Why should we fast?

We are always seeking for a miracle diet plan. There are many types of diet plans which are being marketed every day. In my every article I insist to eat whole non processed food which can lower your insulin resistance. Eventually it will result in permanent weight loss. I also talked about higher body set weight in obese people. That results because of insulin resistance cycle.

We know that eating proper food prevents high insulin levels, but it won’t do much. Some foods are better than others; nonetheless all foods increase insulin production. If all foods raise insulin, then the only way for us to lower it is to completely abstain from food.

 The answer we are looking for is, in a word, fasting. 

Why should we fast?

Fasting: an ancient remedy

Fasting is one of the oldest remedies in human history and has been part of the practice of virtually every culture and religion on earth.

Whenever fasting is mentioned, there is a eye rolling response: Starvation? No.

Fasting is completely different. Starvation is the involuntary absence of food. It is neither deliberate nor controlled. Fasting, however, is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual, health or other reasons. It may be done for any period of time. The term “breakfast” is the meal that breaks the fast – which we do daily. It seems to be a universal human response to multiple forms of illness.

The ancient Greeks believed that fasting improves cognitive abilities. Think about the last time you ate a huge meal. Did you feel more energetic and mentally alert afterward? Or instead, did you feel sleepy? Blood is shunted to your digestive system to cope with the huge influx of food, leaving less blood for brain function.

The body’s response to fasting

Glucose and fat are the body’s main source of energy. When glucose is not available, then the body adjusts by using fat, without any health detriment. This compensation is a natural part of life. Periodic food scarcity has always been part of human history, and our bodies have evolved processes to deal with this fact of Paleolithic life. The transition from fed state to the fasted state occurs in several stages.

  1. Feeding: during meals, insulin levels are raised. This allows glucose uptake by tissues such as brain or muscle for direct use as energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
  2. Few hours after fasting: breakdown of glycogen releases glucose for energy.
  3. 24 hours after fasting: liver manufactures new glucose from amino acids and stored fat. In non-diabetic persons, glucose levels fall but stay within normal range.
  4. 1-3 days after fasting: ketone bodies are formed. Ketones can supply up to 75% of the energy used by the brain.
  5. Protein conservation phase: high levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissues. The energy for maintenance of basal metabolism is almost entirely met by the use of free fatty acids and ketone. Increased adrenaline levels prevent the decrease in metabolic rate.

The human body is well adapted for dealing with the absence of food. What I want to describe here is the process the body undergoes to switch from burning glucose (short term) to burning fat (long term).

Fat is simply body’s stored food energy. In times of scarcity, stored is naturally released to fill the void. The body does not “burn muscle” in an effort to feed itself until all the fat stored are used.

Myths about fasting

Many fasting myths have been repeated so often that they are often perceived infallible truths. Consider the following:

Fasting will make you lose muscle/burn protein

Human body has system to store energy as fat. Breakdown of muscle tissue happens only at extremely low levels of body fat, approximately four percent, which is something most people need not to worry about. Fat is stored energy and muscle is functional tissue. Fat is burned first. This situation is akin to storing a huge amount of fire wood but deciding to burn your sofa instead.

Brain needs glucose to function

This is incorrect. Human brains can use ketones as a major fuel source during prolonged starvation, allowing the conservation of protein such as skeletal muscles. Consider the consequence, if glucose is absolutely necessary for survival, human just wouldn’t survive. After twenty four hours, glucose becomes depleted. If brain has no alternative, we would become blubbering idiots as our brains shut down. Fat is the body’s way of storing food energy for the long term.

Fasting puts you is starvation/lowers basal metabolism

This is a myth in case of total abstinence from food. Daily caloric restriction does, in fact, lead to decreased metabolism, so people have assumed that this effect would be magnified as food intake dropped to zero. It won’t. Decreasing food intake is matched by decreased energy expenditure. However, as food intake goes to zero, the body switches energy input from food to stored food (fat). This strategy significantly increases the availability of “food”, which is matched by increase in energy expenditure.

Fasting causes overeating

Concerns are raised repeatedly that fasting may provoke over eating. Studies of caloric intake do show a slight increase at the next meal. After one day fast, average caloric intake increased from 2436 to 2914. But over the entire two-day period, there was still a net deficit of 1958 calories. The increased calories on the day after the fast did not nearly make up for the lack of calories on the fasting day. Actually, appetite tends to decrease with increased duration of fasting.

Intermittent fasting and caloric reduction

The one crucial aspect that differentiates fasting from other diets is its intermittent nature. Diets fail because of their constancy. The defining characteristic of life on Earth is homeostasis. Any constant stimulus will eventually be met with an adaptation that resists the change. Persistent exposure to decreased calories results in adaption (resistance); the body eventually responds by reducing total energy expenditure, leading to dreaded plateau in weight loss and eventually to weight regain.

People do claim that intermittent fasting and calorie reduction are same, but both are different in their action. I hope I am able to give you some understanding of both.

Ultimately, it suggests that there is no need to follow any unconventional diet plan. Try to look in to our heritage; you will get all the answers.

About the author

Anju Rai Tiwary

Hi, I am a physiotherapist specialized in neurology. I have also done various certification courses like autism spectrum disorder and weight management. I am here to clarify your health-related curiosities.

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