Editor’s Note: Thinking about a fast? Before you tackle this challenge, please read this guest post by Carol Montrose as she shares some info and advice. She explains what fasting is and why you might want to try or avoid it.
Fasting has long been the providence of religious enthusiasts looking to reach a higher state of enlightenment through the denial of worldly pleasures (or purify, cleanse, and invite visions) as well as political activists looking to draw attention to their cause.
However, you don’t have to be a Siddhartha or Mahatma Gandhi to realize some of the benefits of depriving your body of food.
The concept of improving your health by denying yourself the very nutrition that keeps you alive is a strange one, to be sure. But when you consider all of the toxins that modern man ingests, whether from processed and refined foods or chemically treated produce, it only makes sense that flushing them out of your system will lead your body to feel and function better.
But what is fasting?
There is a fine line between a healthy fast and starvation or an eating disorder, so it pays to do a little research before you simply decide to stop eating.
A fast begins and ends with carbohydrates, which your body stores as fat. The carbs that you ingested most recently turn into glycogen, which is burned off pretty quickly if you have a high level of activity.
But in general, carbs become sugar, which is either eliminated as waste or transformed into the fat that your body stores to burn as energy in case of a lack of fuel (as when you fast). So, when your body begins to burn your fat stores (generally during the first day of food deprivation), your fast has technically begun.
However, at some point your body is also going to start dipping into stores of protein, which means you will begin burning muscle instead of fat. At this point, your fast has ended and starvation has set in. The amount of time it takes to reach this point varies from person to person, so you may want to check with your doctor or nutritionist to find a safe window of time for practicing your fast.
In addition, you will need to consume plenty of fluids (generally water, but sometimes fruit and vegetable juices) to ensure that you don’t suffer from dehydration, which can quickly turn from merely unpleasant to deadly.
There are a couple of different reasons for why people fast:
Most people use it as a form of detoxification to enhance their body’s natural proclivity to filter out toxins and waste. In most cases, it merely speeds up a process that your body performs on its own, so in that respect, it is fairly safe when done under the supervision of a physician or other health-care professional.
The main benefit of fasting for detoxification is that environmental toxins are often stored in your fat reserves (think DDT), so when you begin to deplete them, these stored chemicals will be sloughed off through urine, feces and sweat, leaving you potentially much healthier than before.
The other reason people turn to fasting is as a dieting technique. There is something to be said for reducing your body fat in this way, but there are drawbacks to using fasting as both a short-term and long-term dieting regimen.
In the short term, fasting can help you to shed unwanted pounds quickly, but it may cause changes in your metabolism. Once you start eating again, you may gain weight (sometimes in excess of what you lost) if you return to an unhealthy lifestyle.
Longer fasts (from one week to one month), can become dangerous not only because of the amount of weight being lost, but the psychological process that accompanies rapid weight loss. It can become addictive and lead to severe eating disorders in some people who are predisposed to such tendencies, so be sure to monitor your progress and take your doctor’s advice concerning when to stop.
About the Author
Carol Montrose is a writer for MBA Online where you can browse top online MBA programs.
What do you think of this post, Readers? Do you fast and for what reasons? If you’re thinking about a fast, be sure to ask your doc’s advice first and check out, “When is fasting not a good idea?”