Fasting, by definition, is “a willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time.” But for fitness buffs in particular, the term “fasting” has come to mean a number of things. During a fast, the body converts glycogen into glucose for energy. Once that is depleted, the body goes for fat stores. And that idea excites people who are trying to lose weight.
One type of fasting, called intermittent fasting, has become so commonplace that some of our friends do it. There are a couple of takes on the idea: on the 5:2 plan, you eat normally for five days of the week and cut calories to about 25 percent of normal intake on two nonconsecutive days of the week; another approach calls for you to abstain from eating for 14 hours and then eat normally the other 10.
The Case for Yay
There is research that shows that fasting* has benefits. Last year, Scientific American reported that “a new study shows five days of hunger a month may reduce risk factors for aging and age-related diseases.” Whether your fast calls for you to eat during eight-hour windows or one meal a day, fasting appears to increase the body’s responsiveness to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, helping to control feelings of hunger and food cravings. Fasting may also improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
The Western model of eating three big meals a day is usually an overload for our system — way too much food than our body knows what to do with. Intermittent fasting can help put you back in touch with how much you really need to eat throughout the day and reset hunger signals that might have gotten lost in the grocery store aisles.
The Case for Nay
We cannot stress this enough: Your body needs fat to function. If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking fat is the enemy, allow us to disabuse you of that notion. As the New York Times so bluntly states, “The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.”
Fasting is commonly thought of as a quick way to lose weight. With such hyper focus on weight loss and fat loss in our culture, fasting can be dangerous if not structured and intentional. Think eating disorders (yes, they are on the rise in women over 45), brain damage, organ malfunction, and more.
Fasting, particularly intermittent fasting, can be beneficial if done right. Everyone should take great care when skipping meals, but women over 50 should be extra careful. Do not partake in a structured fast without consulting your doctor first, especially if you’ve got a chronic illness. If you take medication, you’ll have to stop taking it during your fast — which can be a very bad idea.
Fasting should be intentional, calculated, and monitored. Above all, be very self-aware while fasting. If you’re dizzy or feeling “off,” break your fast. No eating plan is worth risking your overall health and longevity.
*Some religions include fasting as a part of their practice. The type of fasting we are referring to in this post is a voluntary lifestyle fast aimed at losing weight and improving health.