Fasting: The Truth Behind The Latest Health Craze

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A growing number of celebrities and even health authorities claim fasting (or steering clear of food) on alternate days or for specific periods of time can help cleanse the body of toxins, stave off weight gain, even prevent diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes. And while, eating 3 big meals a day—plus snacks—may not be the best approach to healthy eating, most of the research on fasting has been done only on animals.

Studies in rodents do show improvement in obesity, cardiovascular health and diabetes risk, but there is little or no published data linking intermittent fasting regimens with the same benefits in humans. And since there are several different ways to fast, it can be a difficult thing to study.

Some people eat only 500 calories 2 days out of the week and follow a normal diet the other 5 days. Others nix food for days at a time. And then there are people who focus on consuming the entire day’s calories within a 6 to 7 hour window. No matter which approach interests you, make sure you have thought about the following 5 questions and how you would answer them:

  1. What is the purpose of the fast? Are you fasting to lose weight? To cleanse your body of toxins? As a way to compensate for unhealthy eating? For religious or spiritual reasons? Or would you only fast when it’s required for lab work? Once you’re clear on your reason, you can figure out if it’s the best and safest approach to achieve your goal.
  2. Do you have a health condition or is your immune system compromised? If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) or chronic fatigue syndrome, skipping meals can have devastating consequences. Even if your only ailment is a low body weight or low blood pressure, fasting could be risky. Without reserves to draw on, you could become dizzy, lightheaded or even pass out.
  3. What type of eating regimen helps you function at your best? Our bodies function at their best with a steady supply of fuel. Fasting not only leads to irritability, fatigue and foggy thinking, it could also impact your productivity.
  4. Are you taking any medications? If you’re taking prescription medication, particularly drugs that are best absorbed with food, fasting may interfere with their effectiveness. Even if you’re only taking over-the-counter medicines, you should always check with your doctor before starting a fasting regimen.
  5. Have you tried a modified “fast”? Americans typically eat most of their calories after dark. Eliminate those nighttime calories, and you could experience the dramatic health benefits you’re looking for. In fact, studies show even a single fasting interval (meaning overnight) can improve metabolic functions, such as blood sugar levels. Here’s a tip: Treat each day like you’re fasting for lab work, meaning you don’t ingest anything after 7 p.m. Stick with it until 7 a.m. the next morning for a 12-hour fasting period.

While fasting may be a popular weight loss approach in today’s news, it may go the way of other weight loss fads. There just isn’t enough scientific evidence to support intermittent fasting. But if you’re still interested in skipping meals, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to make sure your body can handle it. Not everyone is healthy enough to tolerate fasting. And for many people, fasting is just too hard. A more practical approach would be to nix processed foods and focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead.


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Categories: EatWell

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