Yesterday, while walking around in the Tuilleries Gardens, I was telling a friend about my cleanse and the one day fast that it entails. We got on the subject of the benefits of fasting and why you should do it. My reason was very simple (or simplistic, if you will). Our digestive system is constantly chugging along, working hard to eliminate all the food that we put in our bodies. When our diet is imbalanced and loaded with rich, heavy foods, stuff gets backed up from time to time.
(Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/)
I see fasting as a way to give a sluggish digestive system some time to catch up. Think of our digestive system as an assembly line, working as fast as it can to process everything that goes through it. Or better yet! Think of that I Love Lucy episode when Lucy couldn’t wrap all the hershey kisses fast enough, so the hershey kisses started piling up and in a desperate attempt to keep up, she started stuffing her hat and her shirt, her mouth full of hershey kisses!
Anyway, even if I had used the same I Love Lucy analogy, I’m sure my friend would have remained unconvinced of the point of fasting. He was also quick to point out how starving yourself can wreak havoc on your metabolism, which is something I’ve heard many times before: when you starve your body, it will start storing fat to stave off a “famine.”
So today, I thought I’d give these two questions on fasting a closer look:
1) What is the point of fasting?
2) Will fasting slow down your metabolism?
There are many types of fasting, and fasting does not necessarily mean having to starve yourself. Some people practice fasting for religious and spiritual reasons, others do it for health reasons (as I’m going to do tomorrow), while others try fasting as a means to lose weight. What you consume or do not consume during a fast and how long your fast lasts depends on your preferences and your personal reasons for fasting.
To give you an example, for the purposes of my cleanse I will be fasting for 36 hours. I will not eat any food during this 36 hour period, but I will continue to drink water regularly. Starting tonight, Wednesday at 8pm and lasting until 8am Friday morning.
Aaaah! Just typing that is already intimidating. Keep in mind that this is the first time I’ve ever fasted, so it’s kind of a big deal for me. I set out on this 7-day cleanse for the sake of health and beauty. And I’ve included a fast to help give my digestive system a breather. An efficient digestive system means a more radiant skin, more energy and a more beautiful you!
But do fasts actually help the digestive system become more efficient at eliminating waste and toxins from the body? So far, I haven’t been able to find solid scientific evidence to support this. But a lack of scientific evidence may simply mean there has not been any or sufficient research conducted on this matter. I will only cross off this possibility once I come across a scientific study disputing the idea that fasts are beneficial for the digestive system.
In the meantime, there are a host of other health benefits that come from fasting, especially from short intermittent fasts:
- Intermittent fasting helps improve the body’s ability to process sugar, which helps reduce the risk of diabetes and some cancers. (Huffington Post)
- Fasting periods accelerate the clearing-out of waste left by dead and damaged cells, a process known as autophagy. (Huffington Post)
- Intermittent fasting has anti-aging effects similar to those of caloric restriction. (Mark’s Daily Apple)
- Occasional fasting helps to boost activity and growth of certain types of cells, especially neurons and protect the brain against degenerative illnesses. (The Guardian)
- Fasting can help you recover from illness or injury by redirecting energy from digestion to repair bones, tissue or organs. (Livestrong.com)
As for the effects of fasting on metabolism? According to this starvation study from Cambridge University, starvation that lasts 1-3 days actually gives a small boost to your metabolism. However, if starvation continues after this period, the rate of metabolism will sharply decline.
So there you go.
I hope this has helped to convince you of the numerous benefits of intermittent fasting. And if you are thinking of doing a fast for the first time, it’s important to consider your current physical condition and consult first with your doctor. Fasting can lead to fatigue and dehydration, and is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women or people with diabetes.
Well I’m sorry to keep this so brief, but I must be going. I need to savor my meal tonight, after which my fast will begin.
See you soon…?