addition, fasting may help restore the integrity of the intestinal lining, favorably influencing the inflammatory response contributing to protection against the traffic jam of chronic diseases linked to inflammation.
One fast does not fit all
If you’re a fasting novice, then the mere mention of the word “fasting” may conjure up ideas of extreme hunger, irritability, and a sense that you will be unable to function. As with any new activity that threatens your daily routine, there will be a period of adjustment as your body shuts off auto-pilot and your cells begin to behave differently to the new environment.
The good news is there are many types of fasts, such as a 5-day water fast like the one Dr. Hoaglin practiced, or a 5/2 fast where you eat for five days, then cut intake down to one-quarter of your usual intake for the remaining two days.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the practice of shifting between shorter intervals of restricted eating as opposed to days at a time. The 16/8 approach—the one I personally practice and talk about in my book, Glow15—requires that you fast for 16 hours (most of it overnight) and eat during a window of eight hours. That’s roughly the equivalent of skipping breakfast.
In fact, the results from a recent study suggest that the 16/8 diet may be easier to maintain when compared to other fasting protocols.
Fasting for beginners
I find it rewarding to guide individuals who are new to fasting and keto through what can sometimes feel like a maze of information, which is why I created a simple, step-by-step fasting program described in Glow15, along with a nourishing fasting support kit to help optimize the benefits. Here’s a simple way to get started:
Step 1: At 8:00 pm, stop eating and let the cleansing begin.
Step 2: Fast for 12 hours, until 8:00 am.
Step 3: If this is comfortable for you, challenge yourself to a 14-hour fast next time. Remain at that duration until it feels comfortable. Your ultimate goal is to fast for 16 hours, then break your fast at noon.
Break your fast gently with an egg, a cup of broth, or coffee with Simply GOODFATS MCT oil. The extra fat in these foods provide your body with energy without spiking insulin, as foods high in carbohydrates would do.
It’s natural to feel intimidated the first time you try something new. Ease into fasting until it feels comfortable, and before long, the benefits you’ll see and feel as your cells efficiently take out the garbage will be their own motivation to build it into your regular health routine. Before you know it, it will become as intuitive and rewarding as riding a bike!