Not just clean eating, fasting the right way can also help with weight loss
Eating right is important for good health, you know. But have you ever thought of taking a break from eating and fasting for the same reason? An ancient tradition across the world, fasting is now being recognised for its many health benefits. Among other things, it has been found that fasting improves cardiovascular health, blood composition, cell recycling and also contributes to weight loss.
“Fasting enhances concentration if done with good hydration and intake of fewer calories,” says Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical nutritionist and dietitian at Apollo Hospital in Bengaluru, pointing out that fasting need not be abstaining from food. “It preserves lean body mass, it improves fitness and lowers the risk of metabolic diseases.”
According to Dr L Sucharita, consultant at Pandit Clinic in Bengaluru, langhana or fasting is considered to be the best treatment for many metabolic diseases in ayurveda.
Roshan Kore, senior dietitian at Narayana Health SRCC Children’s Hospital in Mumbai, says fasting improves body composition primarily through its actions on hormones and fat metabolism. “It also boosts metabolism, supports fat loss, promotes heart health and decreases inflammation and increases resistance to oxidative stress,” says Kore.
“When it comes to diet, the questions that concern scientists and health experts now are no longer ‘what should we eat’ and ‘how much should we eat’ but also as to when should we eat and whether we should eat at all — at least for certain periods of time,” she says.
Dr Vimal Pahuja, metabolic physician at Mumbai’s Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, opined that while the benefit of continuous fasting is debatable, “there are several studies showing that intermittent fasting is beneficial for health”. “Intermittent fasting — calorie restriction for two days in a week but no excess calories on other days — has shown to reduce lipid levels, blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce BMI, and in some instance, reduce liver fat,” he says.
Cutting your energy intake by fasting several days a month might help your brain ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improve memory and mood. Fasting is also used for treating epilepsy by causing a state of ketogenesis in the body.
“There is large empirical and observational evidence that medically-supervised modified fasting (fasting cure, 200-500 kcal nutritional intake per day) for periods of 7-21 days is efficacious in the treatment of rheumatic diseases, chronic pain syndromes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome,” said Kore.
“Intermittent fasting may also be useful as an accompanying treatment during chemotherapy for cancer,” she said. “Fasting therapy might contribute to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases and should be further evaluated in controlled clinical trials and observational studies.”
Fasting diets may have health benefits, and they may also have some health risks, but fasting diets that claim to have a detoxifying effect lack scientific backing, said doctors.
But Sucharita says: “Due to our irregular food habits and sedentary lifestyle, there are some changes in the digestion and because of this, our metabolism becomes high or low. Ama (toxin) is formed in the body, which affects our health in many ways. To remove the toxins in our body, fasting is the first treatment we prescribe.”
According to Kore, “If you are generally healthy, concentrate on giving your body what it needs to maintain its robust self-cleaning system — a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and all recommended medical check-ups”.
“All fasts definitely cleanse your body – only when you accompany them with good hydration,” says Rohatgi. “Periodically eating very little is not only bad for you, but it may also lower blood glucose levels and cause insulin resistance. However, eating fewer calories or having frequent lowcalorie meals of fruit salads, veggies and dairy with adequate hydration puts your cells under mild stress, just as an exercise taxes your muscles and heart, ultimately strengthening them and making them more resistant to disease.”
IT ISN’T FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Although it has many health benefits, experts warn that fasting is not a healthy weight-loss tool. Fasting with just water intake or an otherwise extreme version of a fast can be dangerous. They recommend talking to a doctor before doing anything.
“It’s imperative you understand that there will be some weight gain right after the fast,” says Kore. “During the first few days after breaking your fast, water weight returns as the body rehydrates and begins holding more water to compensate for the salt intake in our normal foods. This can create a huge emotional let-down to those not expecting it, and in a worstcase scenario, lead straight back to overeating”.
“Keep in mind that the initial weight lost on a fast is primarily fluid or ‘water weight’, not fat. And when you go back to eating, any lost weight usually gets a return ticket back,” she adds. “Not only do most people regain weight lost on a fast, but also tend to add a few kilos because a slower metabolism makes it easier to gain weight. Worse, the weight that is regained is likely to be all fat; lost muscle has to be added back at the gym.”
Fasting for weight loss will help if done in a very systematic manner under the supervision of experts.
Rohatgi cautions that if fasting is not done right or in a planned manner, it can affect immunity, lead to sudden weight gain and when the intake is random and abrupt, it may lead our body to ketogenesis. She says fasting can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. This can make the heart unstable and prone to improper heartbeat if not followed correctly.
Pahuja says fasting can increase acid output causing heartburn, result in dehydration and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). It can also lead to bingeing after fasting and paradoxical weight gain after the fasting phase is over and can also make one binge on days when not fasting.
WHO SHOULD NOT FAST
“Children should never fast, pregnant and nursing women should never attempt a fast,” Kore says. “The effects on the unborn foetus are unknown and shouldn’t be risked. Fasting by lactating mothers can affect the quality and quantity of breast milk produced.”
Certain conditions need close monitoring by doctors if fasting is to be administered. The extremely frail, those with a weakened immune system, eating disorders, medication-dependent diabetes and chronic ailments such as heart disease, especially if on prescription medication, need supervision.
“Fasting should not be done when you are sick, having fever, etc,” says Rohatgi.
People who have a good fat reserve, who are overweight/obese but not suffering from heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and liver failure can do intermittent fasting, she adds.
TYPES OF FASTING
Fasting need not be staying away from food and beverages for days on end. Here are some alternatives:
Intermittent fasting will make you eat fewer meals. Here, you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It enhances hormone function to facilitate weight loss, induces the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy. It also improves various metabolic features important for brain health. This includes reduced oxidative stress, reduced inflammation and a reduction in blood sugar levels. Intermittent fasting periodically can protect one from developing diabetes and obesity. It can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. This type of fasting can lower blood pressure and keep lipids in a healthy range.
In this, eating is limited to a certain number of hours each day. For example, time-restricted eating is if you choose to eat all your food for the day in an eighthour period, such as from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The remaining 16 hours each day are the fasting period, during which no calories are consumed.
A form of Intermittent fasting, it can be a very powerful weight-loss tool and also help lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Mind Your Fast
1. Extending your overnight fast a little, say eating dinner earlier, too helps
2. Healthy fasting is based on nature and natural elements
3. Water, fresh fruits and vegetables and even grains are the tools of healthy fasting
4. Drugs, chemicals, artificial sugars, processed foods, denatured foods and additives are avoided
5. Be attentive to your body’s messages, including the message to stop the fast earlier than you had planned
6. Fasting is done to help the body cleanse and rebuild, not to tear it down