Fasting is in some ways one of the easiest diet rules to follow – there are no complicated recipes, you consume only water. It can be difficult to start with but once you get used to it, you will find the body is actually better adapted to fasting than the constant eating that we have grown accustomed to. We are not talking about fasting for days on end - research shows that 12-16 hours of fasting between your evening meal and breakfast stabilises blood sugar, naturally curbs appetite and allows the body to enter into its natural repair mode.
By changing your eating patterns so that food is consumed within a given window of time, the digestive system is given a chance to rest while the body gets on with other essential maintenance. Fasting for longer than 8 hours (overnight) allows the body’s metabolic processes to repair damage to cells, dispose of used hormone and toxins and restore optimum function of the bodily systems.
- Within 8-12 hours – the liver has used up its glycogen stores, and the body will start to burn fat
- Within 12-14 hours – your body starts to repair cellular damage
- Within 14-16 hours – greater benefits of cellular repair and tissue rejuvenation are achieved
Benefits of fasting
The reported benefits of fasting include:
- Improved blood sugar control
- Better appetite control
- Reduced body fat
- Increase in lean muscle tissue
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved detoxification
- Increased energy
- Improved cognitive function
How to fast successfully
Start by making a 12 hour overnight fast your norm – this means not eating dinner too late and not snacking before bed, and is probably similar to the way most of us ate as children. Unless there’s a medical reason why you need to eat at a certain time, this is achievable for anyone. Be sure to drink sufficient water.
Once you feel comfortable with this, aim to extend the fast to 14 or even 16 hours. This probably means not eating breakfast at your normal time, but it’s important to distinguish between fasting and skipping meals. The fasting period must be continuous and you are not reducing your overall calorie intake - in general, you should still consume your normal calorie requirement across the 24-hour period.
During the fast you should drink plenty of water or non-caffeinated herbal teas. One cup of black tea of coffee is also OK.
What about hunger?
The feeling that most of us perceive as hunger is not truly hunger at all. Try drinking a glass of water and distracting your mind for an hour or so, you might be surprised to notice that the feeling has not got any worse. If you feel unwell, faint, shaky or nauseous then it is likely that your blood sugar is out of balance, so start with shorter fasts and build up gradually.
When not to fast
Fasting is not suitable for those with diabetes, kidney problems or eating disorders and should not be undertaken during pregnancy. If you are being treated for any medical condition then consult with your GP or specialist prior to starting any type of fast.
Whatever strategy you choose, the best thing about fasting is that it costs nothing, other than a little willpower!