5 Lies You’ve Been Told About Fasting

holistic medicine, functional medicine doctor

“Should I do a fast?”  With fasting receiving so much attention, you may be asking yourself the same question.  Fasting advocates declare it the dietary approach to trump all others.  Everyone should be routinely fasting.  I say that is nonsense.  There is no universally acceptable diet strategy.  If there was, my job would be a lot easier.  I wouldn’t have to listen to patient input, order labs and dedicate my time to deciphering the results.  Instead, I could get away with recommending everyone follow pre-generated directions.

Instead, I want to apply some critical thinking to fasting.  I have been applying fasting for several years professionally and personally, but this is my first dive into writing some content around it.  I will be honest with you.  Fasting frustrates me.  Not because I am against it.  I actually lean on it hard at times.  It frustrates me because of all the misinformation about it.

So when asked, “Should I do a fast”, be prepared.  A 30 second answer is not going to follow.  This deserves more explanation.

Should I Do a Fast?

There is a time and a place for fasting.  Let’s talk about when to apply fasting.  Once you understand where fasting fits in, the lies about it become obvious.

  • Religious Obligations – Fasting has been a religious act from Biblical times.  If the reason you are fasting is to increase your faith, its hard for me to steer you away from it.  Not only does this show increased dedication, it trains and prepares the mind for being consistent.
  • Imbalance Gut Bacteria – In case you haven’t heard, the bacteria in your gut, what we often call probiotics, are pretty important.  Detoxification, nutrient production, immune system support, calorie utilization and brain function are just a few of their benefits.  Fasting positively shapes the probiotic profile in the gut.

    5 Lies You've Been Told About Fasting

    5 Lies You’ve Been Told About Fasting

  • Better Brain – This one can be a double edged sword, so don’t fast until you have read everything that I have to say about the brain and fasting.  But for long term effects, intermittent fasting or periodic fasting can slow trends towards brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Fat Beiging – Beiging means becoming browner.  When you fast, your white fat becomes more brown.  Most of the time we think of fat as the unwelcomed deposits on our body of extra calories.  But there is more to it.  There are even different types of fat.  Brown fat is more metabolically active.  Let me say that is a way that you will want to hear.  Brown fat is going to help you stay firmer and leaner.

The Big C and D

  • High Blood Sugar – Hands down, fasting works for improving blood glucose.  Modified fasts, intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating and fasting for more than 13 hours each day are all methods that I have successfully used.  The results can be dramatic with blood glucose numbers dropping 100-200 points in some cases.
  • Cancer – Fasting has significant benefit in cancer.  It allows the immune system to be more efficient at eliminating cellular debris, or the outdated and dysfunctional tissue that no longer needs to be around.  But that is not all.  Damaged DNA, your genetic material, is one of the driving causes of cancer.  Fasting improves the repair of DNA.  If that was not impressive enough, how is this for irony.  Fasting, or reducing food intake which we use for energy, makes the mitochondria, the energy producing centers of the body, more efficient at producing energy.  Fasting gives you more efficient energy production.  That is awesome!

Fast Facts . . . Revealing the Truth Behind the Lies

Even though numerous benefits are seen with fasting, beware.  Fasting has reached “fad” status.  You know what that means.  Statements and promises that often reflect more fantasy than reality.  It never fails.  And of course you are left disappointed when you don’t get the whole truth or miraculous outcomes.

Fasting can provide impressive results, but not without knowing the pitfalls.  And rest assured there are a few.

Fasting is For Everyone

Many fasting advocates when asked, “Should I do a fast?”, will give a knee jerk response of yes.  Such a short-sided view is bound to have consequences.  Not everyone is the same, outside or inside.  In fact, for some fasting is detrimental.  It can make them feel worse.  And while some might argue that this the result of them not adapting yet, that is ofte

n not the case in my observation.  Many are not going to adapt because they don’t have the ability.

On almost a daily basis I encounter patients that are suffering from non-diabetic hypoglycemia.  Their fatigue is crippling.  Countless times they have tried fasting, some for several months, before ultimately realizing that fasting is making them worse.  A weakened hormonal and nervous system is a recipe for fasting failure.  If this is you, eating starchy vegetables is going to be your biggest ally in overcoming fatigue.  Not fasting.

“Should I do a fast?” – If it is right for you.

Difficulty Level of 10

The mind is a battlefield.  If you want to be successful at fasting, you have to stop the mental noise internally and externally.  Internally, we are accustomed to eating 3 times a day.  It is the accepted norm in society.  But that is simply the pattern that we have set for ourselves.  It is not universal.  Your body is not dependent on eating 3 times every day.  Increase your success and stop telling yourself that eating 3 times a day every day is the norm.

Externally, you will be told that a fast is too hard.  “Friends” and acquaintances will shun your actions because it is outside of the norm.  Pay no attention.  Fasting is not for the mentally weak.  It trains the body to adapt.  What may initially seem like a difficulty level of 10 will soon fall to a 2-3, which sometimes can be easier that finding clean, toxin free food.

“Should I do a fast?” – Fasts are easier each time you do them.

The Perfect Detox

Fasting and detox are 2 terms often blended together.  However, they are very different and you should not confuse them.  Fasting for too long shuts down your detox systems.  Some of this is the result of the misunderstanding of the word detox.  Detox does not equal purge.  Detox is the truest sense is changing the structure of internal toxins through bodily systems to allow for excretion.  This should happen on a consistent basis.  Fasting is not meant to be ongoing.  So the two are already in opposition.

Here is the bigger lie around detoxing with a fast.  Within about 12 hours of not having adequate protein intake your detox systems slow down.  Detoxing the right way requires consistent protein intake.  Fasting limits adequate protein intake.  This is why I often provide the exact components of protein that support the detox process when I instruct someone on doing a fast.

“Should I do a fast?”  Not if your goal is to detox.

A Fast is a Fast

All fasts are the same.  Well at least that is what you might be lead to believe from browsing a few fasting articles.  Very few seems to differentiate what they mean by a fast.  Take a look at all the options below.  Which would should you do?  If you feel overwhelmed after looking at this list, that is a good thing.  It will encourage you to proceed with caution.

  • Modified Fast – maple syrup with water with non-starchy vegetable consumption as needed for 3-7 days.  Excellent for supporting blood sugar.
  • Water Fast – consumption of only water for 1 or more days.
  • Alternate Day Intermittent Fasting – fasting on alternate days
  • Twice Weekly Intermittent Fasting – fasting for 2 days in a given week
  • Time Restricted Eating – Eating within a narrow window, for example 11am to 4pm
  • 12 Hour Fasting – maintaining at least 12 hours of food avoidance, often performed through the night
  • Cyclic Intermittent Fasting – fasting for a period, followed by routine food consumption, then repeating the cycle.  For example, fast one week, eat 3 meals per day for 2 months, repeat.
  • Periodic Fasting – fasting several days or longer every 2 or more weeks

“Should I do a fast?”  – Which One?

Fasting Preparation Redefined

Going through the fasting process is going to take preparation.  This is not the lie you are being told, but the one you are telling yourself.  Don’t confuse fasting with a diet.  They are different.  Yes, I agree.  Diets are cumbersome and often fail miserably.  They take unnecessary preparation.

Fasting requires no preparation.  Mental freedom is one of the benefits of fasting.  You don’t have to dedicate time to thinking about food.  You give your body not just a physical break, but also a mental break.  And really, wouldn’t you appreciate one less thing to have to think about every day.

“Should I do a fast?” – Give yourself a mental and physical break.

The Final Word

Fasting can be a great option to reclaim and preserve your health.  Just know, it is not for everyone.  Being successful depends on picking the right type of fasting for the right time frame without being influenced by the fasting hype.

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