Fasting has fast become a way of life for many seeking a healthy, sustainable way of maintaining a good weight. On the surface, depriving yourself of food may not seem a particularly good way of going about becoming healthy. But recent studies and a growing movement behind fasting is highlighting how the benefits go much further than simply helping with weight loss. Indeed, fasting has been proven to help you live longer, fight inflammation, and gain mental clarity.
Fasting is not a new fad. In fact, it has its origins as way back as the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, allegedly recommended that his patients abstain from food as it was believed that this abstinence helped the body to recover more quickly from illness.
This is born out by numerous studies and research into what happens to our bodies when we fast
Religion is often cited as an example of fasting, encouraging the individual to work through the mental challenge of resisting the pleasure of food and drink in order to find a higher plan of spiritual awareness. In Islam, Ramadan is strictly observed, whereby over a period of 30 days no food or drink passes the lips between sunrise and sunset.
The first 12 hours your body experiences a rebalancing of blood sugar levels. After eating, your blood sugar spikes and your body is flooded with insulin which converts the blood sugar into glycogen. Carb based diets experience higher spikes, which in turn lead to greater crashes, which is why people believe they feel hungry again just a few hours later. The cravings after carbs are stronger than those on a more protein based regime.
If you can struggle through the next few hours, eventually your blood sugars return to normal levels (usually after about 12 hours). This is when the benefits of fasting really start to kick in.
After 12 hours, your body kicks into the initial stages of ketosis. Ketosis is when your body starts to burn fat instead of sugars or glycogen. This is where you want to be, and is the start of your weight loss journey, and at about the 18 hour plus mark, your body clicks into full on ketosis and fat burning mode. But as well as the fat burning, your body starts to rejuvenate and heal itself, decreasing inflammation and moving towards full on autophagy.
So what is Autophagy?
In simple terms, when your body enters autophagy, it is beginning to consume itself for energy. The self repair mechanism within the body’s cells kicks in, eliminating old and damaged cells (which are burnt off as energy). This leads to the next stage during which growth hormones are stimulated, which is a signal to the body to start rejuvenating itself.
This stage is like a really good spring clean – getting rid of the old, broken cells, and replacing them with fresh, new ones.
The longer you fast, the greater the benefits. A fast of up to six days will lead to insulin levels becoming completely normalized, and your immune cells rapidly regenerating. However, it is not advisable to start with a fast this long, rather build up your experience gradually and safely.
And remember, when you break your fast, don’t gorge on fast food and high sugar, high carb foods. You’ll end up undoing all your good work. The best foods to break your fast on are high protein, low carbohydrate and healthy fats. Bone broths are a favourite – they contain lots of lovely electrolytes, as well as magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. They are also rich in collagen, glycine, amino acids, and are naturally low in carbs.