December 13, 2012

To Fast or not to Fast?

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Fasting is defined as "voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time." People fast for a variety of reasons from losing weight to spiritual practice. 

 Fasting makes my body feel good. I do not fast for long periods of times, sometimes I do juice fasts, sometimes just herbal tea; however, some doctors have expressed concern for what happens to our bodies during fasting.

LiveScience explains:

The side effects aren't surprising, said registered dietitian Joy Dubost, a spokeperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"You're putting the body under tremendous stress," she said.

Within the first 24-48 hours of calorie deprivation, the body depletes its glycogen stores from muscles and the liver -- basically, that's the carbohydrate stores that provide quick energy, Dubost said. Then it starts breaking down protein within muscles and fat to produce energy. During that process, the body's metabolism slows down in order to conserve energy, she said. Meanwhile, hormonal reactions will fluctuate...

While Dubost sees no benefits in complete fasts, others think that a milder form of fasting could help certain populations. Intermittent fasting, proponents say, produces a milder stress on the body similar to exercise.

"Exercise is an energetic stress, where you have a marked increase in energy expenditure," said Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. "Conversely, fasting for even a relatively short period of time like 16-24 hours also puts an energetic stress on the body, but in kind of the opposite way, through reduced energy availability."

And the adaptive responses to that mild stress of not having food? In animal studies, Mattson and other researchers have found positive changes in nerve cells. Intermittent fasting can protect neurons from becoming damaged by oxidative stress, for example, and better regulate glucose.


Most Americans overeat or eat food lacking in quality nutrition. Fasting helps cleanse the body and focus eating on more healthy choices, in my experience. Extreme fasting could be detrimental, but fasting is one of the "oldest therapies in medicine". It is always good to consult health care practitioner and listen to your body.

I highly recommend short fasts (12-18 hours) during the holiday season to compensate for all the feasting!

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Posted by Jennifer Lance at December 13, 2012 1:18 PM

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