Fasting: Ancient Secret For Modern Health
The practice of fasting is ancient. In fact, humans have been fasting for all of recorded history. We often associate fasting with religion or spiritual practices. Fasting is mentioned dozens of times throughout the Bible, and every person of importance fasted. Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, Esther, Paul, and all of the Disciples fasted, just to name a few.
More importantly, Jesus fasted. He even taught on fasting. You will notice, he did not say, “if you fast,” but “when you fast.” (Matthew 6:16, 17) He assumed His followers would fast.
God’s instructions are always for our good. He says in Jeremiah, His plans are to prosper us, not to harm us (29:11). He is not some cosmic killjoy. He is a loving Father who wants the best for His children.
Fasting is not just a spiritual discipline. It has also been practiced for its health benefits for thousands of years.
Fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine. Many renowned physicians throughout history and many of the oldest healing systems have recommended fasting as an integral method of healing and prevention. Hippocrates believed that fasting enabled the body to heal itself. (*)
The power of fasting is also secret. Not because we don’t know about it, but because we have somehow missed it. Like the dancing bear you don’t see in the video because you’re too busy counting basketball passes. If you have no idea what I’m talking about with the bear, watch this video.
But that’s changing. We are starting to relearn what our ancestors seemed to know innately. We are rediscovering this dietary intervention that can have massive physical (and spiritual) benefits if done correctly. It has the potential to improve metabolism, increase energy, assist in weight loss, reverse diabetes, just for starters.
What Fasting Is and Is Not
Whether you know it or not, you fast every day—technically speaking. The most basic definition of fasting is to voluntarily go without food for a specific period of time. This can be any length of time from a few hours to a few weeks. You can begin a fast when you want, and you can end a fast when you want.
The first meal of the day is called breakfast—literally break fast—for a reason. It is the meal that breaks your fast. Assuming you get 8 hours of sleep a night, you fast for at least 8 hours every day.
Not so crazy after all. Fasting is not some extreme ascetic ritual to be feared and avoided, but a normal part of everyday life.
Fasting is also not starving yourself. It’s simply an adjustment of your eating patterns. The beauty of fasting is that there isn’t one “right” way to do it. There are several types of fasting, including:
- Full Fast
- Supported Fast
- Intermittent Fasting
- Alternate Day Fasting
- The Daniel Fast
You can learn more about this in my post, Wondering How to Fast. The one I generally suggest as a first step and the one I personally practice most often is 16:8 Intermittent Fasting. You simply confine eating to an 8-hour window and fast 16 hours a day (including the hours you’re asleep). It’s also especially easy when combined with a LCHF (Low-Carb-High-Fat) Diet such as the Keto Diet.
Health Benefits of Fasting
1. Fasting Is An Excellent Tool For Weight Loss
The majority of people who try fasting do so to lose weight. It probably comes as no surprise that fasting is an effective tool for weight loss, but probably not for the reasons you think.
A study published in the journal Cell Research found that intermittent fasting jumpstarts the metabolism and helps burn more fat by generating body heat. All without having to reduce calories. (1)
Another study found intermittent fasting produces “superior decreases in body weight” compared to just restricting daily calories. (2)
A 2015 study published in PubMed found that alternate day fasting trimmed body weight by up to 7 percent and slashed body fat by up to 12 pounds. The same study showed a reduction in total cholesterol by up to 21 percent, and triglycerides by up to 42 percent. (3)
Another study conducted at USC (The University of Southern California) placed 71 adults on a 5-day fast (eating between 750-1100 calories a day) once a month for three months. Not only did they lose an average of six pounds, but they reduced their waistline, reduced total body fat, lowered their blood pressure, lowered inflammation, and decreased insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). All without any adverse effects, and all while maintaining lean muscle mass. (4)
2. Fasting Significantly Increases Human Growth Hormone Levels
You may have heard about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the news, especially around the topic of professional athletes. When pro-athletes get busted for using performance-enhancing drugs, HGH is usually on the list.
But HGH is not a bad thing. It’s something your body produces naturally—that’s why it’s called human growth hormone. And it has tons of amazing benefits in the body. These are just a few of the documented benefits of human growth hormone:
- HGH reduces recovery time from injuries.
- HGH enhances lean muscle growth
- HGH increases fat burning
- HGH improves muscle strength
- HGH boosts energy and vitality
- HGH improves brain function
- HGH renews hair and skin
- HGH elevates mood
The issue with HGH is that it only remains active in the bloodstream for a few minutes, and we produce less and less of it as we age. This is where fasting can help.
Are you ready for this? Intermittent fasting has been shown to enhance growth hormone production by up to 2000 percent!! (5)
3. Fasting Improves Insulin Sensitivity
A diet high in carbohydrates and sugar can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to type-2 diabetes and a host of other chronic illnesses.
Half of the population has either diabetes or pre-diabetes, and the most dangerous part is that most of them don’t even know it. Unless you want that to be you, you need to control your insulin sensitivity. Fasting is a great way to do that.
One study found that, during a fast, insulin is reduced by 20-31 percent, and that intermittent fasting was as effective as caloric restrictions in reducing visceral fat mass, fasting insulin and insulin resistance. (6)
Another study published in the World Journal of Diabetes in 2017 found that intermittent fasting in adults with type-2 diabetes improved key markers for those individuals, including their body weight and glucose levels. (7)
If you, or someone you care about, are struggling with insulin sensitivity or type-2 diabetes, intermittent fasting may help.
4. Fasting Improves Brain Function
I think we can pretty much all agree that it is important to take care of our brains. We want them functioning at their best, and it drives us nuts, pardon the expression, when they aren’t.
Fasting enhances neurotrophin expression and neurogenesis. Which is a fancy way of saying it improves brain function and actually assists in the creation of new brain cells. That’s important for memory, for learning, and for recovery from injury. (8)
That’s cool enough by itself, but there’s more. Fasting also increases the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) (9), a naturally occurring growth hormone that Dr. John Ratey refers to as “miracle-gro for the brain.”
Higher levels of BDNF is linked to increased intelligence, mood, productivity, and memory along with decreased risks of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s. (10)
5. Fasting May Help Prevent Cancer
“Fasting and calorie restriction (CR) can slow and even stop the progression of cancer, kill cancer cells, boost the immune system, and significantly improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.” (11)
Several recent studies have shown fasting decreases the risk for cancer or cancer growth rates. It is believed this may be due to the following effects of fasting: (12)
- decreased blood glucose production
- stem cells triggered to regenerate the immune system
- balanced nutritional intake
- increased production of tumor-killing cells
Another study showed that for cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, fasting reduced the negative side-effects of chemotherapy. Patients reported less fatigue, less weakness, and a reduction of gastrointestinal effects while fasting. (13)
6. Fasting May Reduce Risk Of Coronary Heart Disease
Heart Disease kills more than 600,000 Americans every year. (14)
According to Cardiologist Haitham Ahmed, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, “Four of the major risks for heart disease are high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and weight.”
The good news is, studies show that fasting can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, control diabetes and reduce weight. (15)
A study published in the 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fasting was an effective strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection. (16)
A 2014 study in Research in Endocrinology affirmed intermittent fasting “is capable of promoting weight-loss and/or favourably influencing an array of cardiometabolic health indices, with equal or greater efficacy than conventional continuous ER approaches.” (17)
7. Fasting May Help You Live Longer
Can fasting really increase your lifespan? While not yet proven in humans, early research in rats seems to link intermittent fasting with increased longevity.
In one study, rats on an intermittent feeding program lived 83 percent longer than rats who ate normally. (18)
Another study found, “intermittent feeding decreased body weight and increased lifespan” in rats. (19)
Spiritual Benefits of Fasting
As amazing as the health benefits of fasting are, there are also powerful spiritual benefits of fasting. Fasting is an integral part of living as a disciple of Jesus. He said, when the Bridegroom is taken away, then the disciples will fast (Matthew 9:15).
1. Fasting Deepens Our Intimacy With God
Fasting forces us to deny the desires of our flesh, which connects, if even in a small way, to the suffering and joy of Christ. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV) .
In the words of John Piper, “You are a new self. Act like it. Deny the old, comfort-craving self and embrace the superior joy of knowing Jesus.” (20)
There is nothing you can sacrifice that you will not receive back many times over. (Luke 6:38; 18:29-30)
2. Fasting Positions Us For A Spiritual Breakthrough
Fasting humbles us (Psalm 35:13; 69:10), and as we know, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV)
Esther called for a fast when faced with a dangerous situation and her people were saved. (Esther 4:16)
Ezra fasted for protection before heading back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian exile. (Ezra 8:21)
Jehoshaphat fasted when he learned of the imminent attack of the combined armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. God intervened and destroyed the invading armies. (2 Chronicles 20:1-24)
I believe that if we seek the Lord with fasting and with prayer we will see more breakthroughs in our lives—perhaps the breakthroughs that we have been longing for.
Is there something you have been praying for a long time? Are you seeking discernment and direction? Is there someone you are praying for God to reconcile to Himself? Is there someone you seek reconciliation with? Perhaps it is time to rediscover the power of fasting.
Precautions Regarding Fasting
While the benefits of fasting may be extremely appealing, fasting is not for everyone.
Who should not fast? You should not fast if you are:
- Underweight (BMI < 18.5)
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding – you need extra nutrients for your child.
- Under 18 years of age – you need extra nutrients to grow.
Also, if you are taking certain prescription medications, or have other health conditions, you can probably still fast, but may need supervision. I would suggest you consult your doctor before you incorporate fasting into your lifestyle.