How long could you go without eating? Its hard to deprive ourselves of food, especially if we’re always surrounded by it. However not having access to food and water is a different story and hopefully something we’ll never have to experience.
Technically, the body can survive up to a few weeks without eating, relying on stored energy from food consumption. However, it’s the lack of fluids that create the most danger. Without adequate fluids the kidneys will fail, cutting down survival potential to only a few days at best.¹
Fasting is voluntarily going without food or drink for a certain period of time. It can be a powerful way to detoxify and revitalize your body, when done properly. First off, make sure you are healthy enough to fast. It’s not a good idea if you’re pregnant, seriously ill or undergoing any major treatments.
Is Fasting a Quick Way to Lose Weight?
Its true that by skipping meals you take in less calories and potentially you can lose weight. However all calories are different. To provide energy, the body looks for sources that are easy to burn and readily available. Its first choice is food you’ve most recently eaten, already in the bloodstream. These are sugars and simple carbohydrates which convert to glucose.
However any glucose that’s not immediately burned for energy is stored as fat. So when fasting you’re limiting glucose, the body’s immediate source of energy. Since glucose isn’t available in the bloodstream the body looks for other sources.
Glycogen, is a starch that’s stored in muscles and in the liver. It’s the energy source the body turns to during exercise. But fasting also limits glycogen as well. When glucose and glycogen levels are low and not replenished, the body starts to burn fat for energy. This process is called ketogenesis.
Insulin is a hormone that has an important role too. It’s produced when consuming food and it helps to absorb food and energy efficiently. When you eat more, you produce more insulin. But, your body becomes less sensitive to it. With less insulin, your body is actually more effective in burning energy and processing food. It’s known as insulin sensitivity.
To summarize, the body has 3 sources of energy:
Fasting limits glucose and glycogen, so the body burns fat for its source of energy. Additionally, eating less leads to insulin sensitivity (less insulin production) and more effective burning of energy and food, lowering fat storage.
Conclusion: fasting results in fat burning. Burning fat is particularly important in detoxing because fat is where most toxins are stored in the body.²
*However as a pure weight loss strategy its still best to consume less carbohydrates and sugars, less processed foods and more whole foods, rather than relying on fasting.
Other Benefits of Fasting
There are many great physical benefits, too many to discuss here (see a full list by Mush Panjwani). However the mental strength and focus we gain from fasting are equally important. Mental health and discipline are a key part of living a better life and having control of our health. Fasting helps the mind overcome the urges of the body. It builds a discipline that is helpful in many other areas of our lives.
If you’ve never fasted, start off slowly! Intermittent fasting is a perfect way to start, allowing you to still eat everyday, but skipping at least one meal. Rather than fasting for a 24 or 48 hour period, you’ll be able to fast more often while still creating the conditions the body needs to benefit from fasting. Think of it like a mini-fast, that you could do everyday!
Choose a time period in which you would eat all your meals for that day. For example, eating in an 8 hour period like from 12 PM to 8 PM, leaves the rest of the day, or 16 hours for fasting. In this example, you’d be skipping out on breakfast. It’s best to include your sleeping time in the fasting time, so make sure your last meal of the day is at the end of the day, not too early.
It really comes down to timing your meals and adapting them to your schedule. However you can also cut down on your window for eating and increase your fasting time as well, 16, 18, 20 hours etc. Periodically you can also go a full 24 hours or more once your ready. I often find that I’m not hungry after the first 12 hours. By the end of the fast, I feel like I could go much longer.
Don’t worry if you have to break your fast, drink some water or just go back to eating. Be sure to listen to your body and make sure you’re not harming yourself!