Lots of people are scared of fasting. And it's not hard to understand why. Conventional wisdom has told us for the past several decades that going longer than a few hours without food will immediately put you into "starvation mode" and cause your body to start wasting away. Worse yet, going too long without food is a sign of an eating disorder... isn't it? The truth is that none of this "conventional wisdom" is actually true. And our health experts here at QuickVita are about to show you why.
Fasting for an extended period of time triggers something called autophagy. Autophagy is when your body performs cellular triage, recycling the older, sick, broken down cells and using their spare parts to create newer, fresher, healthier cells. This happens with virtually every single cell in your body. Most notably, it happens with:
Fasting is a quicker, simpler way to get your body into ketosis. Ketosis is the metabolic state which people on the ketogenic diet are trying to achieve. Whether you get most of your calories from fat or whether you force your body to eat it's own fat through fasting, you are training your body to prefer fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. And this is a good thing. Your heart and brain cells especially prefer ketones (which are produced during ketosis) because they burn cleaner and sustain the cells for longer. As a matter of fact, some Alzheimer's researchers are starting to suspect that the toxic buildup of waste products from carbohydrate metabolism in the brain could be contributing to age-related brain disease.
Medical researchers are now starting to believe that type 2 diabetes is an adaptive metabolic state. Some evidence shows that increased meal on a high-carbohydrate, Standard American Diet may be directly linked to type 2 diabetes. And our health experts at QuickVita are starting to agree with them.
When you eat four to six small, high-carbohydrate meals throughout the day and snack in between (as recommended on the Standard American Diet), you are continuously elevating your blood sugar beyond what your body can handle. In order to avoid a very dangerous condition called hyperglycemia, your body has to spike its insulin levels to bring your blood sugar back down. The more often this happens, the more of a tolerance your body will build up to its own insulin. Eventually, your pancreas will become burnt out and lose its ability to produce insulin. This leads to full-blown type 2 diabetes, where medical patients have to be administered insulin to avoid hypoglycemia because their body can no longer produce it on its own.
When you fast, however, you force your body to reverse this problem. Think about a heavy drinker who suddenly quits alcohol for a prolonged period of time. What happens to them? The very next drink they consume will hit them like a ton of bricks because their tolerance for alcohol will have drastically decreased. Something very similar happens with insulin and blood sugar. When you fast and keep your blood sugar low for extended periods of time, you give your pancreas a break. You also give the cells in your body a break and let them burn through their stored energy before bombarding them with more glucose. There are anecdotal examples of type 2 diabetics who have reduced or eliminated their need for insulin thanks to fasting. And science is on the cusp of proving this anecdotal correlation with real-world, peer-reviewed, scientific studies which show direct causation.
No, "starving yourself" won't lead to muscle wasting. The myth comes from the observation that your muscles decrease in volume when you are fasting. This is because the body sends your muscle glycogen to the liver when your blood sugar is low. Extracting the muscle glycogen - and all of the fluid that is used to store it - is the "water weight" that most people lose at the beginning of a diet. But just because you squeeze all of the water out of a sponge doesn't mean that that's sponge has "wasted away". It's a perfect metaphor for your skeletal muscles. Furthermore, while fasting, your body produces copious amounts of human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. Both of these hormones are essential for building healthy, lean muscle. If you time everything just right and re-feed the optimal way, your body will be in maximum muscle building mode when you break your fast!
One reason people like to believe in the "starvation mode" mythos is because during the first several hours of a fast, it certainly feels like you are starving and about to die. But this is only because your body has lived many years or even decades without experiencing low blood sugar for longer than a few hours. What a person first starts fasting, their body will resist the changes like an untamed horse trying to buck off a rider. It does this by making you feel tired, giving you brain fog, making you moody, and even causing headaches from low blood sugar. These symptoms, along with hormone driven food cravings, usually drive most people to seek comfort in food.
But if you stick to it, these withdrawal symptoms will eventually go away. In its place will be hormones that control your hunger cravings, make you more alert, and give you tons of energy. Lastly, when your body is ready to sleep at night, you'll experience a level of deep, restorative sleep you haven't enjoyed in years. The more frequently you fast, the easier it will be to sleep better at night. And don't even get us started on the health, wellness, and weight loss benefits of a healthy night's sleep.
Yes, there are people who should not try fasting on their own. Those people include:
If any of the above apply to you, we strongly suggest you take our advice here at QuickVita with a grain of salt. But if you are in otherwise good health, it probably won't hurt you to try it out. Good luck, and happy fasting!