Fasting is an ancient practice that has recently increased in popularity, especially in the health and fitness communities. Although the practice is often equated with starvation, not eating for a day or two isn't going to kill you, as long as you're drinking plenty of water. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that occasional periods of fasting can actually provide the body with numerous health benefits.
Here are some of the health benefits of fasting:
Weight loss. Several studies have shown that controlled fasting can help the body burn fat cells more effectively than ordinary dieting. Intermittent fasting can help you shed those unwanted pounds by allowing your body to burn fat for energy, rather than sugar. Fasting actually promotes the release of HGH (human growth hormone), a known fat-burning hormone, making it particularly attractive to athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
Faster metabolism. Another benefit of fasting is that it allows your digestive system a chance to rest. A properly energized metabolism will improve your body's ability to burn fat and digest food. Intermittent fasting can also improve your bowel function.
Improves insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is another problem faced by many, due in part to a decline in physical activity. According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, a 2005 study demonstrated that intermittent fasting can improve the body's ability to tolerate carbohydrates. Cells mediated by the insulin become more effective at taking up glucose from the blood.
Promotes longevity. Research has shown that the life spans of certain cultures vary, depending on their diets. Essentially, the less they eat, the longer they're likely to live. It's well-known that an individual's metabolism will slow with age. Thus, eating too much forces the digestive system to work harder than it had to when the person was younger. Fasting reduces the demands on the digestive system, adding years to the individual's life.
Experience true hunger. When you're eating every 3 or 4 hours, your body doesn't have much of a chance to get hungry. In fact, most of what you experience as hunger is actually thirst for the water contained in the food. In order to become truly hungry, you'd have to go a half-day or longer without food. People who are obese are known to receive incorrect signals from the body that lead them to believe they're still hungry, when they've actually had more than enough to eat. Fasting allows your body to experience the difference between thirst and hunger, enabling it to release the correct hormones when you are truly hungry.
Improves eating patterns. Another useful benefit of fasting is that it allows you to "reset" your appetite when changes in your lifestyle require it. This can prevent you from binging at inappropriate times, due to being accustomed to a different set of eating patterns. It can also be useful to individuals already suffering from binge-eating disorders, by helping them train their bodies to eat at the right times.
Improves immune system function. When animals get sick, they're known to avoid food altogether, as they focus more on getting sufficient rest. Humans, on the other hand, tend to reach for food no matter how sick they are. This increases stress on the body, making it more difficult for the immune system to fight off infections. Fasting can prevent this from occurring, leading to a reduction in the damage caused by free radicals, which can range from inflammation to the formation of cancer cells.
Improves brain function. Fasting is also good for the health of your brain. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that causes stem cells to convert themselves into new neurons, as well as triggering the release of various chemicals responsible for the brain's health. It also protects brain cells from damage associated with conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Fasting gives your body a break from the constant barrage of food it's normally forced to consume. Although it's certainly true that food provides the body with energy, it's equally true that the digestive process also requires energy and if you're eating more than your body needs, you may actually be causing other problems that seem unrelated. Your body works very hard to stay healthy and fasting is a natural way to allow it to heal and recover.