Fasting, is it safe and what's it mean
If you're wanting to lose weight or you've just got an interest in the latest "health fads" you've probably read about fasting. Amongst all the media and advertisements it's difficult to know whether it's healthy or just another scheme companies are trying to cash in on by selling you special products.
Fasting has long been a part of cultural and religious settings as well as prehistoric times when food wasn't always easy to come by. The latest research doesn't just support fasting for weight loss and weight management but it also supports fasting for disease management, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and some autoimmune conditions. You're probably wondering how this works and that it sounds too good to be true. Well let me explain, firstly fasting is beneficial in weight loss for the obvious reason of kilojoule restriction, but it goes deeper than that. Fasting forces your body into ketogenesis, which means that instead of the body using carbohydrates for energy (normal process) it uses fat, which means it burns stored fat to use as energy, resulting in a fat reduction. Fasting has also been shown to decrease dyslipidemia levels (cholesterol). The process of reducing dyslipidemia and weight is how diseases like NAFLD can be rectified/reduced.
Now let's get into the interesting part, how fasting may improve autoimmune conditions. Not only does fasting put the body into ketogenesis but it also causes autophagy (the process in which the body cleans up old/dead cells and regenerates them). It is believed that this process can aid in the immune system rerouting itself, i.e reducing/ alleviating symptoms. Autophagy is a normal process however, it can occur more easily during fasting as the body is not having to utilise it's energy digesting and absorbing food, giving it more time and energy to work on other aspects like regenerating and cleaning up dying, dead or under-functioning cells. To further support the benefits of fasting, evidence suggests it's also gut health healing and increasing autophagy is neuroprotective.
I don't know about you, but I think fasting is fascinating! There are a few different approaches to fasting. There is overall kilojoule restriction such as the 800 calorie diet, intermittent fasting such as the 5-2 diet or timed eating (i.e eating during an 8 hour period each day) and just not eating for 3-5 days every few months. Whilst there are reported health benefits for fasting and it's safe if followed and done properly you should definitely consult a health professional if you have health issues and want to attempt fasting. My interest in fasting occurred when I read Michael Mosley's book "The Fast 800" if you're curious in learning more I highly recommend you read the book. What I love about Michael Mosley's books, is that he backs them up with evidence. When I read this book I was beginning to lose my hair and had been diagnosed with NAFLD. I was interested in following his diet as he recommended it for the treatment of NAFLD. What further sparked my interest was a story about a woman with an Autoimmune condition who completed a 3 day fast and had her symptoms reduce. This story piqued my interest as Alopecia is an auto-immune condition and I was wanting to prevent my hair further falling out. Between reading Michael Mosley's book around Easter time and now I have completed 4-5 fasts. These fasts have been between 2-4 days long. Fasting combined with exercise, dietary changes and supplementation has resulted in a decrease of my hair falling out and regrowth, a decrease in liver enzymes and a loss of about 8kgs. For me, fasting involves lots of water, herbal tea and bone broth. If you do decide to fast, the recommendation is that you can consume black tea or coffee, I recommend you don't. Caffeine is a diuretic if you're fasting it can increase the excretion of water and may lead to headaches.
It's worth remembering that everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. But, what do you have to lose?