Fasting is a common practice in many cultures, particularly in religious traditions. Research now shows many health benefits of fasting. You may have heard that skipping meals slows metabolism and the best way to lose weight is to eat six small meals all day. Current research, however, debunks this myth. (1). For weight loss, periods of fasting proves beneficial than eating frequent small meals. Some scientists believe that occasional fasting reduces the increasing rates of diabetes and obesity (2). So, is a water fast ideal for weight loss?
What is Water Fasting?
Water fasting is where you don’t consume anything but water for a period of time, usually somewhere from 24 to 72 hours. Fasting can help lower overall caloric intake and may result in weight loss, as long as you don’t go crazy once the fast is over. Refueling a fast is incredibly important! The weight loss isn’t just short-term either. This is because of the hormonal, metabolic and anti-inflammatory benefits fasting provides.
Fasting makes a lot of sense in terms of evolution. In the caveman days, food was scarce and humans fasted for periods of time. Our bodies constantly prepare for periods of fasting by storing fat and building muscle when food is available. We know you hate this, but the ability to store fat is what helped us survive as a species. So, in terms of evolution, our bodies recognize feast and famine well.
Water Fasting Benefits
The primary benefit of fasting is that it allows the body to clear out waste and other damaging substances that may lead to chronic disease. This process, autophagy, breaks down damaged parts of the cell for recycling. It helps prevent cancer cells from growing because the cells are cleared out before they get out of control (3). Because of autophagy, fasting: reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity (4, 5, 6).
A 2002 study found that medically supervised fasting for 14-day resulted in reduced blood pressure. In this study, 82% of the participants with high blood pressure had normal blood pressure after the fast (7). Another study found that a 7-day lemon detox fast decreased insulin resistance, promoted weight loss, and reduced inflammation (8).
There are many water fasting benefits particularly in terms of reducing the risk of chronic disease because of how it lowers inflammation. Reducing inflammation can also lead to weight loss because inflamed tissues hold on to water and disrupts hormones.
Best Practices for Fasting for Weight Loss
There is are healthy and not so healthy ways to fast. Additionally, there are best practices for prepping for, and refueling, for a fast. We discuss this in detail inside the 131 Method. Before embarking on a fast of any sort, do your research and make sure you’re well-suited for fasting. There’s not a lot of research available to recommend extended water-only fasting, specifically as a method for long-term sustainable weight loss. There are quite a few nutrition-related concerns with water fasting. Also, fasting too often without replenishing minerals can leave you with an inadequate foundation to fast.
There are several medical conditions that would make it extremely dangerous to do a water fast, like diabetes. Avoid fasting if pregnant or breastfeeding. Inside the 131 Method, we provide recommendations and adjustments for individuals with specific health concerns.
Nutrient deficiencies are a concern with fasting, so eat well-balanced meals when not fasting to nourish and replenish your body. During fasting, drink more water than you are used to. Once in ketosis from fasting, the ketones act as a diuretic and excrete more electrolytes. You need to replenish those. Always be safe and listen to your body to adjust. A fast should not last longer than 72-hours without medical supervision or it could lead to severe medical consequences during the refueling. Click here to access a free lemon ginger water recipe full of electrolytes.
Minerals & Refueling
Be sure to stay hydrated with adequate electrolytes including sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. If you skip this, you may also feel dizzy while you are fasting. Dehydration can cause your blood pressure to drop suddenly (frequently due to low potassium), which could lead to fainting. You also want to be mindful about how to reintroduce food. The reintroduction just as important as the fast itself! Go slow! Start with small meals and choose easy to digest foods.
Overall, the research on the potential health benefits of fasting is quite fascinating. A water fast is the most extreme form of fasting so before jumping to the advanced method, consider easing yourself in by properly prepping first. When it comes to fasting for weight loss, we always encourage you to keep your focus on total health and remember that weight loss is the side effect of what happens hormonally, metabolically and with the immune system during fasting.
Instead of jumping right into a water fast, consider intermittent fasting, a supported fast, or a shortened window fast. All of these are explained inside the 131 Method. Intermittent fasting provides many of the same health benefits, without the risks. So, if you want to try fasting for weight loss, start with educating yourself, properly preparing your body and having tools in place for refueling.