Until recent times, fasting has been a natural part of human evolution. In our modern world, however, there is an abundance of food choices and the supermarket provides us with an endless supply of not only fresh, but also processed, ultra-processed, preserved and chemical-laden foods. The abundance of food in our culture means we now have no ‘downtime’ in our eating for a start.
And, because of our ultra-processed diet, the body isn’t getting the building blocks it needs to grow strong and healthy. Think of nutrition and food as the ‘information’ the body needs to thrive. If we give it the wrong information, it will develop disease; if we give it the right information, it remains healthy.
Sometimes we need to sweep clean the toxins and reset our health. And fasting is great start to achieving just that!
Traditionally, we would feast on foods during harvest months, when they were in ample supply. And then, during winter, we’d move to rations and limit the amount of food we ate. It is estimated that women gained around 7 to 10kgs during summer and the harvest months, and lost that same amount during the ‘famine’ months. This led to the evolutionary process of storing and losing weight, and was considered healthy, normal and expected.
Today, however, there are no ‘lean’ or ration months, and we continue to consume pretty much the same diet of three meals a day plus snacks, all day; every day of the year. The result of this is that humans are storing more and more body fat (preserved energy in case there is a famine), and are never allowing the evolutionary process of returning their bodies to a normal and healthy weight. From this viewpoint, one might begin to see why ‘dieting’ or restricting energy intake so that the body can access stored fat (energy) is a normal part of human evolution.
Today, however, instead of being forced to reduce energy intake due to famine months, we have to decide to consciously reduce our energy intake to give our body that necessary break. When we eat high carbohydrate diets, the body is switched into a store fat mode. And if this mode is constantly switched on, we find ourselves gaining weight, becoming obese and moving into metabolically unhealthy territory where we increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and more.
In recent times, there has been major interest by the scientific community to research the health benefits of fasting. It has long been documented that people with the lowest caloric intake have a longer average life expectancy compared to those who eat the most. So why is that?
The longest documented fast was in 1965 when Angus Barbieri fasted under the guidance of his doctor for 382 days, consuming nothing but water and supplements. He also shrunk from 206.7kgs (456 pounds) to (81.6kgs) 180 pounds.
While this is an extreme case, it demonstrates that the body has a miraculous ability to metabolically adapt to accessing stored energy (ketones) and using it as a safe source of fuel for the body.
Some of the scientifically proven results of fasting include improvements in blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol; a rejuvenated immune system, reduced visceral (unhealthy) fat, a lower risk of cancer and extended life expectancy.
One of the major benefits of fasting is the body’s ability to achieve autophagy. This is when the body goes into a catabolic state and breaks down old damaged cells and waste into amino acids before reassembling these into healthy proteins to heal and repair the body. It’s as though the body goes into recycling mode and re-grows and repairs itself.
This state of autophagy can be induced while on a ketogenic diet, but you’ll experience the full benefits when a complete fast (in other words consuming just water) is performed. The good news is, even a 1-day fast can stimulate these effects. This may be hugely beneficial for those who are on a weight-loss journey, as autophagy helps to break down excess ‘saggy’ skin and tissue that the body no longer requires after weight loss.
That said, longer fasts do have more health benefits, such as a 3-day or 5-day fast.
Over the course of a fast, the body goes through a series of metabolic changes that increase day by day. Once the body is in a state of nutritional ketosis and autophagy sets in, the body will then begin to ramp up its ability to access stored fat cells and burn them as a healthy fuel source.
The fat cells are released and sent to the liver, where they are converted into ketones. The ketones then penetrate our cells where the mitochondria convert them into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides our body with the ‘electricity’ it needs to keep the cells alive, thriving and healthy.
Fasting is also known to increase the number of mitochondria in each cell, thereby improving our overall health, longevity and basically winding back our biological clock. Ketogenic diets have the same effect of building mitochondria, but fasting can really speed up this process. In fact, a healthy fat-adapted person could have thousands of mitochondria in each body cell.
I personally aim to do a 5-day fast at least every six months. I know the fasting protocol for cancer patients is to do a 5-day fast once a month. The advantage of doing a 5-day fast versus a 1- or 3-day fast is that on around day 3, the so-called mTOR pathway, which potentially allows cancers cells to tap into protein metabolism to fuel themselves, is shut down.
This means that, between days 3 and 5 of a fast, the body may be literally starving the cancer cells to death, while the healthy cells thrive of ketones for energy. Many cancers feed off glucose (sugar and carbohydrates) as their main energy source, however some cancers prefer protein or mutate into protein consumers. When the body is in a state of nutritional ketosis, these cells can longer access glucose, and when fasting for longer than 3 days, they can also no longer access proteins.
Given that cancer cells are frequently found in healthy bodies, a healthy immune system can attack these cells and destroy them before cancer has a chance to grow into a problem. I like to think of doing 5-day fasts every six months as an insurance policy for my immune system as it ensures we are giving the body the best chance of destroying what shouldn’t be there!
For those who have never fasted before, the mere thought of it may have immediately created fear of having no energy and feeling hungry. In reality, the opposite is true. When we fast, the hunger hormone Ghrelin, which sends feelings of hunger to the body, is shut off, and as the body is now burning stored fat as fuel, it has an abundance of this energy to burn. So we aren’t ‘starving’ ourselves, we are just accessing the energy we store through an abundance of food and overeating, thus helping the body shed excess weight in the process.
Last year during my Coded for Growth 8-week program, Grace and I guided around 50 women through an online fast. It was the first time we had done anything like this online, and it was a huge success. One of the greatest positives to come from this, apart from the physical improvements, was that these women found an enormous sense of self-empowerment having achieved something they didn’t think they could. I went live every day of the fast and guided them not only through the expected physical changes, but also the psychological challenges and how to overcome their mind.
Fasting has long been associated with religious practices, and one thing I know to be true is that it takes meditation and prayer practices to an entirely different level. It’s as though fasting speeds up the energy in the body (you literally feel so energised and alive) while quieting the mind. There is a sense of calm and wellbeing at the same time as feeling invigorated. I fast prior to live events and speaking engagements as it makes my mind super focused and alert, and helps me access my ‘flow-state’ more easily. As a highly distracted person (ADD to label it), fasting seems to enable me to focus in a more powerful and intentional way.
On 1 October, Grace and I start a 10-day Switch Fast program, designed to teach, educate and inspire participants to go through a 1-, 3- or 5-day fast with us. I will be fasting with you, doing Live broadcasts every day, testing my blood ketones on camera to show you what to expect, and guide you through your own fasting journey. If fasting for health, longevity and wellbeing is something that interests you then this is an outstanding opportunity to learn how to fast safely under our expert guidance, alongside a community fasting at the same time as you. Fasting could just be the reset you need to get or stay on track!
Click here for more information: https://deborahmurtagh.com/switch-fast