Fasting: Fasting is the process where you abstain from food and/or water for a set period of time. In water fasting, you do not eat but you are free to drink as much plain water as you want. Fasting should not be confused with starving, where one suffers from severe lack of nutrition, vitamins, and minerals. During fasting, your body burns your fat reserves (adipose) for energy. The person does not suffer any deficiency of protein, vitamins, minerals or fatty acids. Starving happens when a body has no reserve fat fuels to burn (happens for anyone with body fat from 7-10%; I will elaborate further below) and starts eating into its own muscles and organs for energy instead. Carrington (Physical Culture, 1915) put it well in these words:
“Fasting is a scientific method of ridding the system of diseased tissue, and morbid matter, and is invariably accompanied by beneficial results. Starving is the deprivation of the tissues from nutriment which they require, and is invariably accompanied by disastrous consequences.”
The amount of time one can fast without going into starvation mode varies from individual to individual, such as the fat %, body weight, body condition and so on, but the average person can actually last 40 days just drinking water alone (please do not attempt to do this yourself without doing due research first).
Why Fast? (Benefits of Fasting)
Why fast? That’s a perfectly valid question.
1.Immense Mental benefits of Fasting: Mental Clarity, Increased Creativity, etc.
My interest in taking on fasting is multiple-fold. People feel heightened levels of mental clarity, significantly increased creative output, inner calmness, a new-found relationship with themselves, supremely vivid dreams, and so on during their fasts. These tend to happy from Day 3 onwards of their fast. One of the big reasons is because since there’s nothing to digest, our body stops diverting energy to our digestive systems and instead directs them to our brain, leading to higher level output (i.e. thinking and creative work).
Secondly, I personally am quite keen on the physical purging process. Our bodies have many toxins piled up from all the years of eating processed and unhealthy food. As we talked about earlier having the ability to rest the digestive system and give it time to repair itself can go a long way to reducing toxins and improving gut health. So fasting is a strategy to do some major cleansing in system through this fast, kind of like a system reboot.
3. Improved Immune System
Fasting basically helps your body to reset its immune system, kicking it into high gear by the end of your fast! A fasting cycle results in the depletion of white blood cells and creates changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells. In particular, it reduced the enzyme PKA, which is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode. “It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” per say. When you fast, your body once through the glycogen stores burns body fat as fuel to find nutrients and energy. This means that a lot of the inefficient or damaged parts of the body are eliminated during the fasting, basically resetting your overall health at the same time.
4. Enabling Others To Learn and Grow
The third reason is that I’m always looking to explore new territories of growth and to share them so others can learn from my experiences. By taking on the fast and publicly sharing my experience, I can imagine that this will be a helpful resource to those who might be interested to try this for themselves in the future.
5.Weight Loss/Fat Loss
Weight loss is another obvious benefit from a water fast. Those who have fasted properly, broken the fast the right way, and maintained a healthy diet thereafter have actually kept the weight off, so that’s definitely a very big plus. Depending on the length of the fast there are two reasons for this…initially is the reduction of inflammation causing the weight loss. With longer fast you are tapping into fat stores and actually pushing the body into ketogenesis where we are burning body fat as fuel creating the weight loss which we will discuss further here in a bit.
6. Building a New Relationship with Food
And last but not least (somewhat related to the second reason), fasting can help people to build a new relationship with food. So many people are using food as an emotional outlet. It also made me personally understand on a completely new level what it really feels to be hungry and require food, vs. when it’s just a desire to eat and fill out an emotion. The answer is that probably 99.9% of the time it’s the latter and not the former. Fasting, not eating food will probably make you see food in a different light than you are seeing it now. The people who have undergone fasting talked about how they felt hunger in the first 1-3 days and stopped feeling any physical hunger after that. It also made them realize what true hunger really felt like. Real hunger isn’t the feeling that most of us think it is – signs like emptiness of stomach, stomach growls, thinking that you need to eat, gastric pain, etc. are just what we think is hunger. Real hunger is felt from the throat (not stomach nor head). The average body has fat reserves (complete with the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals) that can last one at least 40 days without food. (Unless you’re very thin, pregnant, emaciated, etc.) This shift in our relationship with food can be invaluable as people stop looking at food at anything other than fuel and breaks some of those negative relationships with food.
How Long Should One Fast?
As I’ve mentioned above, our body has sufficient fat reserves to last us for 40 days, with some even stretching as long as 10 weeks. Our body will not burn muscle as an act of natural preservation. By default (Read Stage 4 as to why), our body gets energy in this order:
Stage 1: Daily food
Glucose from our daily food consumption.
Stage 2: Glycogen from liver (Glycogenolysis)
Glycogen from our liver. Converted via Glycogenolysis; this happens when we don’t eat for four to eight hours. This lasts us for about 12 hours.
Stage 3: Glycogen from our muscles
It’s easier to get energy first from glucose, then protein, then finally fats. This is why our body tries to get energy from glycogen from our muscles after it finishes burning the glycogen from our liver. This can happen for a day or two before our body realizes that something is amiss. It then switches to ketosis.
Stage 4: Full Ketosis (Fasting)
Stage 4 occurs when our body realizes that it needs to stop wasting muscles since it’s needed for survival. It then switches to ketosis, where it burns fat from our adipose tissues, i.e. our fat resources. This is known as the protein or muscle sparing mode because our body knows that our muscles and organs are important for the proper functioning of the body, and upon realizing no more energy is coming in, now switches to fat as the energy source. Our fat is converted into ketone which is used for energy. This happens as long as there are no more fat reserves left — equivalent of less than 7% or 10% body fat for males and females respectively.
Since each pound of fat is 3,500 calories and our daily energy expenditure is about 1,500-2,000, that’s quite a lot of calories for the body to burn during the fast before it’ll move to the next stage (starvation). For most people, it’s around four weeks to 10 weeks (or even longer) depending on your fat percentage, body weight, body condition and so on. Girls tend to have higher fat reserves/percentage than guys, while guys tend to have a higher absolute body mass. During water fasting, it is said that full ketosis is usually reached at approximately 48 hours for women