Fasting – Benefits and Drawbacks

Reading time: 2,350 words, 6 pages, 5 to 9 minutes.

I’ve been fasting Mondays and Tuesdays since 1982. It started quite by accident. I had to fast for two days before a barium enema X-ray. Although I was climbing the walls starving for two days, after the X-ray I felt so much better. I had more energy in addition to more mental acuity as if a fog had lifted from my brain. I called my doctor and told him I wanted to fast on a regular basis.

Fortunately ole Doc Bowles (rest his soul) was receptive to fasting. “Well, it works for some people,” he said. He recommended I ease into fasting by doing it only one day a week, for the first month, then two separate days during the second month before launching into two days in a row in the third month. He realized it takes our bodies and digestive system time to adjust.

I’ve outlived so many doctors that now I tell them about my fasting only after they’ve known me for a while. They’re less concerned when they hear how many decades I’ve been doing this.

Regular fasting is not a diet; it’s an eating pattern. I do it for health, not weight loss. I fast because when I eat seven days a week, I feel tired, run-down, sluggish and mentally foggy.

There are both benefits as well as drawbacks to regular fasting, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Benefits:

– It gives me more energy throughout the day. I used to nap after work. I no longer need to.

– I need less sleep. I used to get eight hours sleep, but I now set the alarm for seven hours and often awaken before it rings.

– It gives me more mental acuity and sharpness.

– It saves time because there are two days a week I’m not preparing meals and eating.

– Eating less saves money.

– I eat as much as I want. Stomachs shrink when fasting, so I want less and I feel full with less food.

– During a fast, I have more short-term energy, but less long-term. I play a superb Squash game on fasting days (45-minute sets,) but day-long snowboarding on the slopes leaves me exhausted. When eating, I return to normal.

– It reduces the aging process. People say I look more than a decade younger than my age.

– My cravings for unhealthy foods and carbs greatly diminished thus making it easier to eat healthy food.

Drawbacks:

– No food means less heat energy. In winter I wear sweaters when fasting and avoid outdoor activities for extended periods.

– It means cold hands so before being introduced I stick my hand in my pocket to warm it up before shaking hands.

– Because I’m more ‘wired’ when fasting it takes a bit longer to fall asleep.

– Libido is reduced while fasting, but sex-drive bounces back when I start eating.

– My skin is pinker while fasting. Digestion requires blood, so a greater blood supply is available to the other organs including the skin.

– I have to force myself to drink more water than I normally do because food supplies some of our water. It’s very important to stay hydrated during fasts.

– Social situations during fasting can be awkward if dining is involved so I occasionally break my fast if I can’t tap-dance around it.

– Bowel movements are more irregular and thinner during fasts, but this normalizes the day after I start eating.

– I sometimes get strange reactions from people indoctrinated with nutritional misinformation, but at my age, I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of me. Besides, it doesn’t happen often because people rarely notice what someone is NOT doing.

Hydration 

I usually don’t drink much water on my eating days. If I drank the recommended eight glasses a day, I’d spend half the day urinating. However, when I’m fasting, I force myself to drink more water (I estimate about six glasses a day.) If I don’t drink enough water, I get headaches. Once I have a headache, no amount of water completely cures it, so I always remind myself to stay hydrated to avoid headaches.

I avoid fruit juices for several reasons. Many contain fiber which I try to avoid while fasting. They are also high in fructose/glucose (sugar) and I try to avoid sugar spikes. Besides, most store-bought fruit juices are over-processed garbage.

As a coffee drinker, I long ago learned to take it black, no cream and sugar. On cold, winter days, to regain some warmth, I’ll sometimes drink hot beef consommé soup because it lacks fiber. I drink the occasional beer on hot summer days. Both caffeine and alcohol are a diuretic (increase urination), so I factor that into my water drinking to prevent dehydration.

Medical Conditions and Doctor’s Advice 

Always consult your doctor before beginning a fasting regime. However, keep in mind that most doctors have little knowledge of fasting or nutrition so they may try to discourage you from fasting.

There are numerous conditions where it is NOT advisable to fast. For one thing, young, growing people should NOT regularly fast. My understanding is we stop growing in our mid-twenties so that would be a good time to start. I started when I was thirty, but, had I known about the benefits of fasting, I would have started earlier.

There are also other medical conditions that should prohibit fasting such as pregnancy or nursing, people who are underweight, on dialysis, adrenal-fatigued, diabetic or hypoglycemic (until they’ve normalized insulin or blood glucose levels,) those who have chronic stress or cortisol dysregulation or any other medical condition made dangerous by fasting. That’s why it’s important to consult with your doctor first.

If you don’t have one of the medical conditions listed above and your doctor still advises you against fasting, find another doctor and get a second opinion. One of my uncles, a doctor, told us if we want to live a long time, avoid doctors except for emergencies. Doctors will tell family things they’d never admit to patients.

Contrary to what the medical profession wants you to believe, medicine is an art, not a science. And, most doctors don’t know as much as they think they do. If you want a long, healthy life; be your own doctor and use the medical system as a tool to assist your decisions, not dictate them.

Gender Differences

Be aware that different genders react differently to fasting. Caloric restriction is detrimental to female reproductive health. As well, fasting adversely affects glucose tolerance and lowers estrogen levels in females. There is a detailed explanation in  Paleo for Women.  Dr. Mercola reports that “women who fast or are on calorie restriction, have the tendency to get leaner, become increasingly addicted to physical exercise, and lose their menstrual cycle. Nonetheless, they seem to gain substantial improvements in all main biological markers of longevity – i.e. increased insulin sensitivity, increased GH secretion, improved lipid profile, improved anti-inflammatory cytokine profile, improved cognitive function, etc.”   (LINK)   As well, Mark’s Daily Apple goes into greater detail on the differences between men and women and how they are affected by fasting. (LINK)

Dr. Roy Walford

After I began fasting in 1982, I read an article about UCLA Gerontologist Dr. Roy Walford who performed a meta-analysis of numerous animal and human experiments going back to the 1930s on what he called “under-nutrition without malnutrition.” Then I read his book “Maximum Lifespan” (LINK) wherein he theorized it was possible for humans to double their lifespan to 120 years or more while maintaining the health of someone half the age.

According to Walford, there were two ways to achieve caloric restriction. One was to eat less; the other was regular fasting. I find eating less seven days a week leaves me hungry (and grouchy) whereas regular fasting was easy once I broke the hunger habit.

What we call hunger is just habit. Our tummies growl at noon and dinner-time. We call that hunger, but it’s not; it’s habit and habits can be broken. In fact, most of us have enough stored fat that we could fast thirty days without doing any irreparable damage.

We are the offspring of ancestors who survived periodic cycles of feast and famine. They rarely had access to food 24/7, so our genes are optimized for irregular eating patterns. Three squares a day, seven days a week is cultural, not biological and is necessary only for growing children.

The longer I go without food, the easier it is. I used to put a sticky note on the fridge Tuesday evenings that said “Eat Stupid” to remind myself to eat breakfast Wednesday mornings because otherwise I’d sometimes forget.

It took me about six weeks fasting two days in a row before I broke the hunger habit. That was after I eased into it with one day a week then two separate days. Now, when I feel the occasional hunger pang, a glass of water cures it. And, when my resolve weakens, and I’m tempted to cheat, I remind myself that it’s just habit and to have a glass of water.

Breaking Your Fast

I never end my fast with a heavy meal or junk food. I break my fasts with a healthy breakfast (that’s where the word originates.) I alternate breakfasts between Spinach, Egg, Quinoa Casserole (LINK) (I make dozens at a time and freeze them) and Holy Crap Cereal (LINK) which consists of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and berries (I make my own knock-off cereal.) I use either hemp or almond milk and sweeten with honey (real honey; not GMO high fructose corn syrup disguised as honey.)

Other Benefits of Fasting

Supposedly, there are numerous other benefits of regular fasting that I’ve heard and read about, but I cannot confirm them with my own experience, so I take the following with a grain of salt.

– ridding the body of waste and toxins

– lowers blood pressure

– enhanced immune function

– rebalances the body’s PH level

– improved insulin sensitivity

– improves allergy symptoms

– helps diabetes and metabolic syndrome

– suppresses inflammation

– fights free radical damage

– reduced cancer risk

– increases human growth hormone aka “the fitness hormone”

– increased longevity (LINK)

– greater spirituality

I can attest that my health keeps improving with age. However, this is strictly anecdotal and one person is hardly scientifically representative.

I’ve made numerous other changes over the years that likely contributed to my improved health. Thirty years ago I stopped drinking fluoridated water, and I also threw away my TV so I no longer see tempting food commercials.  I stopped flu shots about ten years ago, and I rarely get ill anymore. Over the last ten years, I’ve had nine mercury amalgam-filled teeth crowned. I’ve improved my diet by eliminating sugar, white flour, and processed food as well as reducing refined carbohydrates. In other words; I cannot attribute my improved health solely to regular fasting. However, I do know that when I stop fasting and eat seven days a week, I become tired, run-down and mentally foggy so obviously, regular fasting has a significant influence on my health.

I do NOT recommend fasting if you eat a typical Amerikan diet with a lot of processed or high glycemic junk food. Unlike most garbage diets that many people eat, I strive for a high protein, low carb, good fat, and high fiber diet.

My last meal is Sunday evening and my first meal is Wednesday morning, so I’m fasting about one-third of the week. I’ve improved the quality of my diet to squeeze as much nutrient dense food into the remaining two thirds of the week. In other words, there’s more to fasting than merely NOT eating; it’s also important to eat good quality food.

Quantity vs. Quality

Dr. Walford wrote that the human subjects in fasting experiments reported that they intended to return to regular diets. Apparently, they preferred quality to quantity. They’re wrong. You can have both quality of life as well as a quantity of years. Once you break the hunger habit, fasting is easy, and you can eat as much as you want because you want less. It’s one of the few things in life where you can have your cake and eat it, too (no pun intended.)

Tragically, Dr. Walford died at age 82 after contracting ALS (‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’) a disease accelerated by fasting, but not caused by it.

Others have Tried 

Many people who know me are aware of my fasting diet. A few tried regular fasting. However, I know of no one who stuck with it. I’m not surprised. It takes discipline, will-power and self-control especially for the first six weeks of regular fasting.

Everybody and everyone’s body is different so if regular fasting doesn’t suit you then consider a less rigid version explained in Dr. Mercola’s intermittent fasting  and this article and this one. He writes, “To be effective, in the case of daily intermittent fasting, the length of your fast must be at least 16 hours… Essentially, this equates to simply skipping breakfast, and making lunch your first meal of the day instead.”  (LINK) His articles linked above have numerous links to other articles on intermittent fasting. He explains how the body burns more fat during fasting and how exercising during a fast is more efficient in ridding body fat. As well, he demolishes many of the myths and misinformation about fasting.

Another alternate calorie restricted diet is the ‘feast-or-famine diet’ (LINK) that involves eating less on certain days. As mentioned, my own preference is eating nothing, but since no two people are alike, this one might work for you. 

Try It

Everyone is different and will have different experiences with either regular or intermittent fasting. Try it and see for yourself. Listen to your body, adjust accordingly and keep it simple. Don’t rush, but ease into it slowly to give your body time to adjust. As with everything else in life expect ups and downs.

For me, the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks. That’s why I’ve been fasting for 35 years, and that’s why I’ll keep doing it.

Gerold

November 7, 2017

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About gerold

I have a bit of financial experience having invested in stocks in the 1960s & 70s, commodities in the 80s & commercial real estate in the 90s (I sold in 2005.) I am appalled at our rapidly deteriorating global condition so I've written articles for family, friends & colleagues since 2007; warning them and doing my best to explain what's happening, what we can expect in the future and what you can do to prepare and mitigate the worst of the economic, social, political and nuclear fallout. As a public service in 2010 I decided to create a blog accessible to a larger number of people because I believe that knowledge not shared is wasted.
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2 Responses to Fasting – Benefits and Drawbacks

  1. Angela says:

    During your fasting days, do you eat anything at all? Including black coffee? I worry about bad breath without eating anything throughout the day.

    • gerold says:

      God question, Angela. When fasting, the body switches from glycolysis (burning sugar) to burning fat which can produce bad breath known as Ketosis breath. Actually, diabetes and very low carb diets can do the same.

      I haven’t had a problem with bad breath during two-day fasts, but the occasional time I’ve fasted longer than two or three days, I do develop Ketosis breath. If I do need to mask bad breath (I love garlic) I keep a few mints and a small travel-size bottle of mouthwash in my desk at work just in case. Having said that, everyone is different so some people may develop Ketosis breath during a short fast.

      I eat no solids or fiber during my fasts, just liquids. In my case, even a small amount of solid food seems to ‘prime the pump’ and I start feeling hungry so I avoid solids altogether. Again, everyone is different and people need to experiment with what works and what to avoid.

      – Gerold

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