A guide to fasting. How fasting can improve your health

A guide to fasting. How fasting can improve your health

30 October 2019

Written by Jennie Bayliss

Curious about fasting, but not sure how or where to start? Read on to discover how fasting can improve your health as well as help weight loss.

What is fasting?

Since the dawn of time, people have fasted for both religious and health reasons. More recently, fasting has become a weight loss strategy made famous by Dr Michael Mosley’s 5-2 diet.

Some people think fasting is about starving or depriving yourself—but it isn’t. Rather fasting is a gift of love to your body with its many proven health benefits. Fasting is a choice not to eat food, even though food is readily available. And because it’s a choice, fasting can be stopped at any time. By the way, it’s not failing if you stop early—even a few hours beyond the time you would have normally eaten is beneficial to your body. Simply have another go on another day.

Fasting can be done for just 14 hours up to many days, although the latter should be under medical supervision. Most of us do a mini-fast every day when break–fast after not eating since dinner.

Our ancient ancestors probably fasted regularly—not necessarily out of choice, but because food was not readily or regularly available as it is today. Our body is designed to store excess food in the form of fat, so when food is not available, we can use up this stored fat to live off.

Different ways to fast

There are many ways to fast. An extreme fast is just to drink water and not to eat anything, but most fasts include eating some food. Many fasts are known as intermittent fasting—where fasting is done regularly in-between days of normal eating.

The 5-2 diet, known as the Fast Diet, is an intermittent fast which is to eat as usual for 5-days a week then fast for 2-days each week. On fasting days, calories are restricted to just 500 for women and 600 for men. Without changing much else, the two days of only 25% of the body’s daily calorie intake forces the body to use up stored fat, which helps the body to shed excess stored body fat. See https://thefastdiet.co.uk

Ayurveda encourages different forms of fasting. Ayurveda which translates as ‘the science of life’ is widely practised in India and Sri Lanka and combines food, yoga, massage and herbal remedies to promote optimal health. The mung bean (dal) soup fast is a well-known Ayurvedic fast which is used to cleanse and detox the liver. On this fast, you only eat mung bean soup and drink water and herbal teas. This fast can be done for 1–7 days. See https://www.ayurveda101.uk/mung-dal-soup

Time-restricted eating is another form of intermittent fasting. It’s growing in popularity due to the ease of incorporating into hectic lifestyles and because it promotes natural weight loss. Typically, daily eating is restricted to 8 hours a day with the remaining 16 hours fasting with no food and only water or herbal teas to drink. See https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

A juice fast. Meals are replaced with freshly juiced fruit and vegetables. Water and herbal teas are drunk throughout the day. This type of fast can be practised for 1–7 days.

23-hour fasting begins at the end of one main meal and ends 23-hours later with a delicious, healthy meal. The benefits of fasting begin after 12 hours of not eating and the maximum benefit to the body is achieved by not eating for 23 hours. This is currently my favourite way to fast and it can be done weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

The key benefits of fasting are:
• Weight loss or weight maintenance
• Rests the upper digestive system
• Autophagy. The removal and repair of dysfunctional cells so as to regenerate new, healthier cells.
• Lowered blood sugar levels which over time may help reverse type 2 diabetes
• Surprisingly, most people experience increased energy levels
Other possible benefits are:
• Reduction of inflammation
• Improved blood cholesterol levels
• Increased life-span

Is fasting safe for everyone?

Fasting is provides a whole host of benefits and it is safe for the vast majority of people. However, it’s not recommended if you are…
• Taking medication that needs to be taken with food.
• Pregnant or breast-feeding
• If you are feeling unwell or recovering from a bug or virus.
If you have an on-going medical condition, please seek advice from your doctor before embarking on a fast.

My fasting experiences

Over the last five years, I’ve experimented with fasting, and this is what I found.
Although the 5-2 offers flexibility as to when to eat, I find that eating three tiny meals stimulates my appetite and increases my hunger. I hate counting calories. Working out what I could have for 500 calories made me feel like I was dieting, which I didn’t enjoy.

I’ve periodically done the Mung Bean Soup fast. Getting my head around the curry flavoured soup for breakfast wasn’t easy for the first few times, but after just one day, there is an improvement in my digestive system. I’ve not done this for more than 1-day. I think it would need to be a mind-over-matter to do this for more than 2-days as boredom sets in of having the same flavoured food for all meals.

A few years ago, I attended a Juice Retreat for 4-days. My energy levels soared for the first 2-days, then dipped. I slept well, and I lost 6 lbs which surprised me. I missed chewing food, and I’ve no real desire to do this at home.

I’ve not tried the 8:16 time-restricted eating yet, although I often go for 14 hours without eating.

I’m now a great fan of 23-hour fasting, which I do as a gift of love to my body. I begin my fast after my evening meal at 7 pm which means by 7 am, and I’m more than halfway through. Surprisingly, I don’t usually feel hungry until about 3 pm, and then yes, there are few grumblings, but they are waves, and they quickly pass. I always pre-prepare a delicious meal to end my fast, and every mouthful tastes wonderful.

Join my free-to-join FaceBook Group

I’ve just started a FaceBook Group called The First Tuesday. Give a gift your body a gift of love every first Tuesday of the month, by taking part in a group 23-hour fast. I’ll be on hand during the day to encourage and support you. Fasting like this can do wonders for your health and give a boost to weight loss in the early run-up to Christmas. I hope to see you there!

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