The Big Idea
Going without food for any amount of time seems pretty extreme to most people who haven’t tried fasting. But there’s a particular form of fasting, known as dry fasting, that even the most seasoned fasters and fasting researchers consider to be a little, well…extreme. And that’s undoubtedly what the purposeful restriction of food and water is.
Proponents say that dry fasting (DF) is a sort of crucible that kills off pathogenic invaders and damaged cells. Healthy cells that don’t perish from this trial are said to be strengthened – sort of a survival-of-the-fittest strategy, but on the cellular level. The end result? A cleansed and rejuvenated body with much less fat.
Experts in dry fasting also say that dehydration is not an issue since the body manufactures its own water through the metabolism of fat. While that may seem farfetched, research indicates that animals and humans can in fact create ‘metabolic water’ from fat reserves and even carbohydrates. (Studies show that dehydration is not an issue in Ramadan fasts: which are 16-hour dry fasts done over the course of a month.)
Whether this fasting fad has truth to it or not, you need to exercise extreme caution if you choose to do it for any longer than a day.
What it is
DF is the abstinence of food and water. Total. Abstinence. Of course, we do this every night for eight to ten hours, but experts say that dry fasts of 24 hours, though inherently more dangerous than a water fast, can be three times as effective when it comes to autophagy and fat loss. Most dry fasts last between one and five days.
There are two types of dry fasting: soft dry fasting, and hard dry fasting.
Soft dry fasts are the basic restriction of ingested food and water. But a hard dry fast excludes both internal and external water – no showers, face washing, or even teeth brushing. Though you technically wouldn’t melt if you were to encounter rain on this type of fast, you would certainly have broken the hard dry fast.
Research on dry fasting is mostly limited to Ramadan fasts, although there has been one DF study conducted on ten people over five days. The results of the latter study were generally favorable – including a 2-lb-per-day weight loss rate and normal vital signs – but the participants were closely monitored the entire time. Many more studies are needed in order for dry fasting to be considered a safe and effective fasting method for unsupervised fasters.
After adjusting for fluid and stool loss, participants in the dry fasting study lost an average of 1.5 pounds of fat per day. Studies on Ramadan fasters noted consistent fat loss, especially in obese and overweight people, but changes in weight were only temporary.
Fasting experts say that more robust fat loss can be expected in a dry fast since the body has to burn fat not only for fuel but also to supply the necessary hydrogen molecules for metabolic water.
Studies on dry fasting are clearly limited. But the one study on prolonged dry fasting indicated an anti-inflammatory effect, and studies on Ramadan fasters showed reduced inflammation as well.
This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but truly: there is no health intervention cheaper than DF. As long as air remains free, you’re going to have a hard time spending money while dry fasting.
With neither food nor water to focus on – the most basic physical necessities – dry fasting participants experience an enhanced spiritual awareness. Orthodox Christians have practiced dry fasting since the 1st century A.D, and Muslims have been doing it since the 7th century A.D. So even if the scientific studies are currently lacking, there’s a long history DF being used as an effective spiritual tool.
Dry fasting is by far the most dangerous type of fast you can experiment with. And even though there weren’t any serious complications reported in the one DF study, that was only one small study. Doctors say that hypovolemia is a concern, as is low blood sugar, joint pain, thirst, muscle pains, nausea, headache, and fatigue. Death by dehydration is also a major concern, especially in hot weather.
You should never feel pressured to do a dry fast.
How to Do it
Talk to your doctor
Always talk to your doctor before attempting a dry fast of any length. DF is inherently more dangerous than any other type of fast, you can technically die in as little as two or three days doing it, and you should be prepared of any and all risks that may be entailed with your unique health profile.
Prepare with alkalizing foods and plenty of water
The day before you attempt a dry fast, eat plenty of alkalizing foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. Since the process of dry fasting is hard enough, you don’t want your body to be bogged down by heavy and acidic food. Also, just as Ramadan fasters drink up before and after their daily fasting period, you should focus on getting enough water before you attempt a dry fast.
Drink and eat nothing
Yep…nothing. Unless you’re feeling sick or unwell, in which case you’re advised to break your fast.
Stay out of the heat and don’t exercise
We can’t stress enough that dry fasts are really stressful to your body. Though that stress is partially where DF benefits are derived from, too much stress will be harmful to your body and brain. So #1: make sure to stay out of heat. #2: don’t exercise more than light walking.
Don’t try to compete with yourself
When your body says stop, stop. If you try to compete with yourself and hit whatever dry fasting goal you have despite your body’s protests, you could seriously risk losing your life.
Eat light foods to break your fast
Experts recommend small, easily digestible meals to break your dry fast with. These can include:
Stay away from heavy proteins and also processed junk foods.
Valter Longo, the creator of the Fasting Mimicking Diet, says that fasting with food is capable of reducing abdominal and liver fat – key factors for diseases like diabetes. “FMD pushes the body into a high fat-burning mode,” he said, “mainly using abdominal/visceral fat but also liver fat, which are central to the promotion of diabetes and other diseases.”
Ph.D. health and nutrition researcher Rhonda Patrick says that the Fasting Mimicking Diet can affect health and disease risk in a very positive way. “The fasting-mimicking diet holds great promise as a complementary therapy for cancer,” she said on her blog, “because when coupled with chemotherapy, the diet induces differential stress resistance – a phenomenon in which normal cells are protected from stress, but damaged cells are not.”
Described as America’s #1 trainer, Ben Greenfield recommends fasting with food over plain water fasts. “I do what's basically a version of the Fasting Mimicking Diet four times a year, where I go for five days eating about 40% of the number of calories that I would normally take in,” he said on a fasting podcast.
Author Tonya Zavasta struggled with health issues and faced several surgeries and turned to a deep study of health and nutrition which eventually transformed into a lifelong quest for beauty and health and appreciation for raw food lifestyle and increased success and productivity. Her approach to fasting and nutrition are key to her philosophy of anti-aging as described in her book Quantum Eating. She advocates for daily periods and occasional extended periods of dry fasting and advocates primarily for live food instead of cooked foods during feeding sessions.
“Can you use dry fasting for weight loss? A better way: short dry fasts such as once a week. A still better way—perhaps the best way: Fast every day for 14 to 16 hours. That is what I call Quantum Eating. Embracing Quantum Eating, you’ll consistently teach your body to eat less while performing regular short dry fasts. These, working in tandem, will be the key to your permanent weight loss. A special bonus: You simultaneously will reap unprecedented anti-aging benefits via this lifestyle.”
Thomas Delauer is one of the biggest champions of intermittent fasting for health and body composition. And he’s one of the few science-backed voices that stands behind dry fasting. “The process of autophagy – the body recycling old, useless cells – happens so much faster during dry fasts because the metabolic need is that much more,” he said on his YouTube channel. “All the strong cells survive; all the weak cells get recycled. This helps your body to perform at its peak.”