Is a Fasting Diet Right for You?

January 18, 2016

   The obvious benefit of fasting is weight loss. These days, many people are attracted to a number of diets, some of them fads, to lose weight quickly. And if you just stop eating the weight will roll off. But that's a yo-yo. When the fast ends and you resume eating as before, the weight comes back.

   So, should you fast or not?

   Fasting (or more accurately, calorie restriction) isn't something you should just jump into willy nilly. So I'll emphasize this from the beginning, if you want to try a fasting diet go consult with your doctor first and get advice or a referral to an expert who can give you advice. My purpose in this article is to lay out what's been happening lately in the research and practice of fasting diets.


   Fasting probably was practiced, and not on purpose, during our very early hunting and gathering stage. All wild animals experience major interruptions in their food supply and early man did, too. Our bodies, over millions of years of adaption and evolution, were made to sustain periods of limited or no food intake. In fact, some nutritionists theorize it's unhealthy to eat full meals, 3 times a day, day after day, throughout a lifetime. And some paleobiologists who study the evolution of cells think that caloric restriction triggers a repair cycle in the cell that can't be triggered any other way. So, the benefits of fasting are more than just about weight loss. More on this further down.

   Once ancient peoples started getting 3-squares a day, more or less, they realized those periods of food scarcity gave them special abilities to concentrate. Feelings of hunger tend to become a priority and cancel out other concerns, like worrying about the leaky roof of the hut or paying taxes to the Pharaoh. What if you could take that feeling of hunger and redefine it in your mind as "focus?" It turns out that fasting is a powerful tool to help clear the mind.

Christianity - One of the most famous fasts in history is the 40 days Jesus abstained from food while in the desert, tempted by Satan to give up his mission. Fasting is the basis of the Lenten season for Christians of most denominations, and it's practiced in numerous forms as an aid in prayer and inner thought. 

Judaism - Jews have several fasting rituals but the 25-hour fast during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is perhaps the most important. The withholding of food and water puts the body and soul in a state of vulnerability, and helps one to be closer to God.

Hinduism - Fasting is woven into one's comprehension of life. Hindus have many kinds of fasting rules depending on local customs and even personal beliefs. Some Hindu fasts last from sunrise to sunset while other practices call for not eating for a month.

Islam - Fasting is a way to draw closer to God and to disconnect oneself from negativity as well as the pleasures of the body. Fasting during the month of Ramadan (in which no food or water is consumed from sunrise to sunset) is one of the Four Pillars of Islam. 

Buddhism - The Buddha prescribed the Middle Way as a life practice and so Buddhists generally fast by reducing food intake or eliminating a meal to help in meditation. Complete deprivation is as unsatisfactory as over-indulgence.

What Science Says

   It's interesting that of all the things we know about physics, information technologies, and even medicine, science is woefully short on certainty about how we digest food and how the body uses nutrients... or in the case of fasting, what the body does without them. But science does know something and that's cause for considering how to eat and live a healthy life. What I'm saying is, don't read an article on a new health finding and then dive in whole hog. And likewise, don't ignore the warnings when there's consensus.

   First, scientists have established that caloric restriction slows aging in primates. And research into human health has shown that fasting has an effect on reducing factors associated with heart disease and cancer. Still, there remains a debate on how much fasting is a good thing. And there are many diets on the market that purport a variety of techniques. I'll hit on some of them below.

   These are theories but some scientists think that as food is reduced or eliminated, the old mitochondria in the cells generate fewer free radicals, which are tied to diseases like cancer. Reduction of food also results in less sugar in the blood stream. For bodies at risk of type-2 diabetes that means taking a significant break from exposure to high blood sugar which can improve or maintain sensitivity to insulin. It's when the body becomes insensitive to insulin that type-2 diabetes emerges. Less blood sugar also means a reduction in glycation, a bonding of sugars (especially fructose) with proteins or lipids that are associated with heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and DNA damage.

Types of Fasts

    Lets take a look at the 24 hr fasting diet. It requires one to fast for 24 hours once or twice a week. During this 24 hour fasting period no food is consumed, but you can drink calorie-free beverages. After the fast is over, you then go back to eating normally.  For some they need to finish the fast at a normal mealtime with a big meal, while others are OK ending the fast with an afternoon snack. The main rationale here is that eating this way will reduce overall calorie intake without really limiting what you’re able to eat.

   Lean Gains another way of changing up the system is based on intermittent fasting and lifting heavy weights. It is meant to be a way of changing the way you look by losing fat and gaining muscle/strength at the same time. It uses power body building and carbohydrate cycling.

    A study done at the University of Southern California revealed that the Fast Metabolism Diet (FMD) is yet another way to reduce calories and reap some healthy benefits. It's about reprogramming the body so it enters a slower aging mode rejuvenating it through stem cell-based regeneration. It has been shown that these benefits include reducing the incidence of cancer, boosting the immune system, reducing inflammatory diseases, slowing bone mineral density loss and improving cognitive abilities. This plan has you rotate what your eating throughout each week. 

    Fasting for the purpose of detoxifying is not without its risks — and should never be undertaken without medical supervision. This recommendation becomes even more important as health challenges become more complex.  

    I do believe that fasting can be a healthy way for all of us to get rid of those toxins we put into our bodies with mindless eating, emotional eating or just to fill the hunger void. It can be a way to practice a mindful way of  paying attention to our bodies and souls which can help us to feel more vital, creative and open to emotional and spiritual energies.