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Fasting has been around for centuries, but recently it’s become fashionable as a way to lose weight. Therapeutically, fasting has been used since the time of Ancient Greece, when Hippocrates recommended abstinence from food or drink for people with certain illnesses. These days, however, it is almost always talked about in terms of body image.
Many people have made their names and careers from advising people how and when to fast, all in the pursuit of a slimmer figure. But are all fasting diets created equal? There are more than a few of them out there, so how can you know which ones are safe and right for you?
If you have a chronic condition, fasting might be a dangerous pursuit. If you’ve been considering embarking on a fast, read on as we talk through some of the pros, cons and guidelines of five of the most popular fasting diets.
1. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is one of the more recent fashionable diet trends. Supporters of this method claim that it helps people lose weight quicker than traditional diets. There are numerous types of intermittent fasting, including 16:8, 18:6 and 14:10. These ratios refer to the window of time you should eat and fast; for example, with the 16:8 variant, you would eat during the eight-hour window and fast for the remaining sixteen hours. That pattern is the same for the other ratios, with the smaller number always being the eating window.
Though there is relatively little research done on intermittent fasting, recent studies indicate that it can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, which is beneficial for stress resistance, increased longevity and a decreased incidence of disease. However, you should always consult with your doctor before embarking on any fasting schedule. If you suffer from an underlying health condition, severely limiting your calorie intake could be highly dangerous.
2. The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 Diet is a form of intermittent fasting that has become extremely popular. It works on a weekly basis as opposed to a daily one, and involves eating for five days and fasting for two. This diet functions as more of a lifestyle choice, as it doesn’t hand down edicts about what you should or shouldn’t eat, just when you should do it.
While there are very few studies on the 5:2 Diet in particular, there are a number of proven potential benefits if the diet is followed correctly, including reduced inflammation and enhanced cellular repair. But what are the cons to intermittent fasting? Well, there is a biological tendency to overeat after periods of fasting, which may negate any benefits of the 5:2 approach. Again, this type of fasting can be highly dangerous for people with underlying conditions, and healthcare professionals should be consulted before any implementation.
3. The Monk Fast
The Monk Fast is a continuous 36-hour water fast. It involves drinking plenty of water or other zero-calorie liquids to stay properly hydrated. This diet’s origins lie with Buddhist monks, who trained themselves to go without food for extended periods as a way of demonstrating faith and discipline. This fast is a lot tougher than the ratio-governed intermittent fasts. However, it can help to regulate any caloric excess that you may have, and supports the cells through autophagy, the natural cell mechanism that removes any unnecessary waste.
Fasting has also been proven to reduce inflammation; the monk fast is no different. However, going without food for 36 hours can be tough on the body, and there is always the danger of overeating when you get back to sustenance. As always, consult with your doctor, particularly if you suffer from an underlying condition.
4. The Warrior Diet
The Warrior Diet is another variation on intermittent fasting, but one of the strictest ones. It works at a 20:4 ratio, meaning that you can eat for a four-hour window while fasting for the remaining 20 hours. Ideally, this involves eating just one large meal every day. The Warrior Diet attempts to synchronise your eating patterns with your circadian rhythm, which governs your sleep patterns.
There has been consistent research that links this kind of hardcore fasting to sustained weight loss, as well as improved blood sugar control and reduced inflammation. However, while our ancient ancestors may have had no problem going 20 hours without food, for some of us it can be a real struggle, especially at the beginning. There are also many potential side effects from depriving your body of food in this extreme manner, and it may be difficult to receive all the correct nutrients and vitamins in the allotted four-hour window.
5. Alternate-Day Fasting
As the name suggests, the idea behind alternate-day fasting is ‘feast’ one day, ‘famine’ the next. You’re encouraged to eat as much as you want for 12 hours, while fasting for 36. A recent study found that this diet was safe for healthy, non-obese adults to practise for several months, and improved the fat-to-lean ratio while reducing body weight by about 4.5%. Cardiovascular parameters were also found to improve.
However, fasting in general can play havoc with your hormones, which can lead to a number of health issues in the long term. Always consult with your doctor, as underlying conditions can amplify these negative effects.
Which Type of Fasting Is Right For You?
This is a very personal question, and the answer might only become clear after in-depth discussions with your doctor. If you have a chronic condition, supplements might be the answer instead; Make Well produces their own natural supplements, which are used to support the treatment of chronic conditions.
For those suffering from an underlying health issue, fasting can do more harm than good. It’s important to know what you’re getting into before you start.
Featured image by Thought Catalog on Unsplash