Fasting weight loss programs have enjoyed a major boost in popularity over the past few years, with detox diets like the Master Cleanse plan stealing headlines in major media outlets across the country. In this article we will discuss the mechanics behind weight-loss fasting so that you can begin to understand what is happening behind the scenes at a physiological level. We will then use these understandings to weigh the pros and cons of fasting to lose weight, both on its own and when compared to other methods.
Fasting Weight Loss - A Nuts & Bolts Approach
A weight loss fast is simply the act of short-term food restriction in order to lose weight. Certain of the popular fasting diets being promoted recently have stressed a "detox" angle, and prescribed liquids such as lemonade, grapefruit juice, honey, and maple syrup for their purported benefits in cleansing toxins that have been stored in the tissues. In the end, the primary component of any weight-loss fast is going to amount to simply not eating.
Now a lot of critics attempt to equate fasting for weight loss with anorexia, but in healthy individuals who engage in fasting for a limited amount of time--no more than 30 days--I believe this is not the case. Fasting is a well-established practice that has been carried out for various religious and medical reasons virtually since the beginning of recorded history. For a healthy person who is free of metabolic diseases, fasting is perfectly safe and is not likely to cause any lasting harm to your body.
I am aware of little research that either confirms or denies the true detoxification potential of such a procedure, but I suspect that there is such a value. After all, a great deal of energy is consumed by the digestive processes, and a great deal of the immune system's effort is dedicated to cleaning up the waste processes remaining from these processes. By removing these strains to the system, it seems only natural that the body would divert its resources toward the end of destroying and rebuilding damaged tissues throughout the body, including those which has been contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides, or even damaged by radiation. It is possible that fasting could help to reduce the development of cancers, and there is some limited research to suggest that this is the case.
A number of physiological changes take place in the body when you stop eating food for a prolonged period of time. A shorter duration model of this can be seen during the daily fast that every human naturally takes when they sleep at night. This is the reason why the first meal of the day is referred to as 'breakfast' in English-speaking countries. It is because you are breaking the body's fasting process, which is incidentally also the period of time during which the majority of growth, memory consolidation, and immune response takes place. So it is logical to suspect that a prolonged fast could enhance these natural processes.
In fact, many creatures naturally stop eating for one to three weeks at a time periodically, typically once or twice a year depending on the species. This is believed to enhance exactly those natural benefits of fasting that we have described. The natural processes are freed up from the strain of supporting continuous digestion and incorporation of new substrates. In the human body, digestive processes will have mostly shut down after about three days with no solid food, and the dieter will typically notice significant somatic and psychological changes at this time. These feelings are usually somewhat pleasant, and are often experienced as a relief from the hunger that characterizes those first few days.
Fasting To Lose Weight - Some considerations
Another thing that you should realize is taking place in your body when you do not consume food for a substantial period of time is that the existing materials within your body will be heavily conserved. Your metabolism will fall, such that you will tend to burn fewer calories for the same amount of activity. The body is incredibly capable of fine-tuning its performance to ensure maximum utilization of resources if need, and also to ensure survival.
Part of this process is a general repurposing and reuse of all types of molecules within the body. As you might imagine, fats will be released from your cells and used to create fuel. Some of the fat molecules released from your body's energy stores will be converted to sugar before it is burned, while other will be converted into something called 'ketone bodies,' which are basically just fats that are ready to burn. You can almost think of them like 'kerosine bodies,' and like kerosine they have a number of other benefits to the machine that operates on them.
You may not also realize that proteins within your body are also repurposed and reused very rapidly and robustly during a weight loss fasting cycle. You probably already know that all of your muscles are made of proteins, but you may not realize that that includes a great deal of very important tissue within your vital and secondary organs. Also, all of the hormones and neurotransmitters which regulate your body's activities are comprised of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
Your body requires a continuous supply of these amino acids in order to maintain the functioning of all of these vital skeletal-muscular, endocrine, and neurological systems, and will readily sacrifice non-vital proteins to maintain them. That means that much of the proteins which comprise your non-essential muscle mass will be stripped from the muscles and used for other purposes within the body while you are fasting. This means that you will almost certainly lose muscle mass during your fast.
Pros and Cons of Fasting For Weight Loss
In light of our discussion to this point, we are able to realize some very important things about the idea of fasting for weight loss. The first point to realize is that fasting is a perfectly safe practice that has been documented throughout recorded history. There are actually a lot of positive health benefits of fasting and it is unfortunate that much of western culture has lost this tradition. It is still practiced regularly in various religious communities, including Judaism and Islam, as well as certain Christian communities.
However, in spite of being perfectly safe for most people and even offering a number of positive health effects, fasting may not be the ideal way for most people to lose weight. This is because when people refer to weight loss, they are usually really referring to fat loss. It is unfortunate that we use the term weight loss when we should just say "fasting for fat loss," because this would be much more accurate and make it easier to decide whether or not fasting weight loss would be an acceptable approach.
But people get stuck on the idea of losing weight by fasting, and there is no doubt that fasting will bring about weight loss in just about anyone who tries it. However, there are two major caveats which we believe are sufficient to deter the average dieter from ever considering a fast until after they have met their weight loss goals. In our opinion, that is the time to go out shopping for a Jack Lalanne Power Juicer or something similar, not before. Because it actually defeats your weight loss goals in these ways.
The pro of weight loss fasting is simply that you will lose weight relatively quickly. That is a big benefit and honestly it is all that the average dieter is looking for, because they are usually overwhelmed with information and just want to see something in their body change. They feel stuck. Now fasting can actually be a powerful way to explore yourself and your relationship to food, and that can have a powerful impact on any weight loss program that you ultimately embark on. But again, we have misgivings about fasting before you have reached your target weight.
The reason for this is that fasting for weight loss is going to very substantially reduce your metabolic rate. You will simply not be burning calories at your normal rate, and so you will find that it takes much longer to lose weight than if you were to make use of a quick weight loss diet such as our Fastest Way To Lose Weight plan that aims to increase your overall metabolic rate.
So that is certainly a disadvantage of the fasting approach that you would do well to consider, because many people who have put on a lot of weight are not in a position where their metabolic rate is terrible flexible for them. So what you will end up doing is decreasing your metabolic rate and then never being able to raise it again without a great deal of effort. Many people are convinced that if they exercise themselves to the bone that they will simply melt those pounds away, never considering that their body is really good at conserving calories.
Imagine what would happen if your ancestors--who traveled nomadically for thousands of miles and had to hunt and kill extremely fast animals--had burned up all of their stored fuel before they could catch the next kill. Especially through the long winters and draughts and famines through history. If their bodies had not been smart enough to increase the efficiency of their activities so that a lot could be done using very little fuel, they would not be your ancestors because they would not have survived. And you would not be here. So the very same physical process responsible for keeping you fat no matter how much you try to exercise the pounds away or to fast for weight loss and starve yourself on low calorie shakes and salads, is the very thing that is responsible for you being alive at all.
The other major downside to fasting weight loss is simply that, like we said, you probably don't really want to "lose weight," even though that is what you say you would like. You probably want to be thinner, firmer, and more attractive. That does not necessarily involve the lose of weight, it really involves the loss of fat. In fact, if you lose as much muscle as fat, you will look roughly the same, except thinner. This happens to a lot of people who go on crash diets and detox weight loss programs and prolonged weight-loss fasts, is that they get smaller, but not more attractive.
They are always convinced that a few more pounds off of their weight will make them more attractive, but they are missing out on the real formula to an attractive and healthy body, and that is to decrease body fat while increasing or at least maintaining muscle mass. This is how you achieve the beautiful toned look that most dieters chase after but never find, because they have been fooled into thinking that what they want to do is to "lose weight." Often no weight will be lost and still someone will look ten times better because they have lose fat and gained muscle. Muscle is heavy and dense tissue, so the scale tells you you are the same, but the mirror knows differently.
And because fasting for weight loss will tend to decrease both fat and muscle, it puts you in this unfortunate position of weighing less but not looking better. You end up with droopy skin and an unflattering shape. And even worse, you have decreased you metabolism, so you won't burn as much fat when you're done, and will likely gain weight. You have also decreased your main method of burning that fat--muscle tissue--which means you'll gain even more weight, and do so even faster.
So our conclusion is that fasting weight loss is not at all the ideal method. Fasting is a very healthy choice and can lead a person to insights into their own mind and body that they might not otherwise have found. It is not, however, an optimal strategy for sustained and sustainable weight loss.