For many people, fasting is a religious or spiritual ritual. It’s cleansing for you both mentally and emotionally. But, even beyond that, intermittent fasting is great for your physical health. What is intermittent fasting? It’s a controlled, conscious, and careful time that you skip meals. Done properly, intermittent fasting has incredible benefits for you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We’ll take a look at some of those benefits, different ways to fast, and what to do when you’re feeling those hunger pangs halfway through.
Four reasons fasting is good for your body.
Intermittent fasting is good for more than weight loss (although that is a key benefit for many people). It is also healing for body, mind, and soul. Here are four benefits that come from fasting:
- Decreased blood pressure—The link between intermittent fasting and blood pressure has proved positive in both human and animal testing. High blood pressure affects your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, so this is a key benefit of fasting, although it is short-term.
- Increased cell turnover—Autophagy, a process in which the body cleans out damaged cells, is more effective during periods of fasting. There are studies that show this can provide protective benefits for brain functions.
- Reduced insulin resistance—perhaps one of the most studied effects of intermittent fasting, reduced insulin resistance is great news for those with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Just be sure to consult with your doctor before fasting.
- Better sleep—intermittent fasting helps regulate your circadian rhythm. If your sleep patterns are consistent, then you’ll fall asleep easier and wake up feeling more rested. Also, if everything you ate is digested before you fall asleep, you’re less likely to experience bedtime acid reflux or heartburn.
It should be noted that several studies done on animals show other benefits of intermittent fasting. These include reduced inflammation, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of stroke, increased brain function, reduced risk of some cancers, and a lower risk of cardiovascular issues. Many of these are undergoing further study, which means that the list of benefits is bound to increase.
Holistic fasting—body, mind, and soul.
Fasting has been part of dozens of different religious practices for generations. The spiritual aspect of it has long been explored—fasting has been used for spiritual purification, penitence, and communion with God.
But even if you’re not religious, fasting is beneficial for your mind and soul. Patience and endurance are one of the most obvious results, but it can also help you focus if you have a big decision to make or a challenge you’re facing. Mental clarity is something many of us are searching for, and fasting is a great way to provide time to clear your mind.
When it comes to discovering your chi, intermittent fasting can be key in discovering that balance between mind, body, and spirit. Self-mastery over your body helps you focus on your emotional and spiritual needs, a key component in discovering or maintaining chi.
More than skipping meals: Four ways to fast
There are more ways to fast than just missing meals every few days—fasting should be intentional and targeted. There are different types of fasting, from skipping all food for hours or even days to restricted eating times. Be sure and consult with your physician or dietician before making one type of fasting a habit. In the meantime, check these out:
- Restricted eating times: Focus on an eight-hour period of the day when you can eat, and eat only during that time. For example: an “early-time restricted feeding” could be from 7 a.m to 3 p.m. Most frequently, eating times are restricted to later in the day—for example, not eating a first meal until 11 a.m., and eating nothing after 7 p.m. This is one of the most effective types of intermittent fasting, and its consistency can provide long-term benefits.
- The 24-hour fast: Don’t consume anything with calories for a full 24 hours. Keep drinking lots of water to maintain hydration, and be careful to watch how you are feeling. Tea, both herbal and caffeinated is fine. If you’re dizzy or sick to your stomach, it might be time to eat a little something. A variant of this type of fast that’s especially popular in the keto and paleo communities includes regular doses of fat (like coconut oil or ghee) and bone broth.
- Restricted calories two days a week: Eat normally for five days of the week, then restrict your diet to 500-600 calories on the other two days. Make sure you spread those days out, for maximum benefit.
- Warrior diet: In a nutshell, fast all day, feast at night. This type of fasting encourages you to eat raw fruits and veggies during the day, then consume one huge meal at night.
Tips for refocusing your energy when you’re fasting.
The great thing about fasting is that there is no one right way to do it. So, it doesn’t have to be as hard as you imagine. But if you’re struggling with fasting, even just for a few hours, try one or two of these tips to help you keep your focus.
- Change the times of your meals so you’re only fasting at night
- Take a drink of water when hunger strikes
- Start a new activity or task to help keep your mind off your hunger
- Eat plenty of protein and fat before your fast to keep you full
- Eat whole foods on the days you’re not fasting
If you’re in the middle of a fast and wondering, “Is this worth it?” remind yourself of your goals. Fasting isn’t right for everyone, but it takes practice to see what types of fasting work best for you, so don’t give up on your first try unless you’re feeling ill. (In which case, there’s no shame in eating something!)
The beauty of intermittent fasting is not in just the immediate results, but also in the long-term mastery of your body, benefitting your mind and soul and putting you on the road toward living your chi.