I have just completed a 36 hour fast, nothing but black tea and water.
Fasting is a hot topic at the moment, particularly for weight loss and as such my clients regularly ask me about it. Like most things when it comes to nutrition, health, and weight loss we get a lot of mixed messages and I know how hard that is. I spent years so confused. My best advice is do your own research and make a decision that best suits you, for what it’s worth this is my view…
Why Did I Choose To Fast?
I have close family members and friends battling cancer right now and over the course of the last year my learning and education has focussed much more around understanding the science of what causes disease and how we can protect our bodies. We are constantly being told do this, don’t do this; I’m the sort of person that needs to know why? Give me the science? On a biological level what is happening in our bodies? So, I have taken it upon myself to try and learn this as best I can so I can then share this with my clients, not to tell them what to do, I am a coach after all! but, to help them make informed choices about their own health.
There is a growing body of research showing how effective fasting is when having chemotherapy, both in making the drugs more effective but also in minimising the side effects that come with it. I know It might feel counterintuitive as you would think you’d want to eat lots for strength around that time, but more and more research is suggesting the opposite is probably true.
I found myself wanting to know what actually happens when we fast. Up to a third of our bodies energy is spent on the digestive system. When we find ourselves snacking all day long, we don’t give it a minute’s rest or chance to recover. I wondered what might happen if I did.
It can take 8 hours or more for your body to process and digest a meal. If that meal contains carbohydrates, then your blood sugar levels will rise prompting the pancreas to release insulin informing your cells to take on as much of that glycogen as they can. What is left over goes to the liver to be stored as fat.
It can take 12 hours for your blood sugar levels to return to normal. At this stage if you don’t eat again, the body will then turn to those fat stores they put away earlier, convert them back into glycogen and circulate to the cells that need it. This is what is called Ketosis.
At this stage I was feeling a bit like I had too much coffee, I had more energy than I was expecting.
Of course, Ketosis is advocated by many for weight loss, hence the keto diet, but this was the bit I was interested in.
We have something called Nrf2-antioxidant response element signalling pathway. In basic terms this is the process of reducing oxidative stress in the body. You’ve probably heard of antioxidant foods like leafy greens grapes blueberries etc. well they all trigger this process too but fasting really kick starts it. Fasting is a powerful anti-inflammatory that calms everything down, we start to heal and rejuvenate.
After 24 hours of fasting the body boosts the process of Apoptosis, which in simplest terms is cell suicide. I realise that sounds bad but it is actually a good thing.
Our cells are getting old and damaged all the time and need to be replaced with shiny new ones. If a damaged cell doesn’t die, it has the potential to mutate, and that’s how cancer starts. So, we want this to happen. Of course, this takes place in our body without fasting but the processes will only be as efficient and effective as you are healthy.
I started my fast on a Sunday evening. I ate my dinner around 6pm, continued to fast all day Monday and didn’t break until Tuesday morning around 7am. I kept myself busy all day Monday drinking lots and I didn’t think about food, but I must admit that come the evening I was hungry. I expected to wake ravenous the next morning, but I didn’t. The alarm went off at 6am and I was wide awake and ready to go. I thought I would be too tired or weak to exercise but I was full of energy and headed straight to the gym, banana in hand!
Overall, I feel really good for doing it. I have felt an increase in energy all week.
Fasting For Weight Loss
let’s address fasting for weight loss. Does it work? Yes, if done correctly (i.e. doesn’t involve binging before and after and is part of a healthy lifestyle) Why does it work? Firstly, you are dramatically reducing your calorie intake over the course of the week, and combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle will likely leave you in a calorie deficit. Secondly, entering a state of ketosis is then forcing your body to head to its fat stores for energy.
Word Of Caution
I am not an advocate of diets. They imply something temporary and often don’t encourage good habits. I work with my clients to get them focussed on health first and foremost and by doing that a healthy weight will always follow. I would only recommend fasting to a client when I really believed they were in a healthy paradigm focussed on well-being. The danger when we are focussed on weight loss is the mindset can be “I am starving myself to become thin”. All too often I have seen this go wrong. If you are using fasting as a method to stay slim, and are not taking care of yourself and eating well the rest of the time you can’t make up for that by not eating. All you are doing is punishing your body. I work with my clients to help them reach a place where they love their bodies and therefore want to nourish and care for them.
Any way of eating you adopt needs to be something you can do consistently, building healthy habits for life. So always ask yourself can I sustain this? Otherwise, what happens when your routine gets thrown out the window, you have social occasions, holidays and it’s just not practical to do? You start putting on weight, panic sets in, I need to fast you tell yourself, before you know it you are in a negative cycle of fasting and binging and it’s so easy for disordered eating patterns to begin.
Fasting isn’t for everyone, I can see there are some great health benefits so if you are going to give it a try do it for those reasons, combined with a healthy lifestyle and never use it as a quick fix to lose weight.