Fasting With Water
2 weeks ago
The Big Idea
Purposefully abstaining from food sounds like a bad idea in our culture. We’ve been trained to think of three meals per day as being the bare minimum for survival, and that six meals a day is ideal for weight loss and metabolic health. So when we go from six meals a day all the way down to zero, that either means we’ll a) starve, or b) completely wreck our metabolisms… Right?
Well, it turns out that we’ve all been wrong. And considering how two out of three Americans are either obese or overweight, that’s not a huge surprise.
In fact, the daily onslaught of food we’ve come to regard as ‘normal’ has created many of the nagging health problems we also perceive as ‘normal’: diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity being just a few. This constant presence of food in the digestive tracts prevents our bodies from repairing and recycling worn-out cells, a process known as autophagy, and it ensures that you never use your own stores of body fat for fuel.
So now that you have a little more perspective on why eating all the time is actually bad for your body, you might be more open to consuming nothing but water for periods of 1-5 days – water fasting. It’s actually one of the best things you can do for your health!
What it is
Water fasting is the purposeful abstention of all food – solid or liquids – except for water. This practice has been used since antiquity for health and spiritual purposes, and it’s also an important part of our history of survival. Scientists believe that humans evolved to reach their greatest physical and mental prowess during periods of hunger, arguing that we would have died out if our ability to function diminished when it was needed the most: when life was on the line.
Though water fasting is technically restricting everything but water, many doctors and fasting practitioners encourage zero-calorie beverages like coffee, herbal teas, and sparkling water. These do not interrupt a fast, and some are even thought to increase the benefits of fasting.
Most people who’ve heard of fasting are familiar with the word ‘autophagy’. Autophagy is the process of cellular renewal where old parts are disassembled and used for new cellular structures. Researchers regard it as one of the most important anti-aging mechanisms we can tap into.
This process of autophagy has been shown to protect cells from stresses of all kinds, and it’s especially useful for enhancing cancer treatment and negating the effects of neurodegenerative diseases. Studies show that water fasting is an important strategy for enhancing autophagy.
Better gut health
Research conducted on humans shows that prolonged fasting such (such as water fasting) may reduce intestinal inflammation and improve symptoms of IBS. When the gut is always at work digesting food, it lacks the time and resources needed to ‘clean house’ and repair itself. Longer periods of fasting, then, far from damaging your gut, may promote gut health.
More stem cells
Stem cells are said to be the fountain of youth, and they’re often injected to facilitate healing and to reduce inflammation. These procedures can be costly, however. Studies suggest that water fasting may be a more economical way to increase stem cells in the body.
In prolonged fasting, researchers found that inflammatory hormones decrease while stem cell counts increase. This is thought to be one of the main reasons that fasting improves cellular resistance to stress and disease.
Water fasting is regarded as one of the most effective ways to lose fat and keep it off: participants in fasting studies usually lose 1-2 pounds of fat per day. This fat loss occurs because the body must burn fat stores for energy in the absence of food – a process called ketosis. Experts believe that fasting weight loss is maintained better than calorie restriction because fasting does, unlike calorie restriction, does not diminish the metabolism.
Water fasting has very minimal risks when performed correctly. According to a retrospective fasting study that analyzed 650 fasters over four years, the vast majority of side effects were only mild to moderate – headache, fatigue, nausea, etc. Almost none were severe.
That said, these fasting participants were all screened for health before they undertook a fast, and they were monitored for the duration of their fast. So fasting is not without risk, and it’s always recommended that you consult with your doctor before starting any fasting protocol.
Water fasting is not recommended without supervision for the following conditions:
- those with kidney or liver disease
- people with heart disease
- pregnant or nursing women
- malnourished people
- those who are underweight
How to Do it
Water fasts last between 1-5 days, and are broken down into 3 phases:
This phase usually includes a period of smaller fasts (12-16 hours) over the course of a week in order to enhance ketosis. It entails eating lighter meals like rice, fruits, and veggies while abstaining from meat the day before the fast.
Talking to your doctor about whether you should fast and how long you should fast should be part of your fasting preparation.
All you have to do is not eat food or calorie-containing liquids. This is much easier if you prepare for a water fast, and if you stay adequately hydrated.
- taking pinches of sea salt in your water to maintain keep your electrolytes from being depleted.
- consuming 30% more water than usual to compensate for the water you’d normally get through food
- and refraining from moderate or heavy exercise. (Hiking, walking, or light aerobics are ok.)
As mentioned earlier, coffee, herbal teas, and sparkling water can be consumed during a water fast – just so long as they don’t contain calories. And though it’s not scientifically researched, many people find that consuming a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water helps with energy and food cravings.
Doctors recommend that the refeeding phase lasts for half as long as your fast. So if you fasted two days, that would mean eating light, easy to digest foods for one day before transitioning back to your standard diet. Refeeding meals can consist of fruit, juices, bread, rice, soups, and salads.
It’s important to avoid heavy or large meals directly after your fast because you may overwhelm your digestive capabilities and cause harm to your body.
Make sure to stop your fast when you feel any symptoms more severe than the typical headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, or if you stop losing weight.
Dan Pompa, MD, is a fasting expert who educates doctors and laypeople on the health benefits of fasting. “Water fasting has been around for longer than any therapy known to man, and I believe we all need it,” Dr. Pompa said in an interview for Pure Joy Planet. “But today we’re always in a time of feasting.” Without fasting, he says, “we end up developing a lot of cells that live too long and start reproducing. Then you end up with way more bad cells, which can obviously lead to cancer, immune issues, etc.”
Founder and owner of Wellness Mama, Katie Wells has used water fasting profitably in her health journey – even though the first couple of days can be challenging. “I loved days 4-7 of fasting,” Wells said on her blog. “Energy came back with a vengeance and hunger disappeared, and I was easily at 2-3x my normal productivity.”
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