Updated: Jul 20
I have a fascination with how the body works, not just the anatomy but the physiology as well; how the body has the ability to do as it does just amazes me. So when I discovered fasting I became slightly obsessive with it. The processes that fasting creates within the body are amazing, our bodies are biological machines, and have been the inspiration and basis for many inventions and experiments over the years so it is safe to say that anything that happens within the body is a reliable example of right methodology or engineering. The processes that the body carries out whilst fasting prove this opinion. Read on to find out about fasting and why I believe it to be beneficial to our whole self.
Firstly I have a little disclaimer; in no way shape or form is this article intended as instruction of fasting, it is simply something that I am highly interested in and I felt the urge to share this information in order for you to take what resonates and begin your own research. Fasting isn’t for everyone so please listen to your body.
What is fasting?
Essentially fasting means going without food for long periods of time, As the stories of our hunter gatherer ancestors tell, they would have experienced long periods of fasting when food was scarce but then feasted when food was available in order to get them through the next fasting period. This is where the phrase feast and famine stems from.
There are many kinds of fasts that people carry out, from the 5:2 diet popularised by journalist Michael Mosely where for two days the calorie intake is reduced to a low amount, the 16/8, or water fasting, juice fasting and even the OMAD diet where you consume all of your calorie intake for the day in one meal. But the real benefits of fasting happen over a certain amount of time rather than the frequency of the fast.
Contrary to popular belief our bodies are not built to eat three meals a day let alone snacks too. The body needs rest from the digestion process, the organs involved need time to replenish themselves. We naturally do this overnight hence break-fast being the name given to the first meal we eat after a long period of time sleeping but the longer we fast the better the rest and replenish for the body.
Fasting isn’t a new phenomenon, throughout history many ancient religions and civilizations carried out fasts and for many different reasons, from using fasting to heal the body to seeing fasting as a means to achieve enlightenment. It is true that fasting can lead to clarity of mind, better lucid dreaming, and better overall cognitive function. The Ancients observed this and used it to their advantage.
What happens to our body when we fast?
Our body has two sources of nutritional energy - glucose and fat, glucose comes from carbohydrates and is the go to energy resource of the body which it takes from the food we eat and then any resources that are left over, it stores them away for a later date which we know as fat (see how our body is still aware of the feast and famine).
So when we no longer supply our body with the foods that supplies glucose our body then looks to use up its reserves – the fat. When this happens our body enters into what is known as ketosis, essentially this is when our body turns the fat into keytones which it then uses for energy.
Entering into keytosis can sometime be a little unpleasant, because we have been used to eating three meals a day fasting seems like an unusual experience initially. As long as we stay hydrated, the unpleasant feelings do not last long and then the real benefits begin to happen.
After approx. 14 hours of fasting our body enters into something known as Autophagy; this is when the cells begin to recycle and renew their content amongst many other amazing benefits. Autophagy was discovered by Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016. What Dr Ohsumi discovered was that after the body had reached the mode of Autophagy the cells began a process of degrading and renewing – in effect they cells were eating the damaged parts of themselves which was in turn also renewing the cell. The name Autophagy came from the Greek words auto – self phagy – eat. The basis of the process is that when in this mode the cells repair and heal themselves.
We begin our life journey as one cell – the zygote, then begins a process of multiplication of cells until a human is formed. Then the cells continually renew themselves to stay at their optimum health throughout our lives. The more we deprive the cells of the right nutrition and energy, mixed with the experience of stress, the less healthy our cells become, then include the natural depletion of HGH - Human Growth Hormone - slowly we experience aging and potentially dis-ease.
So Autophagy is in essence the cells way of cleaning and repairing itself in order to maintain its optimum level of health. When this happens on a microcosmic level the benefits happen on a macrocosmic level too, meaning we feel and see the benefits in our entire body.
Here are some of the benefits of Autophagy
1. Anti-aging and Longevity
2. Reduced Inflammation
3. Elimination of Pathogens
4. DNA repair
5. Improves Metabolism and Assists Weight Loss
6. Cancer Suppression
7. Cardiovascular Health
8. Improves Muscle Health
There are many resources on the internet that will give more in-depth detail about the benefits of Autophagy.
Do’s and Don’ts
Prepare yourself. Fasting takes a lot of dedication and a committed mindset, if you prepare yourself mental you also prepare yourself physically.
Research for yourself. Read as much as information as you can before beginning, and only go with what resonates with you. What approach is best for you, will it be suitable for your lifestyle.
Plan. Decide which method will suit you
Take full advantage of night time. We sleep for around 8 hours so that’s a whole 8 hours of fasting already, if you ate your last meal at 6pm and then delayed breakfast until 10m that’s a 16 hour fast done.
Drink LOTS. Water is your best friend, and even more so when you are fasting. Drinking Warm to hot water is even better as it assists in stripping the toxins from your body.
Plan your meal that you break your fast with. Make sure the first thing you give your body is as nutritious as it can be. Take your time to eat it.
Most importantly LISTEN to your body. If at any time you feel that it isn’t right for you, stop.
Consult a health practitioner before beginning any kind of fast if that feels best for you.
Do not ignore hunger. Sometimes fasting just isn’t right. Whether that means not right for you at all, or just not right at the particular time. This is where you really have to listen to your body. Learn what Hunger really is so that you know the signs to be aware of. Foggy head, irritability, tiredness – are all signs that you are hungry.
Do not Starve yourself. Believe it or not there is a difference between fasting and starving. This is where being prepared, listening to your body and understanding hunger are really important. Starving yourself will also lead to over eating too.
Start on a whim. Just another way of saying Plan, research, prepare. It just doesn’t work to be spontaneous with fasting.
I began my fasting journey by trying the 5:2 but I did not find it suitable for me at all. Counting calories isn’t fun for me, I prefer to make sure that I have a good balance of nutrition each day and I found this very stressful so I gave up after one day.
Deflated and disappointed in myself I did further research and discovered the 16:8 diet. I liked the idea of an eating window – eating what you want within 8 hours and fasting for 16 hours. This felt right for me so I planned to begin in a week to prepare my body for the fasting. I had decided that I would do 16:8 for three weeks every day and see how I felt.
My plan was to delay my breakfast until 10am then eat 2 or 3 meals depending on how I felt before 6pm – my 8 hour eating window. I think the reason this worked for me is because I didn’t feel restricted, and I didn’t feel as though I was setting myself up to fail. As I said in the “Do’s” – mind set it very important.
To begin with I was still having 3 meals most days, it slotted in to family life easier. But after a week I wasn’t feeling hungry at lunchtime so some days I only had 2 meals.
I shed weight very quickly which was one of the first things I noticed, along with improved sleep, mental clarity, better metabolism and actually feeling what hunger really is rather than just thinking I must be hungry because of what time of day it was. I felt so much healthier too and I was able to manage stress easier.
After the three weeks I felt as though I could carry on with 16:8 and it became the new normal for me throughout the spring and summer but when autumn came, I began struggling with this routine and realised that the colder weather was making me hungrier so I decided that for the autumn and winter I would go back to 3 meals a day with regular eating times, but no food after 6pm as I felt that not eating later than 6 had been one of the main benefits for me, especially in improving my sleep.
I still fasted for one day a week as I didn’t want to stop all together so I chose the easiest day for me and then from 6pm the evening before until 12pm I would fast giving an 18 hour fast to reep the benefits on Autophagy as much as possible.
I learned a lot from the experience and still carry out 1-2 fasts a week now. Life sometimes gets in the way as it always does but I have learned not to beat myself up about that. I trust that my body will always inform me of what is right.