NOTE: This article is 2389 words. If you want the simple supplementary Fasting Checklist for Women get it right here. It’s free.
“The best of all medicines are resting and fasting” — Benjamin Franklin
The ancient art of fasting has been practiced for thousands of years.
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Monks, Buddhists all have fasting rituals and rhythms.
It has been around for centuries.
Think it is crazy to fast? I totally get it.
I understand what the myths and naysayers are saying.
Maybe you’ve heard myths about fasting putting your life in danger, or it makes you gain even more fat, or that your metabolism slows down, or that skipping breakfast is the worst thing to do!
Let me set the record straight.
The benefits of fasting are astounding.
It is one of the most powerful tools on the planet for reversing insulin resistance, stubborn weight loss, and has long term protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
It helps protect against liver disease, heart disease and even cancer.
It helps our immune systems get stronger, revs up our metabolism, and helps increase the natural secretion of growth hormone, making us more energetic and youthful.
It is THAT great.
Contrast that with the current state of our society.
We are overweight, sick, tired, and depressed.
Our obesity problem is growing, cancer rates are soaring, and our incidence of lifestyle preventable diseases is off the charts.
I know we can do better. We deserve better.
To do so, we need to start doing something different.
Part of having a better life, at least as it relates to health, is learning and practicing the ancient art of fasting.
Today, I want to outline for you the top 5 reasons why you should be fasting, and what it can do for your health.
If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, read on.
Benefit #1 Weight Loss
“Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself” — Rumi
People who struggle with their weight, whether it is the last 10 or the last 100 pounds, can all benefit from fasting.
Temporarily restricting the food you consume has wonderful benefits to the way our brains work, the way our hormones balance, and our ability to use fat stores on the body.
Fasting is arguably the most powerful tool on the planet for weight loss.
Fasting allows your body to truly tap into your fat stores in the body. Your body has 2 main fuel sources — sugar or fat.
Most of the time for the majority of us, we are burning the energy we have consumed from our diet. The standard American diet is primarily composed of processed foods – a combination of carbohydrates and fats – with very little protein. And so, what we find is that for the majority of people, we are in a glycolytic (sugar- burning) state all the time.
In order to tap into our own fat stores to burn them (which is what we want – to reduce our fat stores), we need to decrease the carbohydrates we take in, so as to give our body the opportunity to turn to our stored energy.
Most of us are in this glycolytic, or sugar-burning mode, all the time. We never fully use up our sugar stores before we are snacking or get to the next meal which is likely high in carbohydrates.
And since it is easier to burn sugar (it is energetically easier to access and in most cases readily available) than it is to burn fat, our body will choose the path of least resistance and choose to always burn sugar.
Over time this can lead to weight gain, water retention, inflammation, bloating, hormonal imbalance, and one super frustrated person.
If this sounds familiar, don’t get down on yourself.
Let me be clear — there is nothing wrong with you.
You just haven’t ever been told about how to fast, when to fast, or why to fast.
The opposite is probably true -you likely have been told that fasting is a bad idea and something to be avoided.
I mean, who is going to tell you to fast, the food companies selling you food?!
Fasting is a simple and powerful way to course-correct for weight gain.
When you temporarily restrict all calorie consumption (that is to say, all carbs, all proteins and all fats by abstaining from eating), you give your body the opportunity to use up sugar stores in your body.
Sugar is stored as glycogen primarily in the liver and muscles. Once this “easy” energy is used up, your body will then need to access your fat stores, and begin using it for energy.
This is exactly what you want to be doing — losing weight by using up fat stores (that are usually unwanted) on the body.
Another cool thing happens when you fast is glycogen — the stored form of sugar — is stored with 3–4 molecules of water. So as you are using up your glycogen stores, you lose the water retention that often goes along with it)
So we have a win-win:
Fasting will cause weight loss by accessing stored fat as energy, and it promotes excess water loss.
Benefit #2 Improves Insulin Sensitivity
“A diet changes the way you look. A fast changes the way you see.” — Lisa Bevere
Who doesn’t know someone with type 2 Diabetes these days? It is an absolute pandemic.
Type 2 Diabetes, is a lifestyle disease of consuming too much sugar and the body’s adaptation to this excess consumption..
In a nutshell, when you consume foods that are easily converted to sugar, your insulin levels increase to bring the sugar out of the blood and into the cells to be used for energy production..
However, if there is a constant surplus of sugar in your blood, your cells downgrade their senstivity to insulin. This means less of the sugar is getting into the cell to make energy. In response, pancreas to pump out more and more insulin to be able to clear the excess sugar from the blood.
Another way of saying this is that the cells become resistant to the effect of insulin over time.
It’s just like listening to a new song.
When you first hear a song you love — you are all over it and can’t listen to it enough!
After the hundredth time hearing it, you are less excited about it.
After the thousandth time, you are bored, totally over it and just want it to stop.
Your cells are the same way with insulin. There is such a thing as too much insulin for them.
Up until this point, the medical solution has traditionally been to give insulin to these patients.
You can see the tragic flaw in this design though. Over time, the same thing happens — the patient will require higher and higher doses of insulin to achieve the desired result.
Fasting is one of my favorite interventions to teach to folks who have insulin resistance, who are pre diabetic, or those dealing with Type 2 Diabetes. It is also a worthwhile intervention for women with PCOS who have hyperinsulinemia.
When you fast, be it short, daily fasts, or longer, multi day fasts, your body will first use up all its stores of sugar in the body (called glycogen). Because you are not eating, your insulin levels will slowly start to drop.
This is a GREAT thing.
Reducing insulin in the blood through fasting gives your cells a break, and improves resistance to it.
When done over time, this will dramatically improve cellular sensitivity with the knock on effect of reducing reliance on medication.
Congratulations, you are about halfway through my geeky magic carpet ride. The nerd in me loves and honors the nerd in you. Just a reminder if you want the simple supplementary Fasting Checklist for Women get it right here. It’s free.
Benefit #3: Improves Heart health
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency” — Plato
Know anyone with heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure?
Yeah. Unfortunately, me too.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure are 2 of the strongest predictors for heart disease… and…you guessed it…both can be improved with fasting.
Now, cholesterol in general gets a bad rap. It is super duper important in our body. There are no “good” or “bad” kinds of cholesterol. All cholesterol is good.
Cholesterol is the precursor to our sex hormones, is involved in wound repair, and can also be used for energy.
It has been labeled an evil sinister villain in our body — mostly because marketing geniuses find it easier to scare us than educate us.
Hence the fear of yolks, shrimp, and other “high cholesterol” foods.
If you were a patient in my practice, you would know how I feel about this archaic, unscientific opinion that cholesterol is “bad” for you.
The fact is, we NEED cholesterol. It has been mislabeled and marketed a certain way for profits, and for big companies and lobby groups to get rich.
It is misleading, and actually worse for your health to buy low fat, low cholesterol foods.
These foods are usually loaded with sugar (to make up for the lack of yummy, satisfying fat) and make our stress and inflammatory response even worse.
Here’s the secret few people will share with you…what you eat has a minimal impact on your cholesterol.
Say what now?
Yep. You read that right. Why? Because more than 80% of your body’s cholesterol is made by your liver.
Interestingly, you know what happens when you RESTRICT cholesterol coming into your body?
Your liver is a wily, smart little minx. She starts pumping out MORE cholesterol to compensate for the restriction.
Oh, the irony.
AND — when you are eating a higher carbohydrate diet, this is when your liver will start creating triglycerides, which are pumped out of the liver as VLDLs . Put another way, your liver will make triglycerides in response to excess carbohydrate consumption.
Enter fasting, and cue superhero music!
With fasting, you lower the amount of carbohydrate intake, which therefore will lower your production of triglycerides produced in the liver.
The inflammatory response then, as a result, will also go down.
Without getting quagmired into the rabbit hole debate about cholesterol and statins, I will say this:
Statins (mostly) bad.
Benefit: #4 : Cancer Prevention
“All the vitality and all the energy I have comes to me because my body has been purified by fasting” — Gandhi
In addition to looking at cancer as a mutation of genes, it is also valuable to consider that cancer may also be an endocrine disease.
In other words, there is a hormonal component, dictated by how we move, eat, and think.
While the exact protective effects of fasting and cancer are unknown, what we know about fasting is that is can help your cells clean house through a process called autophagy.
Autophagy is basically spring cleaning of your cells.
Old cells, damaged cells, mutated cells, or ones that are not working are identified, and eliminated.
Just like that old sweater that you will never wear again takes up precious space in your closet, we accumulate old, damaged, and mutated cells too.
When left unchecked, these mutated cells can replicate and turn into cancer cells. This is one of the more common theories of how cancer cells develop and form tumors.
In addition to the mutated gene theory, there are also proponents who talk about cancer as an endocrine disease.
They propose that many types of cancer cells in early stages of growth feed off sugar, and the excess sugar is how they mutate, grow, and grow its destructive networks.
No one knows for sure HOW it happens…yet.
What we do know is with routine fasting, we turn on specific repair genes that will comb through cells and separate the good from the bad.
These opportunistic cells are destroyed and just like spring cleaning gives you more closet space with only your favorite clothes, autophagy cleans up the old, damaged cells.
We also give the body a break from insulin spikes, and excess sugar in the bloodstream. This can potentially cut off the food supply to a growing cancerous cell. Without a constant food source, it cannot thrive.
Benefit #5: Brains that are…well…brainier
“When you don’t have food in your life, just for a day, it makes you realize you’re lucky to have it the next day. So the day after fasting, the music that comes out will be very joyous.” — Chris Martin
Fasting does some pretty cool stuff to the brain.
Ever feel like you can’t concentrate, and are just foggy all day long? Your ability to think, focus, and be productive are severely impaired?
Fasting has been shown to help by increasing something called BDNF — Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor — which helps with all of those cognitive related deficiencies.
BDNF signals for new neurons to develop, grow, and mature AND prevents the death of neurons that already exist.
It also positively influences overall cognitive function. Hence the clarity, the mental breakthroughs and sharpness of mind when fasting.
Fasting also has the positive impact of getting rid of damaged cells in the brain.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have both shown that it is an accumulation of toxicity and toxic cells in the brain that cause some of deterioration.
These changes can be seen in patients in their early 20s!
Preventative measures like fasting are not only super important for improving mental clarity, but it also plays the long game and may possibly prevent neurodegenerative diseases and their associated degeneration from happening in the first place.
Lastly, when we fast, especially for periods over 24–48 hours, we are tapping into our fat stores for energy. This means we are breaking down fat into ketone bodies as our fuel source.
Now while our brain will always run on some glucose, in a state of ketosis (which happens with a longer fast), this creates less oxidative by-products than glucose.
When we get off the highs and lows of the sugar roller coaster, and we are using a more sustainable fuel like fat, we can be more productive, for longer periods of time, without the mania and depression that often accompany sugar.
Fasting is a powerful tool to help regulate metabolism, balance hormones, and best of all it is cheap, easy, and fits all types of diets.
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