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Fasting has been practiced by various cultures for thousands of years. And while it’s often been linked to spiritual practices in the past, in recent times, fasting has become popular for its wide-ranging health benefits. In fact, intermittent fasting was one of last year’s most popular diet trends, as reported by Google Trends itself. The purported benefits of fasting include weight loss, detoxification, and immunity enhancement. But what exactly is fasting, and does the research back up the benefits of fasting that proponents often claim?

What is Fasting?

Before we get into the benefits of fasting, let’s first cover the basics of fasting itself. Fasting essentially involves abstaining from food and drink for a set amount of time. This might include a partial fast — which allows for limited consumption of certain foods, such as one small snack in a day — or a complete fast, which involves abstaining from all food and drink for an extended period of time.

One of the most common forms of intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating, where you fast for a certain number of hours a day and then eat during a set window. For example, you might fast for 16 hours and have an eight-hour window in which to eat.

Intermittent fasting, or IF, has gained popularity as one of the most common forms of fasting. That’s because it’s a flexible way to incorporate fasting into your lifestyle without having to adhere to strict rules or strict meal plans.

The Basics of Intermittent Fasting

This newer, more flexible approach to fasting rose to prominence in the mid-2010s. Books like East Fast Live Longer, TV shows like the Oprah Winfrey show, and lifestyle health gurus such as Timothy Ferris helped bring this age-old concept to the masses.

While most people think of fasting as simply not eating, intermittent fasting shows that there are numerous ways to make fasting work for you (and help you experience the benefits of fasting). The most popular method, as noted by John Hopkins Medicine, is the 5:2 fasting model. But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

  • The 5:2 model: You eat as you normally would for five days a week, but on the other two days, you reduce your daily calories and eat only 500 calories per day
  • Overnight fasting: As the name implies, you fast overnight for 12 hours total
  • Alternate-day fasting: You fast for a full 24 hours, eat as you normally would the next day, and repeat
  • Time-restricted fasting: There are many options, such as the 14/10 option (where you fast for 14 hours but eat during a 10-hour window), the 16/8 option (one of the most common approaches in this category) and the 15/9 option
  • One day fasts: You simply take a full 24-hour abstinence from food once or twice a week

What Are the Benefits of Fasting?

Whether you’re looking for a way to lose weight, improve insulin sensitivity, or simply improve your overall health and wellbeing, fasting can be an effective tool for achieving your goals. The benefits are manifold:

That’s not all. Regularly fasting may help prevent cancer, improve cognition, reduce your risks of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), reduce inflammation, and much more.

How to Get Started With Fasting

1. Plan Ahead

One key factor to successful fasting is to be well-prepared. Plan ahead by having healthy, nutrient-dense foods readily available, and hydrating well during your fasting periods. It is also important to listen to your body, giving yourself permission to shift your fasting routine as needed to avoid adverse effects, like headaches or feeling unwell, and choose a fasting protocol that aligns with your health and personal goals. For instance, each of the various types of fasting outlined above may work for you, or you may find that one model fits best with your lifestyle and habits.

2. Start Slow

If you are new to fasting, it is important to start gradually. Begin with intermittent fasting for a few hours every day or a whole day, then progress to longer periods of fasting. Ensure that you keep yourself hydrated and break your fast with a healthy meal that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

3. Stay Hydrated

Drinking lots of water serves multiple purposes. For instance, it’s easy to confuse hunger with dehydration — staying hydrated helps satiate your appetite and be more aware of your actual hunger cues.

From a detox standpoint, drinking lots of water helps you to flush out toxins as you fast, helping you to get more of the benefits of fasting.

Fasting can help you achieve your health and wellness goals, reduce your risk of chronic illness, and even improve cognitive function. Whether you’re interested in intermittent fasting or looking to try a more traditional fasting approach, there are many benefits to be had from this practice.

References:

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1274154/
  • https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=intermittent%20fasting
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
  • https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33531076/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30172870/
  • https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/62766/nature06639.pdf;jsessionid=51138EF271562E0BC80B26EABECC97F1?sequence=1
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471315/
  • https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/11/25/regular-fasting-could-lead-to-longer-healthier-life