Have you ever tried fasting? If not, the idea of not eating for an extended period of time may sound unpleasant, to say the least. But more and more research is demonstrating that fasting has numerous health benefits — including reducing the risk of degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer, and yes — fasting can also help you lose weight.
You may be thinking that’s a no brainer — if you don’t eat, you’re consuming fewer calories, so you’re likely to lose weight. But the benefits of fasting go well beyond calorie restriction. Continue reading for more information on why fasting works, and how to do it safely and effectively.
Your body’s natural repair and rejuvenation system
Some people claim that fasting isn’t necessary because our bodies already have natural repair and rejuvenation processes. This is true — but many of us don’t give our repair system the opportunity to do its job. Repair and rejuvenation can only occur once digestion is complete. If we eat all day long, and snack late into the night, we are preventing our bodies from doing what they were designed to do.
By eating less, eating lighter foods, and/or leaving a larger window of time between dinner and the next day’s breakfast, you give your digestive system the opportunity to rest and let your repair system kick in. This allows your body to clear away toxins, fight free radicals, and combat inflammation — all of which can contribute to disease and impair your weight-loss efforts. You may also experience benefits such as increased energy, improved cognitive performance, lower LDL cholesterol, and better blood glucose control.
How to fast safely
No, you don’t actually have to stop eating completely or subsist on water for an extended period of time. There are several different approaches you can take to fasting while still providing your body with adequate nutrition.
- Time-restricted fasting. This popular approach to fasting involves eating only during a certain window during the day — for example, you may start eating at 10am and stop at 6pm. Make your last meal of the day something light, and don’t snack after dinner. In the morning, don’t eat breakfast until you’re actually hungry (you can have tea or coffee if you desire). This extends the time that your repair system is able to do its job.
- Intermittent fasting or alternate-day fasting. This refers to the practice of eating normally most of the week, but setting aside two non-consecutive days during the week, on which you eat a calorie-restricted diet. This usually means 600 calories for men and 500 for women. For the best results, focus your diet on healthy, plant-based foods. Intermittent fasting has been shown to promote meaningful weight loss, but the practice must be continued to achieve lasting results.
- Prolonged fasting. Restricting your calorie intake for five days or more usually provides the most dramatic results. Prolonged fasting has been shown to increase longevity, boost immunity, and help repair DNA damage. During prolonged fasting, you can still eat, but your calorie count should be low (around 800 calories per day), and all foods should be plant-based and easy to digest — such as vegetable soups. Consuming liquids, such as soups and smoothies, will further ease the strain on your digestive system so that your body can re-enter repair mode sooner.
The fasting mimicking diet
At our weight-loss centers, we recommend the ProLon fasting mimicking diet — a kit that includes everything you need for an effective 5-day fasting diet. In clinical trials, ProLon was found to promote fat-based weight loss and improve other metabolic markers, including blood pressure and blood glucose control. The ProLon diet consists of plant-based soups, nut bars, snacks, drinks, and supplements, all scientifically designed to provide nourishment while promoting healthy changes in the body.
Tips for fasting
The first time you try any type of fasting, it may be difficult. You will likely feel hungry and may experience other symptoms, such as feeling shaky or nauseated. These symptoms will likely resolve after a few cycles of alternate-day fasting, or a few days of prolonged fasting. Try the following tips to make it easier to get through your fast:
- Drink lots and lots of water. This will help your body keep things moving and flush out toxins. Staying well hydrated will also help reduce the likelihood of symptoms such as headaches.
- Supplement with key electrolytes. During the initial part of a fast, you will likely lose water weight, which may result in the excretion of important electrolytes. Take magnesium and potassium supplements to help prevent unpleasant symptoms.
- Keep yourself distracted. Try starting your fast on a busy day, when you won’t be sitting at home and tempted to eat everything in the house.
- Talk to your doctor if you have any existing health conditions. Fasting may not be appropriate for everyone. If you have diabetes or liver or kidney disease, talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes. Fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Need a little extra help meeting your weight-loss goals? Garcia Weight Loss offers personalized weight-loss programs designed to help you look and feel your best. Contact us today for your no-cost consultation!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on July 17, 2017