As our Nutrition 911 series transitions from drinks to food, what could be more natural than to discuss something in between, like fasting? Most people think that the simplest way to lose weight is to not eat. But if you don’t eat, you’ll die, which renders this “theory” ineffectual or, at best, short-lived. As we’ve discussed, we need nutrients to live, and we also need nutrients to transform our bodies from being overweight and out of shape to being svelte and toned paragons of fitness. So what’s the deal with fasting? Is it a trend? Is it dangerous? And should you do it?
First of all, fasting isn’t a trend. It’s one of the oldest therapies in medicine, and its recorded practice dates back thousands of years. But these days, it’s hard to peruse the magazines at your local market without being provided with myriad “trendy” fasting options promising health and spiritual enlightenment, and most importantly, weight loss. It’s also pretty easy to find literature warning of the dangers of fasting. So let’s have a look at its history, benefits, and potential dangers.
If you’ve read any historical literature, you know that fasting has been around a long time. Many of the oldest healing systems have recommended it as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Paracelsus, another famous healer, wrote, “Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.” Sounds good, but what exactly is it: simply not eating, or using some sort of product you’ve seen pitched on TV?
By definition, anytime that you don’t eat, you are fasting—hence the word “breakfast.” Most therapeutic fasts last longer than one night, usually from 1 day to a few weeks. Juice or liquid fasts, while not traditional, are quite common because many of the desired results are achieved without as much stress on the body (see 2-Day Fast Formula ® for one option). It’s also common to begin a fast by eating cleansing foods, like veggies or soups. A modern fast is often synonymous with a cleanse, or it’s a very restricted diet designed to reprogram your body. Most fasts only last a few days. Provided that you stay hydrated, the body can function without food for this long with little stress (though it may not feel like it to you, especially the first time).
Those wanting to participate in the longer and more traditional fasts should have medical supervision, or at least be certain they are in condition to undertake such a venture. While strict nutritionists rarely recommend such things, most alternative medicine practitioners, including homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, and ayurvedic doctors, are well versed at supervising and monitoring patients during fasts. Monitored fasts are almost always safe, but they should be entered and exited with care.
We’ll get to the different types of fasts in a moment. First, let’s look at 10 reasons why you might want to try fasting or make it part of your lifestyle.
There are many fasts on the market, which sounds funny because if you’re not eating, it raises the question, why do you need the market? But most fasts contain some sort of strategy that includes some nutrients.
How often you fast depends a lot on what type of fast you do. Longer fasts should not be done often, but 1-day fasts can be done regularly. An old common religious practice was to skip eating 1 day per week, which can be easily done without any associated fitness loss. So it’s fairly easy to make fasting a regular part of your “diet.”
To enter a fast, no matter which type it is, it’s best if your diet is gradually lightened over a few days. First, heavy foods like meats and dairy products should be eliminated. Grains, nuts, and beans should then be reduced. The day before you begin, eat only easily digested foods like fruits, light salads, and soups. Likewise, you should break your fast gradually, going from lighter to heavier foods progressively. The diet after a fast should emphasize fresh, wholesome foods, which is easier because junk and convenience foods will usually make you feel awful. It’s also vital that before, during, and after a fast you drink a lot of plain water. This keeps you hydrated and helps flush your system.
It’s also important to note that fasting is not appropriate for everyone—especially pregnant and nursing women—and in some cases, it could be harmful. Those with health conditions should always have medical support during fasting.
Now that we’ve covered how not to eat, next we’ll look into how we should eat, starting with the best food in the world.
by Steve Edwards
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