For the last several months, I’ve been doing a weekly 24 hour fast on Sundays. I’ve been intermittent fasting since January (explained in more detail in this post in case you missed it). After talking about my fasting habits with a few girlfriends I realized that there were a lot of questions about it. Some people equate fasting with starvation (admittedly I would have too before I tried it). One girlfriend suggested I might be losing muscle and questioned whether it was a healthy practice. That and the fact that intermittent fasting has become so popular prompted me to do more research on the benefits of extended fasting — I learned a lot that I’ll share with you today.
Fasting is simply the absence of eating. It creates a mildly stressful condition on the body which can have a beneficial impact on your health overall by stimulating bodily processes that essentially get lazy as we age. Fasting is fine for the majority of healthy adults but it is not appropriate for children or an adult who is pregnant, nursing, type 2 diabetic, or anyone that has an underlying health condition.
There are a lot of different fasting regimens (the only other one I’ve tried is a juice fast) but during my intermittent and extended fasting I drink electrolyte water or unsweetened tea (coffee is also fine). A weekly 24 hour fast has been easy for me to adopt. I fast on Sundays because in my pre-Coronavirus life Sundays were usually busy days spent shuttling kids to various activities. Fasting through breakfast and lunch when you are busy is easy, no one is trying to have a meal with me. I break my fast in the evening when it is time for dinner with the family.
Fasting has been around for hundreds of years and practiced by almost every religion and culture. It’s as old as humankind and was widely regarded as an important part of maintaining spiritual and human body wellness. Hippocrates, Plutarch, and Plato were advocates. Even the origin of the word breakfast acknowledges breaking a fast.
“The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”
There are a lot of reasons why healthy adults should fast regularly. To my mind, the most important is extending healthy lifespan (emphasis on the healthy). I’m fascinated by aging. I think many of us probably are which explains why diet, exercise, and cosmetic dermatology are so popular. There’s nothing wrong with the natural aging process but I think a lot of us wouldn’t mind slowing it down. Modern medicine makes it possible for us to live a long life but who wants to live to ninety without the faculties and physical ability to truly enjoy life at an advanced age? That’s where fasting can make an impact.
: : Promotes Weight Loss
Yes, extended fasting is a method of weight loss. It can be helpful for trimming down the pesky body fat that accumulates in our midsection as we age. When we are continually eating (three square meals — and snacks too — so we never experience a period of hunger) our body is storing food energy as fat stores. Before modern times food availability was unpredictable and irregular. In times of famine, the body relied upon stored energy for fuel so accumulating fat stores were essential for survival. Not as necessary today.
When we fast, the process of using and storing food energy that occurs when we eat goes in reverse. Glycogen (think: sugar) stored in the liver is the most easily accessible source of energy. Imagine it as a short-term energy storage place kind of like a refrigerator. After hitting up the fridge for energy the body moves on to our stored fat reserves which would be in a longer term storage place, like the freezer. It’s easier for the body to access energy stores in the refrigerator so it does. It doesn’t go to the freezer until the fridge is mostly empty. Extended fasting can confuse the body and trick it into thinking that it needs to access the freezer because there isn’t food in the fridge. And contrary to popular belief fasting does not “burn muscle” it burns sugar and fat stores for energy first.
: : Promotes Autophagy — Your Body’s Process of Deep Cleaning
Fasting promotes autophagy which is the natural regeneration process that occurs at a cellular level in the body. Think of it as your body’s “deep cleaning” system for removing and recycling unneeded or dysfunctional cells. Because the process of autophagy declines with age, cells that are not cleaned out when they become dysfunctional can persist and accumulate and possibly become cancerous. When our body is slightly stressed (as it would be in a 24 hour fast) autophagy kicks in. Autophagy stimulates the body to look for energy sources. Dysfunctional cells are the first to go. Fasting has been shown to be the single most effective way to stimulate autophagy in the body and brain which is why regular fasting can be an important part of disease resistance, longevity, and vitality as we age.
: : Enhanced Brain Function
Lowering caloric intake is associated with a higher level of alertness and improved brain function. Mammals respond to calorie reduction by diverting energy to the brain at the expense of other organs. For our ancestors, in times of feast or famine, a higher level of alertness was critical to finding food. So it makes sense that when our body is slightly stressed and hungry we are more alert and our senses are sharp. Lab studies show a connection between increased motor coordination, learning, and memory. The slight stress on the body can do good by sparking new neuron growth which is especially important when it comes to neuroglical diseases associated with aging.
Extended fasting is very much a mental challenge and helps you learn how to understand and physically read what your body needs. You start to take notice of how your body actually feels and is reacting to not having to rely on food. My energy levels are great (I workout in a fasted state), my head becomes very clear and it puts me in a great place physically and mentally. If you are considering trying an extended fast, I’d recommend that you start by working your way up to a 24 hour fast. I started at 16 hours, then 20, until I reached my 24 hour goal.
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