7 Benefits of Fasting

A fast is:

a period during which you do not eat food, especially for religious or health reasons.

Oxford dictionary

I’ve been doing fasts since 2015.
I currently do an 16:8 intermittent fast (Nov 2019 to present) – fasting for 16 hours with an 8 hour eating window between 12pm and 8pm.

Prior to this, I used to fast every Wednesday, not eating at all for the whole day.
I’ve also done several 3-day fasts. I find these really tough, but very rewarding.


WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FASTING AND WHY DO IT?

Many may think of a fast primarily for weight loss but this isn’t the reason I do it.

I have written my reasons in order of importance to me, starting with the most important.

1. Cell repair & disease prevention
Fasting is scientifically proven to help decrease the chance of disease and illness, such as diabetes and cancer, because it stimulates autophagy in the body.

Autophagy is the natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional components.”

Wikipedia

Autophagy is like the body doing its housework – cleaning up the cells, getting rid of the bad stuff and repairing damaged DNA. Think of it like a huge spring clean.

This is how it works:
When we eat, the fuel from food is used to REGENERATE the cells in our body.
You may think this sounds good? It is until it regenerates a dysfunctioanl or mutated cell, which many of us have in our body. When a mutated cell is regenerated, it regenerates in the same state, mutated.

During a fast, instead of our cells regenerating they are forced to REPAIR meaning the body now works to eliminate the bad stuff and produces healthy cells.

One of the only ways this REPAIR mode can be achieved is by fasting!

If you’d like to read more about autophagy, you may like this article. There are plenty more on the internet.


2. Mental resilience & discipline
I enjoy taking part in endurance events.

For these events it’s important for me to prep my body and mind for an environment with limited resources; food, warmth, comfort etc.

There have been several occasions during my events that I’ve had a limited food supply. My fellow participants who weren’t used to these conditions struggled and dropped like flies.

Here are some examples:
– During a 48-hour adventure race, our packs were taken away from us (which had all of our food in) leaving us with a few measly snacks for several hours of a brutal run. Only those who were used to those environments made it through.
– During my Atlantic rowing challenge, a week before the finish, the team and I began running out of good food. We’d packed light because we wanted to finish fast, and the emergency food we’d taken (which we hoped we didn’t need) was very lightweight but tasted like cat food and went straight through me. So instead of eating it (which provided no nutrition and had a detrimental effect on my performance 💩), I chose to live on half rations for 5 days. I knew I was capable of doing this because I’d worked in a fasted state in the past – my body and mind were conditioned – even though we had been rowing for 36 days, 13 hours a day.

You may be reading this, thinking “I’m not an endurance athlete and don’t want to do events like this,” but I believe building this mental resilience and discipline is good for everyone!
Think of that important meeting that runs over – when you get hungry and your concentration starts to dwindle.
Perhaps you’ve got a manic day full of urgent tasks and you haven’t got a lunch break scheduled.
Maybe you get ‘hangry’ and can’t concentrate when you are hungry? (Hangry means you get angry when you’re hungry.)

Whatever the situation, what a huge advantage you’d have if you can still function when you do not have to rely on food every few hours.

Humans weren’t designed to eat every few hours.
Animals are designed to be hungry.
Humans are animals.
We thrive in challenging situations.

With our fridges full of food and cupboards stocked high it’s not often we experience real hunger, which I believe is so important.


3. Mental clarify
I do not experience mental clarity on a one day fast but I do during a 3 day fast.
I’m not sure the science behind it but it’s as if my body and mind enter into a different state. Something happens physically that gives me more mental clarity and alertness.

At the end of day 2 is when I experience it and I have read the same from other people as well. At the end of day 3, I experience a mild euphoria, sometimes described as a fasting high, which I am only able to achieve on a longer fast.

DID YOU KNOW?
The human body can cope for 3 weeks without food?
I definitely not recommend trying this, but it puts it into perspective that 16-72 hours without food is ok.


4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
It’s good to be hungry!
It’s a fantastic advantage to know you’ll be ok when food isn’t available.
If you’re keen on sports and exercise, wouldn’t it be great to still perform when your regular snack isn’t available? To have that upper hand on your opponent.

During a fast the body produces hormones such as norepinephrine (the brains version of adrenaline) which helps fuel the body. I have run and rowed personal bests (PBs) when in a 3 day fasted state due to the release of these hormones!


5. Fat loss
As you can imagine, not eating can have an effect on body composition, including fat loss.

This is not the main reason I do fasts but I’ll admit, it’s a pretty good outcome – especially as my 38-year-old body doesn’t metabolise food as fast it used to.

This factor is a huge benefit in a nation of overweight humans.


6. Gratitude
In the western world, we can have almost anything we want and at any time.
When we get hungry, we head to the kitchen or shop.
When we get cold, we turn the heating on.
We live in a world of comfort!

It’s good to be uncomfortable sometimes. It means when we return back to ‘normal’ we can appreciate how fortunate we are to live with what we have.

After any fast, the first meal back is always glorious! The tastes are incredible! This is something I can only experience after a fast.

The simple things become so rewarding.


7. Improved skin & eye clarity
I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven but following a 3 day-er, my skin and eyes are always brighter and more radiant. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the cell repair, maybe the hormones, or perhaps it’s attached to the mental clarity and mild euphoria.
Who knows? But in my experience, it’s a thing.


Bonus: Saves time & money
I do not fast for this reason, but on fasting days I save so much time!
I work from home, eat 2 big wholefood meals per day and spend quite a bit of time preparing them. On average I save 1-2 hours a day on shopping, preparing, eating and tidying up.

I would never promote a fast for this reason….. but I get so much work done with all the extra time.
And for someone with a big appetite and who spends a good portion of my income on food, my bank balance is always grateful too 😀


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What does your fast consist of?
The day before a fast I eat and drink exactly the same as usual.
During the fasting days, I only drink water, herbal tea and Turbo Tea.
On days where I really struggle, I allow myself a large carton of coconut water (150 calories) to take the edge off. Technically it shouldn’t be allowed, but I figure it’s better to do that and stick to the plan, rather than quit the fast all together.

Do you take supplements during a fast?
In my everyday life I’m a sucker for a supplement; BCAA, greens powder, vitamin B, probiotics etc etc etc.
On a fasting day, I do not take any supplements. There are different thoughts about this though.

Because I do my fast primarily for the health benefits, I want to ‘starve’ my cells of energy and force them to repair, hence, no supplements.
I’ve read that just 3 grams of the BCAA leucine can take the body out of a fasted state, so I avoid them.

I see a huge benefit in letting my digestion system have nothing to do at all.
It’s also much easier on my taste buds to be deprivated, as once I taste something nice, it makes fasting so much harder.

Other people may have different reasons for fasting, such as fat loss, so therefore supplements may help.
I would advise researching what is best for you and your goal.

Can I train as usual during a fast?
During a one day, I train as per usual as there is enough fuel (glycogen) stored in the body.
During longer fasts, I have trained as usual but to what intensity depends on how I feel. With each fast, I experience a slightly different feeling.

After about 3 days with no food, the body enters ketosis, where it begins to break down fat for energy.
During a longer fast the hormone noradrenaline increased with can help improve physical performance.
I have achieved personal bests in running, weightlifting and rowing when in a 3 day fasted state!

Get past that first day and there is some really good stuff waiting!
But with regards to exercise, be intuitive and see how you feel and don’t force it.

How hard is it? Do you have any tips?
I find it really hard! It was hard when I started all those years ago and it’s hard now. I never look forward to it.
But what has become easier is knowing I’m going to be ok and will still be able to perform both mentally and physically.

Do I need to do anything to prepare?
Not really. Just prepare mentally and know it will be tough but worth it.

Ahead of a 3+ day fast, I try to eat most of the food in the house to reduce temptation.

How do I break the fast?
After a one day fast, you don’t need to do anything – just eat as usual.
It’s only after a 5-7+ day fast you will need to reintroduce food gradually.

Have you ever done a fast longer than 3 days?
I haven’t. I’ve done three 3-day fasts, each one was quite challenging, but I would like to do a 7-day fast for total cell repair, and resilience and discipline training.
I’m really keen to see what my body and mind can do on 7 days without food.
I’d also love to experience the fasting high and that first meal back.

For a more detailed and scientific article about fasting, click here.
To read more about autophagy, click here.


Disclaimer:
I am not a qualified nutritionist, dietician, doctor or anything similar. I write my posts from my own personal experience and research.

If you are unsure if you should do a fast, if are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, take medicine or have an illness or disease, please seek professional advice.

It’s also really important for me to say that if you suffer, or have suffered from an eating disorder, then I would guess that fasting may not be suitable for you. Please ask a professional.


I hope you found this blog useful.
I do plan on doing a 7 day fast and making a video about what I experience, so head over to YouTube to see that.

Do you do a fast regularly?
What have you experinced as a result?
I’d love to hear from you. Come find me on social media and let me know.