The health benefits of fasting are numerous, depending on the different kinds and duration of fasting. The myriad benefits of fasting include many physical, medical, and even spiritual advantages.
In my previous post – Prayer and Fasting for a Better Life, I had emphasized on the combined benefits of prayers and fasting, and it was interesting to know the opinions of the readers in their comments.
In that post I had mentioned the spiritual aspect of fasting, with no connection to its religious aspect. In fact, I never intended it to be a religious discussion and this post too is only about the health benefits of fasting, without any religious overtones.
However, I think I can mention that fasting is considered a ritual in many religions and cultures the world over, and it no doubt delivers its physical and medical benefits to the practitioners.
First, let’s define and understand what is fasting.
“Abstinence and fasting cure many a complaint.” ~ Danish proverb
What is Fasting?
Fasting in its true sense is the act of going without the consumption of food and beverages, except for water – for certain duration.
This duration may extend from a few hours to a few days. A strict form of fasting known as absolute fasting even prohibits the intake of water, along with abstinence from all kinds of food.
However, in this post I will discuss fasting that allows certain foods or beverages including water.
We all are familiar with, and in fact, do observe fasting daily without even noticing it!
Still thinking how? Well, we all stay almost without any food or water for many hours when we sleep at night, and we break that fast by eating breakfast when we wake up in the morning!
However, the fasting I that am talking about is consciously done when we’re not sleeping.
Sometimes we need to undergo fasts for short durations due to medical reasons, or to get some medical tests conducted.The fasting for medical test is less frequent and of a shorter duration than the other types of fasting that yield better health results.
“The best of all medicines is resting and fasting” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Fasting is not starvation. The process of fasting utilizes the unused and stored body fat and carbohydrate stores; however, when these get exhausted then you reach the state of starving, which is not healthy.
Why do People Fast?
People engage in fasting for various reasons. For some it is to achieve weight loss, to detoxify their body, while some fast to look younger or achieve wellness.
Many observe fasts for religious or spiritual reasons, but eventually they do experience physical benefits of fasting by these acts.
Some people even believe that human first discovered the physical benefits of fasting and later gave it a religious or spiritual cover.
Many people don’t even believe in fasting, and are very critical about the concept. They may’ve their own reasons and logic, based on the information they have about the methods and impacts of fasting.
However, when people do not observe fasts in the correct manner, the resulting problems add to the negative impression.
Here are some reasons and scientific explanations about why fasting is good for health.
Reasons for Fasting
Fasting has become more relevant in present times. Its need arises due to our incorrect way of eating, consumption of unhealthy food, and sedentary lifestyle.
Even if we have them all correct, our body systems still require taking a break to repair and recharge, especially our digestive system that takes a lot of beating.
The excess calories and toxin levels of the body both are reduced by fasting, which also helps to burn stored fats in the body and thus lead to weight loss for some people.
Scientists acknowledge that fasting involves the process of autolysis and ketosis that helps our body to use the stored body resources to provide energy.
If you feel you lack energy, have a difficulty in getting a good sleep, have an upset stomach, and feel the body skin is loosing its shine, then for these and many other reasons you need to try fasting.
Did you know that there are various types of fasting that many people observe? Take a look at the different kinds of fasting below:
What are the Different Kinds of Fasting?
Generally fasting is categorized on two bases – religious and non-religious fasting, which further have many types of fasting that differ with respect to prescribed duration and varying degrees of abstinence.
In both the above mentioned fasting there are partial fasts that ask for abstaining from certain beverages or foods, such as from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., or from sun up to sun down; and there are full fasts that are kept for the entire day or for 24 hours.
Some religious fasting includes dry fasting, which is nothing but absolute fasting. Whereas, liquid fasting is the one that is mostly patronized as non-religious fasting and is comparatively easier as one can at least drink water or juice.
Dry fasting is said to be more effective and considered equivalent to three days of liquid fasting. Nonetheless, any kind of fasting is known to have various health benefits.
I tried dry fasting or absolute fasting and found it tougher than liquid fasting. It hardly feels like fasting, as you keep sipping fluids all through the day.
Here are some types of liquid fasting along with their benefits:
It is one of the most popular types of fasting in the western world and popular with the modern generation. In this method of fasting, you can have the vegetable soups or fruit juices when you want.
There are many juice diet recipes and juice diet plans in the markets that support juice fasting.
There are no doubt many health benefits of juice fasting since fresh juices are enriched with mineral salts and vitamins, along with pure and natural nutritional support.
Water fasting is the cheapest and most affordable way to heal and rejuvenate your body.
You need to plan a water fasting diet under expert guidance and start with partial fasts to achieve best water fasting results.
Drinking lots of water actually flushes out the toxin repository that stays in your stomach and intestines for a long time. Though it might sound simple, but it turns out to be tougher than juice fasting.
The latest fasting fad is the intermittent fasting. As clear from the term itself, this type of fasting requires you to start and stop fasting, on a semi regular basis.
This could mean that you eat on alternate days or fast on any two or three days of your choice in a week. This kind of fast is something that my husband loves doing, not for health reasons, but because he may be feeling extra full one day and wants a break the next day!
The intermittent fasting results are found to be better than any other diet plans. The benefits of intermittent fasting include loosing weight and keeping it under control, besides other medical benefits.
Other Types of Fasting
There are other alternatives to fasting, such as fruit fasting, lemon fasting, honey fasting and so on. Just replace the juice or plain water with a mixture of lemon juice and a table-spoon of honey in water, or decide to have a meal consisting only of fruits.
There are some variations of intermittent fasting that are popular such as Fast-5 and Leangains. These types of fasts actually consider breaking a day into pre-defined fasting and non-fasting periods. Some people who workout find Leangains diet to deliver better health benefits.
Benefits of Fasting
Fasting leads to better health. The health benefits of fasting can be seen from the various points mentioned below.
“Fasting is an effective and safe method of detoxifying the body. . .a technique that wise men have used for centuries to heal the sick. Fast regularly and help the body heal itself and stay well. Give all of your organs a rest. Fasting can help reverse the aging process, and if we use it correctly, we will live longer, happier lives.” ~ James Balch
Health Benefits of Fasting
The physical benefits of fasting towards the body are so many that it has become trendy these days to observe/keep fasts.
More people are trying regular fasting for better health with juice fasting and intermittent fasting. Mentioned below are few ways how fasting helps us:
1 – Providing rest to the body and system
The stomach and bowels are rested during a day of fasting, and the toxins (harmful substances) in the food and those produced by the body during the breakdown of foods we eat are thereby limited. This caloric rest has a mind clearing effect.
I remember the first time that I kept a fast, my system did feel rested and relaxed, which made me feel rather light and good.
2 – Detoxification or elimination of toxins
The food or diet we eat is mainly high in carbohydrate and calorie, which is reduced by fasting. Thus, with the toxins swept away and fats being burned, the people who fast often feel rejuvenated.
While fasting your body is detoxified, and usually a three-day fast is used as a standard means to detox that is generally recommended by nutritionists the world over.
There are many toxins that build up over the years in our bodies, which are eliminated during a fast.
3 – Reducing the risk of diseases
According to a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, regular fasting can cut the risk of cardiovascular diseases, risk of cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, immune disorders, and generally slows the aging process, thus increases the life span.
4 – Acting as a powerful therapeutic process
Fasting is also a powerful therapeutic process that may help people recover from various health conditions like asthma, degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, uterine fibroids, benign tumors, and inflammatory bowel diseases to name a few.
It is also said to relieve the swelling of the joints, and water retention.
5 – Improving the system
Fasting is known to improve food allergies, digestion, speed up weight loss, and increase energy. It improves and enhances the immune function, leading to better health.
Those who fast have known to have improved mental clarity and focus, wake up feeling rested, sleep more soundly, have better moods, are more balanced emotionally, and are less anxious.
As a result of fasting your skin becomes soft, the diseased germs disappear, and all the organs of your body receive complete rest.
6 – Promoting balanced hormone levels
Fasting is known to promote balanced hormone levels and enhance the production of health promoting hormones (HGH), which helps growth in childhood and throughout life – thus resulting in better health.
7 – Changing eating habits and losing weight
Fasting is a great way to change your eating habits that most of us need to do, but if you intend slimming down or reducing your weight, fasting alone will not do that.
You may shed off a few kilos, but you will gain them right back unless you combine it with other changed patterns, or program of exercise and eating.
Many recent studies indicate various benefits of following a restricted diet, including increased insulin sensitivity, longer life span, and stress resistance that lead to better health.
Fasting Tips and Precautions
It is important to remember that fasting can only be fruitful and effective if it is done according to its rules.
Firstly, you have to go slow, make good preparations beforehand, and start with partial fasts. Otherwise, things can go awry leaving you feeling sick and in pain. It is wise to seek professional help before trying any kind of fasting.
I’ve mentioned some precautions that you must take when planning to observe a fast, though there could be many other useful fasting tips to make the fast successful as well.
But you need to understand that the health benefits of fasting can only be availed if it is done on a long-term basis.
Starting a Fast
- For successful fasting, you need to stop eating any meat, stop drinking caffeinated drinks, and eat lots of fruits, 1 to 3 days before fasting.
- You need to avoid drugs and other medications after permission from your physician, and exercise moderately for better health.
- Rest as much as possible as the body needs rest to heal itself and grow, and be prepared for temporary mental discomforts like crankiness, impatience, stress, and anxiety.
- There could be some physical discomforts also like dizziness, fleeting hunger pangs, headaches, weakness, tiredness, or sleeplessness
Foods to Eat During Fasting
- You could include whole grains like oats, barley, and brown rice in your diet for better health. Also try including legumes like dried beans, split beans, lentils and peas.
- Depending on the kind of fast you follow, never go without water for more than three days for better health. Most people believe in only eating fruits, while some follow juice fasting.
- Juice fasting decreases the hunger pains and gives you more natural sugar energy, and you can even try mixing acidic juices with water for better health.
- Milk can cause a lot of gas, and yoghurt may cause stomach rumbling, though is generally considered food. Try drinking clear soups when you need extra energy for work.
- Ensure your diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and liquids that give you inner strength and power. Also, make sure you brush your teeth regularly as long hours of fasting cause bad breath, mainly due to the release of toxins
Ending a Fast
- For better health, ensure that you end your fast gradually. Eat small portions of food every few hours, and one small serving of poultry or fish the first day.
- While fasting, introduce richer foods like fried food and rich desserts back into your diet, though do so gradually. Large amounts of foods eaten suddenly could cause constipation, gastrointestinal problems, or other digestive problems.
- Also remember, that the longer the fast, the more time it takes to break it. If you have fasted for over three weeks or longer, your stomach becomes similar to a baby’s. Thus, you need to feed yourself after that fast, as you would a baby for better health. You may be able to get back to consuming normal food not earlier than a week.
- You normally don’t feel so hungry after the initial three days when you are fasting. However, your hunger returns when you start to eat again and that is the time when you must hold on to yourself.
- Learn to exercise self-control, and as fasting causes the stomach to contract, it’s unwise to expand it again to the same extent.
- Headaches are known to occur during detoxification because the toxins in the blood cause it to thicken. The remedy lies in drinking more water or having a bowel movement.
- Some people may not be able to abstain from food, like those who are diabetic, but anyone can temporarily give up something – like smoking or caffeine, to remain focused.
- There are no rules on fasting periods, and it can be as short as one meal or as long as a number of days. However, it is advised not to fast for more than 40 days, as it can bring about health complications.
Fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, children or teenagers as they are still growing, seniors of the elderly, and those recovering from illness, diseases, injury or surgery.
And finally, fasting is not a quick fix solution to good health and weight loss. To gain the health benefits of fasting one needs to have determination, will power, remain focused, and continue fasting regularly for long period. Those who do, surely reap the rewards of physical and mental well-being.
Many believe fasting is better than any other calorie restriction diets. But there will be difference of opinions based upon personal experiences.
Speaking of myself, I still need to practice fasting on a regular basis. Yes, as I mentioned in the earlier post of prayer and fasting for a better life, I have skipped a meal in-between and even fasted for a whole day living on water, observed partial fasts, but never really tried out the other kinds of fasting that I now intend doing.
I guess you can’t expect to break a habit that you’ve been keeping for all these years and instantly adopt new ones. But accepting change and adjusting to life is always good in the end.
Over to you–
According to you, what are the health benefits of fasting? Do you fast or practice any type of fasting, and which kind of fasting suits you best? What are your reasons for fasting and what has been your personal experience? Share in the comments below.
Photo Credit: 123rf
Posted on: March 30th, 2012
Last Updated on: January 9th, 2013