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Be systematic about fasting

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fasting for weight loss can only help if done in the correct manner under supervision, says Roshan Kore

Stories abound on quick, radical fasting weight loss—for example, losing 20 pounds in a week or four pounds a day. These numbers, however, do not reflect the weight gain that occurs naturally when one resumes eating, nor are they typical for everyone.

It's imperative you understand that there will be some weight gain right after the fast. The first few days after breaking your fast, water weight returns as the body rehydrates and begins holding more water to compensate for the salt intake in our normal foods. This can create a huge emotional let-down to those not expecting it, and in a worst-case scenario lead straight back into over-eating. Fasting for weight loss will help if done in a very systematic manner under the supervision of experts.

Does fasting de-toxify the body?

Fasting diets may have health benefits, and some risks, but fasting diets that claim to have a detoxifying effect lack scientific backing. Scientific research shows the body can remove toxins whether a person fasts or not. In fact, fasting has health risks as the body needs liquid, energy, vitamins, and minerals to detox. The human body can defend itself very well against most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence.

If you're generally healthy, concentrate on giving your body what it needs to maintain its robust self-cleaning system — a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and all recommended medical check-ups. If you experience fatigue, pallor, unexplained weight gain or loss, changes in bowel function, or breathing difficulties that persist for days or weeks, visit your doctor.

Medical reasons for fasting

Periods of deliberate fasting with restriction of solid food intake are practiced worldwide, mostly based on traditional, cultural or religious reasons. There is large empirical and observational evidence that medically supervised modified fasting (fasting cure, 200-500 kcal nutritional intake per day) with periods of 7-21 days is efficacious in the treatment of rheumatic diseases, chronic pain syndromes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome.

Cutting your energy intake by fasting several days a week might help your brain ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improving memory and mood. Fasting is used for treating epilepsy by causing a state of ketogenesis in the body.

The beneficial effects of fasting followed by vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis are confirmed by randomised controlled trials. Beneficial effects of fasting are supported by observational data and abundant evidence from experimental research which found caloric restriction and intermittent fasting being associated with deceleration or prevention of most chronic degenerative and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Intermittent fasting may also be useful as an accompanying treatment during chemotherapy for cancer. A further beneficial effect of fasting relates to improvements in sustainable lifestyle modification and adoption of a healthy diet, possibly mediated by fasting-induced mood enhancement.

Various identified mechanisms of fasting point to its potential health-promoting effects, e.g., fasting-induced neuroendocrine activation and hormetic stress response, increased production of neurotrophic factors, reduced mitochondrial oxidative stress, general decrease of signals associated with aging, and promotion of autophagy.

Fasting therapy might contribute to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases and should be further evaluated in controlled clinical trials and observational studies.

Who should fast?

There are certain contraindications for fasting.

  • Children should never fast.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should never attempt a fast. The effects on the unborn foetus are unknown and shouldn't be risked.
  • Fasting by lactating mothers can affect the quality and quantity of breast milk produced.

Certain conditions need close monitoring by doctors if fasting is to be administered. These are:

  • the extremely frail,
  • those with a weakened immune system,
  • those with eating disorders,
  • medication-dependent diabetes,

Those with chronic ailments such as heart disease, especially if on prescription medication.

Types of fasting

The science of fasting has entered the mainstream, with a handful of human studies demonstrating its efficacy for health and potentially for longevity.

Time-restricted feeding is the practice of limiting calorie intake to a certain time period, usually between eight and 12 hours per day.

Intermittent calorie restriction calls for reducing daily caloric intake to 800–1,000 calories, for two consecutive days per week

Periodic fasting requires limiting caloric intake for between three and five days, such that cells deplete glycogen stores and begin ketogenesis.

Intermittent fasting

Calorie restriction is exactly what it sounds like: reducing calories consumed in a day by half or a quarter, to around 800–1,000 calories. 5:2 or 2-day diet is a type of intermittent fasting diet, a calorie-restricted, low-carbohydrate diet for two consecutive days each week. This model is sometimes called ‘intermittent energy restriction’ or ‘intermittent fasting’.

The 5:2 diet is a practical and effective option for weight loss, which in turn can help prevent chronic diseases associated with aging. It is not yet proven to support health in normal weight people, nor do scientists recommend the diet for healthy people.

Time-restricted feeding

Time-restricted feeding (TRF) is the practice of limiting calorie intake to a certain time period, somewhere between eight and 12 hours per day. Eating during consistent time periods each day is helpful for keeping biological rhythms in sync, which can help with preventing metabolic diseases and chronic diseases related to obesity.

Alternative-day fasting

Alternative-day fasting (ADF) involves eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories for men 500 for women) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days.

Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out a 10-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF. Her findings concluded that ADF is a viable diet option to help obese people lose weight and to decrease their coronary artery disease risk.

Periodic fasting

Periodic fasting requires limiting calories for between three and five days, such that cells deplete glycogen stores (glucose from food stored as energy) and begin ketogenesis (breaking down fatty acids for energy). While this could theoretically be done without food, scientists and doctors don’t consider it a safe option, particularly if there are existing malnourishments or dysfunctions.

This is the most rigorous proposition, with the highest potential benefits. Periodic fasting can do the most comprehensive destruction and rebuilding of the cells, giving the greatest health benefits, but the process needs to be moderated carefully.


Healthy fasting is based on nature and natural elements. Water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and even grains are the tools of healthy fasting. Drugs, chemicals, artificial sugars, processed foods, denatured foods and additives are avoided. Attentiveness to your body's messages is always promoted, including the message to stop the fast earlier than you had planned. Fasting is done to help the body cleanse and rebuild, not to tear it down.

Short Takes

  • Radical fasting may help you lose weight immediately but you will always regain it when you start eating, as this is just water loss.
  • Healthy fasting is based on nature and natural elements. Listen to your body.

Roshan Kore is Senior Dietitian, Narayana Health - SRCC Children's Hospital. The first part of this article was published last week.

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