Let’s talk about fasting… Yes, Fasting. You know, the thing they talk about in the Bible. This method we traditionally view as a religious offering can also provide some major health benefits. In my opinion fasting is the easiest way to get rid of unwanted body fat and keep it off for good!
Fasting is a common practice in all of the world’s major religions. Jesus often fasted and discussed the importance of fasting to his disciples and followers. Muslims observe Ramadan. The Buddha was said to have fasted for years before attaining enlightenment. Whatever your religious views, it is likely that fasting is woven into the very fabric of the faith’s traditions.
While it’s obvious there are spiritual benefits to fasting, science also supports the numerous ways fasting can help individuals maintain a healthy body. Fasting is excellent as a strategy for weight management, detoxification and reducing pain and inflammation.
So why is starving yourself so beneficial? To answer that question, we must examine our ancestral history. No, we’re not talking about mamaw and papaw, not even our first relatives who settled in the “new country” that is today the United States. I am talking about our ancient ancestors, the very first homosapiens.
Ancient people were hunters and foragers. Some may have developed techniques for herding livestock and agriculture over time, but in the early days of our species food was scarce. Our ancient ancestors would often go days without finding a meal. Some may have been able to forage a few nuts and berries as they traveled from place to place, but consuming a large meal was a rare treat.
If we examine the anatomy of a human we can see our bodies are designed to withstand periods of time without food. The intestines are over 25 feet long, giving our bodies plenty of time to absorb nutrients from food. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, providing fuel. Excess calories are stored as body fat that can be burned in times of emergency when food is not available.
The experiences of primitive humans have shaped the bulk of our DNA. The hardships they faced in their quests for food and survival are built into our modern bodily functions. In essence, we were made to fast.
‘Fast’-forward to today. We have an abundance of food… everywhere: in gas stations, grocery stores, vending machines in the office or the hallways of the kids’ schools. We even have food we can get through our car windows.
Not only does this food have an extremely low nutritional value (that’s a conversation for another time) but we also have become accustomed to eating three meals a day, commonly snacking between meals because our bodies are starving for nutrients which the vast majority of our “food” does not provide.
The result? Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Obesity and diabetes rates are at an all time high. The life expectancy of our children is now lower than that of their parents, which also continues to decline. In a nutshell, we need to make some changes now! Our lives depend on it!
Bring in fasting, or as I like to call it intermittent fasting, and trust me it’s so easy a caveman could do it. There are several different strategies for fasting and many of the experts have varying opinions and experiences. Thus I will elaborate on one common strategy that I personally have found easiest to employ.
Fortunately we already have a daily fast built into our lives. That is the approximate eight hours we spend sleeping every night. This strategy takes advantage of that natural fast and simply adds a few hours in the evening and mornings.
It is commonly referred to as the 8-hour diet. Here’s how it works: you only eat within an 8-hour window every day. On a normal day you will wake in the morning and drink a lot of water. A person can consume morning beverages like coffee and tea. However, it is important the coffee or tea is without cream, sugar or artificial sweeteners, as these products kick-start metabolism and the production of insulin, the fat producing hormone.
Continue through the morning drinking only water or plain coffee/tea, and then consume the first meal around noon. Go for regular sized meals and snack between lunch and dinner if it’s desired, then have dinner in the evening and usually consume the last calories of the day around 8pm.
This plan creates a 16 hour window of fasting every day from 8pm-noon and allows the practitioner to eat as they desire from noon-8pm. We have just created a 16 hour daily fast, simply by skipping breakfast.
What does this allow the body to do? First it incinerates excess body fat. Because we have not consumed calories for our bodies to burn, it must turn to our fat reserves to draw the energy we need as fuel for our daily processes.
Even if all we do in the morning is brush our teeth, take a shower, drive to work and sit at a desk, all of the calories required to do so will be sourced directly from our stored body fat. If you are able to sneak in a workout in the mornings while in a fasted state the fat-melting process is even further amplified.
Also, fasting allows the body to detoxify. We take in a lot of junk by breathing in proximity with things like car exhaust, chemical disinfectants, air fresheners and other harmful substances. We also ingest toxins in processed foods and produce treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Because the body cannot naturally break them down they instead get stored in our fat cells.
Observing a daily fast gives the body ample time to digest and refresh. The water we drink cleans our system. Because we are burning extra body fat in a fasted state, these toxins are released by our fat cells where water and antioxidants from coffee and tea can latch onto them and pull them out. These toxins are literally “flushed” out of our bodies.
Detoxifying can boost energy levels and improve cognitive function and mental clarity. Because detoxing can reduce inflammation, it can also provide natural relief of the usual aches and pains.
If not eating for sixteen hours seems like too long there are exceptions. Even twelve hours of fasting can bring about noticeable health benefits! That means if you quit eating at 8pm you only have to wait until 8am to have breakfast. Just be sure to drink plenty of water in the mornings.
Of course some days will be tougher than others and it’s OK to bend the rules every now and then. If you’re going for a daily fast and find you’ve turned into the Incredible Hulk, ready to slap the kids or strangle your favorite coworker in a state of hunger-induced rage, have a piece of fruit nearby. The naturally-occurring sugars in the fruit will help balance your mood, the vitamins and antioxidants will assist the detoxification process, and the fiber consumed in your fasted state will help promote bowel regularity.
So give it a try. It may be easier to start by fasting on select days of the week or starting with a 12-hour diet before moving on to a longer fast. The health benefits are obvious. You may find yourself consuming fewer calories due to a reduced stomach size, and likely you’ll have a greater appreciation for food after going hungry for a while. Who knows, you may even attain enlightenment.