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A Complete Guide to Fasting

Fasting is as old as mankind and older than any other form of diet. Ancient civilizations like the Greeks recognised that there was something intrinsically beneficial about periodic fasting. They were often called times of healing, cleansing, purification or detoxification. Virtually every culture and religion on earth practice some rituals of fasting due to spiritual, physical, emotional or other reasons.

Before the advent of Agriculture, humans never ate three meals a day plus snacks in between. We ate only when we found food which could be hours or days apart and from an evolution standpoint eating 3 meals a day is not a requirement for survival otherwise we would not have survived as a species. Fast forward to the 21st century we have all forgotten about this ancient practice – after all, fasting is really bad for businesses. Food manufacturers encourage us to eat multiple meals and snacks with nutritional authorities warning that skipping a single meal will have dire health consequences.

Fasting has no standard duration. It may be done for a few hours, to many days, to months on end. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where we cycle between fasting and regular eating. Shorter fast of 16 to 20 hours are generally done more frequently, even daily. Longer fasts, typically 24 to 36 hours are done 2 to 3 times per week. As it happens, we all fast daily for a period of 12 hours or so in between dinner and breakfast. Fasting has been done by millions and millions of people for thousands of years. Is it unhealthy? No. In fact many studies have shown that it has numerous health benefits. What happens when we eat constantly? Before going into the benefits of intermittent fasting, it is best to understand why eating 5 to 6 meals a day or every few hours (the exact opposite of fasting) can actually do more harm than good. When we eat, we ingest food energy. The key hormone involved in insulin (produced by the pancreas) which rises during meals. Both carbohydrates and protein stimulate insulin. Fat triggers a small insulin effect but that is rarely eaten alone. Insulin has two major functions: First it allows the body to immediately start using food. Carbohydrates are rapidly converted into glucose – raising blood sugar levels. Insulin directs glucose into cells to be used as energy. Proteins are broken down into amino acids and excess amino acids may be turned into glucose. Protein does not necessarily raise blood glucose but it can stimulate insulin. Fats have minimal effect on insulin.

Second, insulin stores away extra energy for future use. Insulin converts excess glucose into glycogen and stores it in the liver. However, there is a limit to how much can be stored away. Once the limit has been reached, the liver starts turning the glucose into fat. The fat is then put away. It can become fatty liver, or fat deposits in the body (often stored as visceral or belly fat). Therefore, when we eat & snack throughout the day, we’re constantly in a fed state and insulin levels remain high. In other words we may be spending the majority of the day storing away food energy.

What happens when we fast? The process of using and storing food energy that occurs when we eat goes in reverse. When we fast, insulin levels drop, prompting the body to start burning stored energy. Glycogen, the glucose that is stored in the liver, is first accessed and used. After that, the body starts to break down stored body fat for energy. Thus, the body basically exists in two states – the fed state with high insulin and the fasting state with low insulin. We are either storing food energy or we are burning food energy. If eating and fasting are balanced then there is no weight gain. If we spend the majority of the day eating and storing energy there is a good chance that over time we may end up gaining weight.

Health benefits of fasting…

  • Increases metabolism leading to weight and body fat loss

  • No lost in muscle mass

  • Reverses insulin resistant type 2 diabetes and fatty liver

  • Enhances heart health

  • Boosts brain power

  • Reduces hunger levels

  • Stabilises blood sugar

How to do intermittent fasting? In an ideal situation, 2 sessions of a 24-hour fast in a week will be good enough to produce significant health and weight loss benefits. However, for beginners, you are not recommended to jump start with a 24-hour fast unless you are absolutely sure that you can do it. There is no standard rule of doing intermittent fasting – simply try it and make it work for you. Let simplicity and flexibility be your fasting motto. Don’t make it stressful for yourself. As a beginner to practice intermittent fasting I would say clear your mind from any other weight loss methods and focus on intermittent fasting. This is your first step towards intermittent success. Begin with skipping a meal and see how your body responds. This is the simplest and most natural way to begin your intermittent fasting journey. A good way is to skip breakfast and have a fresh juice, water or tea instead. If that works out fine try to skip lunch and move on progressively. A 24-hour fast can be done by anybody with an appropriate fasting mindset. Some useful tips are to not think of food, avoid social talk at the pantry over lunch, instead go out for a walk or do some simple exercises.

You can also explore these intermittent fasting options: Condensed eating window, for example, eat only between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Skip a meal on an unplanned basis as far as it is natural and does not interfere with your daily work Early and late – skip lunch Opt for one meal a day i.e lunch or dinner when you are relaxed and really have time to enjoy your food

Who should not do intermittent fasting? Women who want to get or are pregnant or are breastfeeding Those who are malnourished or underweight Children under 18 years of age The elderly Those who have gout Those who have GERD Those who have an eating disorder Those who are taking diabetic medication and insulin must first consult with a doctor as dosages will need to be reduced Those who are taking medication should first consult with their doctor as the timing of the medication may be affected Those who feel very stressed or have cortisol issues should not fast because fasting is another stressors Those who are training very hard most days of the week should not fast


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