In a culture where eating is more a form of entertainment than for sustenance, the idea of fasting isn’t a popular one.
However, more studies are indicating that fasting intermittantly can make a positive difference in your health, and even add quality years to your life.
Dr. Valter Longo started his research with mice, and found that when restricted from eating, they lived 11 to 18 percent longer.
Later, in working with human volunteers, Dr. Longo was surprised to observe that during periods of fasting, the body killed off damaged cells that cause diseases like cancer, and new stem cells were created after the person started eating again!
Sounds crazy? Not really. A fair amount of our body’s daily energy needs are used up in the process of digestion, so in theory, freeing up the digestive tract for short periods should give your body extra resources to heal itself.
In gardening, we’ve learned that the most vigorous and strong plants are often not those that have been pampered, but those that have been exposed to a certain amount of stress. Human bodies operate in a similar fashion.
The effects of positive stress, or eustress (rather than distress), on the body and mind are well-documented.
In the book The Pleasure Trap, author Douglas Lisle explains that our species is biologically hardwired to seek sources of maximum calories for minimum effort–because we evolved to survive in environments of scarcity.
In the wild, biology favors those who can forage for the most berries, harvest the most wheat, or successfully hunt and kill enough game to live. The very nature of life in the wild expends a huge number of calories in order to survive.
However, the modern world has turned all that on its ear. We can now forage for ham sandwiches and candy bars in our air-conditioned home, twelve feet away from where we sleep.
Our innate instincts still run strong and deep, however. This is why our brain’s pleasure centers reward us more enthusiastically when we eat something like nachos and dip instead of a plate of raw greens.
Fasting for short periods, between 24 hours and up to 3 days at a time, have been shown to be beneficial if done correctly.
A few cautions, however. The idea of fasting intermittently isn’t so you can double-binge on fries and fudge later, and it’s also not meant to be a quick fix for either disease-flighting or weight loss.
A long-term proponent of fasting, Dr. Joel Fuhrman says that a short-term fast should be prefaced with eating sensibly and nutritiously in the days prior. Don’t plan to do any strenuous activity while fasting, and also make sure to drink plenty of pure water throughout the duration of the fast.
Dr. Fuhrman is the author of Fasting and Eating for Health, which was first published in 1998, and is just as relevant today.
Dr. Fuhrman’s book addresses headaches, hypoglycemia, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, colitis, psoriasis, lupus, and uterine fibroids. In it, he offers precise fasting and diet recommendations for weight loss and conquering disease. He strongly recommends working with a physician for fasts that are longer than three days.
We’ve personally experienced some great health benefits from intermittent fasts of 24-48 hours, as well as with juice feasts (consuming only juice for 24 hours at a time). Have you ever done a fast for health reasons? Tell us about it in the comments!