Benefits of fasting and how to do it safely

This is part one of a three part series exploring the relationships between the fasting, the gut and the brain as well as the herbs that can help when fasting.

 

What is fasting?

Fasting is a voluntary withholding of food for mental. physical and spiritual well-being. It is not a type of diet but instead a pattern of eating. It’s a way of scheduling meals in order to get the most out of them. It doesn't change what you eat, but changes when you eat. 

 

Recommended fasting method to begin with

Intermittent fasting (IF) is probably the most well-known type of fasting, which implies alternating between periods of eating and fasting. IF means that periods of fasting occur regularly between periods of normal eating. There are several approaches to IF, the most common being short daily fasting regimens. A major advantage of short daily fasting is that it is fairly simple to incorporate into everyday life. 


Short-term fasts involve a 12-18-hour period of fasting into meal schedules and are often done daily. For example, if you are fasting 16 hours from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. daily, you could have an eight-hour window of eating every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. This schedule usually fits well into work and family-life schedules, since most people skip the morning meal every day and have an earlier dinner. 

 

Benefits of fasting

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can lead to many health improvements. A few potential benefits are listed below:

  •  faster metabolism
  •  weight loss (especially fat loss)
  •  increased mental clarity and concentration
  •  potential delay in the ageing process
  •  improved blood pressure
  •  lowered blood insulin and sugar levels leading to a potential reversal of type 2 diabetes
  •  improved blood cholesterol
  •  increased energy

It's important not to take IF too far and to always listen to how your body responds to time-restrictive eating. If done properly, it can be a great tool for many chronic illnesses. However, it’s important to note that this should be done under careful medical supervision if you have a chronic illness or medical complication. These include:

  • Some people with a past eating disorder
  • Those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women 
  • Those taking medication
  • Those with a disease, the elderly and children

 

What can you eat/drink during a fast?

Intermittent fasting is the complete withdrawal of food during the fasting period, but allows for non-caloric drinks only. This means that water, tea and black coffee are all allowed during fasting but sugar, milk, honey, etc are prohibited.


 

What tips can make fasting easier?

Although you might find intermittent fasting challenging at first, your hunger pangs will eventually lessen and dissipate if you fast on a regular basis. It might take time for your body to adjust, but eventually you will learn to listen and honour your hunger cues rather than relying on “false” signals being driven by habits and external cues. 


In the meantime, here are a few tips to make initiating your fasting journey easier:


  • Start short: keeping your fasting periods on the shorter side when starting out will support your body in becoming used to the changes you are making. A common mistake is to start too aggressively, thus shocking the body. A good starting point is 12 hours (most of which you will be sleeping anyway!). You can gradually increase your fasting time as you become more comfortable and habituated.
  • Stay hydrated: make sure you drink plenty of water to prevent fatigue and headaches! This will also distend your stomach, which contributes to feelings of fullness. This may help curb hunger pangs.
  • Keep busy: find an activity that is calming and not too strenuous to keep your mind occupied. This will make your fast easier as you won’t be obsessing on food as much if you’re distracted!
  • Don’t break fasts with a feast: it might be tempting after a period of non-eating to indulge in a large meal. However, this could leave you bloated and tired for the rest of the day. Instead, break your fast with a wholesome balanced meal, whilst also avoiding high-sugar foods that will spike your blood sugar and make you crash a few hours later. A perfect combo would be a nourishing bowl containing healthy fats, protein and veggies such as avocados, eggs and sauteed greens. Be creative! 

In the next post we will dig deeper and explain the relationship between the brain and the gut. Read part 2

This is part one of a three part series exploring the relationships between the fasting, the gut and the brain as well as the herbs that can help when fasting.