WHAT IS FASTING? INTERMITTENT FASTING?
So what is FASTING exactly? Technically-speaking, a fast is abstaining from caloric intake for at least 8 hours.
Over the last few years, “intermittent fasting” has become a health buzz phrase, and usually indicates a habit of abstaining from caloric intake for anywhere from 12-24 hours. Some of the more popular forms of intermittent fasting or I.F. include the 16:8 approach, where you fast for 16 hours of the day and have an 8 hour eating window, the 23:1 approach or one meal a day (called OMAD for short), and alternate day fasting (or ADF) where you eat every other day.
In addition to intermittent fasting it also seems like the practice of fasting for more than 24 hours, often called extended or prolonged fasting, has also grown in popularity.
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF FASTING
While fasting may be trending it’s hardly new. People have been fasting for millennia, for physical, spiritual… even financial and vocational reasons.
Around 3500 years ago the Israelite leader Moses famously fasted for 40 days on 2 separate occasions. Some 800 years after Moses, the Israelite prophet Isaiah prophetically spoke to the people of Israel, explaining what a righteous fast before God looked like, and the promises of healing that would come from such a fast.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato and Greek physician Hippocrates (who’s often called the Father of Modern Medicine) both extolled fasting's many benefits in the 5th and 4th centuries before Christ.
Around 500 years ago, the Swiss physician Paracelsus, often called the Father of Toxicology, famously proclaimed that “Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.”
Over 200 years ago, founding father Benjamin Franklin stated that “the best of all medicines is resting and fasting.” And more than 100 years ago, American writer & humorist Mark Twain also touted the benefits of fasting, as he himself would regularly fast for 1-2 days when battling colds or fevers, with reportedly excellent results.
WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?
Today, modern science is reaffirming the veracity of smart fasting practices, such as this 2010 study (image below) that found that fasting-induced autophagy “has been recognized as a crucial defense mechanism against cancer, infection and neurodegenerative diseases.” Infection here would include conditions like pneumonia, influenza and the common cold, and neurodegenerative diseases would of course include conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.
Then there’s this 2014 study that found that fasting “helps reduce obesity, hypertension, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis”, and that fasting “has the potential to delay aging.”
And finally there’s this 2017 study that found fasting effective for weight loss, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and reported promising results in using intermittent fasting to combat multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Regarding weight loss, a 2015 systematic review of 40 studies found intermittent fasting effective for weight loss, with a typical loss of around 10 pounds over 10 weeks. Obese individuals will often lose significantly more than this, with a 2-3 pounds a week weight loss a common occurrence.
Heart disease, hypertension, cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, insulin resistance, pneumonia, influenza, common cold, obesity, weight loss, arthritis and aging. These diseases and conditions make up the vast majority of the disease burden in the United States, and here we have scientific evidence that smart fasting practices can improve ALL of them!
Modern science and clinical research are also helping us understand more precisely how fasting exerts its therapeutic effects on the body, which includes…
• changes to gene expression (including DNA repair)
• cellular repair and regeneration (including positive changes to the mitochondria, to stem-cell regeneration, and with autophagy, a process where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional intracellular proteins)
• hormonal optimization (including boosts to Human Growth Hormone and lowered insulin levels)
• and positive changes to general metabolism (including regulating glucose and glycogen levels, as well as triggering ketogenesis, where body fat and triglycerides are broken down into ketones and free fatty acids, to be used by the cells for fuel)
TIPS & ACTION STEPS TO HELP YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF FASTING
So now that we know more of the science, let’s look at 10 tips and action steps to help us get the most benefit out of fasting…
Tip 1: Get some social support. This may be professional support thru a health coach, nutritionist or nutritionally informed physician. This can also be personal support thru a spouse, fasting buddy or Facebook group.
Tip 2: Stay hydrated, as water plays a major role in digestive health, blood sugar balance, body fat metabolism, and detoxification processes.
Tip 3: Support your liver. When fasting your liver works overtime, and those with liver conditions or metabolic conditions like general toxemia may find fasting particularly unpleasant if their liver isn’t getting a little extra help. Supplements to consider here include silymarin, n-acetyl cysteine, TMG, taurine, TUDCA, ox bile, or a choline supplement like sunflower lecithin.
Tip 4: Electrolyte support. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and chloride are all electrolytes and can all help support energy levels during a fast. Of these I’d place special emphasis on potassium and salt supplementation during fasting.
Tip 5: Engage in regular physical activity but at a lower intensity level. This way you optimize circulation and lymphatic functioning, which assist energy and detoxification efforts, but guard against excessive physical strain, which is easier to achieve when your glycogen and glucose levels are lower.
Tip 6: Make time for more rest and sleep. Remember, one of the main purposes of fasting is to repair, rejuvenate and recharge. A little extra sleep and rest while fasting can help that process.
Tip 7: Consider a fasting app. Two of the most popular fasting apps are the Life app and the Zero app. If you’re looking for more of social connection when fasting, I’d suggest the Life app.
Tip 8: Don’t forget the spiritual and mental opportunities of fasting. As Isaiah 58 alludes to, fasting, when done in the right spirit, can really solicit the power and blessings of God in your life and the lives of others. Fasting is also a great way to build self-control and discipline, and to free your mind from near-constant thoughts of food.
Tip 9: Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what form of fasting works for you. You might start with the 16:8 approach but find that 18:6 or even OMAD works better for you, or vise versa.
Tip 10: Watch fasting videos or read fasting books while fasting, for encouragement and support. There are some really high-quality YouTube videos on fasting out there by the likes of Thomas Delauer, Dr. Eric Berg and Dr. Jason Fung M.D.
Additionally, Dr. Fung has two very popular books available on Amazon- The Obesity Code and The Complete Guide to Fasting, both published in 2016.