By Alina Tousseeva, RAc
I learned about fasting from my brother, an experienced doctor and open-minded person. Trained as a surgeon but being a holistic doctor by nature he never restricted his treatments to surgical operations. Reviewing patient’s files he would come up to massive amounts of secondary (often internal) conditions which his patients were suffering with. The most common secondary diagnoses would be metabolic syndrome, asthma, autoimmune and psychosomatic diseases. Most of these are diseases of civilization and sedentary life style which could be prevented if people would be more active, ate healthier and coped with stress in a proper more balanced way. But lots of people who make an attempt to improve their health (especially through dieting and calorie counting) are often trapped in a vicious cycle because of the stress which goes with changes in a lifestyle. That is where my brother’s favorite fasting regime would come into play. Significant amount of patients who followed his advice about fasting not only recovered faster after surgery, they were able to improve and control various chronic conditions they were diagnosed with. And most of them are continuing fasting till now without being stressed.
What is fasting anyway? Most of people see it as part of religious practice. Indeed, it can be found in all great religions as a way of building spirituality. But besides spiritual benefits fasting brings significant physical benefits. This is widely supported by resent research and our new understanding of body and mind connections. These days we see fasting as another kind of conditioning just like gua sha (see our recent blog on this) and exercise. Fasting trains our body to be stronger, more adaptive and more responsive to whatever food we eat. It reestablishes body-mind awareness and responsiveness which we tend to loose when preoccupied and consumed by our daily stressful routines. Also routine intermittent fasting is more physiologically sound and natural for the body compared to multiple diets which are hard to follow and people rebound from quickly in gaining weight.
Fasting is not necessarily avoidance of food for significant number of days. It can be just one or two days per week (not in succession) when you restrict your calories and skip one meal (usually supper). Research showed that short low calorie fasts will decrease your blood sugar, LDL, and IGF-1 ( linked to cancer). It will improve your mood and protects you from cognitive decline. In the long run, it may even increase your life expectancy and protect you from many diseases of old age. Also, get this! – an increase in BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) during fasting is linked to improved memory because of an increased size of your hippocampus!
A new book released in 2013 “The fast diet” by Dr Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer not only gives you valuable information about scientific evidence regarding changes in your body while you are fasting; it is also written by people who personally went through the fasting experience and have incorporated it their lifestyle. In the book you can find actual blood tests before and after fasting, detailed descriptions what was expected and what was actually experienced by these people who fasted for I day per a week or even for 4-5 days straight.
I really encourage people to read it and try to come up with their own fasting regime which can be very flexible and designed especially for your life style and how you respond to it. I would not like to see people fasting on their own for more than a day because of the drops in blood sugar and other metabolic changes in the body. Radical fasting can be done under professional supervision but this is a different story for another blog. The short fasts or low calorie fasting days are very good and safe to try. They become a lifestyle change; a way of living and engaging your food, not periodic struggle to loose weight. I have seen significant amount of people who found it so pleasant and continue doing it for many years. As a result of this practice you may loose unwanted weight for different reasons than with classic dieting…you are more connected physiologically and cognitively to your needs in food. You will feel better on all levels: emotionally, physically and spiritually.