Fasting can be defined as the act of willfully excluding food or drink, whether in certain forms or entirely, for a period of time. Historically, fasting was an act exercised by religious or political groups to express commitment to certain beliefs. But not all who fast do so as a form of communication, devotion or humility. Fasting for weight loss isn’t necessarily a new idea but it’s a trend that has gained traction over the last 15 years among dieters. The concept is simple: drastically decreasing or eliminating food entirely will induce weight loss. But the questions surrounding fasting for weight loss makes it one of the more extreme and more controversial approaches:
- “Is fasting really a healthy weight loss option?”
- “Are there benefits to fasting?”
- “Is fasting safe?”
The Good…and Bad of Weight Loss Fasting
When food is withheld from the body it lacks the necessary fuel to keep it functioning properly, forcing the body to access energy stores (i.e. fat). Because the body metabolizes or burns up these stores, the end result is a decrease in weight. However, the caveat in this equation is that during this process, the body’s metabolic process slows down to conserve energy (since new energy isn’t being provided through food sources). When food is finally reintroduced to the body the metabolism is still at this diminished rate, causing the body to store more energy and gain back the pounds it originally lost during the fast. The really bad? This sluggish metabolism can cause people to gain more weight than the initial number.
Many people seek ways to detoxify or cleanse their body of impurities and fasting has often been thought of as a vehicle to detoxification. The basis behind this concept is that the body does not fully process the contaminants in its digestive track until it has nothing else to process. By giving the digestive organs a break from food, the body is forced to process these remaining toxins. While medical science differs on this point, many advocates for fasting tout the benefits of cleansing the body through food elimination. Below are some common detoxification fasts:
- Juice cleanse: drinking only fresh juices throughout process
- Fruit cleanse: eating only fresh fruit throughout process
- Raw food diet: eating only raw nuts, fruits and vegetables (food in its naturally occurring state)
- Live cleansing diet: eating mainly fruits, veggies, poultry and fish (with a focus on healthy fats)
- Master Cleanse: drinking fluids only, mostly a concoction of water, lemon, cayenne pepper and maple syrup
Fasting isn’t for everyone and it isn’t necessarily a good approach to losing weight. But a large number of proponents make fasting and detoxification an integral part of their health and well being. A fast or detox diet may provide health benefits for some and it may offer spiritual commitment to others, but overall should be approached with awareness and care to ensure the best possible outcome.