What Are The Miracle Benefits of Fasting
If the benefits of fasting can’t cure it, it probably can’t be cured. ~ Anonymous (Tweet this)
All major healers throughout history have recommended fasting. Famous fasting advocates include Gandhi, Jesus, Angela Stokes and Cesar Chavez and more. Fasting has been around for centuries and is even mentioned in many famous spiritual texts . . . so there must be something to it. There must be some benefits of fasting. And there definitely is!
Though fasting has been around for so long, it’s surprising how few people know how incredibly magical it is. It has been said—and for good reason—that fasting alone can heal just about any ailment.
The universal cure: What is fasting?
Perhaps you’ve never heard of fasting or don’t practice it because you think it’s nothing more than starving or depriving yourself of food. Physically, fasting is a very simple process: you simply abstain from eating food. However, there is a very powerful metaphysical aspect to fasting. Additionally, there are different forms of fasting, which we will get to shortly.
In its most basic form, fasting is the practice of calorie (or energy) preservation. The most traditional and most intense as well as the most healing way to do this is to abstain from food and consume only water. It’s rather simple, as you are basically not eating or drinking anything, which sounds like a major energy loss at first, but it’s quite the contrary actually.
We spend so much energy thinking about where to get food, what we’re going to eat, planning our meals, preparing food, and then digesting it (which requires the most energy over any other physiological process in the body, next to thinking). So in actuality, one of the benefits of fasting is that it helps us actually preserve a lot of energy and time.
Another of the benefits of fasting is that it gives the digestive system a major chance to rest and because most of the body’s energy goes to breaking down, digesting and assimilating our food, this energy can be used for higher faculties in the body, such as cleansing, rationalizing and getting creative! This is why many people report greater mental clarity and even spiritual gains while fasting.
The major benefits of fasting
When we don’t eat, our body diverts its energy to detoxifying, repairing and healing. Most people think not eating means we starve and go nutritionally and energy deficient; however, this isn’t entirely true. We will discuss why some people shouldn’t fast in a moment, but for the most part, fasting is going turn on the body’s detoxification system and start eliminating any poison and waste accumulated in our tissues and cells.
The way this works is that when the body is in a fasted state, it actually goes through all of its stored glycogen in the liver for energy. The liver is an amazing organ as it produces glycogen, which is pure energy. It also happens to store it. Surprisingly the body doesn’t need nearly as much fuel as many think to function, anything beyond basic needs for physiological functions—movement and thinking—will be stored as glycogen in the liver.
During a fast, the body is maintained by using up all its stored glycogen. After that, the body starts burning off fat for energy. This is where things get magical. Because most toxins are stored in fat cells, the body actually releases any stored toxins in the body from storage to be escorted from the body.
Most disease can be traced down to stored, accumulated toxicity and unhealthy bacteria. By putting the body into a fat-burning state via fasting, it’s finally able to release any toxic waste in the body. Also, because pathogenic yeast and bacteria like parasites and Candida live off sugar, by eliminating its food source, these guys start to die off and leave the body as well.
Aside from cleaning the body out of disease causing toxins and microbes, some of the other benefits of fasting are:
1. Weight Loss: This is likely a given as fasting requires major calorie restriction. Fasting will burn up any stored sugar in the body that can be attributing to hormonal weight gain. Also, because weight gain is greatly due toxic overload stored in fatty tissues, the body will shed any accumulated poison that is causing the body to hold onto fat deposits.
2. Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Fasting is a radical cure for blood sugar imbalances. As the body uses up any glycogen in the liver, the body becomes much more sensitive to insulin in the blood. When the liver is holding onto minimal amounts of glycogen it’s much more effective at telling the body’s decision-maker whether to take up glycogen or not.
3. Improved Cognitive Function: Fasting helps the body burn fat for energy, which produces ketones and a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF)—both which activate new brain stem cells resulting in renewed brain function. Yes, that means with the help of fasting you can literally grow a new brain!
The list of benefits goes on, including:
- improved immune function,
- anti-aging benefits,
- beauty benefits such as clear skin,
- decreases in inflammation levels, and as mentioned earlier,
- greater spiritual energy
For the beginner: Is fasting right for you?
To someone who has never fasted before, there are many fears and concerns. Many people fear they will get too skinny, they will starve or not be able to eat their favorite foods. Food is a major enjoyment for plenty of people, as well as a social construct, so giving it up may seem very threatening at first but no worries, many of these are mental constructs that fall away very easily. In fact, one of the benefits of fasting is that the mind becomes incredibly clear, perhaps clearer than ever before!
Aside from the possible mental blocks, you may be wondering if your body can handle a fast as well. This is also a natural concern, as in today’s world there are many imbalances such as metabolic dysfunction, adrenal fatigue and thyroid disorders that can make fasting a total nightmare for some.
That being said, you are probably wondering what is the right context in which one should fast? While fasting is generally a very safe thing for almost anyone, there are a few considerations one would make.
Here is a short list of reasons you might consider NOT fasting:
- You have adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue or an imbalance of cortisol (stress hormone)
- You have metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance or diabetes)
- You have blood sugar imbalances
- You are mentally and emotionally unstable
- You’re pregnant
- You have a developed stage of disease
Overall, fasting is going to likely help every one of these conditions, but if you’re in the deep of it, I recommend working your way up. Instead of jumping right into fasting, see if you can practice a diet rich in organic whole foods, plenty of water and remove any refined carbs and sugars for at least 4 weeks. After that, your blood sugar will become way more stable and you’ll have more energy and nutritional reserve to practice more advanced fasting.
How to fast without starving
In the end, if you are feeling good, life is great, and you’re up to embarking on your first fast, then it’s time we talk about a few tools to get the most from your fast.
As mentioned, one of the major concerns when it comes to fasting is the pain of potentially starving. Really, there is nothing to worry about here because our cells contain enough nutrition to last a long time. Also, the liver is typically full of stored glycogen and capable of producing it.
So as long as you’ve been eating a diet of whole foods and are free of any major disease, you likely already a plentiful reserve of vitamins and minerals to sustain the body. Additionally, science shows that no protein is lost during a 24 hour fast, just excess sugar, toxins and waste.
Even so, if you are concerned, there are a few ways you can modify your fast to still reap the benefits without entirely giving up food. Here are a few simply fasting modifications you can make to ensure a good fast:
1. Try a juice fast: Instead of giving up food entirely, fast on fresh, raw, vegetable juices. This will ensure you are getting plenty of easy-to-absorb nutrients and water to flush out any toxins. Avoid juicing any fruit or starchy vegetables. Stick to cucumber, celery, leafy salad greens like romaine, herbs and perhaps some lemon or lime.
2. Try intermittent fasting: This is a form of short fasting where you basically go for one longer period without eating. One common way to do this is to stop eating at 6pm and do not eat again until the morning around 11 am, giving you a nice 15 hour fast. This is typically pretty easy for most people and you will still reap plenty of benefits that fasting provides.
3. Try a liquid fast: Similar to a juice feast; however, in a liquid fast you can still consume smoothies, teas and even broths or pureed soups. Though you will be getting protein, fats and carbs, liquefying your food will greatly decrease the workload of the digestive system, preserving a lot of energy. If you consume some liquid probiotics like coconut kefir or a green smoothie with dandelion you will be taking your fast one step further by really aiding the detoxification and digestive processes.
4. Eat, Stop, Eat: For this method, once a week simply don’t eat for 24 hours. Start the fast at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It doesn’t matter when, as long as you go for 24 hours. Some people like to start their fast after dinner, and then wake up and don’t eat again until dinner for example.
5. Alternate Day Fasting: One day, eat as you normally would then after dinner that day, you won’t eat again until the day after the next day at breakfast. So it works out to be about 36 hours of fasting. You’re basically going an entire day without eating, only water and herbal tea.
As a general rule, simply lightening your digestive load will provide many of the same benefits you find in fasting. So any modification to diet that makes things easier on your digestive system could fall into fasting. This could also mean just eating one less meal a day, eating only raw/steamed vegetables and no starchy veggies, concentrated proteins or difficult-to-digest fats for a day.
How to end my fast
Breaking a fast can make or break a fast. If you find yourself ending your fast with sugary foods or processed junk then it’s likely that fasting is causing too much stress on the bod—cut back to simpler forms of fasting such as intermittent fasting or going a full day on only vegetables. You can make it even simpler by just not eating past 6 pm.
When it’s time to end your fast though, you will know. When fasting, you’ll start to notice the difference between authentic hunger and appetite. As a general rule, I find that if you are not willing to eat vegetables, you’re not hungry; you just have an appetite or craving.
Once true hunger sets in, you’ll likely be willing to eat anything, even celery. When this happens, follow your instincts. However, remember that now the digestive system has been off for a while and will need to be woken up slowly. Though you’ll feel hungry probably for the first time, you still want to ease off your fast as gently as you went into it.
The best way to end the fast is the same way you started it:
- Eat organic, whole foods—preferably easy-to-digest foods like steamed or cooked veggies, broths, soups, smoothies or juices.
- Puree your food.
- Keep it simple. Try just a mono meal, something like a single avocado, green apple or some steamed broccoli.
Fasting is the best medicine of all; it’s powerful in terms of helping the body clean out waste—including unhelpful mental constructs, cravings and compulsions.
In the end though the sensible path is just listen to your body’s signals. Don’t let any sort of dogma or guilt keep you from eating. Remember, fasting is a spiritual and emotional practice as well. Do your best and be happy with your successes—even if they’re small in the beginning.
My final advice on the benefits of fasting—Just give it a try and don’t take it so seriously. Simply do it for the fun of it, not because you think you’re fat and sick. Best to do a quick trial as it’s less serious and won’t come with much risk. Keep in mind, everything new sounds dangerous or risky in the beginning but then we grow accustomed to it and build resilience. This goes for fasting as well. Remember the first time you rode a bike, talked to your crush or tried a workout? It was scary but you figured it out.
Someone once told me, “You should do what you’re most afraid to do.” Just remember to be gentle on yourself! There’s no need to struggle; again, let it be for fun.