How to Fast: Everything You Need to Know About Fasting

I’ve blogged a bunch about detox diets in the past; mostly negatively, iif you can recall from some of those previous articles.  After dozens of emails, comments, and not-so-nice messages, I decided to revisit the topic and give it another look.  After further research, including a talk with the founder of one of those detox juice companies, I’ve come to a conclusion.

Detox diets still suck.

No one is going to convince me that loading up on sugar (yes, fruit sugar is sugar) and eliminating everything else is healthy.  And how about someone please show me the scientific study displaying the benefits of extended use of only cayenne pepper and water.  Anyone?  The point is, detox diets suck and I STILL don’t encourage them.

That said, during my research, I stumbled upon more than a few (think hundreds) of peer-reviewed papers detailing the use, benefits, and risks associated with another form of “detox”; the water-only fast.

Fasting is nothing new.  It’s been used by various religions for thousands of years.  eBut does fasting really hold any real value for those of us wanting to live healthier?  Let’s get it out in the open – from the information I gathered, fasting done correctly is legit.  Today, I’m going to shed some light on the information I found, show you some of the research papers that back the claims I’m making, and hopefully help you realize it’s time to avoid the expensive, sugary “detox” drinks and get on board the fasting bandwagon.

First things first, lets put this in perspective.  There are certain people who shouldn’t be fasting.  Are you pregnant?  Diabetic?  Have bulemia or anorexia?  Severely malnourished?  If you answered yes to one of the above questions, today’s blog post isn’t for you.  Eat food.  Food is good.

If you’re not one of those people, keep reading.  It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this because you want to lose weight, feel healthier, or give yourself a detox…the power of a fast is immense.  I want to lead this off by showing you what some of the leading medical scientists on the issue have to say.  For a general overview on fasting and weight loss, this particular National Institute of Health study is quite informative:

The Detox Power of a Fast

Unlike a juice/other gimmick detox, the power of detoxification during a water only fast is real.  First and foremost, by giving your body a break from fuel; i.e. glucose/glycogen, you force it to rely on another form to function. Initially your body turns to fat cells for fuel, in a process called ketosis.    Of course, some muscle is going to be consumed as well, but at a much slower rate.   Simply put, your body turns to fatty bodies as the preferred fuel source during a fast.  As it turns out, many of the toxins in our body are stored in fat cells.  As simple reasoning would follow, the break down of fat for fuel is going to free these toxins and lead to resorption.

Additionally, ketosis leads to autophagy, or the resorption of additional unwanted and potentially harmful material found in our bodies.  Things like bacteria and oxidants, yes…but there is also growing evidence of the ability of an extended fast to eat away at cancerous tumors. Check out the findings on this topic here:

So simply put, by refraining from calories for a period of time, you’re allowing your body to enter a state of ketosis.  This state of ketosis is a natural event which allows for increased fat burn, detoxification of unhealthy compounds, and potentially the reduction of any lingering tumors.  Your high-sugar juice fast (cancer cells thrive on sugar by the way) is not going to come close to the health benefits of a complete water-only fast.

The Weight Loss Benefits of a Fast

There’s no denying the weight loss benefits that come with a fast.  There is of course, a fine-line between fasting and anorexia.  A fast should be completed with healthy intentions.  It should not be used to exclusively to drop quick pounds.  It should not be attempted if you’re already under weight.  It should be used to give your body a chance to relax, regenerate, and detox.  If you have excess fat to lose, think of this as an added bonus.

Just last week I went on a short, three-day fast.  I’ve been traveling for the past three months, and haven’t been eating as well as I typically do back home.  In other words…I’ve gotten a little softer, shall we say.  As the result of my fast, I dropped 7 pounds, and any of that extra softness completely disappeared.  Granted I have a crazy metabolism, but the proof was in the pudding.  My body turned to the fat stores, gobbled them up, and left me feeling lean, slimmer, and back to my normal self.

I have no doubt the same could happen for you should you decide to go on a fast.  Just keep in mind, our metabolic rates are diverse…what worked in only three days for me may take longer for you.

A Fast Gives Your Body a Break

Not only does a fast deliver detoxification and weight loss benefits, it gives your vital organs a rest.  I don’t care how healthy you eat, the act of eating induces oxidative stress on our bodies.  Every time we eat, our bodies have to work to process this food.  Oxidants are released.  Cells age.  We age.  Part of this can be counteracted by consuming a diet high in anti-oxidants, but that doesn’t change the fact; consuming calories slowly wears us down.

By giving our stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, gall bladder, and other digestive organs a chance to relax, we improve our overall health.  Everything, including us, has a shelf life.  Put in other words, we only have so many times we can be “used”.  If we trod through life, devouring, consuming, and otherwise treating our body like a factory machine…sooner or later, it’s going to give out.  The goal, I would think, is to maximize shelf-life and extend useful years in that machine.  By taking a short break from food, you’re going to allow those “working parts” to rest, recoup, and perform at their peak potential.

How to Fast

If you’re thinking about giving a fast a try, I’d caution you to start slowly.  First and foremost, you need to know one thing – the first 24-48 hours are going to be the worst.  You’re going to feel hungry.  However, amazing things happen after this initial period.  The hunger subsides, your body begins eating up fat stores, an almost euphoric state takes over, and you feel mentally clear.  Of course, these positive benefits will subside themselves if you extend a fast beyond a safe period.  But we’re not talking about approaching anything that borders on unhealthy…we’re talking about a few days to start.  From there, see if you can make it to five or six days.  If you’re really feeling committed, a fast of up to 10 to 12 days is within reason.

Make sure to consume plenty of water during your fast.  This is vital – a fast DOES NOT mean no water.  We need water to live, so drink it. You’ll want to limit your physical activity during this fasting period as well.  No going out and running four miles because you think it’ll help you drop weight faster.  Trust me, the body fat is going to come off quickly…no need to speed it up and potential injure yourself.  A little strength training IS however, okay. I’m talking a few sets of push ups.  Maybe some exercise bands.  A little core work.  Much more than that, and you’re over doing it.  By using your muscles you’re going to limit the muscle loss associated with a fast, which is something all of us should be striving for.

When you’re ready to end your fast, introduce easy to digest foods back into your system slowly.  Work your way back up to a regular diet over the course of a couple of days.  This should eliminate any upset stomachs or cramps.  Feel free to play around with fasting and see what works best for you.  Personally, I think I’m going to go for a two or three day fast every couple of months, with perhaps a longer 10 day fast once a year.

Remember, a short-term fast is about improving bodily health and function.  The weight loss is an added benefit.  By approaching a fast under these terms you’ll be sure to set yourself for a positive experience filled with wonderful health benefits.