The ancient art of fasting has been practised for thousands of years.
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Monks, Buddhists all have fasting rituals and rhythms.
It has been around for centuries.
Think it is crazy to fast? I totally get it.
I understand what the myths and naysayers are saying.
Maybe you’ve heard myths about fasting putting your life in danger, or it makes you gain even more fat, or that your metabolism slows down, or that skipping breakfast is the worst thing to do!
(If you’re interested, check out THIS ARTICLE to see me rip these myths apart that are keeping you overweight, sick and tired. It was super fun writing it!)
Let me set the record straight.
The benefits of fasting are astounding.
It is one of the most powerful tools on the planet for reversing insulin resistance, stubborn weight loss, and has long terms protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
It helps protect against liver disease, heart disease and even cancer.
It helps our immune systems get stronger, revs up our metabolism, and helps increases the natural secretion of growth hormone, making us more energetic, more youthful.
It is THAT great.
Contrast that with the current state of our society.
We are overweight, sick, tired, and depressed.
Our obesity problem is growing, cancer rates are soaring, and our incidence of lifestyle preventable diseases is off the charts.
I know we can do better. We deserve better.
To do so, we need to start doing something different.
Part of having a better life, at least as it relates to health, is learning and practicing the ancient art of fasting.
Today, I want to outline for you the top 5 reasons why you should be fasting, and what it can do for your health.
Benefit #1 Weight Loss
People who struggle with their weight, whether it is the last 15 pounds, or the last 150 pounds can all benefit from fasting.
Temporarily restricting the food you consume has wonderful benefits to the way our brains work, the way our hormones balance, and our ability to use fat stores on the body.
Fasting is arguably THE most powerful tool on the planet for weight loss.
Fasting allows your body to truly tap into your fat stores in the body. Your body has 2 main fuel sources — sugar or fat.
The trick is, it is an either-or situation. You cannot burn both fuels at the same time.
Just like a car, you cannot be in drive and reverse at the same time. You are either burning sugar, or you are burning fat.
Most of us are in sugar-burning mode all the time. We never fully use up our sugar stores before we eat the next meal that is easily converted to sugar.
And since it is easier to burn sugar (it is cheap, quick and readily available) than it is to burn fat, our body will choose the path of least resistance and choose to always burn sugar.
Over time this usually leads to weight gain, water retention, hormonal imbalance, and one super frustrated person.
If this sounds familiar, don’t get down on yourself.
Let me be clear — there is nothing wrong with you.
You just haven’t ever been told about how to fast or why to fast.
The opposite is probably true -you likely have been told that fasting is a bad idea and something to be avoided.
I mean, who is going to tell you to fast, the food companies selling you food?!
That is why I wrote this article. I’ve got you.
Fasting is a simple and powerful way to course-correct for weight gain.
When you temporarily restrict calorie consumption, you use up all the sugar stores in your body. Sugar is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Once this “easy” energy is used up, your body will then begin need to access your fat stores, and begin using it for energy.
This is exactly what you want to be doing — losing weight by using up fat stores (that are usually unwanted) on the body.
Another cool thing happens when you fast. With lower levels of insulin in the blood (due to lack of food causing it to elevate), your kidneys will shout:
EUREKA! We don’t need all this excess water anymore!
And they get rid of excess water you are also storing.
(Fun fact — glycogen — the stored form of sugar — is stored with 3–4 molecules of water. So when your glycogen goes down, you loose the water bloat that often goes along with it)
So we have a win-win: Fasting will cause weight loss by accessing stored fat as energy, and it promotes excess water loss.
Benefit #2 Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Who doesn’t know someone with type 2 Diabetes these days? It is an absolute pandemic.
Type 2 Diabetes, when you boil it down, is a lifestyle disease of consuming too much sugar and the body’s adaptation to excess sugar.
In a nutshell, when you consume foods that are easily converted to sugar, your insulin levels increase to bring the sugar out of the blood and into the cells. Overtime though, your cells adapt to the insulin, making it necessary for your pancreas to pump out more and more insulin to have the same effect.
Another way of saying this is the cells become resistant to the effect of insulin over time.
It’s just like listening to a new song. When you first hear a song you love — you are all over it and can’t listen to it enough! But, after the hundredth time hearing it, you are less excited about it. After the thousandth time, you are bored, totally over it and just want it to stop. Your cells are the same way with insulin. There is such a thing as too much insulin for them.
Up until this point, the medical solution has traditionally been to give insulin to these patients. You can see the tragic flaw in this design though. Over time, the same thing happens — the patient will require higher and higher doses of insulin to achieve the desired result.
Fasting is one of my favourite interventions to teach to folks who have insulin resistance, who are pre diabetic, or those dealing with Type 2 Diabetes.
When you fast, be it short, daily fasts, or longer, multi day fasts, your body will first use up all its stores of sugar in the body (called glycogen). Because you are not eating, your insulin levels will slowly start to drop.
This is a GREAT thing.
Reducing insulin in the blood through fasting gives your cells a break, and improves resistance to it. When done over time, this will dramatically improve cellular sensitivity with the knock on effect of reducing reliance on medication.
Benefit #3: Improves Heart health
Know anyone with heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure?
Yeah. Unfortunately, me too.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure are 2 of the strongest predictors for heart disease… and…you guessed it…both can be improved with fasting.
Fasting has been shown to lower the “bad” type of cholesterol produced (VLDLs), and has almost no effect on the “good” type of cholesterols (HDL). However, all this talk about good and bad cholesterol is misleading.
Cholesterol in general gets a bad rap. It is super duper important in our body.
Cholesterol is the precursor to our sex hormones, is involved in wound repair, and can also be used for energy.
It has been labeled an evil sinister villain in our body — mostly because marketing geniuses find it easier to scare us than educate us. Hence the fear of yolks, shrimp, and other “high cholesterol” foods.
If you were a patient in my practice, you would know how I feel about this archaic, unscientific opinion that cholesterol is “bad” for you.
The fact is, we NEED cholesterol. It has been mislabeled and marketed a certain way for profits, and for big companies and lobby groups to get rich.
It is misleading, and actually worse for your health to buy low fat, low cholesterol foods. These foods are usually loaded with sugar (to make up for the lack of yummy, satisfying fat) and make our stress and inflammatory response even worse.
Here’s the secret few people will share with you…what you eat has almost NO impact on your cholesterol.
Say what now?
Yep. You read that right. Almost NO impact.
Why? Because more than 80% of your body’s cholesterol is made by your liver.
Interestingly, you know what happens when you RESTRICT cholesterol coming in to your body? Your liver is a wily, smart little minx. She starts pumping out MORE cholesterol to compensate for the restriction.
Oh, the irony.
AND — when you are eating a higher carbohydrate diet, this is when your liver will start creating triglycerides, which are pumped out of the liver as VLDLs — the really nasty stuff that causes arterial damage.
Put another way, your liver will make triglycerides in response to excess carbohydrate consumption. Your liver will push this out into the body as VLDL which is what causes arterial damage and inflammation.. This is the baby is the one going to do the most damage to your cells, and set you up for heart disease, plaquing, and blood pressure issues.
Enter fasting, and cue superhero music!
With fasting, you lower the amount of carbohydrate intake, which therefore will lower your production of triglycerides (the real culprit) produced in the liver. The inflammatory response then, as a result, will also go down.
Without getting quagmired into the debate about cholesterol and statins, I will say this — cholesterol good. Statins bad. Fasting excellent.
Benefit: #4 : Cancer Prevention
In addition to looking at cancer as a mutation of genes, it is also valuable to consider that cancer may also be an endocrine disease. Meaning that there is a hormonal component, dictated by how we move, eat, and think.
While the exact protective effects of fasting and cancer are unknown, what we know about fasting is that is can help your cells clean house through a process called autophagy.
Autophagy is basically spring cleaning of your cells. Old cells, damaged cells, mutated cells, or ones that are not working are identified, and eliminated.
Just like that old sweater that you will never wear again takes up precious space in your closet, we accumulate old, damaged, and mutated cells too.
When left unchecked, these mutated cells can replicate and turn into cancer cells. This is one of the more common theories of how cancer cells develop and form tumours.
In addition to the mutated gene theory, there are also proponents who talk about cancer as an endocrine disease. They propose that many types of cancer cells in early stages of growth feed off sugar, and the excess sugar is how they mutate, grow, and grow its destructive networks.
No one knows for sure HOW it happens…yet.
What we do know is with routine fasting, we turn on specific repair genes that will comb through cells and separate the good from the bad. The bad cells are literally eaten up, and voila! Just like spring cleaning gives you more closet space with only your favourite clothes, autophagy cleans up the old, damaged cells.
We also give the body a break from insulin spikes, and excess sugar in the blood stream. This can potentially cut off the food supply to a growing cancerous cell. Without a constant food source, it cannot thrive.
So yeah. It is a powerful preventive tool.
Benefit #5: Brains that are…brainier
Fasting does some pretty cool stuff to the brain.
Ever feel like you can’t concentrate, and are just foggy all day long? Your ability to think, focus, and be productive are severely impaired?
Fasting has been shown to help by increasing something called BDNF — Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor — which helps with all of those cognitive related deficiencies.
BDNF is this awesome dude who does things like signal for new neurons to develop, grow, and mature AND prevents the death of neurons that already exist. It also positively influences overall cognitive function. Hence the clarity, the mental breakthroughs and sharpness of mind when fasting.
Pretty cool, huh?
Fasting also has the positive impact of getting rid of damaged cells in the brain. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have both shown that it is an accumulation of toxicity and toxic cells in the brain that cause some of deterioration. These changes can be seen in patients in their early 20s!
Preventative measures like fasting are not only super important for improving mental clarity, but it also plays the long game and may possibly prevent neurodegenerative diseases and their associated degeneration to happen in the first place.
Lastly, when we fast, especially for periods over 24–48 hours, we are tapping into our fat stores for energy. This means we are breaking down fat into ketone bodies as our fuel source.
This is the preferred source of fuel for the brain. Our brains require and expect fat to function properly. When we get off the highs and lows of the sugar roller coaster, and we are using a more sustainable fuel like fat, we can be more productive, for longer periods of time, without the mania and depression that often accompany sugar.
So there you have it — the top 5 reasons you should integrate fasting into your life. It’s cheap, easy, always readily available, and fits all types of diets.
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