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Essential Fasting: 12 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting & Other Fasting Plans for Accelerating Weight Loss, Crushing Cravings, and Reversing Aging
by Josh Axe
Learn More | Meet Josh Axe | Meet Jordan Rubin
If you’ve never heard of the Daniel fast, rest assured we will discuss it in greater detail later in the book and explain how to do the Daniel fast yourself safely. In addition to the Daniel fast, we will cover numerous other types of fasts and cleanses designed to bring healing into your life and help you regain control of your mind, your body, and your decisions.
Get Ready for Breakthrough
Whether you are a fasting novice and nervous about how your body will react or you have been fasting for years, there is a fasting type that works for everyone. Get ready to learn more about each type as we explore the many benefits of fasting, the pitfalls, and the best practices, as well as supplements and other tips that can turn fasting from an intimidating mystery into a routine and powerful practice in your life.
As much as we’ll talk about fasting in this book, it’s important to note that the Bible also recognizes eating and its tremendous importance. Food is and will always be a central part of our lives.
As we discussed at the start of this book, food signifies celebration. It provides an opportunity to share not only food but also conversation. We fellowship and grow closer to others over a meal. Eating is a sign of contentment and provides a satisfying way to relax.
It’s crucial that you understand how much we love food too! Finding delicious new recipes and breaking bread with our families is one of the great highlights of every day for us. That is why we also provide our recommendations for the best and most delicious foods to consume when you are not fasting.
In life, there’s always a balance.
We’re not expecting you to give up Thanksgiving or stop eating all the foods you love. What we are saying is that fasting will open doors for you that have remained closed for far too long. Fasting will show you just how strong you are and just how much control you have over your health. Fasting will help you appreciate food in new and exciting ways!
No man knows the day or hour he will pass from this earth. That is not in our control. What is in our control is how well we live out the days we are given. Use fasting as a tool to get the most out of every day you have.
Basics, Definitions, and Types of Fasting
Not What but When to Eat
Fasting is a natural discipline that brings about a supernatural breakthrough. We wholeheartedly believe that by making fasting a part of your eating philosophy, you will experience a breakthrough in your life and your health.
Think about it—without even knowing about the scientifically proven health benefits that we will discuss in greater detail a little later in the book, nearly every religious group throughout history has practiced some variation of fasting rituals. Yet, whenever you hear fasting mentioned, there is a great deal of hesitation and doubt, even today, as the fasting craze is sweeping through the health and fitness communities.
The issue could very well be that when people think of the word fasting, the term starving also comes to mind.
It’s essential to set the record straight before we go any further. Fasting and starving are two different things. Starving is the involuntary absence of food. In the traditional sense of the word, starving is not something deliberate or within a person’s control to stop. On the other hand, fasting is the voluntary withholding of food for spiritual, health, or other reasons.
Another key difference is that starving is usually prolonged and takes place after an extended period of consistently (but not purposefully) not getting enough food. Fasting is something you decide to do for some time, from a few hours to months. And in many cases, fasting does not involve going for more than a day without consuming food.
We like to think of fasting as a way of life, not a fad, a trend, or a “thing” that you do once and then stop. When you adjust your mindset and accept that fasting is already a part of your life, whether you realize it or not (you fast every time you go to sleep at night), it makes the subject much more approachable. It also makes integrating it into your routine far more feasible.
So the pertinent issue now becomes, “When exactly should I be eating each day?”
Until recently no one questioned the ingrained idea that breakfast is the most important meal. The issue with that idea, however, comes down to biology and is not as simple to defend as breakfast proponents wish.
While it is true that some foods are better than others, all foods promote an insulin response. This fact is especially important to understand in the age of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in which we live. When it comes to the worst offenders, starchy carbohydrates (bread, chips, processed food, french fries, etc.) and sugary foods such as cookies and pastries rank at the top. Even protein in the form of organic meat creates an insulin response, although not as much as dairy, bread, soda, and fake foods.
Of the three primary macronutrients—carbs, protein, and fat—dietary fat is the only one that does not have a significant impact on insulin after a meal. However, eating too much fat could raise insulin over time.
The key to preventing insulin resistance is to maintain extremely low insulin levels periodically. So since we just stated that all foods raise insulin to some degree, it makes sense that the only surefire way to keep insulin very low is through the complete voluntary abstinence of food for a set period.
In other words, if you want to keep your insulin levels in check and prevent insulin resistance from destroying your health as it has done to millions of Americans, then fasting must be a regular part of your life. Helping control insulin levels and preventing insulin resistance is just one of the benefits of periodic fasting that we will discuss.
Fasting and Self-Eating
The well-known Gerson cancer therapy advocates fasting extensively. Want to know why? Because when you fast, the body heals. It rests. It finds balance. It gets to do something besides try to digest excess calories.
The process of digestion is taxing and consuming for the human body. In the United States we are always digesting something. We wake up in the morning and start eating—we reach for a bagel or cereal. We eat a midmorning snack, lunch, a midafternoon snack, dinner, and dessert. Then we go to Taco Bell for a late-night “fourth meal.”
There are so many issues with overeating, but the most concerning issue with incessant food consumption is that autophagy is never allowed to take place.
Autophagy is a biological process that, on the surface, sounds like science fiction. It is the body’s consumption of its own tissue. The term literally means “self-eating.” Who knew what was missing in your life was a little self-cannibalism?
Despite how it sounds, autophagy is a good thing.
Even in a healthy human body, cells are continually becoming damaged as a regular part of the metabolic processes. However, as we age and experience stress and free radical damage, our cells become destroyed at an increased rate.
Autophagy then steps in and removes unnecessary or dysfunctional cell components. Think of it as spring cleaning for your internal ecosystem. Damaged cells are eaten away, and newer, healthier cells take their place.
In his book, Misguided Medicine, Colin Champ, MD, describes the process as “our body’s innate recycling program.”1 Evidence shows that autophagy can help control inflammation and boost immunity. In a 2012 animal study, researchers concluded that autophagy protected against insulin resistance and inflammatory diseases, not to mention cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and premature signs of aging.2
Dr. Champ writes, “Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.”3
Autophagy is so vital that the lack of it can be devastating. One study reported that when mice were prevented from going into autophagy, the results included impaired neurological function, weight gain, lethargy, and high cholesterol.4
Autophagy helps to clear damaged cells from the body, including the removal of senescent cells that serve no function but still linger inside tissues and organs. The reason it’s so important to remove senescent and damaged cells is that they can trigger inflammatory pathways and contribute to the development of various diseases.5
When does autophagy occur? Autophagy is active in all cells, but the process increases in response to stress or nutrient deprivation (as in fasting or starvation). This fact means you can utilize “good stressors” such as exercise and temporary calorie restriction (fasting) to boost autophagic processes. Both strategies have been linked to benefits such as weight control and longevity.6
How long do you have to fast for autophagy to take place? Studies suggest that fasts between twenty-four and forty-eight hours probably have the most potent effects, but this isn’t always doable for many people. You may still receive some of the benefits of autophagy by fasting for a little as twelve to fourteen hours.
An easy way to accomplish this is eating just one or two meals per day rather than grazing on many small meals and snacks. If you usually finish dinner at 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., try to fast until at least seven o’clock the following morning. Even better, don’t eat your first meal of the day until 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. This is a type of fasting known as intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating that we will discuss in more detail in the next few pages.
To take full advantage of the autophagic process in the body, you might occasionally choose to do a two-day or three-day fast, or potentially longer once you’re more experienced with fasting.
If you prefer not to go multiple days without eating, there are options we will discuss.
Another “good stress” that can induce autophagy is exercising. Recent research has shown that “exercise induced autophagy in multiple organs involved in metabolic regulation, such as muscle, liver, pancreas, and adipose tissue.”7
But is fasting safe for those with certain underlying conditions such as type 2 diabetes, where eating at regular intervals and not skipping meals are practices prescribed by medical professionals? It is—with some caveats. But don’t let that deter you. We will cover which fasting practices are safest for those with certain conditions in later sections.
The World of Intermittent Fasting
Reaching for food all day long has become programmed into our psyches, and most people do it on autopilot, whether they are hungry or not. When hunger strikes, people clamor to the fast-food drive-throughs and gas stations to fill up on empty calories.
Did you know that once upon a time, eating all day long was associated with being a member of the wealthy, upper class? Roman emperors are often depicted as fat, lazy sloths who sat around all day while servants stuffed food into their mouths.
In modern times, however, with fast food as cheap as it is (think: Dollar Menu), most socioeconomic classes in America are accustomed to eating from morning until night—and beyond.
In the 1400s, the term breakfast was popularized because it describes what is happening when you eat in the morning. You “break the fast.” Interestingly, just a hundred years before, the Old English word for dinner was disner, and that word actually means “to break a fast.”
Why? Because dinner after a long day’s work was often the first (and only) meal eaten. It wasn’t until the late fifteenth century that the term breakfast for a morning meal came into use.
Three meals a day (plus snacks) is not the norm for the vast majority of history. Frankly, the accepted practice of eating from sunrise to bedtime is one of the worst-ever crimes against humanity.
We are the only mammals on earth that eat all day long.
It’s simply not the way we were designed to consume food.
Overeating can lead to many things, including obesity and the many lifestyle conditions and diseases associated with being overweight and obese. The solution for regaining control of your appetite, controlling blood sugar, promoting autophagy, allowing your body to heal, and losing weight is fasting.
The idea is simple, and right now we are not even talking about restricting the amount of food you eat, only when you eat it. Scheduling the timing of food intake is known as intermittent fasting (often abbreviated as IMF).
Also known as cyclic fasting, IMF is an all-inclusive, general term to describe fasting from food for a few hours a day up to a few days at a time. Most of the fasting methods we will discuss in this book are variations of intermittent fasting.
New science has emerged, showing that intermittent fasting supports a healthy and robust metabolic cycle and protects against obesity and dysmetabolism (more commonly known as metabolic disorder). These benefits significantly reduce your chances of cardiac-related illness.8 If you can eat in a way that works with your body’s natural rhythms, you can work to bring the body back into balance.
Unlike traditional diets that focus on calorie restriction or diets that require you to eliminate certain food groups, intermittent fasting’s focus is less on what you eat and requires you to focus on when you eat.
It’s every dieter’s dream—imagine being able to eat without counting calories most days of the week, limiting your intake for one or two days at a time, and still losing weight. Believe it or not, intermittent fasting can make this a reality while also helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and support heart health.
Typical intermittent fasting times range from fourteen to eighteen hours. The most prolonged IMF period that the most extreme plans would require you to abstain from solid food would be twenty-four to forty-eight hours. In some cases, fasting can last for longer than a few days, but only with careful planning and execution.
We will get into the specifics of how to fast and the best safety practices, but for now, we’ll explain it in the most straightforward way possible:
With intermittent fasting, you abstain from eating for a set period—typically twelve to forty-eight hours. Some intermittent fasting varieties require eating only within set eating “windows,” and some plans revolve around restricting calories on some days and eating unrestricted amounts on other days.
There are essential safety precautions that we will address, but intermittent fasting is a simple idea. Notice we didn’t say easy—but it is an uncomplicated concept.
We are passionate about the benefits of intermittent fasting because they can be life changing. Among other things, fasting may aid with stubborn weight loss, balance hormones, and boost energy and mental focus.
We’ve seen it work miracles in people’s lives in a matter of a few weeks.
We believe that anyone can do it, but it does require a simple mindset shift and a commitment to your health.
In most cases, when you practice intermittent fasting, all you are doing is changing the amount of time during which you eat in a day.
Herschel Walker is a legendary football player and MMA fighter who got quite a bit of media coverage for openly discussing the fact that he’s been eating just one meal a day for over twenty years. One meal a day for all of that daily training and physical exertion! He is a 225-pound champion who looks and feels phenomenal.
How can that be possible?
We have both been fasting for years. We haven’t looked back once. We have learned that not only is it possible, but it is also addictive in all the right ways! Once you make intermittent fasting a part of your life, you’ll wonder how you ever ate for so many hours of every day.
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