One of the oldest medical techniques in the world is fasting. Fasting has been used (safely, I might add) for millennia, for religious as well as health reasons. There’s a growing movement among diet and nutrition experts, as well as doctors who follow the latest research on metabolic syndrome, advocating for fasting as a way to reverse insulin resistance, control weight, and more. Study after study now reveals that fasting in its various forms can be quite beneficial, even for Type II diabetics.
Before we delve into the benefits of fasting, I’d like to caution you that fasting isn’t for everyone. For most people, intermittent fasting and even extended fasting are not only not harmful, but are beneficial for many reasons, including weight loss and correction of insulin resistance. But there are a few conditions under which you should not fast.
Pregnancy or Nursing
Women who are pregnant or nursing should not fast because of the potential for danger to the fetus or infant. Baby is nourished by Mom’s nutritional intake, so it isn’t a good idea to severely limit any macronutrient or the wealth of micronutrients in food. However, the pre-1950s model of three meals a day with no snacks from dinner time to breakfast time might be beneficial to maintain weight in its current range. This potential 12-hour fast should not prove a problem if the daytime meals are full of nourishing, whole foods with no added sugar or refined carbohydrates. Consult your OB/GYN or pediatrician if you want to be assured of eating what you should for your baby’s health.
Underweight or Undernourished
It’s hard to believe that anyone who is either underweight or undernourished would seek advice on fasting for weight control or reversal of insulin resistance. However, in the case of anorexia, which is a psychological disease that makes chiefly young women see themselves as fat when the opposite is true, it could happen. If your family constantly implores you to eat or your friends tell you they think you are anorexic, please do not attempt this method. Instead, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Taking Certain Medications
Some medications must be taken with food, either to facilitate absorption or to avoid stomach upset. Others, like metformin and insulin, may cause a serious condition called hypoglycemia if not adjusted during fasting periods. If you are taking any medication, you are advised to consult your doctor for appropriate monitoring during fasting.
In Case of Serious Unwanted Side-effects
In general, the pre-1950s model mentioned above should not be detrimental to most people, including anyone in the categories above. However, even if you do not belong in any listed category, please be aware that the list may not be complete. If you are under a doctor’s care for any condition, it’s best to discuss the safety of fasting with him or her before attempting it.
If you experience any severe reaction, including nausea, dizziness, or other symptom you feel is abnormal, stop your fast and eat something immediately. A good choice is a small amount of cheese, which will combat hypoglycemia, or even some juice.
Feelings of hunger, though unpleasant, can generally be safely ignored or treated with a large glass of water, cup of tea or coffee, or homemade bone broth. By the time you are finished, hunger, which comes in waves of short duration, may have subsided. Headache can generally be alleviated with a little salt in bone broth or water. Other options include consuming some pure, healthful fat, such as a teaspoon or two of coconut oil suspended in tea or coffee, or a small amount of high-fat food such as cheese, nuts, or avocado.
Hunger is not dangerous when food is readily available. In truth, relatively few people in Western society know what real hunger feels like. We are conditioned to eat at certain times or on certain occasions, so our stomachs tell us it’s time to eat. Skipping a meal won’t hurt most of us, and can even reset your body’s experience so you’ll know when you’re truly hungry. I have personally found it fairly easy to ‘work up’ to a fast of 20+ hours with only water, broth, or one cup of coffee or tea with two teaspoons of organic coconut oil.