Fasting has been used for health, both physically and spiritually, for thousands of years. In times of food scarcity man was forced to fast in order to survive, therefore the body is very well equipped to handle prolonged periods without food.
The major religions of the world have always used fasting as a way of cleansing the body and spirit. Buddha, Muhammad and Siddhartha all fasted. Jesus fasted for forty days.
It seems the human body is designed to fast safely as long as the fast doesn’t go on so long so as to exhaust the nutrient reserves. Prolonged fasts are rarely recommended as they may reach the point of starvation. Dr. Joel Fuhrman states in his book, “Fasting and Eating for Health,” that “the average non-overweight individual would have to fast approximately forty days or more to exhaust nutrient reserves.” True fasting is defined as abstention from all food and drink with the exception of water. It does not include juices, coffee, tea, supplements or drugs. There are many variations of the true water fast as your imagination can conjure up.
“My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray.
Fasting will bring spiritual rebirth to those of you who cleanse and purify your bodies.
The light of the world will illuminate within you when you fast and purify yourself.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Do We All Eat Too Much?
The benefits of calorie restriction came to light in the 1930s, when studies reported that rats fed a calorie-restricted diet had radically extended lifespans. In addition to a longer life, lab animals also experienced far greater health.
According to the Life Extension Foundation, when a group of humans consumed a similar calorie-restricted diet their conventional blood markers of aging, including excess glucose, total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides also significantly improved. Caloric restriction also has preserved brain volume in certain areas. So how many calories per day qualifies for calorie restriction status? In his book, “Beyond the 120 Year Diet,” author Dr. Roy Walford points out that in the 1970s the diet known as the Last Chance Diet was based on an extremely low-calorie liquid-protein intake of about 300-400 calories per day. This led to a weight loss of 30-50 percent, however, there were a number of heart failure deaths within the first eight months, so of course that program was rightfully abandoned. However, even today there are diets which prescribe approximately 500 calories per day, each day, for a prolonged period of time.
The more mainstream, typical calorie-restriction diets of today involve an intake of 1000-1500 calories per day which can result in gradual to rapid weight loss and improved blood markers of aging. The down side to calorie-restriction, as well as water fasting, is that few people actually want to live like that. Failure to stay on a low-caloric-intake diet also can lead to yo-yo dieting, with weight gain and decreased thyroid function.
“Fasting is an effective and safe method of detoxifying the body… a technique that wise men have used for centuries to heal the sick. Fast regularly and help the body heal itself and stay well.
Fasting can help reverse the again process, and if we use it correctly, we will live longer, happier lives.”
– James Balch, M.D. (“Prescription For Natural Healing”)
Ori Hofmekler, the author of the 2001 book, “The Warrior Diet,” is generally given credit for starting and popularizing the movement now known as Intermittent Fasting (I.F.). His advice to skip the typical American breakfast and lunch and substitute specific strategic foods in their place, alond with making the evening meal the primary meal of the day, was embraced by athletes but considered too radical by many at the time. His programs are still considered the very best by many experienced intermittent fasters seeking to fine tune their bodies.
Today there are many variations of intermittent fasting which include alternate day fasting, once a week fasting, and twice a week fasting (made popular by Dr. Michael Mosley in his book, “The Fast Diet”). In addition, there are programs involving skipping breakfast, skipping dinner, fast for a week every month, fast every other week, etc., etc.
“Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.”
– Philippus Paracelsus, M.D.
(Swiss physician and alchemist, considered one of the three Fathers of Western Medicine)
In 2004, Dr. Marc Mattson/ National Institutes of Health research reported results of Intermittent Fasting and the list of benefits were nothing short of astounding. The definition of an intermittent fast for his study was dropping calories to 500-800 per day for two days per week and the other five days resuming normal caloric intake without any other dietary restrictions.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Include
•Weight loss •Decrease in body fat (turns you into a fat burner) •Reduced cellular inflammation •Normalizes insulin sensitivity •Normalizes ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) •Lowers triglyceride levels •Promotes human growth hormones (HGH plays a part in slowing down the aging process) •Improves cognitive function •Protects against some effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases •Increases HDL cholesterol •Reduces IGF-1 levels, indicating reduction of age-related diseases, including some cancers •Can lead to an overall enhancement of mood and sense of well being
Patients on the two-day-per-week, 500-800 calorie per day version enjoy the simplicity of the program, and because they find it so easy to do, they are more likely to make it part of their long-term life style. Calling this diet the Fast Diet is a misnomer since there really is no fasting involved at all. The “Eat Less Two Days Per Week Diet” would be a more appropriate name for it
According to Dr. Dan Pompa, author of “The Cellular Healing Diet,” “Long term fasting and caloric restriction has always been criticized for muscle loss and nutrient depletion. Intermittent fasting removes this problem, spares your muscle, retains nutrient levels, possible affects hormones involved in weight loss and improved health is acceptable.”
This type of program isn’t for everyone and of course no program works for everyone all the time. It is not recommended for children and growing teens, as well as pregnant or nursing women. Simply check with your physician before beginning any diet program.
In clinical practice, I find that intermittent fasting adds an exciting tool in helping patients improve their health. And if one can obtain the benefits listed above without altering their diet at all, just imagine what can be accomplished by changing to a clean, real foods diet. By eliminating food intolerances, environmental toxins and other barriers to healing, and correcting nutritional imbalances, we have the opportunity to naturally reach new levels of improved health.
“A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines
and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean a total abstinence from food.
I speak from experience; starvation has been my cold and fever doctor
– Mark Twain
Dr. Donald L. Piccoli is a chiropractic physician and certified in advanced Nutrition Response Testing. He is the director of Holistic Solutions health center in Kensington, CT.