Everyone in the health space has been talking about fasting. But is it really worth all the hype?
Today, I’m going to tell you what the science says, and it most certainly supports some powerful benefits for different kinds of fasting.
While many people associate fasting with restricting eating for long periods of time, there are actually many styles with different timing, which can make fasting a much more approachable practice than you might think. In fact, many of you are probably already fasting without even realizing it.
The most basic kind of fast is the break taken between dinner and breakfast. Fasting during this time, which usually falls between 12 and 14 hours, falls into line with our natural circadian rhythms of when the sun is up or down.
The term intermittent fasting can describe multiple timetables for eating. A 5:2 approach means eating only about 25% of caloric needs during two separate days each week; a 16:8 intermittent fast means extending your nightly fast, taking 16 hours between dinner and breakfast, which many people feel good doing several days a week.
Other approaches include a complete 24-hour fast or time-restricted eating where you would only eat within a 6-hour window during the day. You can read more about the different types of fasting on this blog post from my clinic, The UltraWellness Center.
But why would we want to do any of this at all? Well, there are actually plenty of good reasons. Fasting has been shown to help with weight loss and losing dangerous inflammatory belly fat; it can reduce insulin levels and blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risk of diabetes; and it helps the brain function better by clearing out dangerous proteins, and benefiting neurons in a way that protects memory and learning.
And the benefits don’t stop there. As Dr. Valter Longo explained on last week’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy, fasting can also improve our longevity. Valter explains how this process works on a cellular level and shares some fascinating information on the Fasting Mimicking Diet, a method of eating that allows certain foods at the right times in order to trick the body into thinking it’s fasting. If you’re interested in fasting I highly recommend you tune in to this episode.
One important caveat of fasting is that when you do eat, you still need to eat well. Fasting and then bingeing on ice cream and french fries is not going to get you anywhere. The same dietary guidelines I’m always sharing—eat real foods, tons of non-starchy colorful veggies, healthy fats, high-quality protein, etc.—are an amazing complement to any fasting regime.
It’s also important to note that fasting isn’t for everyone. For example, those with a history of eating disorders or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be sure to talk about fasting with your practitioner to decide if it’s right for you.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD