Fasting Benefits & My Personal Experience

Fasting… sounds crazy, right? I recently did one myself, voluntarily! And I would 100% do it again (in fact I’m planning on doing a fast for 3-5 days every month!).

I documented my first experience of doing a long fast on Instagram, and I’ve received a lot of questions about it, so I’ll do my best to answer all those questions here.

Day 2
I did a daily update of my experience on Instagram; this was day 2.

The short answer is that overall, water fasting was an extremely challenging experience, for me anyway (mainly because it was such a huge jump from my usual fasts – I usually do 16-24 hrs), but I felt AMAZING afterwards, especially a couple of days after. I will definitely be doing it again (like I said earlier), but before we go any further, I must emphasise that this is MY experience after doing a lot of research. I’m not suggesting anyone else try fasting, at least without talking to a medical professional and doing the same due diligence. Fasting is generally considered safe for short periods of time, but not everyone responds the same, and some people may find that they can’t or shouldn’t do it.

fasting pic 9
Me at the end of my first ever 5-day fast; couldn’t contain the excitement about the prospect of eating again 😉 

This is my experience and what worked for me…

Water fasting… What is it?

As the name reveals, it is simply fasting on water, and ONLY water.

Herbal teas, black coffee, supplements, broth, and calorie-free drinks don’t come under a water fast. You can only drink plain water on a water fast. Sounds tough, right? The results can often be more profound than other types of fasting (bone broth, juicing, etc.). This type of fasting is also known as long-term fasting.

There are sooooo many types of fasting, and it can vary in duration from 12 hours-30 days, though 24-72 hours is usually considered safe for most people. The longest I’ve personally fasted is 5 days.

Why I Started Fasting

In our primal days, our ancestors would have fasted naturally during times of famine or when access to food was limited. It’s what’s allowed us to survive throughout millennia. The fat stores around our body are used for food and energy. This form of energy is also a fantastic way to reduce inflammation (but more on that later).

This was day 1 of the 5-day fast.

In our modern day lives, the idea of choosing (by our own free will) to go voluntarily without food seems absurd, though to many people throughout history, the notion of eating 4-6 times a day would seem equally absurd, and unheard of.

Want to hear something really shocking? I guarantee this will get ya thinking 😉 It was estimated by researchers that Americans eat around 17-18 times a day (shocking, hey?!). This isn’t you though? Have a think about this… anytime we put something with a calorie value in our mouths, our digestive system starts kicking into gear. Anytime we have a sip of a smoothie, a bite of chocolate, or a handful of nuts, the body will be triggered into a digestive state.

To sum up, we are eating more, much more, than our body needs, and are consequently giving our body less time to fast (an important state where the body can go around and “spring clean” itself, among many other things).

This was day 4 of the fast; I was feeling so much better by this day.

I decided to fast for the many benefits that came along with it. I started out water fasting, but I quickly incorporated broth and herbal teas into my fast to help with the intense hunger, and feelings of nausea I was experiencing (that I believe were caused by low blood sugar and low electrolytes – in my case).

The Benefits of Fasting

I have a confession to make. I read health, nutrition, and medical articles/books… for fun. Weird? I just find nutrition and the body incredibly fascinating! (If you want to read some of the findings I’ve read and talk about here, they’ll be in the sources below).

The books and articles I read shared how short-term fasting can:

  • Lower inflammation in the body
  • Encourage fat loss and promote the production of ketones
  • Reduce damage from oxidative stress
  • Boost immune system
  • Encourage autophagy in the body (that “spring cleaning” I mentioned earlier, where the body goes around and removes damaged cells to make way for newer, healthier cells)

What do any of these things mean? Glad you asked! 😉

Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are big factors behind a lot of chronic disease that we see today.

Autophagy

Let’s dive a little further into this important function. The word “autophagy” literally means “self-eating,” (the word is derived from the Greek words auto (self) and phagy (eating), where the body goes around and recycles old cells to create new, healthier cells. Or as explained by Scott Gooding in The Keto Diet:

When the body experiences a period of starvation, it triggers a certain energetic pathway to promote ‘cleansing’… from a cellular level… Consider that our bodies have two energetic pathways. The first one is an anabolic pathway and responsible for cellular growth and cell division… The second pathway is responsible for cell rejuvenation, so rather than the cell responding to stress to divide and grow, it removes dead cell components, toxins and cleanses. This is called cell autophagy.

The relationship between one pathway and another means that when one is activated the opposing is stifled.

This cleansing process is seen in the brain, too, with fasting promoting neuronal autophagy (self eating). Without it, the brain does not grow or function as it should.

Fasting helps stimulate autophagy and can lead to beneficial results for this reason. Even shorter fasts like intermittent fasting can bring about positive effects, though the biggest results seem to come from longer term fasting.

Studies have found that autophagy can lead to a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers. Longer term fasting also has a biological reset component through autophagy.

This was day 5! I lost over 3 kg in weight (though 1.5 kg stayed off – the other kilo and a half was likely from water, muscle, and food in the digestive system).

Lowers Inflammation & Oxidative Stress

One of the biggest reasons why I tried fasting.

Studies show that fasting helps reduce inflammation in the body by reducing insulin build-up in the blood (our Western diet is largely made up of carbs, which are turned into glucose (sugar), and overtime, having too much sugar in the blood can cause an insulin desensitivity, which can in turn lead to inflammation). It also reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines and inflammation in the body.

BHB is a compound that inhibits NLRP3, a part of a set of proteins called the inflammasomes which drive the inflammatory response in many disorders such as autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other auto-inflammatory disorders.

BHB was found to be produced by:

  • fasting
  • a ketogenic diet
  • caloric restriction
  • high intensity exercise

Boosts Immune System

Fasting for just 3 days (specifically water fasting) could regenerate the immune system, according to a 2014 study. The researchers discovered that fasting encourages stem cells to regenerate new white blood cells by “flipping a regenerative switch,” as fasting lowered white blood cell counts in the study.

Improve Brain Function

The body switches over from using glucose as its main source of energy, to burning fat, when fasting. Instead of glucose (sugar), the brain uses ketones (a by-product of using fat for energy) as fuel. There is so much research behind the benefits of ketones as a primary fuel source for the body rather than glucose, and is believed to be more efficient fuel for the brain. This explains why increased mental clarity, focus and concentration were associated with fasting.

My Experience of Fasting on Water, Broth & Herbal Tea

I researched quite a bit before jumping in to a 5-day fast (and watched some great videos by Jason Fung and Peter Attia on fasting, too). But, like I said before, I’m not suggesting anyone jump straight into a fast, I’m just sharing my personal experience. If you’re considering fasting it’s important that you do plenty of research beforehand and talk to a medical professional to ensure you do it correctly and safely.

I picked a week that was free of work and any major activities (I also stopped exercising for the week, as I felt quite sick and had low energy for most of it – I wasn’t surprised I found it so challenging since it was my first long fast). This was a good thing as, spoiler alert… the first 3 days of fasting are haaaaard. Definitely not fun at all. I’ve heard that if you’ve been following a keto diet for a while beforehand, it can make fasting a lot easier.

Before and after; comparison of day 1 and day 5. 

Throughout the fast I consumed LOTS of water, as well as broth and some herbal teas. However, on the morning of day 2 I began feeling quite nauseous, from the moment I woke up until about 11AM. After that it settled down and I began to feel a little better as the day went on. This happened on day 3 too, so I researched into it and nausea can be caused by a number of reasons. Low blood sugar or low electrolytes can be a couple of the causes, so I focused on these two to begin with. I started adding a pinch of salt to my water to help boost electrolytes, and consumed more broth throughout the day, and by the next day I woke up feeling so much better! If it is low blood sugar, it’s important to monitor yourself really carefully with this, as it can lead to serious health problems if left unchecked. If low blood sugar persists too, it may be a good idea to stop the fast there. Always listen to your body, and how it’s responding.

Electrolyte depletion is one of the bigger risks of fasting (others mentioned below) so once I added some high quality Himalayan salt to the glasses of water I was having each day, I found that really helped. The headaches and tiredness I was experiencing reduced dramatically.

The amount of water is also important during a fast. Not drinking enough water can cause problems, as can drinking too much. I just drank when I felt thirsty and added a pinch of salt to the water I was having.

By day 4 and 5 I felt almost back to my normal self again (how I felt pre-fast), and I only really felt hungry in the evenings.

I vlogged my entire experience of fasting for the 5 days, sharing daily updates on how I felt and what I did to help the hunger:

Breaking a Fast

It is so important to return to normal eating carefully, especially after longer fasts. If not done correctly, in extreme cases after long fasting, the body can experience something called refeeding syndrome which happens when fluids, insulin, and electrolytes become out of balance. In severe cases, this can be fatal, so breaking the fast correctly is extremely important!

From what I’ve read it’s recommended to start with broth, soft cooked vegetables, fermented veggies, and some gentle fruits. Dairy, fish, meat and raw veggies are all a little too harsh to have for breaking a fast, so it can be a good idea to wait 3 post-fast days for these. It is also recommended to wait 4-5 days before adding in caffeine or alcohol in very small amounts.

Slowly start reintroducing foods to give your digestive system time to start working again.

This was what I broke my 5-day fast with, but always seek the guidance of a medical professional on what you should consume to break your fast to ensure you do it correctly.

My Fasting Results

The biggest changes I noticed from fasting were:

  • Weight loss: I lost over 3 kg during my 5-day fast, of which 1.5 kg stayed off. The other kilo and a half were likely from water, muscle, and food in the digestive system.

Who Should Not Fast

To keep it short and sweet, no one should fast just because I did, and I highly recommend everyone should thoroughly research and talk to a medical professional before trying any fasting. Fasting may also not be a good idea for:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Children
  • People with medical conditions

Unless you’ve been directed otherwise by a medical professional.

Additional Learning…

Sources:

Wells, Katie. (Updated: July 30, 2019). Water Fasting Benefits, Dangers & My Personal Experience. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/345549/water-fasting/

Gooding, Scott. The Keto Diet. Australia and New Zealand: Hachette Australia, 2018. Print.