Have you wondered what’s behind all the renewed scientific interest in fasting? It may surprise you to learn that fasting is thought to be among one of the oldest therapeutic methods. From the ancient to the modern yogis, from Plato and Socrates to Hippocrates, fasting has been regarded as a curative and rejuvenative health measure. In fact, in recorded scientific history it is noted that humans (and most animal species) instinctively stopped eating when ill and abstained from food until health was restored. So what is fasting and how can it help support your health?
What is Restorative Fasting for Optimal Health?
To be clear, we are not referring to “fasting fads” that focus on unsafe practices for weight loss. That is not the true intention of fasting. Rather, fasting is a carefully planned period of significant reduction of food intake that allows the digestive system a chance to reset. This period of rest helps to support the body’s innate ability to detox more efficiently which can allow it to better withstand the stresses brought upon by modern living (e.g., work, stress, eating habits, environment, etc.).
What are the Health Benefits of Restorative Fasting?
Though the science of fasting is still evolving, researchers have been looking closely at the health benefits that fasting offers to both healthy adults as well as those with chronic health conditions (such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer).
Health Benefits of Fasting
Lowers triglyceride levels, which decreases risk for heart disease
Stimulates the liver to process toxins more efficiently
Promotes movement of bowels
Enhances sweating, which facilitates release of impurities
Enhances awareness of appetite and cues for eating
Improves regulation of hormones associated with appetite
Enhances metabolic use of stored fat
Note: To be truly restorative, fasting is paired with a reduction in mental and physical activity.
Fasting Requires Professional and Personal Support
Any fast should be done with medical supervision. The approach that is right for any given person depends on many factors, such as a person’s age, health history, health concerns, current diet, lifestyle choices (smoker/non-smoker), and stress level. A qualified holistic doctor or nutritionist can best advise on a fasting schedule that suits an individual. A fast can be done for 2-7 days and can include specific types of food (if any) and types of fluids (juices, herbal teas, water) to be consumed. Additionally, fasting is not something to jump into spontaneously and it requires significant preparation. The desired results would be best achieved by setting an intention, mindfully preparing one’s personal space, creating a supportive environment and schedule, and ensuring one has any necessary social and emotional support.
Fasting at Home versus at a Fasting Retreat Center
If you have diabetes, are pregnant, have any type of metabolic or feeding disorders, have a history of disordered eating or exercise addiction, it is imperative that you consult with a medical professional before embarking on any type of fast.
If you aren’t able to locate a qualified holistic doctor to supervise a fast for you to do from home, or if your home environment is not conducive to the tranquility needed during a fast, you might want to consider attending a fasting retreat center. There are many across the U.S. and internationally. Be sure to inquire with your holistic medical provider about fasting centers or approaches that you can safely and effectively implement from home.
When done properly, fasting can be a challenging yet invigorating experience that rewards the mind, body, and spirit.
Shelpert, H. M. “Does Fasting Cure Disease?” Excerpted from: The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, Chicago: Natural Hygiene Press. Presented to: Vital Gathering IV (October 2019)
News.Harvard.edu. “In Pursuit of Healthy Aging.” The Harvard Gazette. Accessed 12 Jan 2018: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/11/intermittent-fasting-may-be-center-of-increasing-lifespan/
Longo, V. D., and Mattson, M. P. “Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications.” Cell metabolism 19.2 (2014): 181–192. PMC. Accessed 15 Jan. 2018: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946160/pdf/nihms551820.pdf
BoulderMedicalCenter.com “Fasting for Your Health: What You Need to Know.” https://www.bouldermedicalcenter.com/6703-2/